Ian Schrager was the genius behind Studio 54 — the greatest nightclub ever to have lived or died. 42 years on from its peak, the PUBLIC hotelier and serial entrepreneur shows little sign of slowing down. At his beach house in the Hamptons, the King of Clubs talks to Harry Shukman about long nights, dark days and bright ideas.
Studio 54. You had to be there. And even if you were, you’d scarcely believe it. Studio 54! The club that changed nightlife forever, where the crowds were so big they had to call in the fire brigade, where the brightest stars of the 1970s — Michael Jackson, Mick Jagger, Debbie Harry, Grace Jones and Andy Warhol, to name a handful — snarfed mounds of cocaine, crunched cereal bowls of Quaaludes and danced past dawn. Studio 54 drenched New York nightlife in kerosene and set it ablaze, running for a discocharged 1,000 nights from 1977 to 1979, before detonating with a birthday party for Bianca Jagger (she rode in on a white stallion, naturally) and imploding with a police bust (more on that later).
Studio 54! Just hearing Ian Schrager, the club’s legendary co-founder and the shahanshah of Nightworld, describe it is enough to set off a tingle. He’s sitting on the gorgeous veranda of his Hamptons beach palace, built on a rarified stretch of seaside called Meadow Lane (or Billionaire Lane, as it is affectionately called by the New York Post: Schrager’s neighbours are Studio 54-regular Calvin Klein, investor Leon Black, and one of the hollow-eyed Koch brothers).
Schrager, wearing black T-shirt and jeans, the uniform of Summer Dad Running Errands, sits across from me at his dinner table. Waves are softly peeling onto the shore in front of him, and he’s reminiscing about Studio 54, his eyes shut. He’s back on the street in Manhattan, on a hot night in 1977, shortly after he and his partner, Steve Rubell, set up their club in an old Midtown TV studio.
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