It was February of 1988, and Ronald Reagan was winding down his last time period in workplace. The AIDS disaster was nonetheless booming, as was the crack epidemic, and murders had hit an all-time excessive in New York Metropolis. Occasions Sq. was nonetheless gloriously sleazy, but on West 54th Road and Broadway a small oasis of supposed purity had simply opened in a once-depraved den.

“We’re packed each night time. It’s unimaginable,” Marvin Ginsberg advised The New York Times.

He was then operating Studio 54, certainly essentially the most well-known nightclub of all time — although now in a totally different incarnation, as a booze-free membership for youngsters.

“[L]iquor or no liquor, individuals below the age of 21 need spectacular escapes, with hovering areas, stellar mild reveals and pulsing music,” claimed The Occasions.

Studio 54 had burned brightly from 1977 to 1980 as a hotbed for celebrities, cocaine, and crime. Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager’s iconic nightclub courted controversy proper from the beginning, nevertheless. Inside a month of opening, the New York State Liquor Authority raided it for promoting booze with out a license. By 1979 the IRS had arrested the twosome for skimming $2.5 million in income.

Felons can’t personal liquor licenses and, thus, Studio 54’s license would expire on Feb. 29, 1980. Amusingly, on the next night time, with none drinks to legally serve, the shirtless bartenders supplied platters of fruit to visitors. The pondering being, BYOD (carry your personal medicine) can be sufficient to maintain Studio 54 afloat for a whereas.

“However with out alcohol, the numbers dwindled, and after 5 or so days the membership closed,” writes Mark Fleischman in his e-book “Inside Studio 54.” He would purchase the membership from Rubell and Schrager — who had been now in federal jail at Maxwell Air Drive Base in Montgomery, Ala. — and ultimately allow them to keep on as unofficial consultants when Studio 54 reopened in September of 1981 (after lengthy negotiations with the State Liquor Authority).

Fleischman would develop a coke and whippets habit himself and promote the membership to Frank Cashman, who saved Studio 54 operating on fumes till he defaulted on funds and the membership seemingly closed for good within the spring of 1986.

After years of such possession reshuffling — together with tax points, drug abuse, and offended group boards and metropolis planning departments — the Studio 54 house lacked a liquor license, and it was mentioned that it might value over $1 million in insurance coverage claims to get it again.

However the membership itself would ultimately find yourself within the fingers of Ginsburg, who, with out a liquor license, nonetheless had an angle on learn how to generate profits from the huge house.

Close to Beer and Imported Waters

“We’d had the underage into Studio 54 earlier than, for non-public occasions, bar mitzvah events, Candy 16s, and whatnot,” David Miskit, the membership’s basic supervisor from 1981 to 1983, advised me. He recalled internet hosting the Sweet 16 party for Calvin Klein’s daughter Marci in 1982, which featured a 16-piece classical orchestra and 16-foot tall wax candles.

Sure, by 1988, the Studio 54 title was useless as disco to celebrities and Manhattan’s nightclub elite, although perhaps it was nonetheless robust sufficient to draw a kiddie crowd that had been in grade college in the course of the membership’s golden period and wished to cosplay previously.

It was a respectable wager.

We had been on the top of “Simply Say No” and DARE, town was turning into extra yuppie and conservative, and New York’s consuming age had simply been raised from 19 to 21 in December of 1985. Certainly there have been some 19-year-olds who felt they’d been robbed on the 11th hour of their God-given proper to exit clubbing.

“All of the individuals who was once on line at Studio 54 at the moment are on line at AA,” Rubell advised The Chicago Tribune in 1988, in an article in regards to the rise of sober residing among the many style crowd.

Ginsberg couldn’t receive a liquor license, and whereas he sat round ready for it, he ambitiously reopened Studio 54 as an alcohol-free membership for the underaged. Andy Warhol and Liza Minnelli would now not be in attendance, however it was nonetheless glitzy and lovely with its grey partitions and black lights and glitter aplenty.

Likewise, The Man in the Moon With the Spoon — an anthropomorphized lunar physique snorting coke — might have now not been swinging over the dance flooring stage, however the membership nonetheless had the custom-built Coliseum Galileo G-Drive Sub-Mass audio system. Youngsters would dance to hip-hop music like Run DMC, Massive Daddy Kane, and KRS-1, whereas sipping on soda and “close to” beer.

And it nonetheless had that nice title as its key draw.

(“Now out of minimal safety jail, Rubell threatened to sue Ginsberg over the usage of the Studio 54 title, earlier than realizing he had no authorized proper to it,” defined Spy Journal in 1988.)

By the late-1980s, the New York nightlife pattern was shifting towards smaller-scale, extra intimate golf equipment like Nell’s on West 14th Road, which attracted extra conservative clientele that ultimately wished to get to mattress so they may get up shiny and early (and never hung over) the following morning to go generate profits. Black Monday, the stock-market crash that had occurred on Oct. 19, 1987, might haven’t taken a lot of a toll on town’s nightlife economic system, however it actually left many broke, sad individuals in its wake.

However not on the sober Studio 54, which was ultimately drawing 2,000 teenagers a night time, each night time, all through a lot of the summer season of 1988. Regardless of the dearth of alcohol and medicines, the underage crowd was having sufficient of a raucous time and so disturbing the peace that the native community board soon complained that folks within the neighborhood couldn’t even dwell in their very own residences.


Studio 54 wasn’t the one once-legendary membership now catering to non-drinking youth in 1988; not less than a half-dozen teen golf equipment opened in Manhattan that yr.

“We’re not into consuming, or something,” mentioned Daniella, a 17-year-old hanging on the Palladium one night time in the summertime of 1988, based on the New York Day by day Information. “Youngsters want a place to hang around, too.”

The famed Union Sq. nightclub, additionally opened by Rubell and Schrager in Might of 1985, supplied an offshoot known as Exile for 16- to 20-year-olds like Daniella. (The Occasions famous that the venue was “now considered as considerably over the hill by downtowners, however nonetheless a placing architectural presence,” whereas a 1988 problem of Spy Journal extra bluntly known as it a “loser nightspot.”) Exile was held in what was often known as the Michael Todd Room — previously the membership’s VIP spot — which featured a Basquiat mural and futuristic design.

“You wouldn’t open the doorways on the nightclub ’til 10, so we may have the children in ’til 9:30,” claims Miskit, who by this time had moved onto GM-ing on the Palladium. It drew an eclectic crowd, every little thing from middle- and lower-class “bridge-and-tunnel” children to yuppie spawn from uptown and the suburbs. “A mother or father who let their child go there meant it might at all times be stuffed with a bolder sort of child,” Miskit says.

The duvet cost was $10 and bouncers had been mentioned to examine IDs on the door to verify prospects had been younger sufficient to come back and sip the unique juices, virgin frozen Daiquiris, and “imported” waters stocked on the bar. (Keep in mind, this was earlier than the period of craft … something, and even the grownup nightclubs had been serving nothing fancier than Screwdrivers, vodka tonics, and Budweisers.)

“Despite the fact that it wasn’t a place with alcohol, it was nonetheless very thrilling to those children,” says Miskit, noting it was nonetheless very a lot a world-class membership.

For the reason that Palladium had previously been a live performance corridor and theater, it supplied the distinctive potential to drag out units, that means the dance flooring may consistently be shifting in measurement relying on how many individuals had been within the venue. It additionally supplied essentially the most spectacular mild present within the metropolis — one which reportedly pressured the membership to foot a $2,000 mild invoice each single week. Even so, even supposing the three,000-person capability membership was drawing a couple hundred children per night time, the dearth of liquor income meant they weren’t making a lot cash on them. However that was fantastic with Rubell and Shrager.

“The child factor was not a lot for enterprise itself, says Miskit. “Slightly, we used it as a advertising and marketing device for our catering enterprise. Youngsters are available in, see it, they usually’ll need their mother and father to pay for a Candy 16 or bar mitzvah or no matter at one other time.”

Whereas Studio 54 and the Palladium’s Exile had been all-children, on a regular basis, different Manhattan golf equipment would solely dedicate the quieter nights of the week — Tuesdays and Sundays — to the underaged.

Notably, there was 1018, a membership as giant as a soccer area in Chelsea, which packed the dance flooring as DJs spun home music and R&B. Close by, there was the Tunnel, occupying a complete metropolis block on 12th Avenue, the place by a summer season Tuesday in 1988, “16-year-old ladies in clingy Betsey Johnson minis” and “17-year-old guys carrying denims and Reebok excessive tops” (based on the New York Daily News) had been 200 deep to get in and hearken to dwell music acts corresponding to Noel, the Latin Rascals, and Pebbles.

Claimed Vito Bruno, Palladium’s co-manager then (and right this moment a Trump-loving Republican who ran for  State Senate in Brooklyn final yr): “These children aren’t into consuming — they’re into dancing.”

The Club Youngsters

As we’re at present working our manner by means of one other Dry January, with NA drinks far more superior than imported water and close to beer, and bonafide no-alcohol bar scenes rising not simply for children however for adults, it might appear that locations like Studio 54, Exile at Palladium, and the Tunnel had been forward of their time. However, these odd few months in 1988 had been hardly the beginning of a new pattern. It was, reasonably, merely the calm earlier than the following storm.

In April of 1989, the Ritz took over the Studio 54 house, dubbed it The New Ritz, and eventually bought the house’s liquor license again, turning it into a venue for new wave, punk, heavy metallic, and Eurodisco. A brand new period of Manhattan partying was quickly to come back.

A month earlier than, 1018 was pressured to shut resulting from rampant violence that the mayor’s workplace claimed was spurred by the membership promoting alcohol to minors and searching the opposite manner relating to drug-dealing and use. By Might of that yr, The Times was reporting that the Tunnel was likewise “attracting rowdy youngsters.”

“The golf equipment that cater to the youthful individuals are those that find yourself in hassle,” mentioned Captain Daniel Collins, head of a new NYPD unit particularly monitoring these nightclubs. “Despite the fact that they are saying they don’t allow them to drink, we see children 15 and 16 years previous popping out drunk and rowdy.”

The early days of the Club Child tradition had simply begun as properly, and these colourful and punctiliously cultivated misfits had begun gathering within the Tunnel’s VIP room within the basement. After a New York Magazine cowl story earlier within the yr, there would quickly be maybe 1,000 Club Youngsters haunting New York. They could not have drunk a ton of alcohol both, however they helped revive coke and ushered MDMA into Manhattan’s nightclub scene.

By 1993, in an article in New York Journal known as “The Village Under Siege,” Carolynn Meinhardt complained that “Violent, noisy, and homophobic 14-, 15-, and 16-year-old disco patrons had been introduced into our neighborhood by one Marvin Ginsberg.” By 1994, Rudy Guiliani was within the mayor’s workplace with a plan to “clear up” town; the times of children in nightclubs had been all however over.

At present, the Palladium is an NYU dormitory. The warehouse that after hosted the Tunnel was bought in 2019 for $880 million and is slowly being was a high-end business, retail, and restaurant house. And, the previous Studio 54 house hosts the Roundabout Theatre Firm, staging musicals like “Kiss Me Kate,” with a cabaret within the basement. Each proceed to take a seat empty in the course of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Folks bear in mind [Studio 54] higher than it was,” Rubell advised Self-importance Honest in 1987, a few months earlier than his iconic nightclub would once more open in its last, and most tame guise. “There have been many uninteresting nights.”

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