A time when excess was in fashion, disco music reigned, and there was only one place to go out at night. Welcome to Studio 54!
Housed in an old theater founded 1927, Studio 54 was the most epic nightclub of all time with a reputation for making fantasies come true. Remodeled only six months before its opening in April 1977, this nightlife center would become the stronghold of the relatively new disco era, which featured a style of music in which DJs used two turntables playing the same song to considerably extend the length of hit tracks and keep the fun going.
Studio 54 closed its doors after only three years, but during that time, it was king. Those were the days of Saturday Night Fever, and all the clubs wanted to emulate the film. It was height of the sexual revolution, and in Studio 54, you could do whatever you wanted: meet celebrities, have sex, do drugs, and dance to disco.
The short reign of this empire depended on two very different men: Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, who had previously opened another club. One was in charge of keeping the ambiance special, differentiating this space from any other. The other was responsible filtering the guest list down to the most sophisticated and fabulous people in New York. Invitees included a mix of Andy Warhol’s, Calvin Klein’s, Francesco Scavullo’s, and party promoter Carmen D´Alessio’s friends. For the inauguration, they sent out a total of eight thousand invitations. The same day they opened, they realized they’d created a monster. Attendees included Diana Ross, Margaux Hemingway, Brooke Shields, Salvador Dalí, and many others. Others, like Cher, Woody Allen, Warren Beatty, and Frank Sinatra didn’t make it in.
Days passed and expectations grew. People were dying to know what was going on inside this club located in the worst neighborhood in Manhattan. The day after it opened, fashion designer Halston threw a birthday party for Bianca Jagger on a Monday, and this started a tradition of extravagantly themed parties. A person popped out of a cake, the whole place was filled with glitter, and there was even a gorgeous white horse on which Bianca posed for a legendary photo shoot. This catapulted the place to mythical levels of fame.
This club wall about fun. You went through some dark glass doors and down a corridor into a room with a large disco ball and laser beams bouncing all around. Everything was made from mirrors. The dance floor was the heart of Studio 54 and disco music was its heartbeat. They had the most powerful sound system that money could buy, so the music would vibrate your body. It was like nothing people had experienced before.
The daring remodel of this huge theater, which had once served for operas, plays, elegant dinners, and television shows, included the most cutting-edge audio and lighting design of the time. The architects who remodeled it thought of the dance floor as a stage because everybody would want to be on it.
The atmosphere was the height of sophistication. It was an eclectic mix of fashion and circus, elegant but high-tech. It is said to be the first club to turn people away, which only made people want to belong to the select group more. Entry was not just about being rich and famous but how you looked or dance. The people who got in contributed everything that happened inside, whether because of how they dressed or the energy they gave off. A large part of the attendees belonged to the LGBT+ community.
In the words of renowned photographer Meryl Meisler, “I like a mix of people. What makes New York special is that it brings all different kinds of people together. I loved that about Studio 54. It was gay. It was straight. It was genderfluid, older, younger. There were starlets and unknowns. The only thing we might have in common is we didn’t have to get up first thing in the morning.”
Frequented by Andy Warhol, Al Pacino, John Lennon, Liza Minelli, John Travolta, Yves Saint Laurent, Farrah Fawcett, Grace Jones, and other celebrities, the new era of nightlife was written at Studio 54. In its short existence, so much would happen behind those doors. One of the worst things, though, was the tax problems suffered by the owners who had been stashing cash profits in plastic bags on the roof. That, coupled with illegal sale of drugs, made this place just a dream that people had to wake up from.
“The End of Modern-Day Gomorrah” was held in February 1980 and hosted by Diana Ross. It’s said that the last drink served was to Sylvester Stallone.
Here’s a playlist to help you get into the vibe this infamous locale–the most fun, extreme and daring place of all time: Studio 54 Greatest Hits of All Time.
By Sussy Oh.