The Rise And Fall Of The Legendary NYC Nightclub Studio 54: "The Party Of Your Life"


One of the things I was dying to do while I was in New York City was to photograph the exterior of what was once the legendary disco nightclub, Studio 54.

I was living in New York when Studio 54 opened, yet never actually went inside. I kept hearing about how fabulous and popular it was. But being someone who was not into the "nightclub scene" at that time, I really had no interest. Besides, you couldn't just walk into Studio 54. Not only did you have to wait in line (sometimes for hours), but you also had to be selected by the doorman because the club had a different party theme each night. And if you didn't fit the theme, you didn't get in. Which made most people want to get in even more.

However, approximately eight years ago, I began reading books and watching documentaries about the history of Studio 54 and became thoroughly intrigued by all the decadence and debauchery that went on inside the club. Yowza!

Allow me to say that although I've never been a party animal, promiscuous, into drugs, or drinking to the point of being totally inebriated, that doesn't mean I'm not curious to know about people who are. That's one of the reasons I love New York. It's a city of extremes. But that doesn't mean you have to indulge in everything. You can simply choose to observe it.

The rise of Studio 54:

In 1977, the CBS television studio, located on 254 West 54th Street, was transformed into the nightclub Studio 54 by owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager. It took only six weeks to transform the studio into a nightclub and cost $400,000 before its grand opening on April 26 and immediately became the epicenter of nightlife in New York City.

It was a club in which anything went.


Studio 54 was one big free-for-all in which it didn't matter what you were into, you were free to express it.

It didn't matter if you were straight, gay, or bisexual. It didn't matter if you were a man, woman, trans, or a drag queen. Young or old. The club embraced diversity and sexuality.

It didn't matter if you were a celebrity or a civilian. It was a place where everyone could come together and party.

It didn't matter if you drank, smoked pot, snorted cocaine, or dropped Quaalude's. All of those things were present and used.

It was a place of abandonment, freedom, and excess to the max. Where sex was as close as the nearest bathroom. And drugs were handed out like party favors.

It was once described as, "...a non-stop Bacchanalia."

The fall of Studio 54: 

In 1978, Steve Rubell made a cocky remark to the press: “What the IRS doesn't know won't hurt them. Only the Mafia makes more money than Studio 54." Apparently, Rubell and Schrager had been keeping vast sums of cash in Hefty garbage bags and stowing them in the ceiling. Turns out, they had only paid $8,000 in taxes since they opened, yet were making more than $75,000 per night.

Shortly thereafter, the nightclub was raided by IRS agents and Rubell and Schrager were arrested for skimming $2.5 million. In November of 1979 they pled guilty to income-tax evasion. Judge Richard Owen shocked the court by imposing the maximum penalty: 3 1/2 years (reduced to 13 months) in prison and $20,000 in fines. They sold the club a short time after being released in January 1981.

However, Studio 54 never regained its popularity as it had in those first thee years.

Eventually, Rubell and Schrager got into the hotel business - buying and restoring old hotels into luxury hotels. They were extremely successful.

In 1989, Steve Rubell (aged 45) passed away. Ian Schrager still owns and operates hotels.

Here are some photographs of Studio 54 in its historical heyday...


Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager
(college friends from Brooklyn)


*above and below photographs*
This is what it looked like on a normal night with crowds waiting to get in.



Steve Rubell at the front door of Studio 54. He ruled the velvet ropes with an iron fist to achieve the perfect blend of guests for his nightly party themes, selecting members of the crowd for admittance. “It’s like mixing a salad,” he explained, “or casting a play.”


*above and below photographs*
Studio 54 dance floor


Below are some of the celebrities who partied at Studio 54 --
See if you can recognize any of them...















I took these next several photographs to show you what Studio 54 looks like today.
It is currently called, Roundabout Theatre Company @ Studio 54



Above and below photographs are the original Studio 54 entrance doors which, to this day, have been preserved. I got such an incredible feeling as I looked at these doors and touched the brass handles; thinking of all the people who walked through them each night, during those short but legendary three years.


Studio 54 then and now comparison photographs...




I leave you with a short clip of the latest (2018) Studio 54 documentary...


Have a fantastic week everyone! 

24 comments

  1. Valerie DaggattMarch 12, 2019

    Interesting. I saw some familiar faces in the crowds but couldn't name all of them. I am wondering now if my city in the UK ever had such a night life when I was at an appropriate age to visit one. If it did then I didn't know about it.

    Hope everything is going well for you.

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  2. It must have been wild to be there as a non-celebrity. I wonder if people knew the night’s theme in advance? I bet they didn’t keep our the famous people who didn’t match that night’s theme!

    How foolish of them to brag to he press about screwing the IRS. Hubris, man. It’ll get you every time.

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  3. Ron it's so funny that you posted about Studio 54 because I streamed the documentary you mentioned back in January on Netflix and loved it! Did you see it? I've always been interested in Studio 54. I wish I could have gone there but I wasn't even born then. I love your comparison photos of then and now. Looks totally different, doesn't it? But I like that then preserved the original doors and still referred to it as Roundabout Theater AT Studio 54! What great images of the celebrities. Love the one of Freddy Mercury.

    Great post, Ron!

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  4. What an interesting post, Ron. And wow on the photos.....so many of those people are gone now. I never knew the origin of its name or about the owners. Cocky SOB's, weren't they? I was always a bit horrified hearing child actors who partied there as kids, like Brooke Shields and Kyle Richards. Can you imagine?

    It was great seeing the side by sides from yesterday and today. Thanks for the history lesson! XO

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  5. Hey there Valerie!

    Did you notice Cary Grant? When I started looking for photographs of celebrities who went to Studio 54, I just had to use that photo for this post because you already know how much I loved Cary Grant. Even as he aged, he still looked so handsome!

    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. Have a great week!

    X

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  6. "It must have been wild to be there as a non-celebrity."

    I know, right? I would have been flipping out with excitement if I had been surrounded by some of those celebs, such as: Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, and LIZ TAYLOR!!! But supposedly, all the non-celebs acted very casual around them, respecting them.

    "I bet they didn’t keep our the famous people who didn’t match that night’s theme!"

    Yes, they did. In various documentaries I've watched, it mentioned that Steve Rubell had a separate list of "celebrities" and "A-List Celebrities." The A-List always got in, but the other list did not. For instance, Frank Sinatra and certain members of the Kennedy family did NOT get in.

    "How foolish of them to brag to he press about screwing the IRS. Hubris, man. It’ll get you every time."

    You said it. In fact, after Rubell got out of prison, he said in an interview what a fool he was for being so cocky and stupid. Both he and Schrager openly apologized for allowing the popularity of the club (and money) to go to their heads and that they were wrong for doing so.

    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend! Have a great week!
    X

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  7. Hey Candice!

    Yes...I did see the documentary and thought it was faaaaaabulous! Over the years I've seen so many Studio 54 documentaries, but this last one (in my opinion) was the best.

    Looking back, I WISH I had tried going to Studio 54 when it first opened. But it's odd because back then I sincerely had no interest in nightclubs. I was in my early 20's and going to acting school, so I was more interested in seeing theater at night.

    " Looks totally different, doesn't it? "

    Yes, it does. But as you said, the original doors are like fingerprints from the past, when Studio 54 was the hottest club in New York City.

    Didn't you just LOVE Freddy Mercury? He was such an AMAZING talent! Hearing his music reminds me of my time in New York City because he was at the peak of his popularity during the 70's.

    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. Have an awesome week!

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  8. "And wow on the photos.....so many of those people are gone now."

    OMG, I know...so many are now gone! But isn't it fascinating to see these pictures of them? Being a fan of Cary Grant, I was so excited to see him included as patron of Studio 54. Who knew?!

    "Cocky SOB's, weren't they?"

    Yes, cocky as all hell. And they admitted that years later. They said that prison time humbled them and that they were so wrong in doing what they did. Owning the most famous nightclub in NYC during the 70's-80's, completely went to their heads. They thought they were indestructible.

    "....child actors who partied there as kids, like Brooke Shields and Kyle Richards. "

    And also, Drew Barrymore partied there as well. And WITH her mother!

    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. Have an awesome week!
    X

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  9. Wow Ron, I cannot believe the size of those crowds waiting to get inside!!! The club must be huge to accommodate even half of those people. Did they allow more people in as others left? I had heard of the club before but never knew much about it. My girlfriend loves disco music, so I'm going to see if we can find the documentary on Netflix.

    David Bowie and Elton John? I'm a big fan of both their music. I can't imagine what it must have been like to mingle with celebrities standing right next to you. Really like the comparison pics.

    Great post, dude! Enjoyed the clip.

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  10. Hiya Matt!

    I know, can you BELIEVE all those people?!?! It's freaking amazing to me that people would wait for HOURS and HOURS in the hopes of getting in. And people did this every single night of the week except Monday, when it was closed.

    "Did they allow more people in as others left? "

    I'm not exactly sure about that, but perhaps they did. The club stayed open until 4 AM and I read somewhere that people would arrive as late as 2 AM.

    You'll LOVE the documentary. Check Netflix. The movie is really not about disco music, about the club and what went on inside. It's FASCINATING.

    Right? Can you imagine being in the same club as David Bowie and Elton John? And that's what was so unique about Studio 54, everyone partied together.

    Thanks so much for stopping by, bud. Have a super week!
    X

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  11. Wow, thanks for the history of the nightclub. I'd always heard rumors of the place. The 60s and 70s were definitely a time where anything and everything decadent happened. The photos certainly show a lot of celebrities; some no longer with us. I'm glad they preserved part of it for history's sake. I love the photo with your reflection and the logo.

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  12. I'm not much of a party animal either, Ron, but I do enjoy people-watching. And what a place to watch people, huh?!


    Obviously, I never entered Studio 54, nor was I ever standing in line to try. Hanging with those celebs isn't something I'd have felt comfortable doing. Still, what an amazing history -- and to think all that money was stashed in trash bags hidden in the ceiling!!


    Thanks for a most interesting glimpse of a time gone by and a place I'd only heard of. And thanks, too, for including all those black-and-white photos of people partying their heads off!


    Enjoy the rest of your week! xo

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  13. "The 60s and 70s were definitely a time where anything and everything decadent happened."

    Yes, you're absolutely right, Lisa. The 60's and the 70's WERE anything and everything decadent happened. Studio 54 reminded me of what it was like in Germany in the late 30's- early 40's. I've read many books and watched several documentaries which talked about the decadence in all the nightclubs, much like Studio 54.

    I was so excited to see that they preserved the original doors. They next time I go back to NYC, I may see if I can get inside the theater/club and take pictures.

    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. Hope you're having a FAB week!
    X

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  14. "And what a place to watch people, huh?!"

    HA! You said it, Debbie! I would have loved to been a fly on the wall in that place!

    "and to think all that money was stashed in trash bags hidden in the ceiling!!"

    I know, can believe how much CASH was stashed in those bags? And the IRS not only found money in the club, but also stashed behind a secret doorway inside Steve Rubell's apartment in New York. There were bags of cash hidden EVERYWHERE.

    " all those black-and-white photos of people partying their heads off!"

    Aren't those pictures faaaaaaaabulous? While searching for images to include in this post, I was quite surprised to see many of those celebrities (such as Dolly Parton) who at one time partied at Studio 54!

    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. Have an awesome rest of your week!
    X

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  15. Ron, I LOVED this post because (being a native New Yorker), I knew of Studio 54 and saw a documentary about it years and years ago, but had not seen pictures of all the celebs that frequented the club. OMG...that picture of Elton John and Diana Ross is pretty spectacular. Love EJ's glasses!

    Your comparison photos are wonderful! Did you get to go inside to see what it looked like now? I wonder how much of the interior was preserved. The pictures of you standing in front of the doors are so cool. I'm impressed that they kept those doors. And they should have because Studio 54 is a part of New York City nightclub history. I loved the 70's in NY. It was gritty and broke, but it also had so much charm.

    Great post, Ron. You should be a New York City historical writer because you really do your research. And do it well!

    Enjoyed the clip. Makes me want to watch the whole documentary.

    X

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  16. Me too, Elaine, I've seen several documentaries about Studio 54, but none of them actually showed the celebrities. After researching images for this post, I was sooooooo surprised to see the diversity. Don't you love the picture of Elton John and Miss Ross? His glasses are faaaaaaaaaabulous!!!

    No, I didn't go inside the club because I didn't know if they would allow me to take pictures, since it's now a theater. However, the next time I go back to NYC, I'm going to just come right out and ask them if I can enter at least the lobby area.

    "I loved the 70's in NY. It was gritty and broke, but it also had so much charm."

    I agree! And I'm so glad I lived there during that decade.

    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. Have a great rest of your week!

    X

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  17. I have long been fascinated with Studio 54 myself! How amazing it would have been to be a part of that scene, even for only one night. The stories you could tell! Thanks for the "then and now" photos, Ron. I'm impressed that the exterior looks so much like it did back in its heyday.

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  18. http://ladyfi.wordpress.comMarch 15, 2019

    Fascinating to see how legendary it became!

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  19. Yes, isn't it? I love any kind of history, and Studio 54 was a big part of New York history back in the 70's.

    Thanks so much for stopping by, my friend. Have a great weekend!
    X

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  20. "How amazing it would have been to be a part of that scene, even for only one night. The stories you could tell!"

    I know, Mark, can you just imagine the stories you could tell?!?!?

    Isn't it incredible how the exterior has changed very little since then? I'm hoping that one of the times when I go back to NYC for another visit that I can possible take pictures INSIDE the theatre/studio because from photos I've seen, it's amazing!

    Have a great weekend, my friend. And thanks so much for stopping by!

    X to you and Tara

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  21. Oh, what great memories, Ron! I've heard of Studio 54 from an uncle of mine who lived in Manhattan during the 70's and said that it was THE place to go during that time. He and his friends tried several times to get in but never did. He said that his biggest rush was seeing Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall get out of cab one night, walk through the crowd, enter the club. He also saw Ali MacGraw.

    I wish I had been born before Studio 54 because it sounded like such an incredible place. LOVE your then and now photos! I always hear my aunts and uncles share stories about NYC and how much it's changed since then.

    Wonderful post, Ron! You should be a historical writer for New York City because of your passion.
    xo

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  22. "He said that his biggest rush was seeing Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall get out of cab one night, walk through the crowd, enter the club. He also saw Ali MacGraw."

    OMG, that's incredible, Denise! I saw a documentary about models a while back in which Jerry Hall mentioned something about Studio 54 and how she often do there. She talked about how wild it was!

    Yes, New York was a very different place back then. It was much grittier and raw. However, it was also a time of incredible creativity and experimentation. Whether then or now, New York City will always be (for me) the greatest city on the East Coast because what NEVER changes is the magnificent ENERGY.

    Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing. Hope you're having a FAB week, my friend!
    X

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  23. Fascinating post, Ron! I had heard of Studio 54 but knew nothing about it until now. I look forward to watching the documentary. I love the black and white photographs. Robin Williams. Wow!

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  24. Glad you enjoyed, Daniel! I had so much fun putting this post together.

    You will LOVE the documentary! I've seen several over the past 20 years, but this one is the best.

    I know, Robin Williams! I really miss him!

    Thanks so much for stopping by. Have a fantastic week!

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