In 1968, when radical students pushed through barricades to confront the police near her club on Boulevard Montparnasse, Regine led frightened guests like Dior's Marc Bohan, Taki Theodoracopoulos, and Francoise Sagan through the tear gas and up the back stairs to her apartment above the club. Recollects Regine: "Taki complained, 'I want to go outside! I want to see the war in France!' Two minutes later, he was back, and banging down the door -- 'Let me in, Regine! Idiot!' " While the sirens blared outside, the whole group whiled away the night, dancing and drinking champagne.
In 1975, eight years after her first whirlwind visit to the United States, Regine decided to move to Manhattan. She packed 200 pounds of Vuitton luggage and 800 pairs of shoes into a steamboat and moved into the eleventh floor of the Delmonico Hotel, which she decorated just like her clubs, all Art Deco mirrors and brocade couches and snake-wrapped lamps. A 20,000-square-foot space on the building's ground floor became home to Regine's New York outpost. Long before the doors opened, she had sold 2,000 "memberships" to the club -- for $600, patrons avoided the $10 cover charge and, more important, were guaranteed entry for groups up to eight.
Not everything went smoothly. When the city cited Regine for plumbing violations in her first week, she simply piled her dirty glassware into three limousines and drove a few blocks to Le Cirque. "Suddenly, there she was, this little lady at the door with all these dishes," recalls the restaurant's owner, Sirio Maccioni. "Of course, we opened the kitchen. For Regine, you did anything."
The club was so exclusive and exclusionary that the State Liquor Authority considered suing her for social discrimination. Long before Steve Rubell, Regine carefully maintained and pruned her 20,000-person guest list, and those who got on the proprietor's nerves found themselves swiftly kicked out. Expelled by Regine for knocking over a table of wineglasses with her hoop skirt, Dewi Sukarno, the combative wife of the former Indonesian president, filed a $4 million lawsuit against the nightclub. She ended up winning one franc.
To attract the international jet set of Onassises, Kennedys, and Niarchoses, Regine presided over a steady swing of theme parties -- Barbarella, fifties kitsch, les années folles, Russian New Year's, Moroccan night. There was a disco contest judged by Warhol, and a thirties costume gala to celebrate Regine's thirtieth anniversary in the nightclub business -- Mayor Koch couldn't come, but he sent a note saluting "the legendary Regine, the diva of bubbling nights."
Though there was a no-necktie-no-admission policy, Regine installed pegs just inside the door with gold nameplates under them for a select few to hang their cravats, like Milos Forman, Mick Jagger, and Warhol. "Always in my clubs, there was not just one group coming, à la mode," says Regine. "There was a mix. People with no names coming to see the people with the names."
There certainly was a lot to see: Jack Nicholson and John Gotti drinking wine out of molded pedestals served by waiters in black tie; tables of earls from every imaginable -- and imaginary -- provenance dining on Michel Guérard's cuisine minceur, presented on twelve-inch ivy-bordered dinner plates under sterling-silver covers. Diana Vreeland regularly popped in for a cocktail from her apartment around the corner; Anthony Quinn ran downstairs constantly to call the secretary he would later marry, while his wife, Yolanda, sat sullenly upstairs; regulars like Pauline Trigere, George Hamilton, Cornelia Guest, Diandra Douglas, Brooke Shields, Egon Von Furstenberg, and the octogenarian Jolie Gabor danced on the Lucite dance floor, decorated with heart-shaped neon sculptures that pulsed to the disco beat. It was where Shimon Peres met Phyllis Diller, Brooke Shields partied with Carol Channing, and Mary McFadden fell in love with her fourth husband, Armin Schmidt, at a party in honor of Princess Elizabeth of Yugoslavia. (McFadden has since moved on to her eighth.) For a while, Andy Warhol showed up every night and taped everyone on his tiny recorder.