Studio 54 was ‘the Seventies’ in a nightclub

The ’70s were a crazy time. Economic inflation, the Vietnam War, and women’s rights were taking the country by the horns and pulling it to and fro. But it was also a time of wild parties, hyper-self-expression, and experimentation. And nowhere was this better epitomized than at New York’s Studio 54.

Photo by michael norcia/Sygma via Getty Images

The club’s doors opened in 1977 and stayed opened until 1980. Within those three short years, Studio 54 would go down in history as being the quintessential exclusive nightclub, featuring a guest list that was a real who’s who in the biz. Hittin’ the club often meant rubbing elbows with the biggest stars in the game. Sorry, you’re not on the list…but you might recognize some people that were.

Cher was a frequent patron

Though the infamous club was only open for three short years, it garnered much attention from A-list celebrities. Nestled in New York City’s 8th and Broadway, Studio 54 was a place of anonymity and strived for a “care-free” environment which made it a haven for celebrities such as the Goddess of Pop herself. It was a place where she could visit without the screaming fans and flashing lights of the paparazzi.

Steve Rubell & Cher At Studio 54
Cher at Studio 54, New York, New York, mid to late twentieth century. (Photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images)

Above Cher is all smiles as she holds her pup in the chaos of people, music, and drinks. On her lower right is what looks like a bill and checkbook. Could she be wrapping up the night? With the kind of excitement brimming in her eyes, it’s pretty clear that this diva isn’t going anywhere until sunrise.

Liza Minnelli made fun of someone’s shoes

Rumors spread fast about the hedonistic theater turned the club, and it soon earned itself a seedy reputation. Whispers spread about the club and its owners (Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager). One of them suggested they were hosting nightly orgies and laced the ventilation system with ‘snow’ throughout the club. There were even rumors that there were underground tunnels connecting the club through New York’s subway system.

Liza Minnelli and Mikhail Baryshnikov at Studio 54
Performer Liza Minnelli and ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov dance together at Studio 54 in Manhattan during a night on the town.

Whichever the case, everyone was having a good time. Liza Minnelli is a perfect example as she’s seen on the dance floor in a jump-suit styled ensemble. In this particular photo, Minnelli is dancing with ballet dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov. The perfect dance partner all things considering. But she’s dressed pretty casually compared to our next frequent club patron.

Grace Jones showed up in elaborate costumes

The ’70s were a ‘feel good’ time. When times were rough, Studio 54 was a place to forget about the outside world. With inflation at it’s worst, many people were unemployed, the stock market was a mess, and people were just miserable. But, a ray of light breaks through the dark clouds and it shines down on the dancing harem of the eclectic, strange, or wealthy.

Portrait Of Grace Jones
Actress and singer Grace Jones smiles while partying at Studio 54 in New York, 1978. (Photo by Rose Hartman/Getty Images)

Grace Jones refers to herself as a “warrior,” and for good reason? A model, singer, songwriter, and producer? She’s a triple threat. Jones often frequented in Studio 54 and would peruse the floor with her eccentric garbs. With her fishnet purple top and gilded sunglasses, she glitters as vibrantly as a disco ball. A fashion icon, Jones was well known for her forward-thinking trends, fashion, and fiery tenacity in her art.

 

Because it wouldn’t be a party without Michael Jackson

Before you say “that is not Michael Jackson,” guess again. That my friend is Michael Jackson in his full 1978 glory, complete with afro and disco garb. The photo suggests Jackson in movement, as does the rest of the people behind him with the lights in a continuous blur in the background.

Photo by Bobby Bank/WireImage

A lot has changed before the singer becomes a legendary pop singer and superstar. Little does he know that his presence will change how many views and listen to music, inspiring future artists and forever immortalizing the moonwalk. The 1970s was a decade of transition, change, and liberation, and nowhere was that better represented than Studio 54.

Bianca Jagger riding with the “Wild, Wild Horse(s)”

So if the celebrities and the hype don’t impress you, then maybe try this on for size: every night at Studio 54 was wild (as you already know). It was there that we see the iconic bouncer with a clipboard in his hands and gives each patron the thumbs up or down based on your attitude and your wardrobe.

Photo by Rose Hartman/Getty Images

They were also famous for having a live horse rage behind its doors and letting Bianca Jagger ride it bareback like Lady-freaking-Godiva (without the birthday suit). The then-wife and muse of Mick Jagger, Bianca is seen casually ridding her magnificent white steed, led by a naked man covered in body paint and glitter. Yeah (or should we say neigh?), it was that wild.

Mick and Bianca Jagger make a royal appearance

Besides being the former wife of rock and roll icon Mick Jagger, Bianca Jagger has her own impressive repertoire as a human rights activist and former actress. But here’s the million-dollar question: where do you throw a birthday bash for a badass feminist? Why throw it at the most happenin’ club in New York.

Photo by Rose Hartman/Getty Images

Bianca Jagger was by no means shy in front of a camera, and she looks comfortable in this particular photograph where she’s seen celebrating her 32nd birthday at Studio 54 in 1977. On her left is dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, and on her right is—hello!— Mr.Get-No-Satisfaction himself, Mick Jagger. Bianca is the true dancing queen.

Brooke Shields and Mariel Hemingway sharing laughs

We think Brooke Shields and we think about the beautiful model who graced the front cover of Vogue and her unforgettable role in “Blue Lagoon.” But, once upon a time, before Brooke Shields was worshiped for her voluminous brows and pouty lips, she was blooming into adolescence in one of the most exciting decades in history.

Photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images

Only twelve years old in this photo (someone fire that doorman) being a young model gets her access to the most exclusive events in the city. And who would she choose to be her partner-in-crime? None other than the grand-daughters of the most famous writers in American history? Yes, that Hemingway. Mariel (seen right) grows up to be a famous actress and beauty icon. In case you’re wondering, that’s a soda in her hand, not an underage adult drinking a gin and tonic (no seriously).

And can we get a warm welcome for First Lady Betty Ford

The last person you would expect to walk into a place like Studio 54 would be a priest, let alone the First Lady, however, miracles do happen. Three generations of women from different backgrounds are present here in one photo. Left is “Cabaret” singer, Liza Minnelli, Queen of Macedonia, Elizabeth Taylor, and First Lady (and the nation’s best tap-dancer) Betty Ford.

UNITED STATES – JANUARY 22: Elizabeth Taylor with Liza Minnelli and Betty Ford at Studio 54 in NYC 1977 (Photo by Vinnie Zuffante/Getty Images)

Though their professions may differ in slight alteration, all three women have a similar past sharing the spotlight, and it’s good to see that nothing’s changed. Garbed in glittering sequins, their dresses speak for their hosts. They’re there for a good time, plain and simple. It looks like Liza may be making her point as she is in deep conversation with the First Lady.

That’s Ms. Dolly Parton to you

So, this explains the horse Bianca Jagger was ridding earlier in the previous pages. When it was clear that Dolly Parton was going to grace her magnificence at the notorious club, club owner Steve Rubell wanted the Queen of Country to feel at home. So, he calls up a local stable and brings in the famous white horse which Dolly obviously adored.

Dolly Parton petting a horse in Studio 54
Dolly Parton (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

Don’t think this precious ‘stang was the only animal in Studio 54. Other animals came to join the action such as other horses, chickens, and mules. All of which was running around the club becoming their own celebrities for the night.  They even had a wagon filled with hay and a wine barrel filled with corn decorating the club as well. A lil’ sumthin’ for everyone.

The Supreme Diana Ross knows how to cut loose

When asked “Where Did Our Love Go?” look no further! It’s embodied in the fiery steps of Diana Ross. Her face screams a good time (the guy behind her doesn’t seem to be screaming, let alone having a good time). A frequent patron at the club, Diana was seen in the DJ booth singing her heart out or dancing.

Photo by Sonia Moskowitz/Getty Images

Everyone came together for one last hurrah before the doors closed for good. Diana Ross serenaded the club owners, while Liza Minnelli sang a show-stopping “New York, New York.” Though the doors were closed, people will never forget the flashing lights, the scandalous attire, and the energetic beat of the music.

The basement was basically a proverbial champagne room

We bet you’re wondering when we’ll talk about the salacious events that took place behind the proverbial closed doors of Studio 54. So far, all we’re seeing is everyone having a good time. Well, that depends on what you call a good time. There are three levels to the infamous Studio 54. There’s the dance floor (respectfully) and then…there’s the basement.

Bianca Jagger and Liza Minelli at Bianca's birthday party at Studio 54
NEW YORK, NY – MAY 2: Bianca Jagger and Liza Minelli at Bianca’s birthday party at Studio 54 on May 2, 1978 in New York City. (Photo by Sonia Moskowitz/Getty Images)

According to Rolling Stone, a lot of lewd things happened in the basement. Amongst the stored props and rolled up rugs, there were security guards circling the area like sharks keeping pervy eyes away from what went on down there. All you have to know is that there were a lot of sweaty people both coming in and out of a secluded corner.

Liz Taylor’s birthday bash

Let’s talk about what we’re looking at. Sure, we can say this is none other than the goddess of the silver screen, the violet-eyed dame who’s charmed every male in Hollywood from George Hamilton, John Warner, and even David Bowie. It’s no surprise that a superstar icon like Liz couldn’t stay too far away from the spotlight, and she graces her presence at none other than Studio 54.

(Original Caption) 3/6/78-New York, NY- A radiant Elizabeth Taylor celebrates her recent 46th birthday at a Studio 54 party with designer Halston. (Getty Images)

Celebrating her 46th birthday, she’s seen with a line of women circling a silk-clad sofa with a sheet cake with her face in the center. What a way to celebrate! But what’s this? Look closer and you’ll see a knife lodged dead center of her chest, right above her heart. Is it a coincidence that she died of heart failure in 2011? Talk about foreshadowing.

Richard Gere wore his sunglasses at night before it was cool

Here’s the thing, Richard Gere is a fox, pre and post “Pretty Woman.” Can we expect anything less from the man who had made many swoons as Julian in “The American Gigolo?” Should we expect anything less than him making his stud appearance in one of the city’s best clubs? We didn’t think so.

(Original Caption) 8/17/1979-New York, NY Diana Ross and actor Richard Gere arrive at Studio 54, the New York disco, late August 14. As cameramen gathered around, Gere moved out of range.

Above you can see Richard Gere clad in a tweed suit and sporting some croc boots. Who’s the pretty lady he’s dancing with? Judy Licht, an entertainment journalist. If there’s a party going on in NYC, she’s going to be there. And you best believe she’ll be there with a little arm candy to boot. Looks like an epic night.

A perfect duet

As we all know, Liza Minnelli is born for the spotlight. You combine that with a duet with Bianca Jagger and you can expect a forecast of sunshine and 100% chance of awesomeness. It’s a thrill to see such a sexy time such as the seventies showcased in color, and my, what color.

Liza Minnelli, Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger and Halston
NEW YORK, NY – CIRCA 1970s: Liza Minnelli, Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger and Halston circa 1970s in New York City. (Photo by Robin Platzer/IMAGES/Getty Images)

Above, Minnelli looks dashing in a red gown, microphone in hand while sitting next to classy and fab, Bianca who fashions a purple fur frock and an iris. She’s anticipating her cue as she holds the microphone in her hand. Of course, Andy Warhol has to be there. Sources say Warhol would make weekly visits to the club, capturing every moment with his camera.

Jerry Hall lookin’ fabulous

Jerry Hall knows how to draw in a crowd, let alone the camera. Need we say how? This is not a photo-opt, this is all Hall and all her glory. Poised on an ottoman like she’s modeling for Dolce and Gabbana, tossing her long, silky hair back, Jerry lived a life of glamour despite her struggled upbringing, which you can see here.

Photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images

Here, she’s surrounded by men (because, hello) wearing a full lace bodysuit leaves little for the imagination. Still, Hall seems to pull it off with class and appears to be having a genuinely good time…which is always a good look.

Bianca Jagger makin’ doves cry

Look, Bianca Jagger is a goddess. Club owner Steve Rubell made sure only the best of the best could come into his club. At one point he stood outside and objectively ruled who could and could not enter. The reason as to why people dressed so outlandishly to Studio 54 was for the sole purpose of grabbing the club owner’s attention.

Bianca Jagger at Studio 54
Model Bianca Jagger holds doves while at a party thrown by fashion designer Halston at Studio 54.

Needless to say, Bianca Jagger needs no eccentric or crafty costume to get into the club…she just needs a couple of doves and a gold crown. Pretty obvious, you know? Can we take a moment to appreciate how well mannered and tamed those doves are? It’s like they know they’re in the presence of unearthly beauty.

Robin Williams knows how to show his wife a good time

Who can’t get enough of Robin Williams? Before we have pensive Williams, now we have one more to his normal likeliness. Dressed in a tie shirt and holding his beloved’s hand, they both look like they’re just arriving fresh and ready to get their groove on. More so Robin, who looks like he’s already making a couple of moves.

Photo by PL Gould/IMAGES/Getty Images

Thankfully these two will be together well after the club closes and both have their first child, Zachary Pym Williams in 1983. By then, Robin Williams will star in movies like “Popeye” and “The World According to Garp.” May he rest in peace.

Elton John’s sideburn game

Everyone take a deep breath and exhale. Yes, the man on the left is Elton John wearing a baseball cap and…sideburns. Dead center wearing a very “of the decade” leopard print dress, is Alana Hamilton and her future hubby, Rod Stewart. Walking into Studio 54 arm to arm, you can tell Alana is ready for what awaits at the dance floor.

Photo by Images Press/IMAGES/Getty Images

But what’s strange is seeing Sir Elton John without his colored eyewear and flamboyant garments. It’s in this photo that the trio arrives at Studio 54 in celebration for John signing a contact label with RCA records. Thereafter he’ll push albums such as “A Single Man” (1978) and “Victim of Love” (1979).

Not just celebrities

Aside from the celebrities and the *coughs* secret basement, the club had other features that had people flocking to its doors. One of which was its entertainment. From the opening party celebrating the premiere of “Grease” to scantily clad men riding motorcycles, Studio 54 knows how to host a party and entertain their guests.

Studio 54 Archive By Sonia Moskowitz
NEW YORK, NY – 1978: Scenes from Studio 54, c 1978 in New York City. (Photo by Sonia Moskowitz/Getty Images)

In this charming black and white photo of lithe women, spectators watch in awe as dancers from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre take control of the New York Club. The company performed one of its works “Suite Otis” on a Monday night on November 20, 1979. It just goes to show that the club owners spared no expense to meet its expectations.

There was always something wild happening

If the dancers weren’t enough, try acrobats, and live bands. colored balloons fell from ceiling nets and women danced topless or in see-through garments in the heat of the music. Somewhere in the balcony is a rapture of laughter, along with much lewder acts. Not only did Studio 54 have a secluded basement, but they also had a rubber room.

Studio 54 Bridge in the club
View of clubgoers, a number of them in costume, observe the dance from a newly constructed bridge at Studio 54, New York, New York, May 9, 1978. (Photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images)

Try not to think too hard, it’s pretty much what you’re imagining. Somewhere in the balconies is a specific area that is covered with rubber because it was supposedly “easier to clean.” Easier to clean what exactly? We rather not know, but it just goes to show that maybe all those rumors people kept whispering about may just be…well, true.

Sylvester Stallone, the ladies’ man

We saw him strolling with John Travolta, now he’s close and cozy with Joyce Ingalls, the actress known for her roles such as “Paradise Alley” (whom she and Stallone co-starred) and “The Man Who Would Not Die.” It seems anyone who frequents Studio 54 is either there already knowing somebody, or there to get to know somebody.

Photo by Images Press/IMAGES/Getty Images

It was during this time that the Stallone was praised for his brilliant performance in “Rocky” and is loving the limelight. It was also during this time that the actor was married to bombshell beauty Sasha Czack. Stallone would later go on to produce films such as “Rocky II” and in 1982, “First Blood.”

“Disco Sally” wasn’t afraid to live her best life

Who says partying is only meant for the young and sprite? They obviously never heard of Sally Lippman, also known as ‘Disco Sally.’ Sure, the faces of Studio 54 are often fresh and dewy, dripping with vitality, and gyrating hips, but really, the real hero at the nightclub is hands down the famous old biddy who, after becoming a widow, decided to live her best life.

Photo by Images Press/IMAGES/Getty Images

When her husband died, Sally was beside herself. Not knowing what to do with her free time, a girlfriend recommended that she visit Studio 54 “just to see what it’s all about.” Sally took her advice along with a friend. They manage to get in, and the manager loved her presence and granted her access whenever she wanted. “I didn’t dance for 50 years because my husband didn’t like it.” Her husband gone, she tossed caution and age to the wind and danced to make up for all those lost years.

All was grand inside Studio 54…or was it?

Sure, Studio 54 was the most happening place to dance and let loose. Heck, even Michael Jackson stated that Studio 54 was a place where anyone can dance and “be free.” To many celebrities, Studio 54 was a safe-haven, where they can be themselves and away from the spotlight, away from paparazzi and crazed fans. 

people dancing in studio 54
NEW YORK, NY – CIRCA 1978: Famous New York City Nightclubs of the Eighties – Studio 54 circa 1978 in New York City. (Photo by Allan Tannenbaum/IMAGES/Getty Images)

However, as soon as the discotheque nightclub opened in 1977, it would soon close its doors. In December of 1978, the IRS descended over the elite club and they were coming for club owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager. In a CBS interview, quoted that the events that took place in 1978 were “…probably the worst, one of the worst days of my life.”

It wasn’t the first time Rubell and Schrager got in trouble with the law

When Rubell and Schrager opened their club doors in 1977, the duo didn’t think their disco-themed club would be an instant success. The two bought a former CBS television studio and turned it into a musical light show. They painted the ceiling black, used the studio’s old lighting as dancing features, and created a fantasy, multi-colored wonderland. 

Michael Jackson and Steve Tyler at studio 54
American musicians Michael Jackson, of the Jackson 5, and Steve Tyler, of the group Aerosmith, attend a Beatlemania party at Studio 54, New York, New York, June 9, 1977. (Photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images)

However, there was one thing missing from the club. Booze. Liquor licenses are not like applying for a driver’s license, it was darn near impossible and Rubell and Schrager nearly forgot about it. With opening night just a few nights away, they had to act fast.

Rubell and Schrager used “one-day catering permits”

To get around not having their liquor licenses, club owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager decided to buy catering permits to fill their club with booze. After all, it’s not a party without alcohol. They called their company the “Broadway Catering Corp” and soon, Rubell and Schrager were receiving alcohol by the crates. 

Studio 54 dance floor
View of clubgoers amid the light towers on the dance floor at Studio 54, New York, New York, May 9, 1978. The towers could descend from the ceiling and the rise again. (Photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images)

However, the Liquor State Authorities were suspicious of Rubell and Schrager’s tactics, asking themselves why a disco club wanted so many catering permits. The music stopped playing and the police swarmed the night club.  This was the beginning of the end for Studio 54, and Rubell and Schrager were beginning to feel it all unravel.

The IRS was nipping at their heels

Rubell and Schrager were arrested for selling alcohol without a license and Studio 54 shut down indefinitely. However, it was thanks to their ruthless lawyer, Roy Cohn, that got them out of prison and back into the club (with a liquor license). It should be noted that Roy Cohn wasn’t just any well-to-do lawyer. 

Bianca Jagger and Liza Minelli at Bianca's birthday party at Studio 54
NEW YORK, NY – MAY 2: Bianca Jagger and Liza Minelli at Bianca’s birthday party at Studio 54 on May 2, 1978 in New York City. (Photo by Sonia Moskowitz/Getty Images)

Cohn was Senator McCarthy’s lawyer, and (for those wondering) was at one point Donald Trump’s lawyer. Once Rubell and Schrager were freed, they suddenly felt invincible. The feeling wouldn’t last long. Though they would have three more years of unyielding success, there was one force the club owners could not fight. The IRS.

Disco died when Studio 54 closed its doors

Two dozen IRS agents seized the club and took possession of any paperwork relating to the club’s finances. An allegation was made that the club owners were skimming money from the club and holed copious amounts of illegal substances. Turns out, it was true. Inside the club’s vault were drugs and unreported cash.

Couples dance at Studio 54
Couples dance at Studio 54, New York, New York, April 15, 1978. (Photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images)

In total, there was $2.5 million dollars undocumented. Both Rubell and Schrager served prison sentences for fraud and the club was closed permanently in 1980. Thus, was the end of, not just studio 54, but Disco. But not all was lost. Schrager and Rubell served their time and eventually got back on their feet. It was just one wild party that came to a close.