Covering Studio 54 was like covering the big bang. On April 26, 1977—a long time before superstar D.J.’s, before velvet ropes, before anyone had ever heard of “club drugs” like XTC, 2CB, and special K—Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager let there be light and speed and spectacle so preternaturally pleasurable that it had to fall apart. But while the ball lasted, there was no more thrilling nightlife than the dance on West 54th Street. I know, because I was there. Studio 54 was my beat as the “Intelligencer” columnist. Go forth and party with Halston, Bianca, Andy, and Liza, said my editor, and bring back the buzz.
Temperamentally unfit to record the glow of celebrity, I marveled more at the sexual politics. While homosexuality was outlawed at Plato’s Retreat, where the dancing was seriously dirty, Rubell invited the Friends of Frederick the Great to the party.
“It’s bisexual,” Rubell told Interview. “Very bisexual. And that’s how we choose the crowd, too. In other words, we want everybody to be fun and good-looking.” And have sex and do drugs in the balcony.
How long did the gods allow such défi? About three years. Rubell and Schrager pleaded guilty in November 1979 for skimming a million dollars, and both were eventually imprisoned for thirteen months. But Rubell’s greatest crime went unpunished: a last-ditch snitch on Hamilton Jordan, Jimmy Carter’s White House chief of staff, for allegedly doing lines in the basement. This squeeze play was the brainchild of Joe McCarthy’s bottom, Roy Cohn, the hard-partying lawyer for Studio. Who else?
Karma caught up with Rubell. He succumbed to AIDS in 1989. His partner, of course, has had a successful second act. And we who danced to 54’s tune, what about us 30 years far and beyond? It doesn’t seem like yesterday, but I wish it were.