At the hedonistic height of the 1970s, one nightclub reigned as the mecca for socialites and Hollywood’s thrill-seeking elite. Studio 54 was the veritable playground of the rich and famous. Designed by famed architect Eugene De Rosa, the studio first opened its doors in 1927, acting as a Broadway theatre venue for a string of high-profile productions.
In 1977, the studio was transformed into a nightclub. Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell’s brainchild became the epicenter of the New York club scene. The glitz and glamor of Studio 54 offered partygoers a primal escape from daily life, a wild space of release, sex, and drugs for a generation raised amidst the turmoil of Watergate and the Vietnam War.
The opening proved to be a spectacle. Thousands of people swarmed the streets of the Upper East Side, hoping to make it on to the glitter-laden dance floor. Unable to house the awaiting masses, the party spilled out on to the streets. As quaaludes were handed out to the crowds, the scene soon turned sexual as bodies mingled, and strangers indulged in lewd and drug-fueled indulgence.
On May 2nd, 1977, the studio hosted the 30th birthday party of Mick Jagger’s wife, Bianca. In a now-iconic pop culture moment, the actress arrived on the dance floor riding a white horse. The publicity stunt made worldwide headlines, cementing the studio’s status as an unrivaled space for the wild antics of the world’s most beautiful people. Andy Warhol, Grace Jones, Diana Ross, Freddie Mercury, Cher, and John Travolta were all frequently found reveling in the studio’s uninhibited atmosphere.
In the first year of the club’s short-lived existence, the studio earned its owners $7 million. The sum gained the attention of the IRS. Shortly after that, the club was raided, and Rubell and Schrager were arrested for skimming the earnings of an estimated $2.5 million.
The scandal marked the unofficial end of an era. Despite its demise, the nightclub remains an enduring symbol of decadence, disco, and debauchery.