by Tracy Kaler
Anyone old enough to remember Studio 54 knows that it's often thought of as the most popular nightclub in history. If you're asking the question, "Studio what?" then you're most likely of the younger generation. Even if you didn't dance there, you may have heard the name mentioned in conversation, writing, or perhaps seen it on the big screen. Located at 254 West 54th Street, Studio 54 was iconic and legendary on the New York nightlife scene from 1977-1981. Many believe this club ignited the disco inferno period in pop music and was the root of American nightclub culture.
The midtown Manhattan club was originally the Gallo Opera House when it opened in 1927. Later, the building was purchased by CBS and used for radio and television broadcasting from the 1940s to the mid-1970s. Popular game shows like What's My Line, Password, and The 64,000 Question, along with other '70s favorites like Captain Kangaroo and The Jack Benny Show were produced here.
In 1977, the building was sold to Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager, who transformed the space into a nightclub at the request of moguls in New York's fashion and art world. Studio 54 was born. It was during this period that celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Andy Warhol, Madonna, Mick Jagger, Liza Minelli, Diana Ross, Sylvester Stallone, and others could be found on a regular basis socializing inside Studio 54.
Sold in the early 1980s to Mark Fleischmann, the club became a concert and entertainment venue, but was never the same after the closing of Studio 54. Undergoing several name changes including "The Ritz," eventually the club closed.
In 1994, Allied Partners purchased the building for $5.5 million, restoring much of the lost architectural detail since the interior had been covered in plywood and painted black.
Fast forward to 1998, Roundabout Theatre used the space as a temporary home for the musical Cabaret, as a result of a construction hoist collapse on W. 43rd Street. Roundabout purchased the building from Allied for $22.5 million in 2003, and Cabaret played through 2004. Since then, popular Broadway productions such as A Streetcar Named Desire, Sunday in the Park with George, Pal Joey, and Sondheim on Sondheim have played in the theatre.
In 2012, 54 Below –– a dinner theatre and cabaret –– opened in the basement space below the original nightclub. Broadway veterans such as Patti LuPone, Brian d'Arcy James, Sherie Rene Scott, and Ben Vereen have performed at 54 Below. In addition to nightly dinner and performances, the club also serves pre-theater dinner Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays with a live jazz quartet.