Upstairs @ Studio 54

by Clubplanet
11.27.2000

You smell the sweet fumes of sculpting spray that gives the guy in front of you an extra inch, take an elbow in the ribs and a heel on your big toe. Bodies are crushed against the ropes on either side of the man with the exotic nose who wields the list. Although the crowds spilling out of Cabaret have long since flagged down taxis and headed off to the Tavern or 21 for a snifter of brandy, there’s still a commotion outside of 254 W. 54th St.

Upstairs at Studio 54 is hot right now. Clubbers are hopping out of limos as early as 11 pm to rush the line and sail through the doors. Leopard print carpet and black velvet drapes conjure up images of lust and excess that made the place a legend in the ‘70s, when it played home to Andy Warhol, Bianca Jagger and Calvin Klein. But after you’ve climbed flights of stairs in anticipation of a theatrical space where you can find your better self in the throb of bass and the ephemeral pulse of sanctified freedom, the scene leaves you very much in this world.

Formerly a VIP lounge of the multi-level mega-club, the new Studio 54 is what owner Josh Hadar likes to call “intimate,” but you may find this a euphemism for “cramped” after a few sips of Stoli and flashes of a strobe light. The small size of the place lends itself to rubbing shoulders with attractive strangers, but leaves no escape from sordid past encounters or unwanted suitors, ardent in their drunkenness. The bar area resembles a large foyer, functional for passing over the requisite wad of cash for a drink or two. In the lighting, bright enough to surf a palm pilot, we scoped the main room that doubles as dance floor with a glance. Yes, there may be throngs at the ropes outside, but might that be because there’s no room for them to come in?

The self-proclaimed, “not much of a clubber,” Hadar, renovated and finally re-opened this upstairs lounge on September 23 at the prodding of Noel Ashman, of Veruka fame, and now director of Studio 54. This crowd’s a bit less sleek than the black-garbed martini-sippers at Veruka, but a better scene for anybody over 25.

“This place, it’s pretty cool. I feel comfortable here,” said a guy in a dress shirt and black-rimmed glasses. He got into the groove as two guys in sweater vests jumped up onto a low stage and started banging elbows to the Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” But not every patron was so easily satisfied.

“I think it’s the worst club I’ve ever been to,” one drunk British ex-pat sputtered. This regular at Float and Spa then apologized for his inebriation and did not expand on his remark.

Well-groomed in a button-down and pressed pants, Hadar sees everything from his perch beside the bar. He slings his legs over the edge of the polished sideboard he peers down from and sucks the foam off of a Bulldog.

“I thought, ‘If Studio 54 were to be open in the year 2000, this is what it would be like,’” he reels off. His eyes dart from the woman smoking in the corner to the stationary disco balls to the guy ordering his third shot at the bar. He seems edgy and explains that he’s been up for nearly 24 hours dealing with busted sub-woofers and a skipping CD player. He keeps his post by the bar all night, watching the dancers as DJ Stretch Armstrong spins a mix of eighties and house, with the occasional seventies hit thrown in to pay tribute to the venue’s glory days.

A straggly-haired cocktail waitress paraded along the outskirts of the crowd and shooed hapless wallflowers trying to take a load off from the banquettes. Ever adventurous, we rested for a moment on the edge of a table, along with another like-minded group. “You’ll have to move,” the waitress admonished, empty tray held high. “This table is reserved.” Apparently, no one in the room had the cash to splurge for a bottle, however upscale a crowd Studio 54 had hoped to attract. The reserved tables remained empty throughout the night while anyone who didn’t feel like dancing stood shifting on their feet.

Hadar counts on promoters to bring in what he hopes is an exclusive and upscale clientele. He claims the door policy hasn’t changed much since the days of the seventies when the youthful Marc Benecke held court at the entrance and turned away seekers of glam with a flick of his index finger for wearing a shirt he disdained.

“We turn a lot of people away,” Hadar says. “It’s strictly guestlist only.” Perhaps the likes of Matt Dillon or Lauren Hutton could make it through the doors without calling ahead, he adds. But don’t despair. We collected our coats and turned to exit. Standing by the door, a girl was thrusting cards by the fistful at anyone and everyone who passed her by. We took a slick black and yellow card and recognized the famed logo on the invite for the following night with DJ Mark Ronson. We were in. And so was everybody else who’d made it through the velvet ropes that night.

-- Florence Homolka

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