The Legendary Studio 54
By Lucas Compan
Steve Rubbel and Ian Schrager had a dream: throw the best party in the world
Andy Warhol, Robin Williams, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Cher, Calvin Klein, Brooke Shields, Mick Jagger, Muhammad Ali: these were just a few celebrities who used to spread their wings and craziness at the legendary, unforgettable, the most famous night club in the world: New York City's Studio 54.
New York City’s Studio 54
The crowd outside 254 West 54th Street in New York City on April 25, 1927 would have been waiting for the curtain of a Puccini at Gallo Opera House. On this day in 1957 or '67, they would have been waiting for a filming of an episode of CBS's Password or maybe Captain Kangaroo.
On this day in 1977, however, the crowd gathered outside that Midtown address was waiting and hoping for another thing: a chance to enter what would soon become the global epicenter of the disco craze and the most famous nightclub in the world: Studio 54, which opened its doors for the very first time on April 25, 1977.
The dream became true
The entrepreneurs behind Studio 54: Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, college roommates at Syracuse University who got into the nightclub business after their first venture, a chain of steak restaurants, failed to flourish. But before taking Manhattan by storm – and becoming famous for openly and shamelessly excluding all but the chicest, famous or beautiful patrons from their establishment, Rubell and Schrager were running a less pretentious operation called the Enchanted Garden in Queens.
( WATCH TRAILER ) Studio 54 is a 1998 American drama film written and directed by Mark Christopher, about Studio 54, a world-famous New York City disco club, the main setting of the film. It stars Ryan Phillippe, Salma Hayek, and Neve Campbell. It also stars Mike Myers as Steve Rubell, the co-founder of the club.
The woman who deserves the lion's share of the credit for making 54 into the celebrity playground that it became was Carmen D'Alessio, a public-relations entrepreneur in the fashion industry, whose Rolodex included names like Bianca Jagger, Liza Minnelli, Andy Warhol, and Truman Capote.
Her buzz-building turned the grand opening into a major item in the New York gossip columns, and her later efforts—like having Bianca Jagger ride a white horse into the club for her 30th birthday party—stoked the public's fascination with Studio 54 even further. Not just the usual celebrity suspects—actors, models, musicians and athletes—but also political figures like Margaret Trudeau, Jackie Onassis and, infamously, White House Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan came out to be seen during the club's brief heyday.
From a musical standpoint, Studio 54 did not seek to break new ground, but rather to feed its patrons a familiar diet of dance hits. Artists like Grace Jones, Donna Summer and Gloria Gaynor all made live appearances there, but Studio 54 belonged to the DJs and to the free entertainment provided by the club's flamboyant staff and clientele. While disco reigned supreme on the pop charts, Studio 54 reigned supreme among all discos.
The End of a Dream
After 33 months of enormous success, Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, the partners who parlayed the Studio 54 discotheque into a symbol of America’s disco age, were in trouble.
IRS agents raided Studio 54 on December 14th, 1978, seizing garage bags of cash, financial documents and five ounces of cocaine. Both Rubell and Schrager were arrested and accused of skimming $2.5 million in club earnings. That November they pled guilty to two counts of corporate and personal income-tax evasion. Judge Richard Owen shocked the court by imposing the maximum penalty: three-and-a-half years in prison and $20,000 fines.
( WATCH TRAILER ) New York. One nightclub defines an era and a generation. For the first time, one of the people behind the infamous Studio 54 tells the in-depth story of how the world's greatest nightclub was created. Watch the trailer from the documentary now available on Netflix.
But they threw a star-studded farewell party before being sent off to prison.
The following February, just before they were due to serve their time, Rubell and Schrager threw one last bash, billed as "The End of Modern-Day Gomorrah."This final blowout was intimate compared to most nights, with just 2,000 of Studio 54's most faithful, including Richard Gere, Halston, Reggie Jackson, Andy Warhol, Lorna Luft and Sylvester Stallone. Diana Ross serenaded the owners from the DJ booth, and Liza Minnelli sang "New York, New York." Rubell, donning a Sinatra-like fedora, piped in with a spirited rendition of "My Way," which played on repeat during the night, as did Gloria Gaynor's Studio 54 anthem "I Will Survive." From a mechanical platform high above the dance floor, Rubell addressed his guests with an emotional speech. "Steve was coked out of his mind," remembered one in attendance, "Bianca was hugging him, and he was saying, 'I love you, people! I don't know what I'm going to do without Studio!' And everyone was crying and weeping."
New York Post columnist Jack Martin found Rubell in the early morning hours. "He was sort of spaced-out," he told Haden-Guest. "He had accepted it. It was a sad going-away party but we were laughing and trying to have fun. We were with him literally until he took a car to go home and meet the authorities." The party was over.
The music of Studio 54
A clip with various hits of the discotheque era during the 1970s and 1980s.
Steve Rubell (December 2, 1943 – July 25, 1989) was an American entrepreneur and co-owner of the New York disco Studio 54. Steve and his partner Ian were paroled after serving 13 months and tries operating Studio 54 but without success. Selling it, Rubell and Schrager went into the hotel business where they bought out and operated a number of upscale hotels. Rubell died in 1989. Schrager continues running their hotel they started.
Ian Schrager (born July 19, 1946) is now an entrepreneur, hotelier and real estate developer. He is often associated with co-creating the Boutique Hotel category of accommodation. His most recent achievement is new openings of his PUBLIC brand: several luxury residential projects under development in New York City. His motto is LUXURY FOR ALL.
Ian's entrepreneurial spirit
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How the site looks like (present day)
The Studio 54 site: now the Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54 – Known primarily as the site of the infamous nightclub Studio 54, this building has far more history. Its tale starts in the early twentieth century, when it was erected as the Gallo Opera House. After a brief stint as the New York Theatre, and a longer one as the home of the Johnny Carson Show (as well as other television shows), the space was turned into the legendary disco club in 1977. Studio 54 was in business for less than three years, but its cultural legacy continues on. It is remembered as the wildest club in New York, where A-list celebrities and rock stars gathered to mingle and dance. Would-be clubbers were often turned away for lack of looks or glamour, and the nightclub met its demise in appropriately dramatic fashion when the IRS raided the building and arrested the owners for tax evasion.
For a time after that, the building was used as a concert venue, and then stood vacant for several years. In 1998, Roundabout Theatre Company moved its landmark production of Cabaret into the neglected theatre-turned-studio-turned-nightclub. Today, Studio 54 is a permanent home for Roundabout Theatre Company, and the Tony Award-winning production of Cabaret is back again, having another successful run in 2014. As you can see in the picture, the iconic Studio 54's glass doors are still there.
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