Gerry Kelly’s Tribute to Studio 54

Elaine Lancaster on Stage
Elaine Lancaster on Stage

In the savagely fab netherworld of South Beach club life, cheap thrills are easy to find. Everything is available—from mega dance clubs where DJs inject star-struck club kiddies with an all-night fix of electronica, to loungey-atmosphere cocktail clubs for those wishing to avoid the dance/drink/puke cycle, to yet other clubs, where post-teen neo-pagans powered by thrill-tablets paid for with daddy’s money remove all rational thought from their personal equation. The possibilities for an evening of misspent youth are endless.

But, riding along in the South Beach fun-wagon night after night does have its price, and at times it all seems to run together into one precisely beat-matched set of watered-down cocktails, meaningless conversation, mediocre go-go dancers, and some really, really weird moments in the restrooms. Somewhere around 4:45 a.m. one finally comes to the stark realization that the latest nocturnal effort at achieving total fabulousity has come in somewhere between Busby Berkeley on acid and Budapest on a bad night. With so many clubs cranking out uninspired, coach-class fun for the masses, the cold hard fact is that, truly glamorous nightclub events are few and far between.

chief250And for those people lucky enough to have experienced the past high points in South Beach’s nightlife history—events like Club Nu’s opening, Paragon’s closing, or anything with the name Louis Canales written on it—nothing else short of these spectacular events can masquerade as the real thing when it comes to being fab-tized in the holy waters of a truly ass-ripping nightclub party. Only the rarest of events ever attain that certain sweet state of dementia known as glamour.

But, in the context of these observations, Gerry Kelly, Noah Lazes and Maxwell Blandford continue to smack one over the right field fence each time at bat with their Tribute to Studio54 parties at Level nightclub.

The latest stroke of genius coming from these guys was in combining their ever-fabulous Studio 54 party with Level’s Friday night gay extravaganza, Federation 1235, South Beach’s wildest weekly event for the buffed-up boys on the beach.

zungoo300Coincidentally, it was this same mix of cultures that first ignited the scene at the original Studio 54 in 1977, with the question still lingering, was it the Halston+Liza+Capote factor that charged the atmosphere with such electricity or was it all the other wild, weird and namelessly-wonderful fringe element people that made the place jump.

Level, the multi-tiered mega palace on South Beach’s seedy Washington Avenue rivals the best dance clubs in history–San Francisco’s Trocadero Transfer; LA’s Revolver; Ibiza’s Privilege; and New York’s Palladium, Saint and Paradise Garage.

No-matter what the venue, however, something exceedingly hip is coming your way when the show starts on the street outside the nightclub even before the first VIPs are allowed in.

The visuals from one recent Studio 54 party were somewhat overwhelming. Everyone dresses up, some in black tuxedos, some in purple afros. As rows of limos lined up waiting to unload, one disgorged a slender black man decked out a la Superfly and accompanied by a quartet of blonde, surgically-superior vixens who made their way toward the club’s entrance in a sultry display, while home-boy brought-up the rear doing a slightly demented version of the Weehawken mambo. And all the while, fabulous disco era dance tunes blasted through the air.

The list of South Beach glam-bandits in attendance goes on and on…

daniiOscar International, stylist to the stars, with connections from New York to Cairo, arriving pre-medicated and leading an entourage of cover-girl quality models, probably all with fake IDs, and all hitching a ride on the express train to glam-land.

Mr. Nightlife, Tony Miros, arm-in-arm with Level’s angel-faced Jared Stringer blowing through the crowd, greeting friends, kissing a thousand cheeks…

Rodolphe, long-time New York nightlife star and front man for South Beach’s phenomenal Billboard Live…

Cubby, South Beach nightlife columnist and observer of all things nocturnal…

Miami muscle-boy Robert Cardenosa, sometimes in leather, sometimes lace…

…all smitten with the same affliction—possessing that errant Y-chromosome that renders them unable to resist the heavenly glitz of South Beach nightlife.

Gerry Kelly, Noah Lazes and various other South Beach notables usually arrive together with celebs in tow, and are always besieged by photographers as they enter the club. Gerry Kelly, usually sporting a hint of glitter-paint, is always dressed in something fabulously-befitting the king of South Beach nightlife.

As the crowd surges forward toward the entrance of Level, becoming borderline unruly, door director Massimo Rizzo, the suave Italian playboy who controls all entry into Level, masterfully seeds the huge nightclub with the hip; the exotic; the fabulous; the bi-coastal; bi-sexual; bi-polar; the drag-boys; people in body-paint; roller blades; jock-straps; hundreds of girls in various stages of undress; and a few select paparazzi to document the glitzy events to follow.

Inside the club, upper deck VIP areas overflow with guests—leaning over the railing, shouting and waving to friends on the dance floor; toasting people at nearby tables; and dancing with strangers. The music is straight out of Studio 54’s late 1970’s heyday: “I Love the Nightlife,” “Boogie Nights,” and “Night Fever.”

At some point around 2:00 a.m. the Fabulous Elaine Lancaster, South Beach’s big-hair queen of the night, fresh from an appearance on E!, and always decked out in an outfit to second-mortgage your soul for, wows the crowd with a visual rendition of some hot disco-era anthem from Gloria Gaynor or maybe Alicia Bridges. And as the music cranks ever louder, silver confetti swirls around the huge club, and the paparazzi cameras flash away at the crowd.

The toughest job of the night goes to the bouncers and security people charged with maintaining décorum throughout the club. Level has the largest peace-keeping force of any nightclub on the Beach, but the combined effects of raging dance music, youthful hormones and champagne by the liter soon becomes insurmountable. In the dim recesses of the club’s upper deck girls dance with such carnal abandon that the photos can’t be shown. By 3:00 a.m., as the champagne effect sets in. Bouncers constantly check for the tell-tale, 3-legs-to-a-stall, a dead give-away that people are getting busy in the restrooms.

Old-boy millionaires with their heavily-hootered, rub-your-tummy-for-a-grand escorts, dance next to glamed-out drag queens like they were all back at some psychedelic senior prom in a Quentin Tarantino movie.

The visual epicenter of action continually moves all around the huge main room, from go-go dancers on podiums, to performers on stage, to spotlights searching the crowd for VIPs, to wild-child club-kids dancing on tables—always something happening, always something to see.

Each party is an eclectic mix of performers woven into the night that somehow mate perfectly with the mood—opera singers; Streisand impersonators; ballet troupes.

But, the pinnacle of the evening always comes with a series of Maxwell Blandford stage productions, comprising sometimes thirty performers on stage at once doing choreographed versions of classic disco songs like “In the Navy” or “YMCA.”

As the party passes the 3:30 a.m. mark, 4,000 people are packed into the nightclub, with yet another thousand waiting to get inside. Inside to a world where the champagne, the music and the illusive promise of sex transcends and mitigates the problems they face in their physical lives. A world where the vagaries and misgivings of a mortal existence vanish with the first glass of champagne, at least until the next sunrise. A world where the bass notes deepen, the cameras flash, and the music never stops.

In 1993, a twenty-year old Michael Capponi, destined to be the mercurial owner of Club 320, reflected on the esoteric lure of nightlife, saying…

“It’s the art in which we ourselves are the true ingredients.”

…an apropos description of what events like Tribute to Studio 54 truly represent—an artform that gives us a brief glimpse at glamour, a fling with fame, a one-night stand with stardom.

I can’t wait until the next one…