Prolonged war and a stagnant economy gave way to a massive national hangover in the 1970s. But at Studio 54, the party was just getting started.
Described by some as Sodom and Gomorrah with a disco beat, New York City’s delightfully depraved nightclub opened its doors in 1977. It took owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager just six weeks to transform the former CBS Studio 52 into the destination for celebrities and others in high society looking to cut loose.
From the moment it opened to the public, Studio 54 drew stars from around the world and offered a space where the public could party along with them. Drugs abounded and booze flowed freely for Studio 54 patrons, be they underage actors or seasoned athletes.
Before it closed, everyone from Mick and Bianca Jagger to Robin Williams, Michael Jackson, Liza Minelli, Elton John, Salvador Dali, and Andy Warhol (just to name a few) had spent an evening getting soused at the studio.
All parties must come to an end, though. In the case of Studio 54, the buzz-killing party crashers first arrived in December 1978, when police raided the venue and confiscated bags full of cash that had been hidden throughout the building. The search came after Rubell made the mistake of saying that only the Mafia made more money that the club brought in.
In June of the following year, Rubell and Schrager would be convicted of tax fraud and obstruction of justice, confining the wild nights that Studio 54 provided to partygoers’ memory. Another raid in December 1979 and a prison sentence would lead Rubell and Schrager to sell Studio 54, effectively confining the club’s sex, booze and drugs-soaked nights to partygoers’ memories.
The club would reopen in 1981 under Mark new ownership, only to undergo a series of transitions until it became the building it is today, which houses a theater, offices and an educational facility. Luckily for us, a handful of photographers captured the scene at Studio 54’s height in the 1970s. Their photos transport us right back to the debaucherous den that all but defined 1970s New York’s nightlife:
Famous drag queen and actress Divine was right at home in the world-famous nightclub. Source: Ron Galella/WireImage
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Fashion icon Bianca Jagger set many trends through her Studio 54 appearances. Source: Associated Press
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On the night of Bianca Jagger’s 30th birthday, the club threw her a soiree complete with costumed staff and professional dancers. At the end of the night she rode out on stage atop a white horse. Source: Hasse Persson
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Comedian and actor Richard Pryor attends a Studio 54 event. Source: Associated Press
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Barbara Carrera enjoying herself during ‘A Salute to American Designers’ at Studio 54. Source: Ron Galella/WireImage
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Crossdressing and androgyny were just part of the norm. Source: Tod Popageorge
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At a less socially accepting time, Studio 54 was always a safe place for people to relax and be themselves. Source: Tod Popageorge
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Renowned photographer Tod Papageorge documented the hedonism and celebrity of Studio 54. Source: Tod Papageorge
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If you were not already famous you had to stick out from the crowd to get into Studio 54. The more flamboyant the outfit or attitude, the more likely you were to get behind the velvet rope. Source: Hasse Perrson
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Photographer Hasse Persson, who recently released a book of his photos simply called ‘Studio 54’. Source: Hasse Persson
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Perrson’s inside access gave him the perfect vantage point for capturing some of the best images known of the club. Source: Hasse Perrson
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Studio 54 never went to any great lengths to hide what happened within its walls. Source: Hasse Persson
An All That’s Interesting writer since 2013, Erin Kelly focuses on historic places, natural wonders, environmental issues, and the world of science. Her work has also been featured in Smithsonian and she’s designed several published book covers in her career as a graphic artist.