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The Short, Drunken Life of Club Row

How 27th Street went from grim to glamorous and back again in five Jäger-soaked years.

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A Saturday night outside Pink Elephant on West 27th Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues.  

For a split second it seemed as if the man might live. For one boozy, demented moment, time started to bend and warp, and everyone by the freight elevatorall the waitresses and coat-check girls and bartenders and friends, all those of age to drink and all those barely under, the few people involved in the fracas and the several looking on from afar, as well as floor manager Granville Adams, an actor in the HBO show Oz, who had never intended to throw a man to his deathall of them had the shadow of a chance to consider just how wrong everything had gone. And then Orlando Valle dropped.

The Harlem-bred mailroom worker had come to B.E.D. a week ago Friday to celebrate his 35th birthday. There, he did what was the thing to do among the elite of New York three years ago, what many of them now pretend they never tried: drink overpriced vodka out of a private bottle. He had chosen B.E.D. as the site of his libation, perhaps attracted by the notion of lounging on a mattress, his feet warmed by complimentary bootieseven though the beds were worn and ripped, the site of numerous late-night conquests and frustrationsor perhaps attracted by a cocktail menu with names like The Pussy Galore and Heavy Petting. Now, after a fight over a girl, he was falling down the elevator shaft.

As he moaned from four floors downhis body disfigured, his blood dripping onto the elevator cab he had landed onlanguishing with him was an entire city block. As a hot zone of New York nightlife, West 27th Street between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues had an astonishingly fast rise and fall: five years, in all, from the beginning to the beginning of the end. During that time, the street attracted Bono, Paris Hilton, prostitutes, drug dealers, and everyone in betweenthousands of people on a single block. Together, they represented, for better or worse, the personality of New York at the beginning of the new millennium. But when Valle died of his head wounds Saturday morning at St. Vincent’s hospital, the life went out of the party.

The block, in 2000, looked typical of Outer Chelsea, a neighborhood of leather bars and chop shops that Realtors called OuCh. It featured a scrap yard, a valve-repair center, and an auto-detailing shop. At night, transvestites paraded through, attracting curious motorists who rolled down their windows and filled the air with innuendo. Clubbers scampered arm-in-arm to Twilo, the megaclub at 530 West 27th. It was freaks and crackheads, recalls one clubber, Melissa Maron. You never knew what was going to come out of the corners or from behind a pile of trash.

But the street held one major advantage for club owners: The city had zoned it for commercial use, making it easy to receive a liquor license. At the turn of the millennium, as the Giuliani administration cracked down on rogue club owners, many of the rest decided to go west. The trendsetter was Amy Sacco, the owner of Lot 61, who had lived for four years in a raw loft near Twilo at 544 West 27th. Having brought the space up to code, even adding a hot tub, she finally tired of a long-running battle with an ornery landlord, who filled the locks with glue in his attempts to frustrate his residential tenants. Sacco moved off the street, but on the opposite side, just up the block, she rented a small space at 515 West 27th. Bungalow 8 opened in the spring of 2001.

Conceived at the height of the dot-com boom, Bungalow 8like Studio 54 in the seventiesdefined the glamour of a decade. Tall, voluptuous, and platinum blonde, Sacco became a Texas Guinan for the US Weekly era, famous for her style sense, her mood swings, her tight door policy. She had made hundreds if not thousands of best friends since arriving from New Jersey, especially among the wealthy, but only a few of them were admitted into her tiny room of 125 people. Having money was the easy part. Those who made it inside generally had made it outside. They were famous or beautiful or interesting. And the few who held a Bungalow membership card carried with them Amy’s personal endorsement.

Sacco allowed no one to take pictures inside Bungalow 8. Because people felt safe, they mixed, often indulged freely in excess, and rarely dropped tales of their exploits to the press. For Amy’s friends, the place felt like a small-town bar on a good night. The doormen, Disco and Armin, protected their customers. If George Clooney, leaving the club in a buoyant mood, happened to pass a pretty blonde from the Upper East Side, grab her by the hand, and jokingly drag her off to his Town Car, Disco would be there to break them apart with a karate chop and a soft, smiling admonition: Not for you, George. The girl’s boyfriend would yell, Yeah, beat it, Clooney! and everyone would get a little charge out of thatClooney most of all; for once, he felt like a regular guy.


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