The crowd outside 254 West 54th Street in New York City on this day in 1927 would have been waiting for the curtain of a Puccini opera. On this day in 1957 or ’67, they would have been waiting for a filming of an episode of Password or maybe Captain Kangaroo. On this day in 1977, however, the crowd gathered outside that Midtown address was waiting and hoping for a chance to enter what would soon become the global epicenter of the disco craze and the most famous nightclub in the world: Studio 54, which opened its doors for the very first time on April 26, 1977.
The impresarios behind Studio 54 were Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, college roommates at Syracuse University who got into the nightclub business after their first venture, a chain of steak restaurants, failed to flourish. But before taking Manhattan by storm and becoming famous for openly and shamelessly excluding all but the most chic, famous or beautiful patrons from their establishment, Rubell and Schrager were running a far less pretentious operation called the Enchanted Garden in the far reaches of Queens. The woman who deserves the lion’s share of the credit for making 54 into the celebrity playground that it became was Carmen D’Alessio, a public-relations entrepreneur in the fashion industry, whose Rolodex included names like Bianca Jagger, Liza Minnelli, Andy Warhol and Truman Capote. Her buzz-building turned the grand opening into a major item in the New York gossip columns, and her later efforts—like having Bianca Jagger ride a white horse into the club for her 30th birthday party—stoked the public’s fascination with Studio 54 even further. Not just the usual celebrity suspects—actors, models, musicians and athletes—but also political figures like Margaret Trudeau, Jackie Onassis and, infamously, White House Chief of Staff Hamilton Jordan came out to be seen during the club’s brief heyday.
From a musical standpoint, Studio 54 did not seek to break new ground, but rather to feed its patrons a familiar diet of dance hits. Artists like Grace Jones, Donna Summer and Gloria Gaynor all made live appearances there, but Studio 54 belonged to the DJs and to the free entertainment provided by the club’s flamboyant staff and clientele. While disco reigned supreme on the pop charts, Studio 54 reigned supreme among discotheques, enjoying a golden era that lasted from its opening on this day in 1977 to its closing-night party on February 4, 1980—a party called, appropriately enough, “The End of Modern-day Gomorrah.”