In a city filled with history and legend, 1977 might just be New York's most notorious year, as decadence reached dazzling new heights typified by the flight of the Concorde soaring at the speed of sound overhead. While 100 of the world’s most glamorous jet setters shuttled back and forth above the pond, New York was collapsing into anarchy.
After years of white flight and “benign neglect,” the city was broke. The federal government refused a bailout. Criminal became bold. Arsonists torched the Bronx while landlords collected insurance checks. A serial killer dubbed “Son of Sam” was terrorizing the city and writing letters to the press. Pornography was legalized and prostitution flourished openly on the streets. Then, on one hot night in July, a blackout struck and the city descended into pure chaos.
Amid the madness, a spark had emerged, soaring through the sky like a comet until it burned to dust — Studio 54, the most legendary nightclub ever known. College buddies Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager transformed a former midtown TV studio into a pleasure palace for the senses that took the Warholian ideal of celebrity to new heights, where everyone was a star in their own right.
Studio 54 was disco in spirit and flesh, a sea of beautiful people living their best lives, free to lose themselves in glamour, fantasy, and decadence. An exquisite jewel box inside an otherwise squalid town, Studio 54 was Versailles of the twentieth century. Once inside, guests swanned through a mirrored corridor, underneath crystal chandeliers that brought them directly to the dance floor where guests like Grace Jones, Diana Ross, and Nigel Rogers could be seen, as well as heard.
“The key of the success of Studio 54 is that it’s dictatorship at the door and a democracy on the dance floor,” Warhol astutely observed. Once inside, it was understood you belonged, and everyone acted accordingly. Autographs were déclassé. The only people with cameras were invited to shoot the party — and Warhol, who made a point to stand alongside the paparazzi to photograph the custom cakes.
Every night at Studio 54 was a trip through the looking glass in to a magical wonderland, whether rubbing shoulders with Liza Minnelli, Truman Capote, Elizabeth Taylor, and Calvin Klein or writing a page in history, as Bianca Jagger did on her birthday when she sat on top of a white horse being lead by a tall man wearing nothing but gold glitter.
Studio 54 was the crest of the perfect wave, the apotheosis of sexual liberation, civil rights, and personal freedom. It was the highest high made possible only in retrospect, the last moment of innocence before the advent of AIDS — a moment of resplendent grandeur embodied by Antonio Lopez, Halston, Rudolf Nureyev, Tina Chow, and so many others who kicked up their heels inside those hallowed halls. It was a beautiful moment in time, evoking the feeling of Donna Summer’s “Last Dance” spinning just before the lights come on.
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