#Throwback Thursdays: New York City in the Eighties


CC Photo credit: Americasroof

For several years, The Pyramid Club was my favorite place to dance in Manhattan. I wrote a whole chapter about it in my novel Come Dancing, but then I cut it because the book was too long. I remember getting ready to go out, putting on my tattered leather skirt that I’d bought for a few bucks at Trash and Vaudeville in St. Mark’s Place because the lining was ripped to shreds. I’d put on my favorite feather-and-bead earrings that I’d bought from a street vendor, and which dangled down to my shoulders. As a finishing touch, I wrapped a short length of chain that I’d bought at the hardware store around one of my ankle boots. Then I’d take the subway to the lower East Side to meet my best friend, who at the time lived in Brooklyn.

The Pyramid was located at 101 Avenue A, which in the early 80s was a dicey neighborhood, to say the least. The East Village was crack central back then. My friend and I would cross over on 13th Street because Hell’s Angels had their headquarters there, and we’d been told muggers avoided that block because the bikers patrolled it. I remember walking by the row of gleaming hogs, being very careful not to brush up against any of them.

We would time our arrival for just a few minutes after ten pm, when the doors first opened. There wouldn’t be any music playing yet, but that way you didn’t have to pay the $10 cover. We’d sit at the bar, which was right inside the shotgun-style entrance, and have a beer. There were always one or two ladies dancing on the bar; sometimes they’d climb down and you could chip in and buy them a drink. Here is my description from the scene that I cut:

We got to the Pyramid at ten; too early for anything to be happening, but there was no cover charge if you arrived before eleven. We ordered our three-dollar beers from the bartender, whose right nostril was safety-pinned to his upper lip, resulting in a permanent snarl. We sipped our drinks as a couple of the ladies danced up on the bar. The music was raucous and pounding, but they swayed to a sensuous inner beat. Tall and beautifully made-up, their faces were shaven smooth so you could barely see any stubble. Sporting elaborate blonde wigs, heavy eye shadow, and brightly manicured nails, they were much more feminine than any of the girls I knew. Vicky and I were in awe of the way they balanced on the surface of the bar in their impossibly high stilettos without knocking over the drinks. After the song ended, Stella took a break and climbed down from the bar. We pooled our dollars and bought her a Mai Tai.

“How’s it going?” I always felt a little intimidated sitting next to Stella, as if in the presence of royalty. She was over six feet tall, exceedingly angular, and wore the most amazing costumes. Tonight she had on a lime green evening gown with dangly rhinestone earrings and six-inch chartreuse heels. (End of scene)

At eleven the music would start up, and my friend and I would dance for a while in the smallish back room. Sometimes the music was so “alternative” that it was a little hard to move to. Around one, there’d be a break for a live act on the tiny stage. Lypsinka, Lady Bunny, and John Sex were regulars; the latter seemed to be there almost every Saturday night. We usually went downstairs after that to take a break. In the basement you could just hang out, shout over the music and observe the parade of interesting people. One reason we liked the Pyramid so much was because it wasn’t the typical pick-up scene that most clubs were. A lot of people were gay, and it was arty and unusual. Around two or three, we’d leave the Pyramid and walk over to Kiev on Second Avenue, split a plate of pierogis, and then take cabs home.

Both Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers (I edited Anthony Kiedis’s memoir, Scar Tissue) played their first NY concerts at the Pyramid. Andy Warhol and Debbie Harry filmed a piece about the club for MTV, and Madonna did an AIDS benefit there.

Here’s a link to a youtube video (not mine) showing what it was like at the Pyramid in the 1980s (skip forward to 1:20 in the video): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s77mmhzWKek

Leslie Wells has edited forty-nine New York Times bestsellers in her thirty-year publishing career. She is the author of Come Dancing, a novel about publishing and rock and roll set in New York City in the 1980s. Visit her at www.lesliewellsbooks.com

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