Saturday, May 08, 2021

Vintage Articles:
Disco Scenes (Hollywood, San Francisco, New York) - by Christopher Stone, Bob Kiggins & Vito Russo // The Advocate - August 13, 1975


Continuing with more instalments from the Discos! issue of The Advocate. For this issue, their regular city entertainment columns became a quick trip through parts of the gay disco scenes in Hollywood, San Francisco and New York.

Before I go on to the transcribed article, some things to mention:

Studio One is mentioned not just here but in the previous Vito Russo column as one of the best disco venues on the west coast (and it does sound like an impressive complex). Though well reviewed in this column, it appears history has been much less kind to it. Still early in its operation when this was printed, other than a mention about its stringent ID requirements, there are few hints in these pages of the controversy that would surround Studio One and its racist door policies. I’m certain subsequent issues of The Advocate cover the ensuing community backlash, which included multiple demonstrations outside the venue - for now, the Studio One article from the ONE Archives gives a good outline. I’m certain it was far from the only venue where exclusivity, something that was not only common among many disco venues, but also one might argue, necessary when it came to protecting queer spaces, also gave cover for some rather bold racism and classism - of which Studio One has become a prime example. As much as I love delving into the archives of gay publications, one thing that does stand out, whether it is The Advocate, or Christopher Street, or most other gay publications from the time, is that the point of view does tend to be overwhelmingly white and male. Although there seems to be greater attention around representation these days (due largely to sustained activist pressure, let's be honest), it remains an uphill struggle against the stubborn assumption, where ‘gay’ is often by default, white, affluent and male. It’s easy to get caught up in the selective fog of nostalgia, I’ve certainly been guilty of it myself, yet even more important to consider the limitations of the archive.

Some other interesting tidbits here for the nostalgic traveller - Christopher Stone mentions the young mobile disco entrepreneur, Jane Brinton towards the end of his Hollywood column. Brinton would go on to a much higher profile career in the music business in the 1980s and 90s, starting a management company called This Beats Workin’, managing DJ/producers Shep Pettibone and Junior Vasquez through the peak of their careers. Today, she is the co-founder and executive director of The Waterbearers, a charity working to expand clean water access in the global south.

While many of the venues mentioned are long gone and some have left a bigger imprint than others, it’s notable that at least a couple of the San Francisco venues mentioned in Bob Kiggins’ column have had astonishingly long lives. The Endup, founded in 1973, is the only one which remains open today. Opened in 1966, The Stud was around for 54 years, described as San Francisco’s oldest and most diverse queer bar. Having been the focus of a campaign to remain open amid a crushing rent increase in a rapidly gentrifying San Francisco in 2016, the Stud became ”the first co-op nightclub” in America. Despite this, in 2020 the double whammy of COVID and gentrification did it in (at least for now). Yet, The Stud still exists in a kind of digital exile, so a physical return in the post-pandemic future is not yet out of the question.

The City discotheque, while not as long-lasting, is also a notable venue. Patrick Cowley had worked there as a lighting technician before rising to prominence as a producer and all-around synth wizard. Apparently it was here where Cowley and Sylvester had met each other. Two men who figured prominently in both Sylvester and Cowley's careers - John Hedges and Marty Blecman, founders of Megatone Records, had both been DJ's at The City.

As a counterpoint to his lament in his earlier piece in this issue, Vito Russo, in his New York column seems to have found a disco scene to his liking, and it was on Fire Island.

A note about venue links: Whenever a specific disco venue is mentioned, I like to link to its discotheque profile. While still exists in a more skeletal version, the closure of as an active community was a real loss for many of us disco fans. While some of the site’s features, like the forum and the disco record database have been largely supplanted by the growth of Facebook and Discogs, respectively; it remained an incredible repository of information and and its forum a much more open and less intrusive (given how Facebook monetizes all of our data) space to interact. That being said, I’m certain it was all very time consuming and expensive to maintain, however one part of the site which hasn’t been duplicated anywhere else was its archive of user-submitted DJ and venue profiles. Often bolstered by user comments and photographs, these entries were often incredible repositories of disco history. While many of the submitted listings have been preserved by the Internet Archive, some have not. Even some of the ones that have are not quite fully intact. Still, for context, I try to link to these archived profiles whenever possible.

I should also say how much I love all the disco-themed ads in this issue, especially the ones attached to these columns (and there are other full-page ads in between these also). I’ll have to parcel these out into a separate post sometime.


Disco Scenes - Hollywood
by Christopher Stone

Do you wanna dance? As gay discos go-go, the two really big shows in Hollywood town are still Studio One and Cabaret.

My favourite is Studio One (652 N. LaPeer, West Hollywood). Their advertising, which touts the club as “the place to come and the disco to be at in Southern California,” does not exaggerate.

Good to excellent entertainment is always featured at The Backlot, the complex’s dining-showroom. While the cuisine poses no threat to Le Restaurant or Scandia, it’s as good as you’ll find in any gay eatery in Hollywood.

Studio One also features four bars, a jewelry concession and a game room, complete with watering hole, television and pinball.

The discotheque itself is without equal in California. The largest dance floor around, embellished with lights and lasers, makes for a totally satisfying disco experience. There is always room to dance and breathe, even when there is a big crowd, which is every night after 11.

But what I really like best about the place is the friendly, “family” atmosphere created by owner-manager Scott Forbes, his partners and staff. They are genuinely nice, sociable and fun people. Possibly because of the genial tone set by the staff, the clientele seems to be friendlier than at the other clubs.

Studio One has reigned as Hollywood’s premier disco for well over a year, and I have no doubts about its retaining that top position long after the others have locked their doors. (By the way, be sure to always bring proper identification to Studio One, or any disco. Oscar nominee Valerie Perrine was turned away at the door the other night for lack of an ID.)

Cabaret (333 La Cienega, West Hollywood) opened last spring and was an immediate hit. Like Studio One, Cabaret boasts multiple bars and rooms. They also have Howard Metz, Los Angeles’ most celebrated disco jock, spinning their records.

But the dance floor is postage stamp size compared to the other club. It’s great if you want your tootsies tortured or if you get off on stepping all over others. If you have claustrophobia, forget it, dear.

Cabaret attracts a hard-edged, raunchy crowd, and the camaraderie is so apparent at Studio One is completely lacking there. To be fair, manager Jeff Croon and his assistant Tim Manning have been very accommodating to me, but some of their staff members are totally devoid of charm and common courtesy.

Perhaps it’s the rough, decadent feeling at Cabaret that is so attractive to its regular patrons.

For the most part, Cabaret hasn’t been able to compete with the “name” entertainment at Studio One. An exception was Charles Pierce who graced the showroom for three weeks. If management is wise, they will get Pierce’s autograph on a long-term contract, pronto!

Our Side (836 N. Highland, Hollywood), formerly the Paradise Ballroom and before that Dude City, is a pleasant place to dance, dance, dance to disco jock Tony Miller’s hot platters. The nitery’s recent facelift seems to be attracting good nightly crowds.

And right across the street is The Other Side, Hollywood’s chicken de-light disco. ‘Nough said.

Once “the” disco in town, After Dark (8471 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood), re-opened last spring following last summer’s mysterious fire. But the disco hasn’t recaptured anything approximating its former glory. More and more straight people attend the club; the magic is gone.

If you’re a say-at-home and would rather have the disco come to you, by all means call Jane Brinton’s Aristocrat Mobile Discotheques (213-851-7831). Brinton and her staff will bring over $20,000 worth of disco hardware, music, lights, bubbles and what-have-you to your home, office, school organization, wherever.

Last month, Jane and her mobile units were in the middle of Franklin Canyon playing for Karen Black’s wedding. Movie generators were used as her power source. That’s mobile.

There are other mobile discos in town, but none that equal the elaborate, sophisticated equipment Aristocrat has to offer.

Jane’s price tag for hauling her hardware runs up to $300 per evening, but the fee varies with the length and location of the gig. The cost includes over 2,000 albums and a jock to play them.

In addition to her mobile service, Brinton can custom design and build a disco of your very own for between $6,000-60,000.

“It all depends on what you want,” says Jane. ■


Disco Scenes - San Francisco
by Bob Kiggins

Whatever your musical taste, San Francisco has a dance bar to feed it - for a few evenings’ worth at least. The present difficulty with “going out” is that with so few really hot dance scenes to choose from, boredom can set in quickly. And a disco full of bored people is not long a disco.

Cabaret/After Dark, our lone dance-show-restaurant-bar, has gone through some changes of late. Opened over two years ago as the first of its kind in the city, Cabaret introduced quality name entertainment to an increasingly ambisexual clientele. Riding the crest of a not-yet-defined sociological wave, the major focus here, as anywhere else mentioned was not dance or stage shows but sex.

And not just gay male genital sex, either. Increasing numbers of women, gay and straight, swinging couples, curious tourists and just plain folks out for a good time turned the gay bar/dance hall combo in to a jumble of sensuality.

The disco that best accommodates that phenomenon will win out over a management lacking the foresight, creativity and financial resources necessary to bring it off. While San Francisco is well-endowed with all three, the recent shuttering of Cabaret shows how tenuous the relation can be.

There may be hope. Supposedly closed for “extensive remodelling,” the fact that Cabaret will be revived (under new ownership) as The City, 936 Montgomery St., which promises to be an entertainment cruise complex the liked of which this “Baghdad-by-the-Bay” hasn’t seen since the Cliff House and Sutro Baths went up in flames. At press time, it’s all systems go for a mind bending concoction that could prove the ultimate paean to the art of disco craftsmanship and imagination. When The City is unveiled over Labor Day Weekend, San Francisco will take its place in the great race to out-disco the next city - or the next block, since rumours persist that we will witness the birth of a sister showplace Cabaret Two.

For the time being, however, don’t come to San Francisco expecting any super-discos. Disco fever is, of course, rampant here, but with the unexpected shut-down of the Cabaret, it has shifted to the less overwhelming neighborhood dance bars. Herewith, then, a listing of fun places to cure even the itchiest of feet.

The Endup, at 401 6th St. (corner of Harrison), sports a decor straight out of the teen stereo department of Montgomery Ward (flashing colored lights behind translucent wall panels, a plastic raised dance floor, black lights, even a go-go boy in a cage), but it’s as “today” in disco terms as Gloria Gaynor. The music is loud, “get-down,” driving and expertly paces; the dancers eager, extroverted, and energetic; the crowd amiable, good-looking, and in the 25 and up range. A spacious bar and attentive bartenders (there are, unfortunately, no floor waiters) add to the Endup’s overall appeal. Expect to sweat and be crowded on weekends, when you’ll pay $1 admission (it’s good for a drink). Cruisy, too.

Not too far away, at 1535 Folsom St., is the Stud, a perennial favourite hang-out of the long-haired, flannel-shirted, “earthy” set. A congenial atmosphere and (for the most part) less than frenetic vibes makes the Stud one of the more comfortable places around. Dancing is free-for-all in a pocket-sized area, the music (taped) varied (i.e., Stones to Spinners), and it’s rarely too crowded. Organic decor. Live music Thursday nights.

And while you’re in the area, you can do it up neo-country style at the Rainbow Cattle Company, Valencia at Duboce. After the dinner rush, this bar/restaurant opens the back room to the shit-kickin’ dance dreams of a friendly crowd, determinedly un-glittered and decidedly laid-back. Country & Western, down-home boogie, and a newly refined audio system raise the roof and spirits of the Cattle Co. clientele - the least disco maniacal in the city.

For friskier dance floor acrobatics, check out the Mind Shaft, 2140 Market St. Wend your way through the pool table area near the door (where you’ll pay $1 for a drink ticket) to the elevated dance area (it’s even latticed - the ideal patio boxing ring), set amidst a colourful, attractive Deco-ish environment. It gets steamy on weekends (traveling waiters are very accommodating), but you’ll be so immersed in the heady soul music and elbow-to-elbow craziness nothing will matter.

Without Cabaret, the glitter set seems to have found sanctuary in Buzzby’s, 1436 Polk St., a flashy, sassy, cheerfully stylish disco in the heart of one of San Francisco’s flashier gay ghettos. The Buzzby clan is primarily well-dressed and well-heeled, but all images soon dissolve under the spell of the crafty d.j., who invariably gets everyone on the floor in chaotic, spirited dancing. Again $1 at the door, and efficient floor waiters/waitresses. (Note: Buzzby’s has of late been enforcing their capacity limit; arrive 11PM-ish to avoid a wait in line.)

You might also find any of the following to your liking: Bo-Jan-gles, 709 Larkin (very Soul-Train, crowded and mixed); the Nickelodeon, 141 Mason St. (Where boys will be girls, decor very Hollywood); Olympus, Columbus at Lombard ($2 weekends, palatial, bouncy, largely straight); or the ’N Touch, Polk near Pine St. (Pushy crowd, mostly cruising).

[Ed. Note: Donald McLean is on vacation. His column will resume upon his return.]


Disco Scenes - New York
by Vito Russo

Everyone seems to be discussing the big disco boom in New York these days. The Village Voice has just done a cover story on the subject, indicating that discos are at least as popular as that paper’s two recent cover stories which concerned gay people. In New York, you can’t find a disco without gay people, and vice versa, so I guess it’s all the same story.

The first bit of news for those of you who haven’t heard is that The Flamingo has closed for the summer and the former Flamingo crowd adjourned to Cherry Grove’s Ice Palace on Fire Island. More about that Ice Palace in a minute. In the city, it’s 12 West, the new in-place for the disco freaks, beautiful people and hangers-on from Bayside, Queens and Brooklyn, looking for David Bowie in the crowd. 12 West is located on West St. Between 12th & Jane and is just a stone’s throw from the latest gay outdoor sex scene, where you can get your rocks off while someone picks your pocket. (This is especially easy if you also have your clothes off. Stay away from it.)

There’s real action at 12 West, where you can dance until 6AM without stopping and without coming down once. Its quadrophonic sound system is sensational, and free juices and fruit are available all evening. Also, a generous supply of ice water for those who dehydrate quickly. It is a membership club, as are all major discos in New York. You may either join for something like $40 a year (they never stay around that long), or you can come as the guest of a member for about $5. This is your best bet. If you don’t know anyone who is a member, wait outside. Someone will take you in eventually, It’s done all the time.

Le Jardin is a more commercial, more above-ground version of 12 West that has been around for a few years now. It started out as a lavish gay bar on the order of Studio One in L.A. and is now a heavy glitter trip. Whenever a place gets “discovered” and becomes popular with all the groupie teenagers from New Jersey, the original crowd moves on to greener (more “in”) pastures. This is what has happened to Le Jardin. Everyone has gone over to 12 West. Le Jardin is worth seeing, however and boasts the entire basement and the entire rooftop of the Diplomat Hotel on W. 43rd St. The basement level is, as the name implies, a garden for dancing. The dance floor is enormous and surrounded with lots of fake greenery and green and white lounges and couches at which you may be served large drinks from small glasses. The rooftop is really something to see. It overlooks most of Manhattan consists of several rooms in blue and white and silver. There is a stark-white baby grand piano and a silver and white bar which is surrounded by silver ferns. There is also an outdoor terrace which is furnished with waterbeds, from which you can watch any number of color television sets. It’s a nice place to visit and will give you a sense of freaky New York nightlife, especially if you’ve never been here before. It costs $7 to get in, and they have a membership policy also.

For a special weekend, and it must be a special weekend due to its location, visit the Ice Palace on Fire Island. Daytripping (spending a day and leaving on the last boat) is discouraged, so make arrangements to stay awhile. You won’t regret it, because there’s a lot more to see on Fire Island than just the disco, and your trip won’t be wasted. The Ice Palace has been around for a long time. It’s probably the longest running disco on the East Coast. Even when it was just a dance bar, it was a place where people discovered records and made them hits before they ever got air play. On Fire Island, there’s always one song which seems to typify that certain summer, if you will. Last year it was “I’ll Always Love My Mama,” with “Love’s Theme” as a close second.

This year the Ice Palace has been the subject of a $60,000 redecoration, and sports mirrored walls and even shows with top stars before the late-night dancing begins. Della Reese, Morgana King and Carmen MacRae are among the latest in early evening entertainment, followed by dancing until 4AM, all one block away from one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Fire Island is another world, and the rules are all flexible. If you stay at the Beach Hotel, be prepared to listen to disco music all night, as your room will more likely than not be directly opposite the dance floor, separated only by a swimming pool. The dress is very casual, sometimes nothing at all, due to the fact that this completely gay community is isolated after the last boat leaves; no one may arrive or leave until morning except by speedboat or helicopter. The Ice Palace gets its share of straight people, but it is more of an integrated society than a “look at them dance” routine, and at about three in the morning, people are literally dancing on the walls. (They have these little walls which separate the rooms and people dance on them, ok?)

I assume that anyone who is interested in disco dancing in the first place accepts the rules that apply. These are not, usually, cruise bars. They are places where people go with a group of friends to dance the night away. On Fire Island, this rule bends a little because everyone is there for a good time; the lack of restrictions, law and order, and stress bring about a sort of early-Rome feeling which continues until the sun is well up over the gorgeous horizon. There is seldom, if ever, any trouble. There are two policemen on Fire Island and they dance very well. Their job consists of mostly tossing unruly straight teenagers off the dock when they manage to find their way out to the Grove. Also, drugs are ignored within reasonable limits.

Discos in New York are enjoying a period of fashion. This may last a year or a day. One never knows here. Everyone is looking for a way to dance their troubles away. Places like the Limelight and Hollywood, old-fashioned, plain gay dance bars are still packed to the rafters every night, so the discos aren’t taking any business away from them. ■


vintage articles: cheap thrills, entertainment and escapism - by christopher stone // the advocate - august 13, 1975 (wednesday may 5, 2021)
vintage articles: wanna dance? get wrecked to the ass! - by vito russo // the advocate - august 13, 1975 (wednesday april 28, 2021)
vintage articles: exclusive supremes interview - by christopher stone // the advocate - august 13, 1975 (sunday march 21, 2021)

the waterbearers: jane brinton
one archives: studio one
los angeles conservancy: the factory (studio one)
wehoville - jim crow visits west hollywood: studio one and gay liberation (by don kilhefner) (august 5, 2016)
los angeles times - opinion: should we preserve ugly but important buildings - like the former studio one in west hollywood? (by ann friedman) (july 27, 2016)
los angeles blade: west hollywood divided over fate of the factory (by christopher kane) (july 3, 2018)
los angeles times - scott forbes, 57, ran dance palace (obituary) (by jon thurber) (february 7, 2002)
the endup san francisco
the stud san francisco - clubs & discotheques: the city (san francisco) (web archive) - clubs & discotheques: the endup (6th and harrison, san francisco) (web archive) - clubs & discotheques: the stud (folsom street, san francisco) (web archive) - fire destroys gay landmark on fire island (march 27, 2015)
rooftops of nyc: rock ’n roll on the rooftop (le jardin, diplomat hotel, w. 43rd street near sixth avenue) (december 1, 2011)
new york times: an aging midtown hotel that will not go gently (by david w. dunlap) (november 7, 1993)
google newspapers: the village voice - inside the disco boom (by richard szathmary & lucian k. truscott iv) (july 21, 1975)


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