Sanctuary going gay in early 1970, Limelight 1971, Haven disco 1970, Tamburlaine 1971, Steps NY 1972.
Willie’s West Side tried several iterations in 1970, including Willie’s Pub and Club 82, before focusing its energies in midtown on a disco it would call Better Days.
Gay Scene bar review, 1970.
Round Table went gay in 1970. Previously it had been an Italian crooner type concert space, Volare and Beyond The Sea for example. In 70 it booked bands and encouraged gay dancing. It would install a DJ for the Continuous Dancing format in 72.
Roundtable in 1965 during its straight, mobster orientation as music and food hall.
Top line: 1970’s Blow Up space was repurposed by Gwen Saunders for Alibi in 1972. 2nd line: 1970’s Stage 45 space became 1972’s The Lib, a women’s dance club. Third: Cafe Wha’s new owner tried the Haven formula in summer of 1970 with Duke’s, then Grasso’s Francis for a few months starting in Jan 71. Fourth: the round disco on 49th was known in 1970 as The Year 2000; Willie’s West Side (224 W82nd) mgt became interested in the space & opened it in 1972 as Better Days, luring DJ Tee Scott from The Candy Store, which had just discontinued its jacket & tie dress code to install a dancefloor.
Peter Rabbit was a bar with disco room in the old seamen’s lodgings the Holland Hotel on the Dockstrip. It was across from the truck parking under the West Side Highway, from 1972 to 1985.
Warehouse Pier 51 was a disco rigged out with pulleys, crates, and skids to evoke the Dockstrip, although the disco was located in the Upper West Side, at 75th and Amsterdam. Just visible in the far left of the photo is a sign for the Ansonia 73 baths, which were located on 73rd. The disco opened in 1975 and stayed in business to 1983.
Crisco Disco at 408 W15th St, open from 1976 to 1984.
NY record stores, both chains like King Karol and independents such as Record Hunter and Record Factory, were sites of much browsing and comparing in the 1970s.
Published playlists hung in many of the record stores: Cashbox, Where It’s At, Michael’s Thing each giving a take on the music of the moment.
Downstairs Records was perhaps the most fondly recalled of the Manhattan stores. Starting in 1970 in the 42nd St subway station shown in the Bryant Park photo, it opened a second location and ended up consolidating to 43rd St, one block north, in an ironic upper floor space.
Wall of vinyl at Downstairs Records
Despite living on this single-block street for nearly a year house-sitting for an academic abroad on sabbatical, I never ate at the second floor restaurant in any of its iterations. Partly for economy, partly because it was right there and going was too easily postponed.
While the DJs of disco innovated techniques used for 45 years and counting, the bartenders of these clubs were factors in how well-liked certain spots were. They could be just as peripatetic as the DJs as well. From 1972 are Joey with Tavern In The Towne House disco located in the Towne House Building on 38th St and Melvin from Better Days; Gene King and Gwen Saunders of Alibi in Yorkville.
Disco clubs, short-lived and long. The Gas Station, with separate dance room and pub with copper bartop, was a former mechanics garage a couple doors up from the popular Limelight that also opened in 1971. Piper’s Lounge debuted in 72. Experiment 4 opened with Michael Cappello as DJ in one of its two dance halls in 76, though he left within weeks. Chuck’s Place drew good crowds in 1977. None of these lasted a year.
Disco clubs, short-lived and long. Peter Rabbit disco and Better Days both opened in 1972, enduring for years past the 1981 end date of this blog. Warehouse Pier 51 disco brought Dockstrip atmosphere to the Upper West Side in 1975 for an 8 year run.
One of the neighborhoods important during the disco years. The Dockstrip included the Piers on the Hudson waterfront, the unlocked trucks parked nights under the West Side Highway, and a block of West St housing Ramrod and Peter Rabbit from 1972, adding Badlands in 76. The piers were a sufficiently iconic example of gay reclamation of abandoned spaces that they inspired artwork, films, and memorials, then and now. The two bars and the disco sat across from the truck parking, as shown. On Sunday afternoons the crowds would spill onto the street, and in the photo the Peter Rabbit disco sign on its hotel turret can be detected above the Ramrod signs.
Cross-promotion. A chain of adult bookstores opened a private disco, Nightbird, on the top floor of a 5 story building on 30th St. DJ Miguel Fellipe wears the club t shirt. A short-lived venture in the summer of 78.
Discos, in dress or disarray. Galaxy 21, a two-year affair from 75-77, dressed up its dancefloor for the event in the photo. Haven in 1970 after it was closed for occupancy violations.
Before it became a new wave dance palace in 1979, Hurrah (originally Harrah) was a rather glam disco at 36 W 62 St that featured DJs Wayne Scott and Kevin Burke until scrambling for a new format once velvet-rope competition overshadowed it. Here are Hurrah playlists from Oct 17, 1977 and March 20, 1978.
DJ Wayne Scott was at Les Mouches in 1979; DJ David Todd; DJ Kevin Burke of Botel: a range of DJ styles.
The Cock Ring, 1977-82 disco in a former bantam battleground at 180 Christopher St. Fashion designer Clovis Ruffin, bottom, enjoyed Ring revelries that included DJ Lary Sanders, whose Dec 12, 1977 playlist sits alongside that of DJ Bruce Rumph from The Nickel Bar.
Disco owner Jimmy Merry, bottom left, with GAY newspaper columnist Jerry Fitzpatrick. Merry ran Fire Island’s Ice Palace (left) and opened, among other clubs, a Manhattan branch. The Dec 5, 1977 playlist is from DJ Roy Thode.
Although known primarily as a live music club, toward the end of its run as a venue The Night Owl became a disco, around 1976. The club’s DJ Robert Drake bootlegged a record on which he’d worked as an engineer and brought a huge response from the dancers: Everybody Dance.
Everybody Dance, even in a pre-vocal stage on acetate, excited clubgoers and the group, shown here as Big Apple Band, changed its name to Chic. From right, Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers.
At the time of Stonewall, the Voice was covering events with derogatory terms while refusing to use the preferred term “gay.” By the 1st anniversary of the uprising, the paper was on board with the nomenclature and supportive of activism.
Along with arrests for dancing and refusal for housing, bashings and civilian harassment, firings were among the injustices fueling protests.
Recognizing that oppression leads to fringe activity that can be jeopardizing: fire at the baths.
Gay lib involved gays and allies, then as now.
Another photographer with us in the early years was Harry Eberlin. He was interested in the emerging gay lib and disco scenes. 1971.
Village activism, 1971, Harry Eberlin photo.
The discos were instrumental to making one feel part of a group rather than wanted by the law, and were conduits for information. So were the publications that started cropping up on the end of the bars at this time.
Gay Scene newspaper, 1970.
Back page of Gay Scene newspaper, first issue 1970.
Gay Power newspaper number 15.
Gay Power newspaper number 3.
Gay Power newspaper statement regarding mafia control and police harassment at gay establishments, resistance to which led to discos’ birth in 1969.
Gay Power newspaper number 17.
GAY newspaper 1970.
GAY newspaper 1972.
In 1969 came GAY newspaper and Gay Power, then Gay Scene the following year. Having recently met Archie and, invited to a small group for watching the late movie at his apartment, I sometimes encountered his friend Boyd who was also coming by. Boyd had an acid wit toward the films but nattered, sometimes under his breath, in a way that got annoying. He had just gotten out of detox for poisonous drinking habits (which I suppose explained his unrestrained commentary) and was without a tv at the Y. He stayed at the Empire Hotel after Machine closed but heard he got kicked out for his collection of pornographic letters, photos, and obsessive writings. Once he had a tv and a room in another older building behind Presidential Tower in Lincoln Square, he became much more reclusive and focused on publishing newsletters that, in combining vitriolic political screeds and the raunchiest sexual confessions, seemed by necessity to have a limited circulation in 1973.
Archie knew the author of these wild, mimeographed newsletters that combined sexual confessions, alerts to bigotry, and political protests in stark, Nazi style graphics.
The compiler of these newsletters was a vintage film fan who became reclusive in the early 70s and started mimeographing his potent if sometimes run-on thoughts about sexual liberation.
When these newsletters first appeared in adult bookstores, it wasn’t apparent what they were about or even what they were called. The collaged papers had various titles, like American Journal Of Revenge Therapy, Manhattan Review Of Unnatural Acts, Gay Left.
I never perused these newsletter and pamphlets until I found them in Archie’s binders. Manhattan Review: Homosexual Experiences.
Homosexual Experiences, 1976
Boyd’s subscription page.
Manhattan Review Of Unnatural Acts 1977.
Manhattan Review Of Unnatural Acts pamphlet, 1978.
The following year GAY newspaper folded. Shortly afterwards, Gaysweek covered the news and Christopher Street the Fun City scene, including the discos.
Gaysweek masthead 1977.
Harry Eberlin photo
Harry Eberlin photo
Harry Eberlin photo