Before he moonwalked across the stage to audiences around the world, Michael Jackson moonwalked into Studio 54. Prior to achieving superstar status, Jackson donned his best disco attire and spent long evenings tearing up the dance floor at the reputable nightclub. During his time at Studio 54, Michael didn’t yet know about the future that awaited him. His appearance on the music scene changed pop forever.
It’s only fitting that he would frequent the most popular disco club in existence, a destination that embraced change and liberation in all its forms. His dance moves and charismatic personality captivated everyone in the club, including the other celebrities in attendance, and it’s no wonder he was able to rise to the top of the music world with the support of such a groundbreaking venue.
The Owners Wore Their Books on Their Sleeve
When business owners do something illegal, they usually put in at least a small amount of effort trying to cover up their tracks. Or, at the very least, keep their illegal activities to a minimum. Not the owners of Studio 54. In order to get away from skimming some of a business's profits, the owners would have to limit themselves to about 1-2 percent.
The famous disco, however, had up to 80% skimmed by the owners, who proudly tracked their unseemly records and their purchases of so-called "party favors." The charges effectively shut down the disco, which had become an iconic symbol of the '70s and of New York City nightlife.
The Bouncers Had Power. Maybe Too Much Power
During the club's few years of operation, many people tried to get through its doors to no avail. According to co-owner Steve Rubell, he viewed picking the mix of patrons as casting for a theater play. While he's had his fair share of "casting," more often than not, the bouncers were the ones to do it most of the time.
Marc Benecke, one of the club's bouncers, was only 19 when he started working there as a bouncer. From his position by the door, he learned that the people of New York were willing to pay thousands of dollars or offer their very bodies to get in. In accordance with Studio 54's hedonistic spirit, Benecke says he occasionally accepted those offers.
Location, Location, Location
If anyone were to start a new club today and model it after Studio 54, they would, first and foremost, have to consider the club's location. One of the things that made Studio 54 so popular was its prime location — right by Times Square. Now, however, finding a good enough place for a club would prove difficult because New Yorkers have a much lower tolerance for the nightlife scene and how noisy it can be.
From the opulent decor to the creative performances and the wild antics on the dance floor, Studio 54 was never afraid to push the boundaries and take risks, however, such a club would also need to navigate the complex legal and regulatory landscape that exists today.
The Club Was a Safe Haven for Trans People
Studio 54 was essentially a free-for-all. Rules didn’t apply inside the club. While that made for some pretty wild misadventures, it also made the club a safe haven for everyone. At the time, LGBTQ people weren’t at all accepted in the larger society. They ran the risk of being beaten up every time they stepped out in public. In Studio 54, however, LGBTQ+ people were free to express themselves.
Gay people felt comfortable kissing on the dance floor, and trans people felt comfortable within the walls of the wild nightclub. Studio 54's acceptance and celebration of LGBTQ+ culture paved the way for greater visibility and acceptance of the community in the following decades.