Since it opened in 1977, Studio 54 became the most notorious nightclub in history. And remains so to this day. Not only was it located in the liveliest city in the world, but it also featured a nightly guest list of the world’s most famous celebrities of the time.
Studio 54 was the iconic symbol of the golden era of disco. Presently, it’s an average New York theater, but nobody will ever forget what went on inside the walls of the institution. Prepare to discover the wildest, most unbelievable moments of Studio 54.
One of the Most Well-Known Nightclubs in History
While the 1970s were a decade of dramatic cultural change, they also highlighted the benefits of individuality. The ’70s arrived with a desire to lean into the party lifestyle, and Studio 54 offered the ideal environment for people’s self-expression to run free.
Studio 54 was only open for three years but featured a guest list so exclusive that it went down in history as one of the most luxurious nightclubs. The biggest names in entertainment were regulars at the club, though even several of the most recognizable A-listers weren’t guaranteed entry.
Cher’s Favorite Spot
Comfortably located between 8th and Broadway in New York City, Studio 54 was a place to escape from the outside world. For big celebrities like Cher, the club offered a place to be herself, far away from the pressures of screaming fans and aggressive paparazzi.
It was pretty common to see the Goddess of Pop at Studio 54. The carefree, party-centric environment gave her a chance to blend into the background, a necessary reprieve from her regular life in the spotlight.
Poor Reputation Couldn’t Keep Liza Minnelli Away
Although celebrities roamed the dance floor at Studio 54, the club gradually gained a sleazy reputation. Outsiders claimed that the club featured ever-present drugs and nightly sexual escapades. Rumors painted the owners as greedy degenerates without basic morals.
Despite the disco’s less-than-stellar reputation, A-listers like Liza Minnelli had no issue spending their evenings at Studio 54. Whether the gross rumors were true or not, Minnelli often ruled the dance floor, showing off her best disco moves in her classic ’70s outfits.
The Eccentricity of Grace Jones
Extreme inflation and a muddled stock market made day-to-day life bleak, but Studio 54 offered a carefree environment. The club encouraged its customers to leave all their worries at home. When the wealthy, successful, and gorgeous show up to the party, the outside world is temporarily irrelevant.
Embracing the chance to live that carefree lifestyle, Grace Jones frequented the dance floor at Studio 54. Unwilling to fade into the background, Jones often wore eccentric outfits. She debuted many of her forward-thinking looks at the club, ensuring that she lived up to her status as a fashion icon.
Michael Jackson Moonwalked Across the Dance Floor
Prior to moonwalking across the stage to fans around the globe, Michael Jackson moonwalked into Studio 54. Before he achieved superstar status, Jackson wore his best disco clothes and spent long nights tearing up the dance floor at the famed nightclub.
During his visits to Studio 54, Michael had no idea about the future that awaited him. His appearance on the music scene transformed pop forever. It’s only fitting that he would frequent the most popular disco club ever, an establishment that embraced all forms of change and liberation.
Bianca Jagger Brings the Rodeo to the Club
As if tomfoolery and dancing weren’t enough, Studio 54 always managed to one-up themselves. In order to enter the club, the bouncer would determine if you were worthy of entry based on your clothes and overall vibe. While numerous people were turned away, one four-legged customer was often allowed inside: a live horse.
Photographs from Studio 54 show Bianca Jagger, former wife of Mick Jagger, riding a majestic white beast in her nightclub attire. There’s not much to add about the intriguing picture, except that the woman certainly knows how to make a grand entrance.
Bianca Jagger’s Birthday Bash at Studio 54
Studio 54’s success and reputation helped it quickly established itself as a destination for A-list celebrities. It should come as no surprise that former actress and women’s rights advocate Bianca Jagger had a celebration for her 32nd birthday at the club.
Alongside her then-husband, Mick Jagger, Bianca danced and grooved the evening away at the most elite disco in New York. Pictures of Bianca and Mick depict a night full of carefree celebrating within the walls of the legendary nightclub.
Underage Stars Sneaking Into Studio 54
Before Brooke Shields landed the cover of Vogue, she was a young model looking to take advantage of everything New York City could offer. At only 12 years old, Brooke managed to sneak past the bouncer and onto the Studio 54 dance floor.
But Brooke wasn’t the only young star to sneak her way into the club. She was accompanied by Mariel Hemingway, the granddaughter of famous American author Ernest Hemingway. Together, the two underage girls danced their nights away at the disco, long before they grew into the beauty icons they are today.
First Lady Betty Ford Boogied Over to Studio 54
Nobody could pass up the chance to check out Studio 54. In fact, the First Lady herself, Betty Ford, eventually made her way into the nightclub where she sat with big-name entertainment stars, like Elizabeth Taylor and Liza Minnelli.
Clad in sparkly disco attire, Betty Ford returned to her entertainment roots during her night at Studio 54. A dancer in her youth, Betty savored the opportunity to dance again, forgetting about her new position in politics for just one evening.
Dolly Parton Brought Country to the Disco
While Bianca Jagger had the infamous white horse, Dolly Parton was the initial reason the animal came to Studio 54. Desperate to make the country star comfortable, owner Steve Rubell brought in the white steed.
Plenty of other animals also wandered around the disco. Chickens and mules roamed through the exclusive club, joining the stars on the dance floor or finding some quiet in the decorative wagon filled with hay. It may have been a club in NYC, but Studio 54 had a strong touch of country.
DJ Diana Ross
A big fan of the loose environment in Studio 54, Diana Ross was a regular at the club. Though she often made her way to the DJ booth, she could also be found busting a move on the dance floor and belting out the words to her favorite songs.
Before the disco closed for good, Diana Ross attended the last party. She serenaded the club owners one final time and fully embraced the carefree energy that was felt within Studio 54.
The Shameful Rumors Started In the Basement
While the dance floor focused on having a fun time, the wild rumors surrounding the club had to originate from somewhere. Allegedly, the truly indecent activities took place in the basement. One of three floors in Studio 54, the basement housed secluded corners filled with sweaty bodies.
While the basement was meant for storage, security guards constantly checked the makeshift hallways. You don’t really need security guards to watch over unmoving props, so we’ll let you use your own imaginations as to what took place down there.
Elizabeth Taylor Turns 46 at Studio 54
Not to be overshadowed by Bianca Jagger, Liz Taylor also celebrated her big birthday at Studio 54. The beautiful actress rang in her 46th year of life at the club, complete with a cake of her own face.
The A-list star invited family and friends to her NYC celebration, where they all rang in the delight of an additional year of life. Why would she celebrate anywhere besides at Studio 54? It was the club to attend at the time.
Richard Gere Busted A Move
The American Gigolo couldn’t keep clear of Studio 54. Before he made women across the globe swoon on the silver screen, Richard Gere danced his nights away at the famous disco club.
Dressed in his best ’70s clothes, Gere partnered up with the most beautiful women in NYC for a night of disco and indulgence. A massive fan of one of the city’s top clubs, Gere proved on more than one occasion that he’s totally capable of dancing circles around other patrons.
The Entertainment Team of Liza Minnelli and Bianca Jagger
In case you are slow to figure this out, Studio 54 wasn’t an ordinary club. While requests from the DJ may be unfavorable nowadays, Studio 54 turned their well-known patrons into the evening’s entertainment.
More than once, the biggest names in music provided entertainment at Studio 54. Liza Minnelli and Bianca Jagger once performed a duet together while Andy Warhol photographed the performance. What most people might wait a lifetime to experience was just another night at the ’70s disco.
Jerry Hall Added Model Allure to Studio 54
Joining the group of other supermodels, Jerry Hall also spent plenty of time at Studio 54. Clad in luxurious outfits that showed off her beautiful figure, Jerry could often be seen lounging on the silk couches and basking in the attention of the male celebrities around her.
In her ’70s’ garb, Jerry left little to the imagination. Lace, sheer bodysuits were a wardrobe staple for the model. Silky hair and an allure about her completed the look. Every night at Studio 54 was just made a little bit better when Hall was in the room.
Bianca Jagger: Studio 54’s Resident Animal Whisperer
Bianca Jagger had plenty of memorable nights at Studio 54. Besides her horse entrance and her birthday festivities, the star also wore an outrageous ensemble for one night out. Two doves perched on her hands and a gold crown on top of her head resulted in a Grecian look other women would have difficulty pulling off.
Bianca’s outfit, however, had a reason. When club owner Steve Rubell was a bouncer, he determined that only the best of the best could come inside the doors of Studio 54. Bianca’s look ensured her entrance into the exclusive club.
Robin Williams’ Date Night
While plenty of single celebrities were at Studio 54, Robin Williams decided a night out was nothing without his wife. Robin arrived with his wife during the club’s prime, dressed in their best and ready to boogie all night long.
Pictures of Williams and his wife show a loving couple who loved spending time together. Their relationship continued long past nights at Studio 54, and they even welcomed their first son together only three years after the club shut its doors forever.
Elton John and His Massive Sideburns
While Elton John is notorious for his out-there costumes and spirited personality, the ’70s featured a cosmetic choice for the performer that is perhaps better left in the ’70s. Paired with his best disco clothes, Elton rocked dark sideburns that sat markedly on his face.
While the singer has never been able to completely get rid of his sideburns, they look especially odd on his younger self. Elton, dear, it’s alright to shave your face. Trust us; you could do way better than those sideburns.
Studio 54 Was The NYC Party
While the club had plenty of wild antics on any given night, Studio 54 also loved the chance to throw an actual party. If you thought a live horse running through the dance floor is wild enough, you’d be wrong.
To celebrate the movie premiere of ‘Grease,’ Studio 54 hired men to ride motorcycles through the crowd of customers. At one party, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre performed in the middle of the dance floor. Whatever the reason, Studio 54 always found a way to go over the top and host THE party in New York City.
Addition of the Rubber Room
In addition to the infamous basement, Studio 54 also featured one room entirely made of rubber. According to specific sources, the odd furnishing material made the room easier to clean.
With semi-nude dancers and women running around in sheer garments, it wouldn’t be surprising if the most fundamental instincts might get the best of some Studio 54 patrons. If a rubber room actually existed, we’ll leave it up to your imagination to think about what might have happened in there.
Frequent Club-Goer Sylvester Stallone
Soon after his memorable performance in ‘Rocky,’ Sylvester Stallone capitalized on his fame by taking a trip over to Studio 54. He hung out with fellow actor John Travolta, in addition to his co-star from ‘The Man Who Would Not Die,’ Joyce Ingalls.
Surrounded by fellow entertainment industry people, Stallone relished the chance to take a night off and let loose at the famous nightclub. His wife, Sasha Czack, often accompanied him. The couple would dance all night long while they chatted with other Hollywood stars.
Disco Sally Proved Age Is Only a Number
Studio 54 was always filled with fresh faces, and Sally Lippman didn’t let the young crowd keep her from having a fun time. After her husband died, Sally visited Studio 54 while trying to find a new purpose in her life.
She immediately loved the club and visited it numerous times, despite her older age. The dance moves Sally brought to the dance floor earned her the nickname “Disco Sally.” She was such a popular customer that the owner granted her entrance whenever she decided she could use a night out.
The IRS Confrontation of 1978
From an outsider’s perspective, Studio 54 was perfect. It was filled to the brim with the wealthy and famous, and most people could only dream of going inside its doors. However, the government considered the club a criminally run illegal operation.
In 1978, the IRS confronted Studio 54 owners Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell. The club was a safe haven for celebrities from across the United States. Sadly, its popularity and carefree attitude weren’t enough to stop the government from closing its doors.
A Sober Opening Night
Although Rubell and Schrager poured everything into their club, they never thought that it would become as popular as it did. The two owners remodeled the inside of an old TV studio to strengthen the disco theme, turning it into a light-filled ballroom for dancing.
Despite all of their preparation, the two club owners forgot to take care of the liquor license. They didn’t apply in time and realized that they were left without alcohol just a few days before the club was supposed to open.
Club Owners Created Their Own Liquor Laws
Since Rubell and Schrager understood they couldn’t expect to have any success for their new nightclub without booze, they planned to work around liquor licensing laws. Rather than getting their own permit, the owners bought individual catering permits that filled Studio 54 with alcohol every night.
Unfortunately, their plan quickly backfired. The Liquor State Authorities caught on to their sketchy strategy. A night of dancing was interrupted by police, who mobbed the nightclub, arrested the owners, and closed Studio 54 indefinitely.
Rubell and Schrager’s Mistake Wasn’t a Learning Moment
Although Rubell and Schrager were arrested for selling alcohol without a license, their outstanding lawyer, Roy Cohn, got them out of trouble. The stubborn attorney served other big names like Senator McCarthy and Donald Trump, and he was known as a big-shot lawyer with plenty of connections.
Cohn freed Rubell and Schrager from jail, and they returned to the club right away. But they didn’t learn anything from their stint in court. After a couple more years of success, the owners had the IRS hounding them.
The End of Disco and Studio 54
Shortly after their first legal issue, Rubell and Schrager faced allegations from the IRS that they were hiding unreported money and illegal drugs in Studio 54. When 24 IRS agents arrived to investigate the claims, they discovered the illegal cash and substances in the club’s vault.
The club owners hid $2.5 million total from the IRS, sending the two to jail for fraud. After Rubell and Schrager were caught in 1980, Studio 54 permanently shut down. Although the owners were eventually released, the end of disco itself coincided with then when Studio 54 closed.
Opening Night Was a Mess
Although the target audience was ’70s A-listers, Studio 54 was essentially falling apart on opening night. Shortly before the doors officially opened, workers were still laying the black flooring to create the necessary design of the club.
When the first customers arrived, the indoor lights were flickering, and the music wasn’t working yet. The lights behind the bar actually stopped working, forcing workers to buy candles from a corner store for illumination. When Donald Trump arrived, no employees even heard him knock.
The Club’s Chaotic Opening Night
Although Studio 54 was empty when Donald Trump and Nikki Haskell arrived, the vibe inside the club changed as the night continued. What began as a slow stream of party people into an unlit bar quickly transitioned into a flood of newcomers as more and more celebrities crowded the building.
Thousands of people went to the disco, and some of Hollywood’s biggest names couldn’t even make it through the door. Brooke Shields and Cher made it inside, but iconic singer Frank Sinatra was stuck outside the club, unable to leave his limo on the packed street.
Moving the Party Outside
Most people outside the club never got inside, so Studio 54’s opening night party spilled onto the street. Attendees boogied and chatted the night away until one doctor decided to turn the party up a level.
Ready with a bottle of Quaaludes, the doctor started handing out the drugs to anyone near him that would take them. The drugs turned the night into a wild, drug-induced celebration that allegedly turned incredibly sexual, all on the streets of New York City.
That Special Quirk Will Gain You Entrance
Getting inside Studio 54 was nothing short of magical, even if you were famous. Owner Steve Rubell explained that he wanted a blend of customers in his club, which led to his subjective picking and choosing of random guests from the line outside.
Rubell didn’t care if a regular person mixed with his celebrities, but they had to bring something unique to the table. Any random characteristic could be enough to earn you access to the world’s most popular club, from an energy type to festive clothes.
Subjective Requirements Led to a Gunshot Confrontation
Although many guests knew that getting through the door was tough, some still didn’t take rejection well at all. Disgruntled potential customers could even get physical in their anger about not gaining entrance into the club.
The most frightening experience with a rejected customer happened when security chief Chuck Garelick was surrounded early one morning by a group of men carrying guns. The men shot above his head, and Chuck escaped without injury, but the experience was still horrifying.
One Quasi-Patron Died While Sneaking Into the Club
While some rejected partiers got angry, others vowed to find their way into Studio 54 in whatever way they could manage. These people would scale buildings and jump barbed wire fences attempting to get inside, often resulting in serious injuries.
Tragically, one customer made a fatal mistake. He thought sneaking in through an air vent was the best strategy, but he got stuck before making it all the way inside. His body was found in a black-tie suit that never got the chance to see the dance floor.
A Horse was Granted Entry Over Two Club-Goers
Since outfits were often a significant determinant of who was granted entry and who wasn’t, guests would continuously go over-the-top with their costumes in an effort to get through the door. The most committed were two women who dressed as twin Lady Godivas on Halloween.
In an attempt to capitalize on the photo of Bianca Jagger on her horse, the women rented their own horse, which they rode naked right up to the front of the line. Sadly, it still wasn’t enough. The horse was allowed in, but the women weren’t.
Even Some Celebrities Were Denied Entry
Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, the members of the band Chic, got to Studio 54 on New Year’s Eve 1977 after Grace Jones invited them. Unfortunately, Jones forgot to leave their names at the door, so they weren’t allowed in the disco club.
Frustrated and dejected, Rodgers and Edwards returned to their apartment and started writing an angry song about their rejection. The infuriated song eventually turned into “Le Freak,” Chic’s first number one and most popular song of all time.
Karl Lagerfeld’s 1700s Party at Studio 54
After hearing of Studio 54’s ability to host an incredible party, Karl Lagerfeld decided to host his own themed event that centered on an 18th-century ball. Going with the theme, candlelight was used as the primary source of light.
Attendees and staff wore powdered wigs and period dresses and waltzed across the dance floor during a night that felt like it was right out of a movie. With short notice, Studio 54 could switch from a ’70s club into a grand ballroom, a task that shocked everyone lucky enough to attend these parties.
Best Birthday Present? Trashcan Full of Cash
Despite the club’s unethical business practices, the owners could also be very charitable. For Andy Warhol’s birthday, Steve Rubell gifted his regular customer 5,000 free drink tickets and a trashcan full of cash.
The silver trashcan held $1,000 worth of crisp, new $1 bills and drew a frenzy when it was opened. Excited club-goers emptied the trashcan over Warhol’s head to celebrate, but he wanted to keep the money. He ran to pick up the flying bills before they disappeared into the bustling crowd.
One Last Wild Night Before Going to Prison
Before Rubell and Schrager left to serve their jail sentences, they chose to host a final farewell party in their famous club. They called their party “The End of Modern-Day Gomorrah” and invited 2,000 of Studio 54’s most loyal patrons.
Rubell and Schrager partied with Liza Minnelli, Reggie Jackson, Richard Gere, and other A-listers as everyone mourned the end of the club. The following morning, Rubell and Schrager left straight from the club to meet the police, leaving Studio 54 behind forever.
Diane Von Furstenberg’s Best Nights Out
Joining the list of other celebrities who found a home at the club, Diane Von Furstenberg was a regular at Studio 54. The famous fashion designer enjoyed the free-spirited environment of Studio 54, where she would confidently walk around in her latest designs.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, Von Furstenberg once stated that she has never had more fun at any other nightclub in the world the way she enjoyed her nights at Studio 54. That’s the ultimate glowing recommendation for the disco that only lasted three years.
No Hats Allowed…At Least for Tonight
While Rubell was selecting his club attendees from the lines, his requirements got increasingly stricter. What was acceptable one night might not work the next, and club-goers never knew if their clothes would be fine or offensive.
In security footage that shows Rubell turn away potential partiers, you can hear him say to one dejected guest, “Don’t ever come here with a hat.” Did Rubell despise hats in general, or was he simply not fond of that person’s hat? Either way, it’s a frustrating reason to be turned away when you can simply remove the hat.
When Bette Midler Met The Temptations
While Studio 54 was always filled with the decade’s most famous celebrities, even A-listers could get a bit starstruck at times. One of the most popular bands in the ’70s, The Temptations, decided to throw an album release party at Studio 54 for their latest record.
Although Bette Midler was pretty well-known in her own right, she couldn’t mask her enthusiasm when she met the band. Pictures capture complete and utter shock on her face as she holds their hands and introduces herself.
Patrons Brought in the New Year with Four Tons of Glitter
Studio 54 had to ramp things up on New Year’s Eve. But if you’re already the best party destination every other night, they needed to find a way to ensure that the wildest night of the year is something special. According to Ian Schrager, it’s all about the glitter.
On New Year’s Eve, the club owners took four tons of glitter and spread it across the dance floor. Schrager described the event as “dancing on stardust.” It was a great night, and ended up sticking around for a number of months into the new year.
Juice and Soda, One Night Only!
Schrager and Rubell were caught using illegal liquor licenses and were forced to close for a night. They didn’t let that stop their fun. They opened the next night and posted a sign outside that explained everything about their alcohol situation.
Schrager and Rubell only offered customers juice and soft drinks that night. Patrons still arrived, in large numbers, just as excited to party as any other night. Considering the questionable activities that happened at Studio 54, guests probably didn’t notice the lack of alcohol.
Andy Warhol Kept the Money-Themed Gift Tradition Alive
Wanting to return the favor after receiving a trashcan full of cash, Andy Warhol gave Steve Rubell his own money-themed present. When Rubell was sentenced to jail for tax evasion, Warhol gifted him a brass sculpture packed with cut-out dollar signs.
While some may have considered the present in poor taste, it was an original Warhol. Plus, it perfectly summed up Rubell’s long friendship with the artist and his notorious love of money. No one could argue that it wasn’t personal.
Valentino’s Celebratory Circus
Joining the list of celebrities who celebrated birthdays at Studio 54 was fashion designer Valentino. His partner, Giancarlo Giammetti, chose to host Valentino’s party at Studio 54 only three days before it happened.
The nightclub transformed into a circus, including a circus ring and trapezes. Valentino was the ringmaster and invited friends dressed in clown costumes as they danced around the disco. While the party itself was incredible, the more impressive feat was putting together an indoor circus in a few days.
Studio 54: An LGBTQ+ Safe Haven
Studio 54 was basically a free-for-all where rules weren’t a thing inside of the nightclub. While that was a recipe for some wild sexual escapades, it also meant that the club operated as a safe haven for all LGBTQ+ people.
Trans people weren’t accepted in society at the time. They were at risk of being hurt every time they were in public. LGBTQ+ people found a place to express themselves in Studio 54 freely. Everyone felt comfortable kissing others and simply existing within the club’s walls.
Canada’s Former First Lady Knew How to Party
Before she was the mom of Canada’s Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, Margaret Trudeau was a party animal at Studio 54. The former wife of Pierre Trudeau often went to the nightclub but never with her ex-husband. Perhaps that was a reason behind their 1984 divorce?
The young woman is shown in the picture above after an iconic walk-off from “The Today Show.” After a nationally televised memorable moment like that, no wonder she ended up clubbing. It was a gorgeous evening on April 23, 1979, and Maggie was thriving.
Timothy Leary Turns Out and Up at Studio 54
It’s not surprising to know Timothy Leary frequented a place where drugs and alcohol could be found everywhere, and the picture below is a true gem. Leary, a former psychologist from Harvard University, became the iconic personification of ’60s fringe culture and psychedelics.
Leary has a huge smile from ear to ear because he attended the post-premiere party of the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” film on March 6, 1978. We’d also guess that smile is due to something in addition that he took that night.
Those Who Party Together, Become Friends Forever
Rock ‘n’ Roll pioneer Chuck Berry was also a notable guest of the famed nightclub. Rolling Stones’ guitarist Keith Richards was also a frequent patron of Studio 54. Below, the two rock legends are pictured sharing a laugh and chatting it up in February 1980.
The power of this place was how it was able to bring so many people together, average or celebrity. Perhaps the veteran, 54-year-old Chuck Berry, was offering a wide-eyed, 37-year-old Keith Richards some guitar picking tips.
Hibiscus and Angel Jack
Studio 54 was a safe place for LGBTQ+ people who frequented the club. Hibiscus was one of the celebrated founders of “The Cockettes,” an avant-garde, psychedelic thespian group. The group lived in a commune in San Francisco. Angel Jack was a member of “The Angels of Light,” Hibiscus’s other theater collective.
They were ridiculously creative and famous in 1970’s California. Angel Jack also regularly performed at Studio 54. The delighted drag queens are dressed in sequined and feathered costumes on September 15, 1981, at the reopening party of the club.
Academy Awards Night at Studio 54
Studio 54 was not a regular nightclub and would function as a makeshift theater for the Academy Awards. This photo shows guests at the club excitedly waiting for the 1978 Academy Awards to begin, which was shown on TV screens that were specifically brought in for the night.
The 50th Academy Awards were the final time the famed Bob Hope would serve as the host. That year Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” won Best Picture. And hey, perhaps that’s why he was absent from the Oscars; he was probably watching from Studio 54.
Singers, Artists, and a Picasso!
No other nightclub has hosted as many stars as Studio 54. This picture has Jerry Hall standing next to Andy Warhol, who is beside Blondie’s lead singer, Debbie Harry. And holding Harry’s hand is Truman Capote, one America’s greatest writers.
But perhaps the most shocking and unrecognizable person in this picture is the woman on the far right, on Capote’s other side. This woman on the end is none other than Pablo Picasso’s daughter, Paloma Picasso! What an exclusive guest list.
Babs Takes on Studio 54
Studio 54 was so notorious that even Yentl made an appearance at the nightclub! Donning a stunning ’70s fur coat, light accessories, and her signature curly hair is the legendary Barbra Streisand.
The man accompanying her is Jon Peters, an American film producer that worked on some notable projects of the ’80s and ’90s, including “The Color Purple,” “Rain Man,” “Flashdance,” and many more. The happy friends were pictured before their night of partying at the club back in 1977.
The Yippie Pie Man Strikes at Studio 54
This picture was taken in January 1979 when a man named Aaron Kay threw a cream pie at Steve Rubell. Kay was a member of the Yippies (a countercultural group – the Youth International Party). Kay thought that discos symbolized everything wrong with the world and threatened to wage war against the club.
Aaron Kay eventually became known as the infamous Yippie Pie Man since he was known for flinging pies at well-known ‘capitalists and fascists’ throughout the years. Among them was a past CIA director, a mayor from New York, and anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly!
Disco Club or Theater Company?
The club was shut down in 1979; due to multiple infractions with law enforcement and a severe tax evasion charge, an entrepreneur took possession of Studio 54. He tried reopening it in 1981 only to sell it again in 1984.
After numerous failed attempts by the new owners to redeem the club to its former glory, they eventually shut it down. The building mainly remained unused until 1998, when it was turned into the home base for the Roundabout Theater Company.
The Handsome Bartenders
Steve Rubell, the club’s co-owner, was openly gay. Instead of gorgeous, busty women serving the drinks, you’d find young men behind the bar. Even a youthful, handsome Alec Baldwin worked as a busboy for a little bit!
The bartenders’ uniform was a very short pair of shorts. And that was it. Studio 54 was known for pushing the envelope, so this uniform isn’t that shocking. The picture below pretty much proves that the men were chosen based on looks rather than bartending skills.
An Unlikely Partying Pair
Now, this is quite an unexpected sight: an erratic, shy Woody Allen having a drink beside Michael Jackson…at Studio 54! This picture was taken in August 1977, a young Woody Allen sitting with Michael Jackson and both attending the club’s Carter Burden Party.
The infamous disco club had a stringent and flashy dress code, which must’ve been overlooked completely when they let Allen in while wearing something like that. The silliest part is that Woody was the host of the whole event!
Never Too Old to Go to a Club…
Famous American writer Capote must’ve had too much to drink the night this picture was snapped. Although he manages to still look good with that classy white hat covering his face. Taken on June 22, 1978, the picture shows a young Kate Harrington (“Love Story,” “Child’s Play”), a sleeping Truman Capote, and the celebrated silent movie star, Gloria Swanson.
Swanson was one of Hollywood’s brightest and most beloved stars. She made history for being the silent films industry’s most prosperous and highest-paid actor. And she continued to party hard despite being 79 years old!
Legendary Curtis Mayfield Turns Up
Studio 54 was a rotating door of movie stars, artists, and musicians. Curtis Mayfield was one of those music legends that walked through the doors into Studio 54. A mastermind of funk and soul, Mayfield was best known for helping create the movie soundtrack for the 1972 cult classic, “Super Fly.”
In 1977, Mayfield came to dance the night away. Based on the ginormous smile on his face, he was having a fantastic night. We’re optimistic that he wasn’t the only one there on that particular night having a fantastic time!
Even Yves Saint Laurent Let Loose
Studio 54’s exclusive guest list included people in the fashion industry, like stylists, models, and designers. Caught on camera on the night of September 20, 1978, are a young Yves Saint Laurent, Marina Schiano, and Loulou de la Falaise.
The three were there to attend the Opium Perfume Launch party that the club was hosting. Leading the group inside is none other than ecstatic co-owner Steve Rubell. Exactly one year from this date, Studio 54 would be raided by the relentless IRS.
Party Essentials: Booze, Music, and Laughing Gas
People took partying in the 1970s to a whole new level of seriousness. And at Studio 54, guests took the idea of partying even further. This picture showed a group of young patrons at a Halloween party back in 1978.
Everyone looks like they’re enjoying themselves, especially since they brought laughing gas in the nightclub. Those were the days when you could just break a big tank of laughing gas onto a dance floor. Since they were in good moods, they were probably thrilled to share!
A Nightclub With an Album
Studio 54 was open for less than three years and still managed to make an unforgettable impact on the history of disco. The nightclub, known for playing disco music a majority of the time, always hosted the best DJs that were out there.
The nightclub’s impact didn’t stop at just wild nights. The music they played was so successful that a record label named Casablanca Records released an album with all of the club’s most popular songs, titled “A Night At Studio 54.”
Sonny and Cher
The duo was huge in the ’60s, and ’70s though they had already finalized their divorce by the time this picture was taken in 1979. Their entrance into Studio 54 together has been cemented in history as one of the most iconic ones!
The memorable musical duo Sonny and Cher would make an appearance at Studio 54. Though the duo’s career as a pair finished in 1975 after they split up, they remained on good terms and managed to return to their television show in 1976.
Basement Turned Restaurant
The basement of Studio 54 was the location of the more sketchy, racy events that took place during its heyday. But nowadays, the walls that held spicy celebrity gossip have been remodeled into Feinstein’s/54 Below, a restaurant/supper club.
The establishment boasts a traditional American menu with a number of specialty cocktails and cabaret shows every night. The biggest draw for customers is the experience of being in the exact room where some of the most famous people on the planet once partied.
David Bowie Botched Secret Entrance
We can only consider this short story as incredibly sweet. One of the most excellent musicians of the 20th century prioritized an adoring fan before his personal interests of quietly entering the club.
As the tale is told, on the night of May 24th, 1979, David Bowie tried to secretly sneak into Studio 54 when a voice from the crowd shouted, “You look just like me!”. A young Bowie concluded that since he had already been found out, there was no harm in going to say hi to a fan.
The nightclub built a reputation as an iconic cultural epicenter. There are numerous pictures of the chaos that occurred in the golden days of Studio 54. But no one photographed all of the glorious moments quite like Swedish photographer Hasse Persson.
This specific photograph is one of the only ones in existence where Persson is visible in the background. Persson had such an unbelievable collection of pictures that he ended up publishing a photography book in 2015, appropriately titled ‘Studio 54’.
Surprises From the Sky
Studio 54 always found strategies to surprise its customers. Costumes, ridiculous amounts of alcohol, and live animals were wandering the dancefloor. As if that wasn’t enough, surprises used to literally fall from the sky, or at least the net they installed on the ceiling.
The net held stuff that was dropped on the patrons randomly during the night. Usually, it was just simple things like glitter or balloons, but there was at least one time that it was equipped with gift boxes from top-tier fashion brands.
Simon Says: Let’s Go to Studio 54
What does the game Simon Says have to do with Studio 54? The launch party for the game was hosted at the club in 1978. It’s a little unsettling to think that a kids’ game was launched at an establishment with so much R-rated activity, but apparently, it paid off.
The manufacturers seemed to consider their venue choice was appropriate enough since the game’s sounds and colors reminded them of the disco scene. They even set up a four-foot-tall prototype of the game hanging over the dancing patrons.
The Power of a Bouncer
Co-owner Steve Rubell compared picking customers to casting a play. While he played a role in choosing who entered, the bouncers were the main ones to do it. One of Studio 54’s bouncers, Marc Benecke, started working at the nightclub when he was 19 years old.
From his spot by the door, he realized that the people in line were willing to pay thousands of dollars or offer sexual favors to gain entry. In keeping with Studio 54’s hedonistic spirit, Benecke says he had accepted those offers on occasion.
Even the Fonz Got Turned Down
It seemed like there were specific demands to meet and that those demands were quietly altered every night, if not every hour. Famous club-goers were a little more likely to gain entrance compared to the average patrons, but occasionally even that wasn’t enough.
The classic example of someone well-known being turned away at the door is Henry Winkler. When he tried to get in, he was playing Arthur Fonzarelli, aka Fonzie, in the super-popular TV show “Happy Days,” but even that success couldn’t get him past the doors.
Personal Limo Service
The overwhelming majority of people were willing to pay anything for a chance to get inside Studio 54. However, there were some stars who were courted and personally invited to the disco club. How does a club court someone? We’d be happy to answer that.
The club owners would send personal limos to the stars they invited. Always keeping in line with their brand, the club’s reputation of providing various illicit substances continued in the limos by packing them with white powders that were definitely not flour.
An Employee’s Cinderella Story
Scott Taylor used to work at the club’s bar. He got the job by coming for the opening night, offering to work, and then started tending to the place. This set up apart since many of his coworkers used that first night to party with the rest of the customers.
Taylor was pretty popular since he was such a diligent worker, no matter how busy it got. He was so well-liked that at one point when his coworkers heard a rumor that he was possibly getting fired, they steadily objected and demanded that he stay.
The Tell-All Book Causes Trouble
The Studio 54 walls would tell captivating stories if they could talk, but we’ll have to settle for the 1980 tell-all book, “The Club.” The novel was written by a former Studio 54 bartender, Robert Jon Cohen, and American author Steven Gains.
The authors didn’t put much effort into hiding the identities of the stars involved. Their outline of what happened was so realistic that they were almost hit with a $20 million lawsuit. The suit was only dropped because not one of the celebrities involved would go on record and admit their participation.
The Not so Sneaky Owners
When business owners do something illegal, at the very least, they’ll minimally try to cover up what they’re doing. Or keep their illegal activities to level under the radar. Not the Studio 54 owners.
To skim a business’ profits without getting caught, owners would have to stop themselves after about 2%. However, the infamous nightclub had around 80% skimmed by the owners, who were openly tracking all of their criminal records, as well as their purchases of alleged “party favors.”
Reimaging Studio 54 Reopening Nowadays
Co-owner of Studio 54, Ian Schrager, genuinely believes that it would have some high-tech gadgets if the club were to open in the present day. Even though it’s been over 40 years, he believes the magic and vibe could be recreated and brought into the 21st century.
According to Schrager, the disco would feature advanced visual effects, LED lights, and even VR headsets. The atmosphere would be the same as the buzz and thrill people got back in the day, only much more immersive.
It’s All About Location
If someone were going to start a new club today and use Studio 54 as inspiration, the very first thing that they would need to consider is the location. One of the aspects that make Studio 54 so successful was its location and proximity to everything.
Studio 54 was located right near Times Square. However, attempting to locate a good enough spot for a nightclub would prove a bit difficult since New Yorkers have a much lower tolerance for the nightlife scene and how much noise it can make.
Cost of a Modern Studio 54
Former disco co-owner Ian Schrager had an interview in which he talks about the logistics of another Studio 54 in the present day. He said that opening another club inspired by Studio 54 would be much more demanding than it was in the ’70s. The biggest reason being that it would be significantly more expensive.
When he first started out in the nightlife world, Schrager established his first nightclub with $27,000. Opening Studio 54 cost him $400,000. Based on his estimations, opening a nightclub today would require an investment of at least $1 million.
Studio 54 Had a Good Thing Going
Studio 54 catered to people’s most basic desires, which was what made it the success story it is today. As Schrager sees it, people are basically the same as how they were back in the ’70s. They want to interact with and be around other people.
We may have more advanced technology and architecture now, but that hasn’t really eliminated our desire for human connection. And while the hospitality and entertainment industry has shifted, we as the human race have not made as big of a shift. As long as Studio 54 saw these needs and desires, patrons just kept coming.
Ignoring the Backlash
The doors to Studio 54 were constantly crowded with masses trying to get in and see a little bit of the action. The crazy parties and questionable practices that notoriously took place there had many people unimpressed.
Schrager remembers facing backlash. Haters said Studio 54 was the symbol for everything wrong with the younger generation, nightlife, the economy, etc. That resentment didn’t prevent the place from hosting more epic parties until the very end.
Partying Through IRS Investigations
Studio 54 was the epicenter of nightlife partying for a couple of magnificent years. When it did close for good, it wasn’t because it lacked popularity. Even big fans of the nightclub anticipated its closure before it finally closed its doors.
Owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager weren’t rule followers by any stretch of the imagination. They made no effort to hide anything and openly bragged about what they did. An interview in 1978 with the Independent had Rubell claiming that the only people who made more money than them the previous year was the Mafia.
Club Closure Domino Effect
When illegal activities and the IRS brought it all to a complete stop, Rubell and Schrager were looking at some jail time. Each of them was sentenced to 3.5 years which were eventually shortened to less than two years. They got the shorter sentence by giving names and numbers of other establishments with questionable finances.
Allegedly, Schrager’s run-ins with law enforcement didn’t bother him as much as giving up information did. He explained that his father was personally connected to mob-boss Meyer Lansky, who was not a fan of snitches for apparent reasons.