The Saint, the Yankee Stadium of gay dance clubs, opened its doors the night of Sept. 20, 1980. Located in New York's East Village, it occupied the space that was formerly home to the famed Fillmore East concert hall. At the time, the Saint's sound system and lighting were beyond compare. A planetarium projector rose from under the dance floor and projected stars that swirled against a domed ceiling. On opening night, the first song to be honored with this awe-inspiring light show was Donna Summer's Could it be Magic?
Before there were circuit parties, the Saint was a destination for gay men worldwide. It was a members-only club with annual dues between $150-$250 ($500-$750 in 2021's dollars). Members had their own lockers, where they could conveniently strip off their street clothes and put on their club gear. My first time there was in June 1981 shortly before it closed for the summer (when many of its members were out on Fire Island).
Besides its breathtaking design and incomparable sound system, the allure of dancing, drugs and sex provided escape from the harsh reality that awaited many club goers in the light of day. That reality would very soon be AIDS. The club's first season ended just as news reports began circulating about a mysterious cancer striking down gay men. In just a few years AIDS would decimate the Saint's A-list clientele, and figured largely in the club's closing in April 1988.
The creator and owner of the Saint, Bruce Mailman (who also owned the Saint Mark's Baths), was one of the thousands of gay New Yorkers who succumbed to AIDS. He died in 1994 at the age of 55. He talks about the opening of the Saint in the following video clip:
Crisco shortening was introduced by Procter & Gamble on Aug. 15, 1911. Made from vegetable oil, it was an improvement over using lard for cooking, and helped housewives get better results with their baking. It was especially celebrated for the flaky pie crusts it produced. However, some gay men use it for an entirely different purpose - as a lubricant for "fisting". (When Crisco was introduced in smaller containers, the joke was that this convenient size was sold only in New York and San Francisco.) In 2002, P&G sold the brand to the J.M. Smucker Company.
And that's not the only connection Crisco has to the gay world. Nearly 40 years ago there was a popular gay disco located in New York's Meatpacking District called Crisco Disco. A large Crisco Can served as a DJ booth (pictured, above), which comfortably fit up to ten people. More recently, gay clubs in Tampa and Venice Beach have held weekly "Crisco Disco" nights, when classic disco is played. Then there was the peculiar disco-oriented album released in 1977 by poet Rod McKuen called Slide ... Easy In. Because of the album's cover art, many in gay circles referred to it as the "Crisco Disco album".
So, in closing, if you innocently mention Crisco in a social gathering or at a business presentation and hear snickering, there's a good chance that some gay men are in your midst.
HX was a weekly gay entertainment guide for New York that began publishing in 1991. It was briefly called Homo Xtra, and its slogan was: "The totally biased, politically incorrect party paper". (I still have an HX t-shirt with this tagline on the back.) It continued publishing until the issue dated July 10, 2009, when it was purchased by the company that published rival Next Magazine (which would stop publishing in the summer of 2016).
Next began publishing a few years after HX, and both co-existed for many years despite having similar content. (Because of their similarities I sometimes had a hard time distinguishing between the two.) Both were freebies distributed mostly in the West Village and Chelsea, and in the Pines and Cherry Grove during the summer. Like so much content on the internet, both publications were able to be distributed free because of advertising support from clubs/bars, restaurants, escorts and masseurs/body workers. When it first began publishing, HX had an unwieldy fold-out format, similar to a map. The covers during the first few years were sexy shots of bare chested guys. These early covers were quite striking because they were B/W on sturdy newsprint, calling to mind the works of Robert Mapplethorpe. Once the magazine became a 4-color glossy, the covers became a mix of pretty boys, studs, drag queens and celebrities.
Here's a sample of some striking covers from the early, "black & white" years:
And here are some standout covers from the glossy, "living color" era, with themes such as Sex; the Black Party; Swimwear/Summer; the White Party in South Beach; and Christmas time:
And, now, some favorite ads: 1) The model in the Thanksgiving ad also did a nude cover for the May 2002 issue of GQ. (For a brief time we worked together at ad agency Foote, Cone & Belding, where he was an assistant account executive.) 2) Ads for the annual "Black Party" are always outrageous, but the one shown was even more so because of the inclusion of a cherubic little boy. 3) Splash Bar could always be counted on for hot ads. It opened at about the same time as HX - and outlived it by four years (closing in August 2013).
In the summer of 1983, the dance song So Many Men, So Little Time by Miquel Brown was a huge club hit. However, its timing was peculiar as it was released in the early years of the AIDS crisis. Hearing it always gave me a chill, and I was surprised there wasn't a backlash over its questionable message - or the cruel irony of the phrase "so little time".
To be sure, there were other songs that touched on a similar theme, such as Olivia Newton John's Physical and the Weather Girls' It's Raining Men, but they had more of a bubblegum feel to them, and were popular somewhat before the full-blown AIDS panic took hold. As for So Many Men, perhaps it seemed removed from the gay experience because it was sung by a woman - but it unsettled me nonetheless.
"Son of Sam", and the July blackout are the two news stories most New Yorkers remember from 1977, but another tragedy that same year is overlooked - the fire at the Everard Baths. (In fact, while doing research for this post, a Wikipedia article I reviewed about disasters in New York didn't include the Everard fire - so I added it.) Although it wasn't on the scale of the fires at the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. in 1911, or the Happyland Social Club in 1990, it was still one of the City's deadliest. Because it was a bathhouse, families of the nine who died and those injured were no doubt concerned about having their names revealed. One of those who died was 32-year-old Jimmy Stuard, a well known DJ at the club 12 West.
The Everard was on West 28th St., just off 5th Ave. and had been a bathhouse for decades. It's even mentioned in Andrew Holleran's classic gay novel Dancer from the Dance , which was published the year following the fire. After it reopened, it remained in business through the mid-80s, when it was closed as part of the City's response to the AIDS crisis.
I went to the baths during my first year in New York (1979-1980), and I visited the Everard once in March 1980 (which had relocated a few blocks away). I also visited a number of other bathhouses once, including Man's Country, the St. Mark's Baths and the Big Apple, because I favored the Club Baths. (However, once I began dating someone steadily in the fall of 1980 my adventures at the baths ended.)
The Saint was the nation's (perhaps the world's) premiere gay dance club during the 1980s, and its closing party began on April 30 1988 - and continued until Monday morning, May 2. Although I loved dance music, I was never part of the Saint crowd; however, I'd go once or twice a year. My first time there was in June 1981, a few weeks before it closed for the summer; the last time was two weeks before the final weekend. And it was more than just a dance floor - there were a lot of other places to explore and "experience".
An ex-lover of mine, Rick, went to closing weekend in two shifts. During his second shift, he got into a bit of medical trouble because he bought some bad GHB and collapsed on the dance floor. He woke up in the special triage unit set up at the club for these type of "situations".
Here are five songs I most fondly associate with the Saint:
Hills of Katmandu - This beautifully tribal song is the one I associate most with the Saint. The club's renowned planetarium projector that rose out of the middle of the dance floor projected images of stars that swirled on the circular scrim-like ceiling above the dance floor. To me, this effect, along with the glow from the burnt orange lighting, evinced a feeling of being out on the savannas of East Africa. Such a gorgeous song.
Your Love - This was played during my first visit to the club. It was the group Lime's first hit. While we danced to it, my boyfriend at the time passed out after taking a hit of poppers.
Dracula's Tango - A great dance song with a Halloween theme.
Eve of the War - This song is on par with the Hills of Katmandu in terms of its mystical/tribal vibe. What a beautiful orchestral opening. The only verse was, "Chances of anything coming from Mars are a million to one he said - but still, they come!". A number of years after the Saint closed I came across the 12-inch single among a pile of records someone was selling on Christopher St. What a find!
Tonight is What it Feels to be Young- From the soundtrack of the 1984 rock movie Streets of Fire.
The "not-a-care-in-the-world" vibe of the club was brought home to me during a visit in October 1983. It was a week after a truck bomb ripped apart a US Marine barrack in Lebanon, killing more than 250 servicemen. As I pranced on the dance floor at 3AM, I thought of all the serious things going on in the world and how, here on this fabulous dance floor I was insulated from all of it.
Three years after their first hit single, Waterloo, ABBA had their one and only #1 hit in the U.S. - Dancing Queen. Although it stayed on top for just one week - Thelma Houston's Don't Leave Me This Way was breathing down its neck - it became a beloved classic. Despite their wild popularity worldwide, in the US ABBA managed to have just four top-10 hits. (They had ten other singles that peaked between #12-#32.) It was a similar fate met by other groups/singers from foreign shores, such as Kylie Minogue, Robbie Williams and Boney M.
A few years after Dancing Queen, ABBA had a string of dance-oriented tunes that became big hits in gay clubs: Voulez Vous; The Visitors; Lay All Your Love on Me; On and On and On; and Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight). A lasting memory of my first visit to Fire Island Pines, in July 1982, was dancing to The Visitors at the Pavilion.
Even today, strolling along Fire Island Boulevard, you're certain to hear Dancing Queen coming from at least a few of the houses in the Pines (or in Cherry Grove). At my house it was a tradition to play it whenever we celebrated a housemate's birthday after the cake was presented. But while the song's lyrics are certainly appropriate for "the gays", I never thought the beat was fast enough to make it particularly danceable (at least for my taste).
I planned to show a video of ABBA performing but, unfortunately, they're such wooden performers that, instead, I chose Kylie Minogue performing Dancing Queen at the closing ceremonies of the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney.
When I started writing this post my plan was for it to be only about those aspects of gay life that bother me. But as I worked on it I decided I didn't want to come across as a jaded queen, especially because there is plenty I enjoy about the gay milieu. Therefore, I chose to give both sides equal time. Originally penned in the winter of 2012, I've updated it somewhat during the spring of 2014.
The insipid music of Katy Perry
Bravo's Andy Cohen for inflicting the Housewives of ... series on us, a sorry celebration of misogyny and anti-social behavior if ever there was one.
Porn stars who think they're going to have a second career as professional singers.
The complete lack of sexual chemistry between Modern Family's Cameron and Mitchell
Photos of Chaz Bono bare chested
Out Magazine's "Nipple Count" feature. And speaking of Out, why don't they just combine it and the Advocate; after all, they're delivered together in the same polybag.
Completely shaved armpits
Little kids on the ferry to the Pines
Fawning over Anderson Cooper
Boys who sashay
Groups of loud, straight women at gay bars. No, you are not Carrie, Samantha, Charlotte or Miranda.
The occupation known as a "nightlife promoter"
Tourists who insist on holding hands and clog Times Square are very annoying, and I feel the same about gay couples who do it in crowded bars, with one pulling the other behind him through the throng.
Michael Lucas and his laughably silly Donald Trump pout
An air-brushed Ellen DeGeneres, who looks increasingly like a pre-pubescent Ricky Schroeder
The sad decline of Christopher St. and 8th Ave. in Chelsea
The closing of Splash Bar after 23 years
Tim Gunn, Carson Kressley, Michael Musto, John Waters, Joan Rivers (RIP), Kathy Griffin - and a very honorable mention to Hugh Jackman!
Anderson Cooper, Andy Cohen, bartenders at Splash, Bravo cable network, Broadway Bares, Carson Kressley, Chaz Bono, Danell Leyva, Donald Trump, gay humor, Gotham Volleyball, Hugh Jackman, Joan Rivers, John Waters, Kathy Griffin, Katy Perry, Kylie Minogue, low tea at the Blue Whale, Michael Lucas, Michael Musto, Modern Family, Neil Patrick Harris, the Supremes, Tim Gunn, Tom Daley, Tony Awards
Politics - The two biggest stories of 2011 were New York state's legalization of same-sex marriage(coinciding with Gay Pride weekend) and the ending of the U.S. military's shameful "Don't ask, don't tell" policy. But we could still count on continued intolerance by Republicans as they booed a gay soldier during one of the Republican debates.
Fashion - Critically acclaimed documentaires were released about New York Times fashion photographer Bill Cunningham (left) and designer Yves St. Laurent; an exhibit of late fashion designer Alexander McQueen's work was a huge draw at the Met; John Galliano, head designer at Christian Dior was fired after making drunken anti-Semitic remarks to patrons at a restaurant in Paris.
Gay-themed Movies of Note - Weekend; Heartbeats; Beginners; and the documetary Making the Boys.
Bodies Beautiful - Ryan Gosling in Crazy Stupid Love; Chris Hemsworth in Thor (near right); Taylor Lautner in the latest Twilight sequel; and supposedly straight, rightwing Illinois congressman Aaron Schock on the cover of Men's Health. Finally, after performances of his acclaimed one-man show Hugh Jackman occasionally auctioned off his sweat soaked t-shirt.
NYC Nightlife - The cowboy bar Flaming Saddles opened in Hell's Kitchen; Boxers joined Gym Bar as Chelsea's second sports bar; Splash celebrated its 20th anniversary; Viceroy and Vinyl restaurants in Chelsea closed. Meanwhile, Next Magazine's page size continued to shrink.
Music - Erasure's Then I Go Twisting and Kelly Rowland's What a Feeling; in February Lady Gaga's single Born This Way became the 1,000th song to hit #1 in the history of Billboard's Hot 100 chart.
RIP - Pioneering gay civil rights activist Frank Kameny; AIDS angel Elizabeth Taylor; John Geddes Lawrence, plaintiff in landmark Lawrence v Texas anti-sodomy Supreme Court case; disco diva Loleatta Hollaway.
Chaz Bono - A documentary and book about Chaz's female-to-male transition received considerable attention as did his appearance as a male contestant on Dancing with the Stars. (Carson Kressley also competed).
Milestones - Crisco turned 100 and Ricky Martin hit the big 4-0.
A fire in November in the harbor of Fire Island Pines destroyed the Pavilion dance club and Sip-n Twirl bar (and a number of other businesses).
Actor Zachary Quinto came out (not to be confused with actor Jeremy Sisto). Still not out: Olympic gold medal figure skaters Evan Lysacek and Brian Boitano; singer/actress/Cover Girl spokesperson Queen Latifah; Emmy Award winning actor Jim Parsons (Big Bang Theory).
Talk Show Roulet - Without Oprah's presence housewives apparently weren't interested in an entire hour of Nate Berkus (left) as his home design show was cancelled after just one season. The same fate may await Anderson Cooper's snoozer of an afternoon talk show which debuted in the fall (housewives may not be as enamored with him as gay men at the David Barton Gym are). And Rosie O'Donnell tried for a comeback with a talk show on Oprah's OWN cable network.
Neil Patrick Harris continued to dazzle as host of the Tony Awards. The theme for this year's teleast was: "It's not for gays anymore!" Larry Kramer'sThe Normal Heart won the Tony for Best Revival of a Play, out actor John Benjamin Hickey won for Best Featured Actor and Ellen Barkin for Best Featured Actress.
A fun new website was launched in June named "Subway Crush"whichgives riders an opportunity to share pics of cute guys they've admired riding the subway.
The new ABC sitcom, Happy Endings, (following Modern Family) features a slovenly gay character, Max, who has few stereotypical gay traits. And speaking of Modern Family, who do you love more, Sofia Vergara or gay daddies Cam and Mitchell?
On Curb Your Enthusiasm Larry David coined the term "pre-gay" to describe his girlfriend's delightfully precocious young son who showed all the obvious traits of being gay (he was a big fan of Project Runway). The little boy is the spitting image of Kurt from Glee.
Saturday Night Live aired a music video titled "It's OK If It's In a Threeway", featuring Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga and Adam Samberg. The show also had a hysterical skit about a game show called "Who's on Top?" in which non-gay male celebrities were paired up and constestants had to choose which one would be the "top" if the celebs were engaged in gay sex.
Still MIA: Rupert Everett
Finally, as the year came to a close a sexy billboard for Manhunt Mobile went up, overlooking Sheridan Square, bringing back fond memories of the gay West Village of the '70s and '80s.
Alexander McQueen exhibit, Anderson Cooper, Bill Cunningham, Chaz Bono, Curb Your Enthusiasm, David Barton Gym, fire at Fire Island Pines, fire destroys Pavilion dance club, Illinois congressman Aaron Schock, Jeremy Sisto, Manhunt Mobile, Nate Berkus, Next Magazine, pre-gay, Ricky Martin, Rupert Everett, Sofia Vergara, year end review of 2011
Gay bon-vivant Michael Musto was born in Brooklyn on Dec. 5, 1955. He is best known for covering New York City nightlife and writing about it in his column "La Dolce Musto" in the Village Voice. His specialty is the "blind item" whereby he describes celebrities' indiscretions without revealing who these individuals are. In the fall of 2011 he published a book of essays humorously titled Fork on the Left, Knife in the Back.
In my mind, Musto is a cross between Mr. Rogers, Rollerina, Quentin Crisp and Liz Smith - but with a decided edge. And although he has a lot of "dirt" on celebs he's not heavy handed about how he uses this information, unlike Perez Hilton - or J. Edgar Hoover. And despite being a keen observer of the celebrity demimonde he doesn't come across as star struck. He's just a kind, avuncular sole with a droll sense of humor.
Somewhat like the New York Times' fashion photographer, Bill Cunningham, Musto can be spotted riding about town on his bicycle. And on a number of occasions I've seen him strolling on the beach in Fire Island, usually dressed similarly to how he dresses in the City.