For 33 months, Studio 54 was the American bacchanal, an unprecedented mix of glamorous sophistication and primal hedonism. The brainchild of Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, the club opened in a onetime CBS soundstage on April 26th, 1977, and immediately became the epicenter of nightlife in New York City – and the world. The sex, drugs and disco on offer at Studio 54 served as the perfect release for a generation raised under the pressures of Watergate and the Vietnam War. Though the club was ultimately destroyed by vice and greed, its short reign defined the flashy exuberance of the late Seventies, before the scourge of AIDS ended the party forever.
In the four decades since Studio 54 first opened its doors, tales of what went on behind the velvet rope have become modern myths. What’s more, they’re almost all true. Read on for 10 of the craziest stories from the club’s legendary heyday.
Donald and Ivana Trump attended the opening – while a Quaalude-fueled orgy occurred outside in the street.
Among the first to appear outside the doors of Studio 54 on opening night was Donald Trump, accompanied by his new wife, Ivana. The couple had been enjoying dinner a short time earlier with socialite Nikki Haskell and her date at the iconic Upper East Side eatery Elaine’s. “I said, ‘C’mon! There’s this new club opening tonight. Why don’t we go?'” Haskell remembered in Anthony Haden-Guest’s book The Last Party. “So we got to Studio 54 and there was nobody there. We were like the first. We knocked on the door. Donald hadn’t built Trump tower. Nobody knew him in those days.” Their knocks went unanswered. “About fifteen minutes later we were just getting ready to leave, and they opened one of the doors. They didn’t even know we were waiting out there.”
The atmosphere was hardly better inside, as the couples wandered through the empty disco. “They were still adjusting the lights and fixing the music,” says Haskell. Workers had been laying down black flooring less than an hour before, and when the bulbs behind the bar suddenly stopped working, gofers were frantically dispatched to the nearest bodega to purchase armloads of votive candles. DJ Richie Kaczor dropped the needle on the first record of the night, “Devil’s Gun” by C.J. and Company, but the party was initially dead. “About a half an hour later there were 50 or 60 people in there. We kept saying, ‘Gee, I wonder where everybody is?'”
The flow of revelers grew from a trickle to a torrent after 11 o’clock, and soon thousands swarmed the building. Traffic on 54th Street was brought to a standstill as both celebrities and humble ravers struggled to approach. Frank Sinatra was stranded in his limousine, unable to get near. Cher, Margaux Hemingway and a young Brooke Shields made it inside, but Warren Beatty, Kate Jackson and Henry Winkler did not.
With nowhere else to go, the party spilled onto the street. One clubgoer waited outside with a group of friends, including a doctor packing a jumbo bottle of Quaaludes. “The doctor started handing them out,” he told Haden-Guest. “About 30 people standing around us took them, and then everybody started having this mad sexual orgy. All the men had their dicks out … the women were showing their tits … everybody was feeling everybody else … the crowd was moving in waves … all of a sudden you would find yourself next to someone you didn’t know.”
Meanwhile, the future president was up to less scandalous shenanigans inside. “No one remembered him being there the first night. He was a non-entity. He was never on the dance floor,” Studio 54 busboy Richie Notar recalled in a 2017 BBC radio documentary. Nonetheless, Trump became something of a regular at the venue. “I’d go there a lot with dates and with friends, and with lots of people,” he told The Washington Post in 2016. According to Haskell, the non-drinking, non-dancing mogul had business reasons for making the scene. “He understood it was an opportunity to be grabbed. He was not there for the drug-fueled disco deliria. He was there to be seen with the famous people, to network, to cut the deal; whilst everyone else cut the coke.”