Sunday, 16 December 2012

STUDIO 54: the most famous nightclub in history

Halston, Bianca, Andy and Liza illustrate the glamour of Studio 54

During the 1970's, Tommy Nutter, the founder of Nutters of Savile Row, dressed everyone, from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to Elton John and Eric Clapton, from Jacko (before the Wacko) to the high priestess of Motown, Diana Ross. Nutter and his clientele defined "bon vivant" and their destination of choice at the time was the hedonistic New York discotheque, Studio 54.

Mick Jagger and John Lennon at the most famous nightclub in history

The establishment, located at 254 West 54th Street in Manhattan, was originally built in 1927 as the Gallo Opera House. Three years later it was transformed into the New Yorker theatre, then in 1942, CBS purchased the space and made it the home of renowned television programmes such as "The Johnny Carson Show". In 1976, CBS moved most of its broadcast functions to the Ed Sullivan Theatre and put the property up for sale.

In 1977, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager acquired the premises, with financial backing from Jack Dushey, and in just 6 weeks transformed the former theatre into what was to become the most famous nightclub in history. It was a playground for the rich, famous, and infamous. The eclectic group of guests were hand-picked from the crowds that gathered outside by Rubell himself. It was an interesting mix. "It's bisexual", Rubell told Interview magazine. "Very bisexual. And that's how we choose the crowd too. In other words we want everyone to be fun and good-looking" ... and have sex and do drugs on the balcony.

A hopeful crowd gathers outside the club

By December of 1978, Rubell was quoted as saying that Studio 54 had made $7 million in its first year and that "only the Mafia made more money". Shortly thereafter the nightclub was raided, and Rubell and Schrager were arrested for "skimming" $2.5 million. They were found guilty of tax evasion and spent 13 months in prison.

Lawyer Roy Cohn, Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, following a raid on the club

Before their internship, Rubell and Schrager closed Studio 54 with a party on February 4th, 1980, where Diana Ross personally serenaded the founders. The guests that night included Ryan O'Neal, Mariel Hemingway, Jocelyn Wilderstein, Richard Gere, Gia Carangi, Jack Nicholson, Reggie Jackson and Sylvester Stallone.

Richard Gere hits the Studio 54 dancefloor

On their release from prison in 1981, Rubell and Schrager sold the building, but opted to keep a lease. The club reopened on September 12, 1981, with a guest list of Andy Warhol, Clavin Klein, Cary Grant, Lauren Hutton, Gloria Vanderbilt, Gina Lollobrigida and Brooke Shields. During this period, emerging artists, Madonna, Wham, Duran Duran, Culture Club and Run-DMC performed at the club before going on to future success.

Calvin Klein and Brooke Shields with Steve Rubell for LIFE

Soon after selling Studio 54, Rubell and Schrager purchased the Executive Hotel on Madison Avenue and renamed it Morgan's. It was an instant success and introduced the boutique lifestyle hotel concept to the world. It was followed by the Royalton and the Paramount which pioneered the idea of "lobby socialising" where guests and New York residents alike could gather. They later opened the Palladium, a large dance club famous for displaying art by Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, and considered central to the New York club scene of the 1980s.

In 1985, after discovering he had contracted AIDS, Rubell began taking AZT, but his illness was furthered by his continued drug use and drinking, which affected his already compromised immune system. Rubell died on the 25th July, 1989.

Rubell and Schrager understood how to create desire

Schrager has seen continuing success with both hotel and residential property developments. His latest venture is a partnership with Marriott International to develop a chain of hotels under the brandname EDITION, the first of which has now opened in Istanbul.

And Studio 54? It is now the permanent home of the Roundabout Theatre Company, but in most minds it will the remain the place that defined the Disco-Era. Star-studded, glamorous, eccentric, stylish and exclusive .... it was the Nutter of nightclubs.

Stars of the Disco-era Diana Ross & Michael Jackson at Studio 54


  1. His name is Jackson, not Jacko or Wacko. He's King Jackson to you, and to the whole world, you pink disgusting, jealous, envious, intimated, steaky trash you, lol.

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