by Avery Stankus
As seen in Issue 4, available now!
Imagine this, it’s 1977, you’re headed into the hottest West Side disco club wearing a wide-legged velvet jumpsuit with a plunging neckline and bold chunky heels as you pass the velvet ropes and walk through the blackout double doors, you’re greeted by the echoing sounds of disco. Fortunately for some, there’s not much imagining to do. This Wizard Of Oz-esque scene was a typical Tuesday night for partygoers as they ventured through the 80’s Manhattan night-life at Studio 54.
Studio 54 was established by best friends Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell in 1977 after converting the once opera house and former CBS television studio into the discotheque. The co-founders created their vision and within six weeks the doors to “Oz” were open to the public, well almost.
Crowds of people filled the exterior, waiting for their chance to walk down the yellow brick road that was the open velvet ropes into Studio. Doorkeepers and Rubbell would determine who was let in based on certain criteria that seemed to have had little rhyme or reason. There were guest lists that consisted of A-list celebrities who were to be allowed in no matter what, also known as, ‘NFUs’ (No F*ck Ups), there were the A-listers who had to pay the entry fee and others who were given no special treatment. The entrance had nothing to do with money and everything to do with how you presented yourself. Don’t let the daunting entry fool you, Studio 54 was the most exclusive-inclusive scene for that time period.
From Andy Warhol to Salvador Dali to Cher to Jackie O’, an abundance of celebrities graced the dance floor of Studio’s disco days. Not only was this a hot spot for typical household names, but it became escapism for gay men, drag queens, and transgender people. Being at Studio 54 in the ’80s felt like freedom for so many. It didn’t matter how you identified, once you were let in, you were accepted for all that you were.
Studio was the spot for New Year’s Eve parties, afterparties, and just a typical mid-week pick-me-up. No two nights were the same in the 33-month span of Studio 54’s existence. One night you’re at the premiere party for ‘Grease’ where Olivia Newton-John is seen dancing with Allan Carr and the next you’re celebrating Bianca Jagger’s 30th birthday as she rides a white horse throughout the nightclub. On any given night you could find Disco Sally, a 77-year-old Studio 54 regular, dancing and mingling with Warhol and Jagger. Studio 54 was the Met Gala on Quaaludes.
All good things must come to an end, and for Studio 54 it was no different. In 1980, the discotheque came to an abrupt halt when Schrager and Rubell were sentenced for tax evasion. The nighttime-duo had one last hurrah before they served their 13-month sentence. You had Liza Minnelli and Diana Ross serenading the two as the crowd of Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, and many others basked in these last moments of utmost acceptance and freedom.
It’s no doubt Studio 54 has had a substantial impact on pop culture today. From risque fashion to candid photography to groovy music, the New York nightclub has become part of history. Its cultural significance has left an everlasting footprint behind.