In the heyday of disco, there was only one club that everyone wanted to gain entrance – that was Studio 54 in New York City.
Formerly a theatre and then a studio owned by CBS, in 1976 the space became available and many wanted to make it into a nightclub.
Carmen D’Alessio, the pr rep for Valentino and known as a well-connected partymaker, approached her friends Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, to go into business with her in Manhattan at the building with the address 254 West 54th Street.
Along with Tim Savage and Jack Dushey, Schrager and Rubell created Broadway Catering Corp. which opened the nightclub Studio 54. Schrager and Rubell worked with D’Alessio, who had a myriad contacts in the world of fashion, music and movie culture to create a place that would be the hot spot of Manhattan, as much with locals as with the international jet set who regularly came to NYC.
Five thousand invitations were sent out for the opening of the club, with a special gift attached. On April 26, 1977, Studio 54 opened, with its strict door policy and a hot VIP list including artist Andy Warhol, Bianca and Mick Jagger, designers Calvin Klein and Halston and a host of socialities and celebrities including Margaux Hemingway, Liza Minnelli, Jerry Hall, Brooke Shields, Debbie Harry and newlyweds Donald and Ivana Trump.
Due to the strict door policy, even some major stars didn’t get in like Frank Sinatra, Warren Beatty, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton. As the stories swirled on this new kid on the block, Halston, who was a good friend of Bianca Jagger, wanted to open the club on a Monday night for a party for her birthday. The publicity of the party, with Jagger entering the club on horseback confirmed this club as the hot spot for the A list.
Schrager, Dushey and Savage were definitely behind the scenes partners, while Rubell became a flamboyant visible host of the club, often hand-selecting the beautiful and the bold from the crowds on the street o hang out with the well-known celebs within the boundaries of the club. For those lucky enough to be chosen out of the line, the cover was $8, an unheard of amount for a club at the time.
Rumours of hedonism circled the club, with stories of sexual encounters in the balconies, drug use by patrons and an open door policy to homosexual patrons on Sunday nights. Celebs who wanted to make sure their names were in the NY gossip columns of Liz Smith or Rex Reed worked every connection to insure entry into the hallowed halls of Studio 54 on a Friday night. Although the club dodged multiple closures, on February 4, 1980, with charges and stories swirling, the club hosted its final party, dubbed The End of Modern Day Gomorrah.
Rubell and Shrager were charged with embezzlement of US$2.5 million from the club’s coffers and police found cocaine and money hidden within the walls of the club. Rubell and Shrager were both convicted and spent 13 months in jail.
I only heard about the infamous nightclub well after its heyday, reading the stories of celebs who were notorious for their repeated presence in the club and for the impact it had during the days of disco. For a time period that celebrated a new found sexuality and freedom, Studio 54 represented one place where everyone pushed the boundaries of propriety and societal rules, embracing everyone and everything.
Although books and films have showcased this historical place, Studio 54 remains best known to its former patrons, an example of a bright star that burnt brightly and then faded from glory as the decade came to a close.