You’re too young to remember the actual Studio 54 I’m sure, but you may have heard of it and wanted to know what was so special about it. Why does the name, no the legend, live on all these years later? What was Studio 54?
To understand it completely you have to travel back to April 16th 1977 and to put that into perspective: that was the year that first saw VISA on credit cards, rings were discovered around Uranus (I’m not joking), the first spacewalk took place and Sarah Michelle Gellar was only 12 days old. Meanwhile over on 254 W. 54th Street, New York, two friends, Steve Rubell and Ian Shrager opened their doors for the first time and thereby started the legend of Studio 54.
In simple terms it was a night club; but a glittering one. They had tried owning and running steakhouses in the city but soon decided that there was more money to be made in alcohol, hence the idea of a club. With Rubell’s drive he was always the loud and gregarious one, they bought and renovated the old TV studio, transformed it into the club, hung an illuminated man-in-the-moon over the dance floor and the rest, as they say is history.
Some of the first guests no doubt helped the club on its rise to fame and thanks to the likes of Andy Warhol and Liza Minelli it soon became the place to be. And I mean the place. Within months everyone around the world knew its name and this wasn’t just because the glittery and famous went there. It somehow came to symbolise everything that represented the era at the time, the so called ‘Me’ era. Everything was about hedonism and having a wild time, parties and fun, dancing and sex. Straight sex, gay sex, bi-sex sexy¦ Rubell encouraged everything, not necessarily at the club but he threw the doors open to gay and straight people alike. And he insisted on certain things and had a manner about him which enhanced his reputation: you had to fit in, you had to look right and it was not uncommon for him, as he walked and viewed his dance floor, to tell people to go home and change; he even didn’t let some people in simply because they were ‘too ugly’.
He knew how to keep the public coming through the doors though. Realising that to make money you have to spend it, he lavished gifts on his famous guests. He threw a huge musical spectacular for Bianca Jagger’s 30th birthday for example and presented Andy Warhol with a dustbin full of dollar bills the famous loved it and the general public loved to come and see the famous loving it. One thing fed off another and it’s reported that the club made over $7 million in the first year.
But, as they say, all good things must come to and end. In December 1979, just 32 months after opening, Studio 54 was closed down. The Internal Revenue Services raided it, finding bags of money simply lying around, and checked the records. Shrager had been very detailed in his record keeping and had noted every gift that had been given to the celebrities, including gifts of drugs and ‘poppers’. The two were sentenced to three and a half years each in gaol, but served only 13 months due to striking a deal with the prosecutors. Once free they went back to the club business with the Palladium and from there into the hotel business. Studio 54 didn’t reopen.
But still the question remains: why the legend? Why do we still remember Studio 54 all these years later? It was a quick blast of hedonism and the ‘anything goes’ culture of the days but so were many other places and things. Maybe that’s the point: Studio 54 was a mystery and a legend from the day it first opened its doors to the day it closed them some 1000 days later. And it still is. Now when you see a Studio 54 party you will know what it is all about.