10 Wild Things That Happened at Studio 54

Getty Images
Getty Images / Getty Images

The original Studio 54 nightclub, which opened on this date in 1977, was open for less than three years before owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager were prosecuted for tax evasion. But 33 months was more than enough time for a dazzling array of hedonistic shenanigans. The club opened again under new management in 1981, and while the new owners also had wild events that attracted a plethora of A-list celebrities, the vibe just wasn’t the same. Here are a few of the insane things (at least, the ones that are fit to print) we missed out on:

1. Four tons of glitter on the floor.

To celebrate New Year’s Eve in the late 1970s, event planner Robert Isabell trucked in four tons of glitter for guests to dance on. “You felt like you were standing on stardust,” Ian Schrager later said. “People got the glitter in their hair, in their socks. You would see it in people’s homes six months later, and you knew they’d been at Studio 54 on New Year’s.”

2. The night they sold nothing but fruit juice and soda.

During the first year the club was open, Schrager and Rubell got by with no liquor license. Instead, they purchased daily permits intended for caterers, not nightclubs. The head of the State Liquor Authority got wind of the scam and conducted a sting; afterward, the club was closed for the night. Undaunted, Studio 54 opened the next night anyway. Patrons received this notice at the door:

“Welcome! And thank you for joining us this evening. Due to an unfortunate misunderstanding, we are unable to serve alcoholic beverages tonight. However, we have a variety of soft drinks and juices, and you are welcome to drink as much as [you] like at no charge. Studio 54 will remain open; we thank you for helping make it the success that it is.”

3. Bianca Jagger riding around on a white horse.

Mick Jagger’s then-wife helped open Studio 54 when designer Halston held a birthday party for her there. It’s often reported that Jagger rode in astride a magnificent white horse, but last year, she issued a statement that corrected that notion: She didn’t ride in on the white horse. It was already at the party, and she rode it once she got inside, led around by a tall naked dude covered in gold glitter. Jagger hoped that her letter would finally “put this Studio 54 fable—out to pasture.”

4. Andy Warhol’s birthday party.

On August 6, 1979, Halston hosted another birthday bash at Studio 54—this one for Andy Warhol. He gifted Warhol with a pair of roller skates, while Rubell simply gave him a garbage pail stuffed with cash. When Rubell was jailed for tax evasion, Warhol gave Rubell his own money-themed gift: a brass sculpture with dollar signs cut out.

5. When fashion fell from the sky.

The nightclub was known for dropping things from a net on the ceiling—often balloons, sometimes glitter. But on at least one occasion, the net contained gift boxes that held pricey goodies from various fashion houses.

6. The nights Disco Sally appeared.

Mingling amongst the likes of Warhol, Halston, and Jagger was a 77-year old widow named Sally Lippman. “Disco Sally” became a regular after one of her young friends told her that she should check out Studio 54 just once, to see it. She and her friend managed to get in, and Rubell was delighted to see her on the dance floor, telling her, “I like to see you here. Come anytime you like, and you’ll get in.” You didn’t have to tell Sally twice—after that, she became a fixture there most nights. “I didn’t dance for 50 years because my husband didn’t like it,” she said. Here she is in action, terrifying Lawrence Welk.

7. All of the Halloween parties.

Former model Kevin Haley once recalled the elaborate (and politically incorrect) setup that was just the entrance to the party: “As you came up the ramp in the foyer, you looked through little windows into little booths with midgets doing things. The one that sticks out in my head had a midget family eating a formal dinner. It was like a nonstop party.”

8. Valentino’s Birthday party.

Giancarlo Giammetti decided to throw a circus birthday party for his partner, fashion designer Valentino, three days before his birthday. "We had a circus ring with sand, and mermaids on trapezes," Giammetti said. "Fellini gave us costumes from his film, The Clowns. Valentino was the ringmaster, and Marina Schiano came as a palm reader with a parrot on her shoulder.” Another infamous night at 54 was the evening Dolly Parton held an after-concert party there, complete with bales of hay and live farm animals.

9. When the game Simon premiered at the club.

In 1978, Milton Bradley had a launch party for their new game, Simon. They must have realized that the trippy sequences of flashing lights would appeal to the disco set, because they had a four-foot model designed and hung it over the dance floor.

10. The raid that eventually closed the club.

After Steve Rubell made a public statement that “only the Mafia does better” than Studio 54 when it came to money, the IRS took notice—the club had paid just $8000 in taxes in 1977. At a raid on December 14, 1978, feds found a reported $600,000 in garbage bags hidden in the building, in addition to 300 Quaalude pills and at least a few ounces of cocaine (reports varied on the actual amount). A few hours after the raid, people came to the club in droves, either to get the gossip or to support the owners.

Before Rubell and Schrager were shipped off to prison to serve 13-month sentences, they were serenaded by Diana Ross and Liza Minnelli in front of a crowd that included Jack Nicholson, Sylvester Stallone, Gia Carangi, and Richard Gere, among others.