The owner of Studio 54 dishes on how NYC nightlife has changed since the 70s

Every Friday and Saturday night (sometimes Thursday if you’re into it) the streets of New York sprawl with people searching for the time of their lives. But as gentrification continues to sweep up the city, many New York natives and longtime residents proclaim the real New York is dead, and we’re all dying with it.

Bittersweet nostalgia surrounds memories of the radical nightlife scene that peaked in the late 70’s and early 80’s. For example, there was CBGB, which launched the careers of Blondie, Patti Smith, and the Talking Heads. Madonna would frequently make appearances at Palladium, which is now a Trader Joe’s beneath an NYU dorm.

And then there was Studio 54. It was the place where you’d sip champagne with the Jaggers, and watch supermodels snort cocaine out of $100 bills.

Last week, former Studio 54 owner Mark Fleischman released his first book, Inside Studio 54, which chronicles the club’s insane history in the heat of the era of free love. Fleischman re-opened the club in the early 80’s after it was shutdown by the NYPD in 1978. Having been a prominent figure in the NYC nightclub scene until 2010, Fleischman has seen it all. I caught up with him after the book’s launch party at PHD rooftop at the Dream Downtown, and asked him about how New York’s party scene has changed.

Fleischman and Carmen D’Alessio in the office of Studio 54
Photo by Adam Scull

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The Biggest Change? Expense.

“It has become a bottle club scene,” Mark told Galore. “At Studio 54, one could get in and get a couple drinks for just $20.”

To secure a table at most clubs nowadays, you have to buy a bottle. And some will require you to buy more than one, so a night out could end up with a $1,000 price tag. At Studio 54, Fleischman said, one could get in and get a couple drinks for just $20. Of course, $20 was worth more back in the day — but it was nowhere near $1,000.

The 90’s are to blame.

“People were more careful in the 70’s and 80’s,” he said, but in the 90’s, everyone got into conspicuous consumption. The social markup that exists in NYC today began in the 90’s. With more money in New York, people were starting to spend a lot of it on going out.

Expense equals exclusive.

“Studio 54 was one of a kind, which led to other big clubs opening up after,” Mark said. “They would let mostly everyone in, so it became that thousands of people could go dancing in New York.”

Now, clubs are smaller, and they charge more money to have fewer people.

People still go out to stalk celebs

“People wanted to be where the celebrities were, and thats still the case today,” Mark said. “Celebrities still go out and go to clubs, but they’re much younger, like the Kardashians.”


Fleischman and Rick James; Photo courtesy of Fleischman

But back in they day, you still had to get dressed up to get in.

Fleischman recalls that when patrons arrived at Studio 54, they really wanted to get in so they dressed up in all sorts of crazy ways. Rest assured, he didn’t say they were more chic than us millennials. He notices that the younger crowd still dresses up and greet each other with “air kisses.”

The concentration of clubs has moved from midtown to downtown.

“[Rudy] Giuliani stopped giving out licenses to nightclubs in Midtown [in order to make the neighborhood family-friendly], so he got everyone to move into the Chelsea meatpacking district,” he said. And the glitz and glamour of the Meatpacking District we know today was born. Back in the day, Studio 54 and other iconic clubs such as Xenon were located in the 50s.

The change in location didn’t stop clubs from opening

“The number of clubs opening up is growing. More people are becoming attracted to owning and investing in clubs, it’s a very chic and glamorous thing to do,” Mark said. The neighborhood switch might have caused this increase.

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The DJ booth at Studio 54. Photo Credit: Richard Manning

Don’t worry, the music is pretty much the same though.

“I changed Studio 54 from DJs only playing disco by bringing in R&B and they seem to be doing the same thing now,” Mark said. So you can thank Fleischman the next time you’re dancing up on the bae of the night to the Rihanna banger of the moment.

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People still stay out until 4 a.m.

“They go out late. People go out at 11 p.m. and that’s what they did before.” Turns out that no one’s going to bed early anytime soon.

The demand for nightlife will increase with the more single folks out there.

“Less people are getting married right away, and the longer people stay single the more people will still want to go out and meet in clubs,” Mark said. Sounds good to us.

Still, the culture is not ruined.

“I don’t think expense has ruined the culture,” Mark said. “At the end of the day, people just want to party, they want to go out, they want to have fun. Young people especially, wanna get wild.”

Nightlife, he reassured, will always be the culture, and party-goers will always exist.

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