Studio 54 opened 35 years ago today

Categories: Music History

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Other than the gas shortage and a (relatively) poor economy, the second half of the 1970s was a great time to be alive. Vietnam was over, Watergate was forgotten, cocaine had not yet turned into crack, and free-love had not yet turned into AIDS.

The dour realism in films of the first half of the decade (M*A*S*H*, The Godfather) were giving way to a hopeful fantasy (Star Wars, Rocky). Sad folk music and complex prog-rock were being abandoned in favor of the pulsing, simplistic kickdrum of disco. And all the magic of this ignorant bliss reached its transcendent zenith inside the doors of dance club Studio 54.

Opened thirty years ago today by Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, Studio 54 set up camp in a former Opera House on West 54th Street, a building previously owned by CBS Studios for the purpose of filming shows like Captain Kangaroo and The $64,000 Question.

After an expense of $400K (or $700K depending on who you talk to) and four weeks of intense creative construction, Studio 54 was ready for its debut. Despite a snub review in The Daily News titled "Studio 54, Where Are You?" that dismissed the club as just one more of the many discos in the city, the club's opening night was filled with stars like Cher, Brooke Shields, Margot Hemingway, and Donald and Ivanna Trump.

During its short run, celebrities would be the hallmark of Studio 54 -- the stamp of approval that surpassed the media, the church and the police (though, as they would find out, not the IRS). The invitation list was heavily scrutinized, largely decided by New York elite like Andy Warhol or elders of the gay Atlantis, Fire Island.

It was possible to get in without an invitation if you chose to stand out in the cold and wait for Steve Rubell or one of the doormen to select you based on ever-shifting criteria. More casting directors than bouncers, the doormen of Studio 54 would choose who they let in based on what the club needed in that particular moment. "If you came there and they wanted two of a kind and you were the third, you did not get in," remembers Gloria Gaynor.

If the club already had a dozen girls with midriff dresses on, then sorry sweetie, go home and change or come back tomorrow. Yes you, in the McDonalds uniform. No, sorry, we're all full of blondes tonight. No hats. No facial hair. Fashion had to be either intriguingly strange - though not strange strange, a fine line -- or of the highest sophistication.

In the E! True Hollywood Story documentary Studio 54: Sex, Drugs & Disco, Village Voice columnist Michael Musto remembers that by the time Studio opened, "disco was already quite prevalent, but Studio was the ultimate disco. It wasn't just another new club opening, it was a place where you really felt like you had walked into some kind of magical kingdom."

An unprecedented team of designers, theatrical lighting experts, florists and architects had come together to transform the interior of the once Opera House into a disco Olympus. From the long tunnel entrance, with its mirrored walls and laser reflecting chandelier, to the interior with spinning poles of light descending from the ceiling almost to eye level, to the dance troupe/fashion show/circus routine, Studio 54, from its opening night, had forever cemented itself into the minds of New York club-goers.

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