Wandering Manhattan, I sometimes pass an old warehouse or deli that was once the hottest place around. I’ll sneak a glance and try to remember where the bars or DJ booth were. The “five best clubs ever” is an exercise I try every couple of years; there are plenty of gaps from yesterday through today, and we can argue who goes where until the sun goes down (or comes back up). Here are my personal favorites.
Studio 54 (254 West 54th Street): This was the greatest club of all. Here, Mick wooed Bianca and Truman Capote told wondrous tales to Elizabeth Taylor and Andy Warhol. It was the playground of the smartest set of my era. “Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell produced events that nobody has done before Studio or since,” says VIP hostess Carmen D’Allesio. Now it’s a theater—Waiting for Godot is playing.
Area (157 Hudson Street): “There was no VIP room,” says former employee Desmond Cadogan of Area. “If you got past the door staff, you were a VIP. Everyone was hanging out together, from art and movie stars to sexy yuppies and skanky hos.” After holding subsequent clubs like Quick, NASA and the Shelter, the Area space is reportedly being converted into condos.
The World (254 East Second Street): This was the place where hip-hop broke out from the streets. Public Enemy played, plus Salt-n-Pepa and the Beastie Boys, but also Bowie, Sinead, Björk and even Neil Young. Keith Haring doodled on the bathroom stalls. Carolina Herrera wore a zillion dollars worth of emeralds while project kids popped and spun. It was dangerous and smart. “The true stars of The World’s universe were the club kids and patrons,” says owner Robert Frank. “When they came through the doors, they became anyone they wanted to be.” The World was demolished years ago; the East Side Tabernacle resides in the first floor of the building that replaced it.
Max’s Kansas City (213 Park Avenue South): “Max’s was great because of the feeling of family there,” says Dead Boys guitarist Cheetah Chrome. “Hell, I even liked the food.” When Mickey Ruskin owned the joint, Lou Reed, Robert Rauschenberg, Debbie Harry and the amazing New York Dolls all came by. That alone would put it near the top, but its second Tommie Dean Mills incarnation ushered in the Ramones, the Dead Boys and Jayne County. It’s a deli now.
Paradise Garage (84 King Street): Larry Levan is the Babe Ruth of DJs, and the Garage was his Yankee Stadium. Larry and a few other pharaohs offered disco and house to a predominantly gay and black crowd. Designer Malcolm Harris found himself there: “As a young African American moving to New York, Paradise Garage was as close to a spiritual oasis or tribal commune as one could possibly get. A night at the Garage was a revival meeting, tantric healing session and primal orgy rolled into one.” The building now stores Verizon trucks.