Snowy Walk Down Memory Lane with Studio 54’s Bill Jarema

I, like so many of you, am snowed in. I left a design meeting in the late afternoon yesterday only to be pelted by stinging sleet. Amanda and I ducked into the movie theater on Union Square, caught The Kings Speech, and warmed our toes and minds — The Kings Speech makes True Grit look like soggy oatmeal, Black Swan like an ugly duckling. We exited and got hot chocolate at Max Brenner, and canceled all our plans for the evening. We said “welcome homes” via texts to people who sat on tarmacs for hours and never got anywhere, and told our commuter friends they could crash at our place rather than risk a crash on the road. I had crashed down some icy subway stairs earlier in the night and popped out my shoulder.

I’ll spend today in the hospital seeking some sort of cure or relief, but yesterday, I sucked it up and had dinner at Juliette off Bedford Avenue. Our scraggly, exhausted band of others thought it felt like an episode of Survivor, only with great food. We needed two extra chairs to handle the volume of clothes we are all wearing. Winter is winning. Somebody out there messed with mother nature, and mother nature is acting out. All the parkas, mittens, 8-hour hand and toe warmers, and sensible shoes aren’t keeping us sound.

Events that mean a great deal to some people are drawing no crowds after months of preparation. Acts of God have us wondering if the act we wanted to see at a venue actually made it into town. Are big DJs stranded in foreign airports? This winter of discontent is a game changer. For years to come, event planners who already thought twice about booking an event in the winter will think 3 or 5 times. Hospitality workers will hoard their holiday cash, thinking January work will not pay the bills. Waitrons and bartenders are applying for food stamps, and door policies all over town are being relaxed. The January blizzard of 2011 is affecting us all on a deeper than just “it’s cold and wet outside tonight” level. It has snowed before, but not like this. Never so many days with so much accumulation. Here we are talking about the weather, and that’s never a good sign.

Nightlife veteran Bill Jarema is turning, well, I don’t really know many years, but he’s really old. Not Steve Lewis old, but old. He’s one of the players who didn’t get as much recognition as some because he was too busy working to jump in front of a camera. Bill worked the door of over 20 nightclubs. He is a Studio 54 veteran. He started as a bathroom attendant, moved on to day crew, mailroom, then worked his way up to assistant promotional director, and then managing doorman. Ultimately he was doing his own parties 2 to 4 nights a week at Studio until it closed. He actually locked the doors at Studio 54, the final night. He did some “heavyweight” parties for peeps like Madonna at Studio, Depeche mode at Palladium, and U2 at Limelight. He was really known for his “pay the bills bridge and tunnel” crowd and for capitalizing on his experience from Studio and the “brand name” it had.

How did the Studio 54 experience help you?

It gave me a lot of credibility making deals. After Baird Jones did his thing in the early to mid 80’s, no one did the numbers I did. I did Magique, Cat Club, 1018, 4D, Mars, Area, Quick, Xenon, Octogon, exclusively and primarily on Saturdays as the drinking age transitioned from 18 to 19, and then to 21. My 3 partners and I had a network of distributors, and a mailing list that was ginormous. Probably 60,000+ names. We got paid much more from the newer spots VS Studio, because these clubs were willing to pay. What are the differences between the old days and the modern clubs?

The crowds are not as mixed, gay/straight and the sexual energy is missing. The crowds are not as cultured. Many of the trend setters have moved to Miami and LA, cutting things down things in NYC to about 1/3 of what it was. The joints themselves are run by less professional people, who do not take their jobs as seriously, and have no creativity. Area was redesigned every week it seemed! And today, it takes 5 minutes to get a watered down drink! We used to be so busy, we didn’t even ring the register! Any Steve Rubell or Ian Schrager, Studio 54 memories?

I wasn’t that close with Steve and Ian because I didn’t work for them at a high capacity. But Ian did teach me how to keep my tip jar filled in the bathroom. He was usually gone early, and I could never make any sense of what came out of Stevie’s mouth if I ever ran into him. On my very first night as a busboy, I did run into Stevie on the balcony. I had just seen two guys going at it while sweeping up cigarette butts at only 10:30PM, Stevie said I looked like I had seen a ghost.

You claim I went to 54, but I honestly don’t remember. I used to go and hang outside and Steve would invite me in, and I always declined which pissed off Mark Beneke, and of course those who had waited for hours. I was a punk back then, and uninterested in Studio, but loved the spectacle. I was always at Max’s Kansas City.

Even though you don’t remember going to Studio, you definitely did. You came to the door on a Saturday, saying you were from Limelight or some such, wearing this really cool deep brown hoodie thingy, kinda like those little midget scrap dealers in Star Wars? Anyway, Benecke was inside and I let you in, even though I wasn’t supposed to. He went nuts when he saw you inside saying, “We don’t let his type in here, and we don’t have club courtesy.” I never did that again, needless to say, and that is the first time we met.

Other Studio stories?

One night, there were so many people outside, probably six thousand or so. The crowd was swaying back and forth, and an Asian kid’s spine broke. Chuck Garelick (head of security) swept him inside and out the back. I knew this was the place to be.

One night I was up on Benecke’s old spot on the fire hydrant. We had Alisha performing, another 3-4,000 peeps outside, and up walks Hank Pisani from Crisco Disco/Page Six, along with his entourage of young lads. I had no choice but to let him in, and as he did, he grabs my balls and says, “Billy, you look so yummy tonight. I wanna @#$%& you up &*%$#@ until your %$&(# turns orange.” The crowd went silent

Who were the nightlife legends that most influenced you?

The 3 most influential legends for me were Benecke who taught me how to keep it brief, firm, yet polite, and a few catchy phrases like, “Not with those shoes.” Rudolf taught me to keep it simple, and that this was really an easy business. John Blair, who taught me how to have a good time doing this, and not to take it so seriously, but most importantly how to make a deal, and that the owners needed to make money or you won’t last.

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