The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco, and the Culture of the Night

Overview

Studio 54 was the icon of excess—a place where Andy, Mick, Bianca, and Elton lounged in the VIP section while patrons did drugs in the fabled unisex bathroom, and wannabes waiting for hours outside hoped to catch the eye of the nineteen-year-old doorman who was, for a brief moment, the ultimate gatekeeper of cool.

The Last Party is the story not just of Studio 54 but of the whole Nightworld, vividly recalled by a writer and reveler who was there on opening night and on many, ...

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Overview

Studio 54 was the icon of excess—a place where Andy, Mick, Bianca, and Elton lounged in the VIP section while patrons did drugs in the fabled unisex bathroom, and wannabes waiting for hours outside hoped to catch the eye of the nineteen-year-old doorman who was, for a brief moment, the ultimate gatekeeper of cool.

The Last Party is the story not just of Studio 54 but of the whole Nightworld, vividly recalled by a writer and reveler who was there on opening night and on many, many nights thereafter. Anthony Haden-Guest takes us past the velvet rope, down onto the pounding dance floor, up into the polymorphously perverse balcony, and into owner Steve Rubell's office, where millions of dollars were surreptitiously skimmed from the golden goose. Vibrant, shocking, nonstop, and revealing, The Last Party is as packed with sparkle, scandal, and celebrity as Studio 54 itself.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Studio 54 was the quintessential midtown Manhattan nightspot of the '70s and early '80s, where the gay and straight worlds intersected; where celebs and wannabes crowded in to disco, drug and who knows what else; in front of which people waited for hours in hopes of being admitted (two women arrived naked on horseback as Lady Godivas; the horses were let in, but the women weren't). Haden-Guest, a regular writer for New York magazine and Vanity Fair, reports on his beloved 'Nightworld' -- the life of New York clubs -- with an enthusiasm that assumes we all were swept away by disco-mania.

The most compelling part of this chronicle concerns the rise and fall of Steve Rubell, the boy from Queens, and the club he created that drew the rich and famous from all over the globe. Rubell and his partner, Ian Schrager, were eventually sentenced to three years in jail for tax evasion. Haden-Guest, who's prone to exaggeration, calls their trial the media culture's version of 'Moscow's Show Trials of the Stalin era.' Some readers will find the gossip, name-dropping and dirt-dishing delicious; others will wonder what all the fuss is about.

Fred Goss
In his fascinating book The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco, and the Culture of the Night, social observer Anthony Haden-Guest vividly re-creates the glory days of the New York City nightclub that [Steve] Rubell and Ian Schrager opened in a former TV studio. Depending on your own past experience, the stories Haden-Guest has to tell will offer either a psychedelic trip down memory lane or a fantastic vision through a mist-shrouded looking glass...

What happened on West 54th Street was a magical confluence of time, place, and the public's readiness to party. With its cavernous interior refurbished as the most adult of playgrounds, complete with a neon man in the moon who periodically took a huge sniff from a gigantic coke spoon, Studio 54 was a place where everyman could live out his private fantasies.
The Advocate

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061723742
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/8/2009
  • Pages: 480
  • Sales rank: 815,732
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Anthony Haden-Guest's journalism has appeared in New York, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker.

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Read an Excerpt

Maurice Brahms got involved with Manhattan's Nightworld entirely on account of John Addison, who arrived from South Africa in the early seventies. "He was a second cousin of mine. He stayed with me in Brooklyn," Maurice Brahms says. The cousins were unalike. Brahms was of middling height, garrulous, straight, and dressed like a businessman, whereas Addison was tall, gay, secretive, and elegant. Brahms had a front-stage demeanor, like an actor doing monologue. Addison liked to lurk in the wings. But the cousins got on fine. Both were ambitious, tough, and sharp, and both could grip a dollar hard enough to make it squeal with pain.

Maurice Brahms had been in the restaurant business since he was seventeen. "My father bought a restaurant for my uncle, but he died after a couple of years. I took it over," Brahms says. The place was the Colonel at 101 Park Avenue. John Addison had an uncle who owned a parakeet business in Ventura County in Southern California, and he himself had studied horticulture in South Africa, but horticulture not being huge in Manhattan, he signed up with Ford as a model. "He did well from day one" says Jerry Ford. He worked with Francesco Scavullo and became a long-term lover of the photographer. Addison also took a backup job as a waiter in Yellowfingers, a restaurant in midtown on Third Avenue. Unlike most MAWs (Model Actor Waiters) Addison quickly decided he liked the restaurant business. Preferred it, in fact, to the glam drudgery of modeling.

Excerpted from The Last Party.

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Table of Contents

PROLOGUE xiii
Act I: Nights on Fire 1
1 Take Your Partners 3
2 Manhattan a la Mode 19
3 The German Model, the Israeli Playboy, the Peruvian Party Girl &
the New York Businessman 25
4 Studio 54, Where Are You? 37
5 Hell on the Door, Stairways to Paradise 49
6 Club Wars 70
7 Discomania 79
8 Club Wars Heat Up 85
9 The Other 97
10 Addicted to the Night 110
11 Imperial Visions 125
12 The Bust 130
13 Disco Sucks! 149
14 Club Fed 157
BETWEEN THE ACTS: I Goblin Market 171
Act II: Nightclubbing 195
15 The Shunning 197
16 Apres Disco 210
17 Wild & Free 218
18 Eurotrash Epiphanies 230
19 Uptown, Downtown 251
20 Hearts of Darkness 261
21 "Death of Downtown" 282
BETWEEN THE ACTS: II Masquerade 305
Act III: Nightfall 315
22 Kamikaze Kids 317
23 Rehearsal for the End of the World 328
24 Beyond the Velvet Cord 341
25 The Last Nightlord 348
26 The Dark Side of the Mirror 366
FINALE All Tomorrow's Parties 381
Cast List 386
Index 393
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First Chapter

CHAPTER ONE

TAKE YOUR PARTNERS

Maurice Brahms got involved with Manhattan's Nightworld entirely on account of John Addison, who arrived from South Africa in the early seventies. "He was a second cousin of mine. He stayed with me in Brooklyn," Maurice Brahms says. The cousins were unalike. Brahms was of middling height, garrulous, straight, and dressed like a businessman, whereas Addison was tall, gay, secretive, and elegant. Brahms had a front-stage demeanor, like an actor doing monologue. Addison liked to lurk in the wings. But the cousins got on fine. Both were ambitious, tough, and sharp, and both could grip a dollar hard enough to make it squeal with pain.

Maurice Brahms had been in the restaurant business since he was seventeen. "My father bought a restaurant for my uncle, but he died after a couple of years. I took it over," Brahms says. The place was the Colonel at 101 Park Avenue. John Addison had an uncle who owned a parakeet business in Ventura County in Southern California, and he himself had studied horticulture in South Africa, but horticulture not being huge in Manhattan, he signed up with Ford as a model. "He did well from day one" says Jerry Ford. He worked with Francesco Scavullo and became a long-term lover of the photographer. Addison also took a backup job as a waiter in Yellowfingers, a restaurant in midtown on Third Avenue. Unlike most MAWs (Model Actor Waiters) Addison quickly decided he liked the restaurant business. Preferred it, in fact, to the glam drudgery of modeling.

Juice bars were big in those days. Addison opened one up not far from the Ford Model agency, under the 59th Street Bridge. He called it Together. "He was a night person and I was a day person. I never had a nightlife," says Brahms. "He opened up my eyes. When I saw how many people were going out at twelve o'clock at night. And paying five dollars for a Coca-Cola and five dollars for admission! And I had a restaurant and I would get thirty-five cents for a Coke and they would scream and yell it was too much money. I said what the hell am I doing? I should be doing what he's doing." That's part of the magic of the night, the way that the moon and stars, though invisible, smothered in the contaminated skies of big cities, nonetheless manage to charm silver and gold out of pockets that are zippered shut in the daylight.

Fancy clubs at the time, like El Morocco and Le Club, were straitlaced, if not completely straight, so Le Jardin, which was on two separate floors in the Diplomat Hotel on West Forty-third Street, the penthouse and the basement, was a breakthrough. Though fashionable straights were made welcome, "Le Jardin was essentially gay. And there were some very pretty women there," notes Bill Oakes of RSO. "Which was obviously one reason gay discos broke out. Women could go and dance there without guys hitting on them." Also welcome were every sort of exotica. Patti Smith sang at Le Jardin, for instance, soon after making it at CBGB as chanteuse. Le Jardin was stylish, with bowls of fruit and cheese on tables. It was a bellwether of what was to come.

Brahms and Addison started to make the rounds of Nightworld. The place that Brahms found riviting was a gay club, Flamingo. Flamingo had been started in 1975 by Michael Fesco, a former Broadway dancer, a gypsy in the chorus of Irma La Douce. It mostly had gay male members, who each paid six hundred dollars a year. Flamingo was in an upstairs loft space, and there were two stunning women on the door, with gardenias behind their ears and Tuinal smiles. Since there was some fear of drug busts the club had an unlisted telephone number, but initiates knew they would find it under Gallery for the Promotion of People, Places, and Events at 599 Broadway.

Michael Fesco, a club owner and promoter, says that running a gay club at the time was a breeze. "For the seven years that I was at Broadway and Houston, we never had any problem with the neighbors," he says. "Everybody was gay, queer. Who cared? Now it seems like everyone cares. AIDS came along and the whole gay issue became a kind of a phenomenon. And we got into a lot of trouble with the religious right and rednecks around the country."

The only women regulars at Flamingo, the Tuinal smiles aside, were a couple of disco music nuts. "I would haul along the latest records in a milk crate or a canvas tote bag," says one of them, Robin Sciortino. The club was famous for the intensity of its ambience and for its theatrically inventive parties. "There were Black parties and White parties," says a habitue, writer Stuart Lee. He remembers a live pig scarfing down copies of Vogue and Harper's Bazaar that people would toss into its pen, and set pieces such as a Crucifixion with the models dressed as Roman legionaries, and a Jesus Christ who would, from time to time, turn his eyes heavenward and ascend a cross.

Maurice Brahms, a straight middle-aged businessman, wasn't offended by the Flamingo's inventive cabaret at all. "I saw a tremendous potential for the gay market that wasn't being utilized. All the clubs that they had were raunchy and secondary," he told me. Even Flamingo itself didn't scratch the surface. "If people will pay this much for soda with a jukebox, my God, what if somebody built a real club for the gay population? It could explode."

Brahms began to nose around looking for a venue. He finally lighted upon a former envelope factory at 653 Broadway. "You had those Hare Krishna people there. And the landlord was getting only two hundred dollars a month," Brahms says. "The landlord asked me for a thousand dollars a month. I told him, `I'll give you twelve or thirteen hundred, but I want a lease of fifteen years. Where I can do whatever I want.' He gave me everything I wanted. He thought I was crazy.

"I spent like a hundred and fifty thousand dollars opening that club. That was unheard of, to put that kind of money in. It was painted black inside, with neon balls. And it had no name outside. I felt the whole mystique of the place was to make a person struggle to find it. There were mirrors on the sides. If you looked in the mirror, the neon balls just went on forever." Which gave the club its name: Infinity. Brahms says, "We advertised in Michael's Thing, a gay magazine, and we did a membership, and I said, `COMING SOON! COMING SOON! with a penis sign... and then IT'S FINALLY COME! ...'"

And as part of the decor there was a six-foot penis of pink neon at Infinity's opening in the fall of 1975. "I made two openings, one for eight o'clock and one for ten o'clock," Brahms says. He had invited his straight, or at least uptown list, for eight, assuming they would clear the place to make room for the downtown gay crowd. "But at ten-thirty the room was still so crowded," he says. "Nobody left. There were probably two thousand people in the street. That was the market I had really targeted, and they couldn't get in."

"We didn't have anyone at the door with a guest list," Brahms says. "It didn't exist. It's wonderful when there's no other place to go. I was the only place to go. Nobody knew how to spell discotheque." Brahms's fingers fluttered through clippings. "Donna Summer and the Pointer Sisters. They were just there, partying. Nobody paid them. They paid admission when they came in.

"My policy was: Everybody pays! I wasn't there to become famous. I was there to make as much money as I possibly could." His fingers flew through his press clips and he found a 1975 headline in Women's Wear Daily: DISCOS HAVEN'T PEAKED YET. "If they only knew! If they only knew!" he crowed. "Here's some of the crowds we would get ... everyone was magnificent ... Giorgio Sant' Angelo ... Franco Rossellini ... Calvin Klein ... I mean, everyone paid!

"In this club you would see gays, straights, transvestites, bisexuals, moviestars, paupers, everything. Givenchy used to bring in Bunny Mellon. I didn't charge her. She'd come in for fifteen minutes just to make him happy. He was one of the few people I didn't charge. I didn't have the heart."

"I didn't realize how smart you were," Brahms's landlord grumbled later. "You stole this from me."

It was at Infinity that Brahms met Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager.

Don Rubell, Steve Rubell's brother, the elder by two years, is a gynecologist and, along with his wife, Mera, a substantial collector of contemporary art. For my information, he punched out an abbreviated version of the brothers' backgrounds as though he were filling out a form. "Started lower-middle class," Rubell said. "Became middle class. Grew up in Brooklyn. My father, who had wanted to be a dentist but because of the Depression had taken a job in the post office initially, was also a tennis player, and was the champion of New York City. When it became viable to earn money teaching, he became a tennis pro."

What were his father's strengths? "He won. He was a great athlete. My brother and my father were built very similarly. On the small side. Wiry."

He and his brother grew up living a "typical neighborhood existence," Don Rubell says. His brother's need to connect showed itself early. "We would live a large part of our life at the tennis courts," Don says. "Steve had a zillion friends and would drive us all slightly crazy. Even when he played, he would constantly be talking to people through the fence. He would be talking to people all the time."

Don Rubell is six foot two. Steve Rubell, who was very short as a boy and finally reached five five, later described his horror of Friday afternoons, which were when the father measured his sons. Nor were things better in school. "I'd go into class. People would say, `You're Don Rubell's brother?'" he said to writer Jesse Kornbluth. "You wonder why I want people to like me?"

Don, moreover, had gone to Cornell; Steve was rejected by Cornell and went to a more run-of-the-mill college, Syracuse, in upstate New York. Ken Auletta, the writer, was twenty-two, in his first year as a graduate student there and was a resident hall adviser. "That means you got free tuition, room, and board," Auletta says. "Your responsibility was to live on a freshman floor in a dormitory with thirty to sixty freshmen. You counseled them if they needed it.

"Steven was on my floor. He was a great tennis player," Auletta says. "But he was having trouble academically. He would come and talk about it. He was a very sweet guy. He had a sweet smile and these big, goofy eyes. And I knew they thought he would be a star. A tennis star. Just the opposite in the world.

"His academic weaknesses were across the board. He wasn't stupid. He just wasn't applying. He basically didn't give a shit about school. It wasn't like he was a wise guy or had a surly attitude or was depressive. He was worried about it. And his tennis coach was worried about it. He was not bounced out. But he was marginal."

Steve played tennis for Syracuse in the Eastern Intercollegiates in his first year, but this experience put him off looking for a future in the game. "I'd see great old tennis players in the stands, drunk and talking about the past. I didn't want to peak so young," he told Kornbluth. Since Rubell's father had wanted to be a dentist, Steve duly signed up to study dentistry. He flunked and transferred to history and economics. He stayed on a couple of years after graduating and picked up a couple more degrees, one a master's in finance.

It happened that Ian Schrager grew up a few blocks from Rubell, but he was a couple of years younger, and the vagaries of districting took them to different schools. But Schrager, too, went to Syracuse. One day he got into horseplay in a dorm. His opponent was something like six foot four, one of the college basketball stars, but Schrager wouldn't knuckle under. It was this that caught Rubell's eye. There were marked differences between Rubell, who was exuberant, with elastic features and--still guardedly--gay, and Schrager, who was shy, introverted, bonily good-looking, and straight, but the two swiftly formed one of those youthful friendships that are usually the most enduring in life.

Rubell was draft material on leaving Syracuse and joined the National Guard along with a Syracuse friend Bob Tannhauser. When they sensed their unit might be headed to Vietnam, "Steve managed to get us into a military intelligence unit in the Army reserves," Tannhauser told writer Michael Gross. "He had this knack, this desire to be where decisions are made. He wanted to direct what was happening, and he was so charming and disarming, people immediately embraced him. I hadn't even gotten my uniform and Steve was already the assistant to the company commander."

Steve Rubell joined a brokerage firm in Wall Street after leaving the military. "He gradually grew to run the back office," Don Rubell says. "There was a company at that time called Steaks `N Ale that was being franchised. And Steve found a great location, I think on Queens Boulevard. And it was so good the parent company decided to use it for their own.

"I remember the night it happened. He was furious. And he stayed up all night, chewing up pencils and breaking pencils. By the next morning, there were just thousands of fragments of pencils in his room. He thought this would be the end of his life. Then he decided that he would never do that again. He would only go on his own."

But Steve Rubell had decided that the restaurant business was for him. His first places were a functional eatery in Bayside, Queens, and a fancier place in New Haven, Connecticut, called the Tivoli. "It was wonderful. A classic restaurant," Don Rubell says. Steve moved to New Haven and lived there for a year. What attracted him to the restaurant business was what attracts many amateurs to running restaurants, bars, and clubs--the idea that you spend your time not with numbers or with things, but with people. Neil Schlesinger, who had been at Syracuse with Rubell, and became his partner in these ventures, says gastronomic adventure was far from the point. Steve Rubell was a steak-and-potatoes guy. "He would say the best surprise is no surprise," Schlesinger says. Cookery was not his forte. "He knew nothing about restaurants. He couldn't turn a hamburger. He couldn't pour a glass of milk," Schlesinger says. "I could clean a coffeepot. I could fill up the salt and peppers."

Ian Schrager had begun to practice real estate law in 1974. Steve Rubell approached him and signed him up, with a retainer of one thousand dollars. It was his job to organize a rapidly swelling chain of Steak Lofts, some of which were doing poorly. "It was robbing Peter to pay Paul," Schlesinger says. He told Rubell they would be far better off with just a couple of successful places. "Steve called me soon after. He said, `I've done a deal,'" Schlesinger says.

Another restaurant.

One of the final pieces in Rubell's restaurant empire was the Inn of the Clock, a place he took over in the twin towers alongside the UN Building, only to find that the building wouldn't let him run a smokestack to the roof. "That was a problem for a steak restaurant," as Don Rubell puts it, rather understating the case. The place was another bust, and the Steak Loft chain was teetering on the brink.

With typical brio, Rubell decided to open his most ambitious eatery yet. His newest Steak Loft was to be in a venerable stone building, which had until recently been the clubhouse for a golf course on land owned by the City Parks Department in Douglaston, Queens. Ian Schrager came in on the deal, too. Now as a full partner.

* * *

Ian Schrager, whose office was on Park Avenue midtown, would venture out into Manhattan's nightlife, as any young man would, in particular to such then lively clubs as Nepenthe and Hippopotamus. Living in New Haven, Steve Rubell was somewhat the homebody. He didn't drink, he would sometimes smoke a little pot, but his working habits didn't include late hours. Then he moved into Manhattan and shared an apartment with Neil Schlesinger. This arrangement continued for eight years, first on Eighty-fifth Street, then in the Bristol on Fifty-sixth and Third, and Schlesinger remembers nightlife slowly coming to his roommate's attention.

The Hippopotamus, which was run by an old Nightworld hand Olivier Coquelin, was the first club Rubell went to with any regularity, but soon he and his cronies, most especially Ian Schrager, were also going to Infinity, where they met Maurice Brahms, and to Le Jardin. Schrager was both astonished and impressed by what he saw. Not just the size and vigor of the gay culture he saw about him, but the general mixing and melding of different groups of people, the breaking down of social barriers of race and class, and the sight of people willing to stand in line, often in rotten weather, for the privilege of spending their money awed him. For Steve Rubell, though, it was just party time and the homebody was soon addicted to going out. It was during this time that the former jock made some new nocturnal aquaintances: Quaaludes, cocaine.

Schlesinger remembers that it was in Le Jardin that Steve and Ian first saw Bianca Jagger. It was puppy love. "If she sat down, they would sit down. If she left, they would leave. If she went to the bathroom, they would go to the bathroom," Schlesinger says. "Of course, she didn't know they were alive."

Rubell gave a party in one of his own joints. It was for Ian Schrager's then girlfriend, Ellen, and it was in the Inn of the Clock. "That was one of the best parties there ever was in this city," Neil Schlesinger says. That was also when the light went on for Ian Schrager. He, the lawyer, and Steve, the restauranteur, would be a perfect combination to enter Nightworld. Rubell took little persuading. The partnership was, on the surface, curious. The gregarious and extraoverted gay and the introverted straight would always be social opposites. "In general, Steve stays too long. And I leave too soon," Ian Schrager said later. But, as at college, that very lack of overlap made the fit the better. Rubell and Schrager set out together to study the terrain.

The reigning Nightlords were John Addison and Maurice Brahms. "We started talking about doing things together," Brahms says. "Steve could charm your pants off. You could hate him one day and love him the next day. He just had a charm about him. But," he adds, "even when he was stoned, when he used to come into Infinity with his mouth open, dribbling from the Quaaludes, he was always watching ... always looking ... always trying to gather information. There are a few people in the world who are able to function well, even when they are stoned out of their minds. And he was one of them. Anybody who thought they could take advantage of him because they were drugged, they were wrong."

That was the wisdom of the morning after, though. This was still bright evening.

Brahms introduced Steve and Ian to the elusive John Addison. The foursome, or the couple of twosomes, Brahms and Addison, Rubell and Schrager, got down to talking night business and agreed to an ambitious five-club deal. The profits were to be split up evenly among the four. Three venues were agreed upon right away: one was to be in Washington, D.C., one in Boston, and one in the house beside the golf course in Queens, New York.

Work began on the building of the clubs in Queens and Boston at roughly the same time. The look of things was going to be crucial. John Addison had a crystal ball built in New York for the Boston club and hired a driver to take it there, a fledgling fashion photographer named Arthur Weinstein.

Weinstein had been brought into the picture by a lighting designer, Ralph Bisdale. Weinstein had been walking down Twenty-first Street and had looked up and seen an illuminated window. "It was on the first floor. It was lit up so gorgeous. I was a kid. In my early twenties," Weinstein says. He walked up the stairs, knocked on the door, and walked in. "I said, `Wow! This is a beautiful place.'" It was an after-hours club that Bisdale ran. "He was the one that opened my eyes to everything. He knew Addison, Brahms, everybody." Nightworld makes converts, like art and religion. It is serious.

It was thanks to Bisdale that Weinstein was hired to make a delivery for Addison. He took a friend. "We drove a truck up to Boston with the largest disco ball ever made. In history. It was humongous. It had to be at least fifteen feet wide," Weinstein says. "New York to Boston is not one-two-three. It's like up to a six-hour drive easy. So, of course, Addison wanted the delivery, and us to turn around and drive the truck back."

They finally made their grimy arrival. Richard Bernstein, maestro of the Interview magazine covers, was decorating the place with huge pictures of poppers (amyl nitrites) in irridescent colors. The building, at 15 Landsdowne Street, was an art nouveau pile with a history. For years it had been the Boston Tea Party, a famous venue for live rock concerts. The Grateful Dead had played there one New Year's Eve. The first time the Who ever played on American soil, it was in the Boston Tea Party. Led Zeppelin likewise. After the Tea Party had folded its napkins, the building became Cabaret After Dark. A nightperson of the time describes it as "a kind of run-down beat-up gay club." This was now going to be the four partners' first joint club.

The disco ball dropped off, Weinstein and his partner turned around and drove straight back. Weinstein was living then, as now again, at the time of writing, in the Chelsea Hotel on West Twenty-third Street. "I get back. I'm dying. I'm dead. I never heard of cocaine in those days. He leaves an envelope here for me. Guess what's in it? Fifty dollars!

"I call Addison up. He was at the Enchanted Garden. `If you don't come over here with two hundred dollars right now I'm going to drive the U-Haul right into the fucking river. Do you think I'm kidding? Try me!'

"And that's how I met Steve. He came over to the Chelsea. He called and said, `I'm parked in the front.'"

Rubell was sitting in an old Cadillac. He gave Weinstein a couple of hundred bucks. "He liked me from that moment on," Weinstein says. It was mutual. He went out to Queens and met the four partners together.

The humongous disco ball was emblematic, as were the Bernstein popper pieces. The disco look was being born. Ungarnished lofts and ramshackle basements were yesternight's news, and the sheer look of things was going to be important in the new disco palaces. Some elements would be nostalgic, like the disco balls themselves, and some, like Infinity's neon penis, would be borrowed from the gaudy over-the-topness of burlesque shows, the Vegas aesthetic. Others would be taken from Nightworld's arsenal of special effects, like the strobe, borrowed from fashion photography, which caught dancers in a snowblind dazzle, freezing them, moment by moment, like a Muybridge photo strip, and like the luminescent spermatazoa that used to slip over the walls, ceiling, and revelers during the classic light shows of the sixties.

One characteristic bit of sixties modernismo was devised by Ron Ferri, an artist from Narragansett, Rhode Island. It was called the "Translator," and coded music into electrical pulses that activated a flashing light system. You could say that Ferri was fulfilling a project of the Decadents of the nineteenth century, who had dreamed of sense swapping. In one of Rimbaud's poems each vowel was a color, and the Marquis d' Esseintes, the hero of a novel by Joris-Karl Huysmans, would inhale scents as though they were a symphony. The "Translator" made ear-to-eye transactions, turning thumping sound into fractious light for the new decadence; and in the mid-sixties Michael Butler, the producer of Hair, commissioned Ferri to design a nightclub in a Chicago town house, Le Bison.

Ferri wired his Translator into a thirty-foot wall of incandescent light bulbs, which could act mellow or crazy, depending on the sonic feed. He was also making neon sculptures. "I would use all these different gases and they burn different colors." John Addison, who had been introduced to Ferri by Scavullo, saw disco opportunity in the neon pieces. "He contacted me and said, `I'm doing a project,'" Ferri says. "`And I want your work. We're going to do five clubs.'"

"We?" Ferri asked.

"John said he has two partners. But he didn't want to introduce me to them. Because they were from Brooklyn and they were really vulgar."

We were talking in Ferri's apartment. He gave a sudden hiss of a laugh, like escaping steam, at the memory. "I said, `Well. That's nothing to do with me, John.'"

Ferri was introduced to Addison's really vulgar partners, Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell. "Steve and I, we hit it off, like that," he says.

The new club was to be primarily gay, like Le Jardin. Addison, Rubell, and Schrager, who were working on a tight budget (Brahms being a somewhat absentee partner), spruced the place up, painted it, and installed Ferri's floor-to-ceiling neon pieces. Nobody could think of a name. "Why don't you just give the address of the place?" Ferri suggested. "Just call it 15 Landsdowne Near Fenway Park." They did so and opened the doors, not knowing what to expect.

"People were standing in the rain, waiting to get in. Five thousand people, standing in the rain!"

Just what happened next depends on whom you are listening to. Rubell later said, "I was really there only one day. And from the beginning I knew I was going to sell it."

If John Addison had thought he could use the energy of Rubell and Schrager, he hadn't counted on the way the two could absorb, internalize, learn. These processes are part of any kind of creative growth, and they can seem brutal, because whoever is doing the learning makes the newly absorbed knowledge part of their own chemistry. "What John didn't know was that they would just pick his brain and throw him out. Which is exactly what happened," Maurice Brahms says.

"They got the knowledge of how to build a club. They knew which sound person to go to, who the designer was and who the light person was. They got the information they needed."

Actually, Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell never denied that John Addison was a progenitor. Schrager, in particular, has insisted on the importance of Addison's role in creating a club that both harnessed the gay energy coursing through New York and was hospitable to other energy sources too.

Arthur Weinstein has a dry, droll take. He had it figured that first meeing. John Addison had taken Rubell's and Schrager's measure right away. They all liked each other. "Why not? They were all cowboys," he says. "But even then, I was green behind the ears, you look at these guys and ... Yeah! They're really going to share in the profits from the two clubs? Divvy it all up? They're going to report what they make to each other and sit down like gentlemen?"

He gave his distinctive, sardonic laugh. If irony were an Olympic event, Arthur Weinstein would be a contender for the gold. "Yeah. Oh yeah!" he says.

Rubell and Schrager went to Queens, leaving Addison the club in Boston. It was all secretively handled, Nightworld style. They must have felt the subject was buried. Indeed, three years later, when a journalist, Henry Post, looked at Studio 54 for Esquire, he wrote: They don't remember to whom they sold (the Boston club), Rubell and Schrager now say.

John Addison, who was unmentioned in the piece, kept the Boston club awhile. It is now owned by John Lyons and his brother Patrick, who arrived in Boston soon after Rubell and Schrager skedaddled, and who currently constitute the four-hundred-pound gorilla of Boston nightlife. John Lyons says, "The problem was John Addison had--I don't know whether you would call it a lawless attitude or a can-do attitude--he had his way of doing business and believed in things being fabulous and flamboyant. Many times that flew in the face of Boston licensing authorities and Boston police and Boston fire department. He had a certain way he wanted to do something and he would just do it."

I asked whether Addison simply had a New York attitude?

"I've lived in New York. I'm perfectly familiar with the New York attitude," Lyons said. "John Addison had a New York attitude times ten."

It was in New York that John Addison proposed to take the battle to Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell.

The third club was supposed to have been in Washington, D.C., but the five-club deal was doornail-dead.

The New York disco was the one in the house beside the golf course in Douglaston, Queens. Rubell and Schrager had rented it earlier from Restaurant Associates, a chain of eateries that had the lease from the city. They decided on a name for their disco, Enchanted Garden, and began designing and hiring straightaway. Scotty Taylor, a nineteen-year-old five-foot-seven college kid, gave his girlfriend, who was looking for work, a lift there in his tiny Alfa, then went in with her to check the new joint out.

The next thing he knew, Taylor had accepted a job as a waiter. He had his first sight of Steve Rubell the next day. Taylor says, "Steve had got parachute pants and tight black shirts for everyone to wear. He turned to me and said"--Taylor went into an approximation of the nasal timbre Rubell would never shed--"`Go ahead and try it on!' So Steve kind of took notice of me that night."

Opening night was a noisy bash. Taylor began the evening as a waiter but quickly decided he didn't care for it. "Going around, asking people if they wanted a drink! I was embarrassed." He demoted himself to busboy. "I collected the glasses ... I washed them ... I was a one-man army." Scotty Taylor was cheerful and as hardworking as a pit pony, qualities that commended him to Rubell; Rubell and Schrager both admired hard work.

Scotty Taylor knew that Steve Rubell was gay, although Rubell was not one to make public display of his private life. "In the beginning, he used to have beards. You know, he would have a girl hanging around," he says. Rubell was seeing a blond young man who he would introduce as his "cousin." "Steve asked me one day in the Enchanted Garden," Taylor says. "He said, `Are you straight?'

"To me straight meant do you do drugs? `Fuck no!' I said. `Me? Straight?'

"He said, `You want to go to a party tonight?'

"I said, `Yeah!' We got in a car. They closed at four o'clock. It was about five-thirty in the morning. We drove down lower Broadway. There were two black doors at 653. We went in the door. It was Infinity. There were two thousand guys. And it hit me! Steve saw the expression on my face and he went, `I thought you said you weren't straight?'

"I said, `I thought you meant did I do drugs!' I felt embarrassed. But Steve was cool."

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2005

    Studio 54 nostalgia

    I Love the book. It's like the never-ending stroy the movie. I read the book and I live it. I could hear everything happening around me. I WISH so badly Studio 54 still existed. It's both tragic and fascinating that Studio 54 ever came around. That's why it's so unique, special and magical. There's nothing nor there will ever be anything like it. And I've never been! Just in GIA the movie about the supermodel. HMM. O' STUDIO 54.

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