THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE APPEARS IN 2ND QTR 2019 METRO GUYS MAGAZINE PUBLISHED IN MAY
THE LEGEND AND KING OF ALL GAY NIGHTCLUBS
The Saint NYC opened September 20, 1980 (and Seasons ran prior to Summer Fire Island Season) thru May 2, 1988*. It was located at 105 Second Ave., Manhattan and cost $4.2 Million in 1980 dollars which included a $1.2 Million Spitz Planetarium Star Projector on a hydraulic mirrored lift to rise above the dance floor as it was filling with patrons. A complete Dome was constructed panel by panel inside the building. It was originally opened on Saturdays and Sundays thru the beginning of Summer Fire Island Shares Season. The site, an old 1926 Theater venue and was also previously known as The Fillmore East of the late 1960s and early 1970s and housed Don Kirschners’ Rock & Roll East telecast on TV.
The space laid shuttered for years until The Saint was built and opened by Bruce Mailman. Initially The Saint was a private membership gay nightclub and set the standard for dance music merging with State of the Art Lighting, Planetarium Dome, Star Projector lighting, hydraulics and Premium sound system with Theatrical Themes. In short, a complete Show. Bruce Mailman and his business partner and Architectural designer, Charles Terrell and financed in part by the St. Marks Baths and Membership packs with floor plans were sold before the club opened. By the opening, 2,500 memberships had been sold at $150 each for the first 700 members and for $250 for the rest and a discounted price for out of State revelers.
Level 1 greeted you by a magnificent Lobby entrance and directly underneath the dance-floor (level 2) were mechanical coat check cages and a large lounge with Banquettes for seating. The main bar was in the back of the room where the stage would have been. Initially The Saint served beer in half cans (Rolling Rock) and had several juice bars included in the cost of Entry. In later Seasons, The Saint served Liquor. The hours of operation usually ran from 11 pm to approx Noon next day for normal Saturday nights and for Special Parties 11 pm to approx 4 pm next day. In a small room above the back main bar was a limited Private Lockers area, which had a waiting list of years at additional cost. Drinks were not allowed on the Dancefloor. This created tremendous streams of crowds between levels so it never seemed overcrowded.
Level 2 The Saint was technically and creatively one of the best dance clubs of its era. The circular dance floor (approx 5,000 square feet) on the second level was topped by a perforated Planetarium Dome (76 feet in diameter and 38 feet high). In addition to hiding the speakers, the dome served as a spectacular canvass for the lighting effects. A circular opening at the top of the dome could be opened and closed to allow a large disco ball to be lowered into the space. The Disco Ball itself was surrounded by a circular mirrored collar to hide searchlights and was dramatically lowered slowly foot by foot which created unique lighting dots on the curbed Dome.
Speaker cabinets were on the outer surface of the dome, facing inward and the Tweeters were mounted on the structure surrounding the Star Projector and the bass was all along the base circumference of the Dome that created seating. The sound system created a “surround sound” effect and consisted of hundreds of speakers generating 26,000 watts. The DJ/Lightmans Booth was raised a few feet on the Dancefloor, revelers dubbed this at 12 O’Clock position, (a musical North Pole) and from that point you could easily meet your friends already dancing, at say 3 O’Clock or any other position using the DJ Booth as the starting address point.
In the center of the dance floor was a circular light tree constructed on a hydraulic lift. It contained many lights and at its centerpiece was a rotating, dual Spitz Space Star Projector System hemisphere. The Projector was lit usually very late, around 4 am to the applause of hundreds of dancers. The effect was as if you were dancing in OuterSpace. Sometimes, the effects were so overwhelming, you had to vacate to the Lounge or Balcony to take a break from the hours of dancing to recharge and go back to the Dancefloor yet again.
The Dancefloor had four entrances: two in the back area which led downstairs via a fire escape type of stairway and Two in the front area which led downstairs and upstairs to the Balcony area via circular fire escape type staircases. Also, there was a regular marble staircase leading downstairs for those whom did not want to navigate the circular staircase. Over the four entrances, were a iron “paddle” where more lighting was fixed and the structure lights could scrape the interior sides of the Dome and could meet in the middle position highlighting the Mirror Ball.
Level 3 above/outside the dome was what would become the controversial balcony, where patrons could see down to the dance floor, through the perforated panels of the dome. It was there that men relaxed and, according to the sexual mores of the times, could indulge in sexual activities. It was completely seperate from the rest of the club, in the Balcony, so you didn’t have to see it, ignore it or partake of it. Several times during the year, themed parties such as the “Black Party” and the “White Party” attracted celebrities from around the world. These Saint parties are considered by most disco historians to be the precursors to the Circuit Party. Currently, the Saint at Large Black Party is still in operation annually.
CONTEXT OF GREATNESS:
The Saint was also known for the A LIST of performers. At showtimes, a part of the dome would retract like a garage door and stars from the pop music and theater worlds would perform from Jennifer Holliday to Cerrone. It became more famous than most of the performers attracting club goers from all over the world. The club became the standard against which all New York clubs were measured – many opened, closed and remodelled in the shadow of this giant. It was renowned for its design, Light shows, annual makeovers, and even for its extravagant floral arrangements. Its invitations consisted of full size posters mailed to its membership. Its rotating DJ’s/ Lightmen became world famous, a virtual list of who’s who of the day and some are still DJing today.
At the time pre-early 1980s, Gay Pride was mainly celebrated only in major Cities: NYC, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago. It was Gay Liberation following on the heels of Sexual Freedom of the mid 70’s and Gay men travelled to celebrate Gay Pride in these major Cities. Todays’ modern Gay Pride is celebrated in just about every city across the U.S. usually marking June 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, a bar in the Village, Manhattan which was the Birth Place of Gay Rights when Patrons fought back Police harassing Gay Bars and jailing its patrons.
The Saint was the Gay anti-dote for Studio54 which had a Gay night, but was mostly straight with gay friends. The Saint was the perfect marriage of 80’s Euro Dance Music, the best of Disco of the late 70’s, incredible sound system, High Tech Lighting, skilled DJ’s and Lightmen, hundreds of Men’s worked out bare torsos on the Dancefloor and Theatrical themed Parties. People traveled from all over the world to attend special parties which normally could hold thousands of shirtless men by keeping the massive crowd constantly moving from floor to floor and expanded Club hours into the next day’s afternoon. The Worked out body phenomena started around 1982 that then mushroomed by the hundreds of men then spread out across the country. If your going to show your torso, why not have it muscled?
THE BEGINNING OF THE END:
AIDS had begun eating through the fabric of gay life in New York City and began to take a heavy and relentless toll on all Nightclubs including the Saint’s membership. Change came quickly as the deaths from AIDS quickened. Membership costs were lowered and the season eventually extended into the summer so that the club was open almost year round. By its seventh season, membership costs had fallen to $50. It also opened Thursdays for a straight crowd. By1985, the Black Party performers were for the first time performing safe sex acts. By 1987, thier performance emphasised masturbation and phone sex, all a far cry from the club’s early days which, on one celebrated occasion, a boa constrictor was used as a prop. Due to the AIDS scare of the 80’s and member deaths dramatically reduced the numbers of club goers and the operation could no longer sustain itself.
In 1988, a decision was made to Close The Saint and tare down the Planetarium structure so that it would never be cheapened by other attempts to use the space.
Bruce Mailman had sent a heartfelt letter to its Membership explaining the Closing.
A few Additional Parties without the Dome were held in 1990 in the former Domed space revealing the original Fresco’s and Theatre design. It was clear by 1990, that The Saint era was over and almost haunted by the smaller crowds and missing Dome, a feeling of sadness sometimes prevailed; a shadow of its former greatness.
EFFECTS OF THE SAINT:
Decades later, The Saint is still vividly talked about and Facebook pages have tributes to it and its music. An end of an Era was upon Dance Music giving birth to House Music. The Saint name was passed on and renamed The Saint AT LARGE which held those main Parties at various sites throughout the City: Roseland, South Street Seaport, Red Zone, Grand Central Catacombs, etc.
Today, The Saint AT LARGE still holds its Annual Black Party (Heightened Leather Masculinity; usually around the March Equinox) at different locations in NYC or its burroughs. It is still a major music and lighting extravaganza but nothing compares to the Planetarium lighting of the original Saint. The surviving groups of dancers are referred to as Tribes and remain close today due to social media. Many still meet up at various dance parties throughout NYC and Fire Island.
FURTHER INFO can be found at https://www.saintatlarge.com/ including pics and Party Timeline along with 2019’s planned Black Party.
* with Planetarium Dome, its Closing Party lasted 3 days.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jim Perigny (aka DJ JimmyP) is the CEO of Red Hispana Florida, an HIV and LGBT Issues Agency and radio station Founder/Manager of EAGLEradio.PRO
EAGLEradio.PRO can be accessed via the website or via FREE APP from your APP Store OR via posted links on FaceBook.