last night a disco
saved my life

Celebrities, sex, drag and drugs... We take a deep dive into the salacious stories of Studio 54.

WORDS BY REBECCA RHYS-EVANS

A disco mecca and the very symbol of 1970s hedonism – Studio 54 is undoubtedly the most-talked about nightclub in history. Known as the ‘Titanic of nightclubs,’ it was a world where casual sex and drug consumption were expected, and the queer, famous and wonderfully weird were welcomed. 1000 party-goers in the pursuit of pleasure, 54 became a symbol of both openness yet exclusivity, making people queue for hours to gain entry. Of course a club with such a scandalous reputation couldn’t last forever. And as we find ourselves stuck at home, having not been able to go out, out for almost a year, who wouldn’t be intrigued by the sordid anecdotes that contributed to the demise of the party of all parties?

Opened in 1977 by best friends Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager at 254 West 54th Street in New York, Studio 54 was birthed in a time of change. Vietnam was over, Watergate was becoming a memory, Saturday Night Fever had just hit movie theatres, and the I Love New York campaign was about to launch. It was pre AIDS, when New York was experiencing a sexual and social revolution and disco was its soundtrack. 

One of 54's most-loved guests was Grace Jones. A notorious fashion model, It-girl and soon-to-be singer/songwriter, she was present from the early days of Studio 54. In her book I'll Never Write My Memoirs, she details the spirit of New York's nightlife at that time. “It was a very small community, New York. The club scene, the art world, the music people, the fashion freaks, the energized, dislocated misfits, the gay spirit and different generations, various tribes with no name, all overlapping and interacting and spiralling off into new shapes… there were the beautiful people, the poseurs, the fantasists, but there were also those with more cerebral urges. It was about the mix of people, all in one place.” 

"The club scene, the art world, the music people, the fashion freaks, the gay spirit and different generations, various tribes with no name, all overlapping and interacting..."

"THE CLUB SCENE, THE ART WORLD, THE MUSIC PEOPLE, THE FASHION FREAKS, THE ENERGIZED, DISLOCATED MISFITS, THE GAY SPIRIT, DIFFERENT GENERATIONS, VARIOUS TRIBES WITH NO NAME, ALL OVERLAPPING AND INTERACTING AND SPIRALLING OFF INTO NEW SHAPES…"

getting in...

Notoriously difficult to get in to, doormen would receive up to $1000 per person in bribes. Other offered sex or cocaine for entry. Marc Benecke – the 19 year old in charge of who passed the velvet rope and into Boogie Wonderland – had to be escorted home on numerous occasions after receiving several threats of violence. There was no end to crazy attempts people would make to get in... Some took to climbing into the back smoking area, going over a 10-foot wall and barbed wire, others broke into the building next door, whilst one guy was found dead stuck in an air vent wearing a tuxedo. 

the guests...

Celebrity guests were a plenty, but even for them getting in was difficult; “Frank Sinatra never made it. He was stuck in his limo. There were thousands of people and we were not prepared for it. It was a complete pandemonium” said Shrager. As well as Andy Warhol, Cher, Mick Jagger, Grace Jones and Liza Minelli being regular guests, Donald Trump was another surprising attendee. Supposedly he and his Wall Street friends would turn up so unfashionably early, just to ensure entrance, but sadly there’s no reports of him ever dancing. Nile Rodgers was another who was refused entry. Despite being invited personally by Grace Jones for the New Year’s Eve bash, there was a mix up with the guestlist, and he ended up going home and writing the famed song Le Freak instead.

"For one of the New Year’s Eve events reportedly four tonnes of glitter were imported and dropped onto the dancefloor, “you felt like you were walking on stardust”

"For one of the New Year’s Eve events four tonnes of glitter were dropped onto the dancefloor, 'you felt like you were walking on stardust.'”

the glitter...

Because all good parties, apparently, include glitter… For one of the New Year’s Eve events reportedly four tonnes of glitter were imported and dropped onto the dancefloor, “you felt like you were walking on stardust” Shrager later said, “People got the glitter in their hair, in their socks. You would see it in people’s homes six months later, and you knew they’d been at Studio 54 on New Year’s.”

"Described by Rubell and Schrager as a “modern day Gomorrah,” Studio 54 prided itself on its projection of pure hedonism."

"Described by Rubell and Schrager as a “modern day Gomorrah,” Studio 54 prided itself on its projection of pure hedonism."

THE ANIMALS…

As if Grace Jones, David Bowie and Mick Jagger weren’t exciting enough guests, there were several reports of a cheetah and a black panther sittingt at the bar. For Dolly Parton’s birthday party, Rubell and Shrager threw a farm-themed party, with chickens in a pen, hay bales and farm animals. Without a doubt though, the most famous animal guest was for Bianca Jagger’s 32nd birthday. On arrival she was greeted with a large white horse led by a naked man covered in glitter, who walked her around the dancefloor. Very Lady Godiva, non?

the hedonism...

Described by Rubell and Schrager as a “modern day Gomorrah,” Studio 54 prided itself on its projection of pure hedonism. The space was built for illicit activity, with plenty of dark corners. Above the dancefloor was a more private balcony, above that a ‘rubber room’ in which all surfaces were coated in a rubberised material so bodily fluids and other substances could be easily cleaned. Rubell himself was noted for walking around the club in a puffer jacket filled with drugs - cocaine, heroin, Quaaludes, poppers etc - which he'd walk around and offer to people for free. The basement was saved mainly for celebrities, a VIP area for a VIP club, of which the owner provided mattresses on request. Bartenders were mostly male, happened to be very good-looking and were made to wear nothing but short shorts. Rumour has it that Alec Baldwin was a busboy for a while, but had to quit as he was becoming too *ahem* excited by all the intimate activity he witnessed.  

THE DOWNFALL…

Rubell in particular was anything but quiet about Studio 54’s success, stating “only the mafia does better” in an interview. It was this that led to an interest from the IRS, and eventually the demise of Studio 54, as well as the imprisonment of its owners, who we done for tax evasion after the feds raided it and found $600,000 worth of cash in plastic bin bags in the basement, as well as 300 Quaaludes. The night before serving their sentence in 1980 both Rubell and Shrager threw one Last Dance, which was attended by Richard Gere, Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, with a serenading performance from Liza Minelli and Diana Ross.

The party was over, but the music and the stories of its escapades live on. If reading this has made your party FOMO even more real, we say put on your best party dress, play our Studio 54 playlist and make yourself a stiff cocktail – because that’s all that’s required for a party this year.

TOOT TOOT, BEEP BEEP: STUDIO 54 PLAYLIST

A disco soundtrack to transport you from the kitchen to the Studio 54 dancefloor...

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