A Gay Nightlife Milestone: Flamingo Disco Opens Its Doors (December 14, 1974)
Before iconic clubs such 12 West (1975), Paradise Garage (1977), Studio 54 (1977) or the Saint (1980) opened their doors, there was Flamingo. Although the Sanctuary (1969-72) laid claim as the first gay disco, it attracted a good number of heteros as well. By contrast, Flamingo was promoted as the first discotheque for an exclusively gay clientele; it opened on Dec. 14, 1974. It was located on the 2nd floor of a nondescript building at the corner of Houston St. and Broadway in New York's SoHo neighborhood. It closed in the winter of 1980-81 shortly after The Saint opened its doors.
Disco, and its many iterations, was the lifeblood of gay clubs in the 1970s/80s, and for a while it even attracted a mainstream audience. But after a brief flirtation, the general public rejected disco at the close of the '70s. The gay community's strong allegiance, however, never wavered; after all, it was our music to begin with. Gays embraced disco culture for the escape into fantasy it provided, while straights gravitated to rock and country (and later to rap) to immerse themselves in the grim reality of their world.
I use to sit at the front door of the Gallery, the black disco downstairs from Flamingo, on Houston and Mercer, and would come up the block to Flamingo when the door staff for both clubs changed venues after closing the doors of their respective clubs to see the other side of the world: Flamingo and the Gallery were playing drug music only on Sat. PM. Flamingo was white; the Gallery was black. I wrote about my experiences in these clubs and more: The Gaiety, Paradise Garage, Studio 54, Hurrah, 12 West, Crisco Disco, the Anvil, the Saint, the World, Sound Factory,…’Homo GoGo Man: a fairytale about a boy who grew up in discoland.’ (DonnaInk, Amazon, BarnesandNoble)
Posted by: Christopher Duquette | 09/16/2016 at 03:25 PM
I have an original membership gold card from Flamingo 1979/80. I would be interested to let it go to a collector for the right offer. Let me know if anyone is interested. By the way it's extremely rare because it's issued to a Lady ! 99.9% of the members were male.
Wishing you all the very best.
Posted by: Pierre labelle | 04/16/2017 at 05:21 PM
While the insanity of the predominately black crowd and disco music of my club of my Saturday night club of choice, the Gallery, would literally rock the Houston & Mercer address from midnight until noon, the predominately white gay crowd and white gay disco music of another club, the Flamingo, would rock the building that was back to back to the Gallery's on Houston and Broadway every Saturday night at the same hours. After the Gallery's entry door had closed sometime around 6:00am and the cash box was totaled and accounted for, Winston and Joel, the doormen, would take me around the block and through the front door of the Flamingo as the doormen of that club would reverse our tracks to visit the Gallery. It was like a parallel universe to be adjacent to the same drugged induced disco insanity in the Flamingo, only of a different persuasion. This men’s private membership club was only open Saturdays from September - May, closing once the constituents left the city for the Pines, Fire Island. The music in Flamingo was less bass, more treble, a faster speed, and accompanied by live tambourines jangling throughout the club. The music was categorized as hi-energy. Harlo’s “Take Off, Satisfaction Guaranteed” was a favorite:
New York! Feel like dancing, ain’t got no time to lose
L.A.!: Don’t need bags, only bring your dancing shoes
Paris!: Ooh, la,la, they don’t need the reasons why
London!: There’s music all around.
Enough to get high
Hey, what’s the time of day?
Seems like I’ve been away
Free to be the way I feel…today
A destination is all I need
Get a little bit of loving and make it last
Gotta grab it fast
Forget the past
Rio! Latin lovers are hustling in the heat
Madrid!: Spanish dancers are dancing
Down the street
Sydney!: Don’t know a thing called the oogie kangaroo
Moskow!: There’s plenty of vodkas so you never get blue
Hey, what’s the time of day?
Seems like I’ve been away
Free to be the way I fell…today
The tempo was too fast for my taste. I found slower R&B disco easier to move to, like making love with a Barry White album in the background. Patrick Cowley was the mastermind of electro disco, and wrote "Menergy" with these men in mind:
The boys in the barroom living it up,
Shooting off menergy.
The guys on the sidewalk working it out,
Talkin’ ‘bout Menergy.
The boys in the bedroom
Lovin’ it up
Shootin’ off menergy
We all know the feelin’
It’s no mystery
Talkin’ ‘bout menergy
Fan dancers mesmerized me with their ability to spin and keep aloft giant squares of nylon spun in the air like a kite dependent on the rhythm of their two hands. Every man in this men’s only club was shirtless, in shape, in jeans, drenched in sweat, and apparently very high judging from the way their heads would tilt back with flickering eyelids looking up to Flamingo's heaven, a ceiling of sophisticated light systems. I can't say that these clone men were not more into their drug high then into the music or the dance, and judging from their lack of natural rhythm and limited dance moves (their feet would remain planted on the floor, no hip movement, with just a jerking of their arms, shoulders, and head) I would guess that they would never understand or enjoy the dance scene of their more tempo friendly neighbors in the Gallery. Most patrons of either club probably never knew or cared that the parallel disco universe existed; the Flamingo and the Gallery were operating simultaneously. Everyone sought and got the pleasure they wanted in smorgasbord of New York City nightlife. There was always some venue for every walk of life.
I wrote about my overextended obsession with dancing both recreationally and professionally from 1976 – 2004 in the best clubs in NYC, until I crashed and burned from the excesses of the lifestyle. Homo GoGo Man: a fairytale about a boy who grew up in discoland.
Posted by: Christopher Duquette | 04/26/2018 at 12:17 PM
This was right on point!
2 different worlds! I went to both but when I went to Flamingo, I was one of the few blacks!
All said though, The Loft around the corner on Mercer was my favorite. Everybody went there😊
Posted by: James | 11/14/2018 at 04:01 PM
I was the doorman at Flamingo my iwife Mary famous for her managing the coat room
Posted by: Vincent | 05/06/2019 at 01:40 PM
I feel blessed to have ONCE been Flamingo ... sometime in 1979 ... I was living in Boston with one of the owners of an equally legendary NYC gay institution, Greetings Card Shop on Christopher Street.
I am currently writing my autobiography, Mineshaft to Messiah
Posted by: Jeffrey Gratton | 03/26/2022 at 10:52 PM