I've had an idea kicking around in my trivia-addled noggin over the last several weeks that I've considered bringing to fruition here on Flaming Pablum. By this point, everyone's pretty much wrung their hands raw over the loss of late, lamented CBGB and ruefully watched its transformation into poser-kingpin John Varvatos' sartorial shrine to expensive revisionism. It's already old news. But even though CB's is long gone, tourists still show up in front to take pictures, which lends the following concept credence. People are fascinated by the actual place; the physical location. So with this in mind, I thought it'd be interesting to track down a few other since-vanished venues/hotspots/culturally-significant locales and see how they've transformed. More recently, however, I realized that the slightly disconcerting Google Maps application renders the entire endeavor somewhat superfluous.
Last week, I walked through Chelsea to the former site of the short-lived live music venue, The Marquee. Despite countless evenings spent there in its fleeting early 90's heyday, I practically had to check the address just to confirm that I was walking on the same street. The exterior of the building (now an art gallery) had undergone such a structural modification that it bore precious little resemblance to its former incarnation. I'm not quite sure what I'd been expecting, though. While portions of the street still looked as they did way back when, I wasn't really struck with that elusive "sense of place" that I suppose I was searching for. While the afore-mentioned John Varvatos boutique tries to wear as much of the residual character of its address' previous occupant on its sleeve, most of the sites of long-since-closed clubs give little-to-no clues that anything had ever happened there.
On Sunday night, I got together with a pair of old friends -- neither of whom live in Manhattan anymore -- at the Ear Inn, amazingly still perched on the far end of Spring street. While ruminating on how much the Ear's neighborhood had radically changed (from an eerily desolate urban backwater into a veritable Emerald City of gaudy, glass and steel high rises), we somehow started discussing another long-since vanished favorite spot, that being Danceteria on 21st Street. I only went to the club a couple of times in 1985 -- then at 30 West 21st Street between Fifth & Sixth Avenues -- but those visits left indelible impressions. Dorkily enough, my first introduction to Danceteria was during the meandering hours after my high school senior prom. Following a stuffily rote evening at The Water Club on the East Side, a clutch of us repaired downtown to experience some proper nightlife. After a wince-inducing visit to a then-still-operating Studio 54 (then in its pale death throes), my classmate Liz suggested Danceteria. It should also be pointed out that New York City at the time was not exactly renowned for carding. That would all change a year later after Robert "Preppie Murderer" Chambers slew Jennifer Levin in Central Park after picking her up at Dorrian's Red Hand on the Upper East Side. But in 1985, high schoolers getting into bars and clubs wasn't that much of a stretch, strange as that may seem today.
We must have looked like a gaggle of aliens stumbling into the club in our prom finery. There's a famous scene in "Desperately Seeking Susan" wherein Madonna drags Rosanna Arquette's husband to a nightclub. That scene was filmed in Danceteria (where Madonna had been a notorious regular). As cartoony as it may look today, that scene perfectly captures the club. A mutli-tiered funhouse of wild art, video screens, music, dancing and drinking, Danceteria was teeming with punks, goths, new wavers, hip-hoppers and all stripes in between. On one floor, you'd hear Suicidal Tendencies and the Butthole Surfers while on the next it'd be Kurtis Blow and Houdini. Our little group made it upstairs to the bar/lounge area. My friend Liz disappeared with some mohican wearing a tattered American flag as a kilt (I wouldn't see Liz again until about 2006). The rest of us only stuck around for another drink or two, but I knew I had to come back.
Sure enough, a couple of weeks later, my friend Rob D. and I endeavored to re-visit Danceteria. I couldn't remember the exact address at the time, but had a vague idea and figured I'd know it when I saw it. I vividly remember the pair of us walking down Fifth Avenue in search of the right corner to hang a right on. I even remember what I was wearing (a black t-shirt with the insignia of my lamentably exclusive private grade school, St. David's, under a black security guard's shirt -- with epaulets - that I'd procured earlier that week at Canal Street Jeans). Amazingly, after a lengthy stroll, I managed to divine the correct location, and in we went. We repaired to the lounge floor again, trying very hard not to look like out-of-place schmucks. The music from the tier below pulsated up through the floor. I recall hearing the signature strains of "How Soon is Now" by the Smiths and "Master & Servant" by Depeche Mode as I sipped my beer, looking around bemusedly at the proverbial wildlife. Then -- as if on cue -- I heard the opening notes of "Love Like Blood" by Killing Joke. "Rob," I exclaimed, "we're going downstairs immediately."
Liberated by the sound of my favorite band, Rob and I hit the dance-floor and spent the rest of the night there. Killing Joke was followed by the Lords of the New Church's riotously bawdy take on Madonna's "Like a Virgin." A frankly scary-looking girl with a thick haystack of pitch-black hair danced up to me and asked if I, in fact, had gone to St. David's. Suddenly, we were dancing and talking with people and having the time of our lives. It was perfect.
Danceteria closed sometime in 1986, although I'm not entirely certain of the reason why. I'd initially heard that they were busted for their tirelessly permissive habit of letting in underage drinkers (like myself and Rob), although I went on a disastrous blind date with a girl in the mid-90's who claimed to have worked there and she reported that the reason Danceteria shut its doors was because someone had stepped into the open elevator shaft and fell to their death. That could certainly be true, but I'll be damned if I can find any documentation of it. Twenty-three years later, you'd never know such a place would have existed on West 21st Street between Fifth & Sixth Avenues. The strip in question is a veritable ghost town of clubs. Down from Danceteria's old address is the great, lost live venue Tramp's, which closed sometime in the late 90s, and around the corner on 6th Avenue is the old Limelight. The exterior of the old Danceteria, meanwhile, again owes nothing to its past. In fact, the building as a whole is now a very pricey luxury condominium, and there's a Starbucks just under a yard from its front door.
When I walked back in search of the place, I couldn't really recognize it. In fact, I wrongly pictured it as being closer to Fifth Avenue than it evidently was. It's just another boring Manhattan street now, largely bereft of any cool signifiers or notable characteristics. While I'm evidently not the only person to have gone on such a pilgrimage, it seems the fact that Danceteria ever existed here is just a largely forgotten footnote at best. That may be the case, but I'll always remember my fleeting few moments there.
I first heard the track below at Danceteria on that second night with Rob. They showed the video on the many screens and I was completely blown away. The problem was, however, it never gave the artists' names. I spent the next few weeks trying to track it down (this was prior to the internet, mind you). I eventually stumbled upon the 12" at the (also closed) Tower Records on West 66th Street. In any case, this song will always remind me of those nights at Danceteria. This is "Ball of Confusion" by Love & Rockets. Crank it.