When I first moved to New York in 1984, CBGB
s and Pyramid
were the hot clubs. Aztec
and Limbo Lounge
all lingered on the Eastern fringes, far enough from the epicenter
of mass media
interest (the days of Desperately Seeking Susan
) to remain cool, while close enough to rake in some cash from the confused or lost souls that by happenstance wandered that far East.
In case you're not familiar with New York
back in those days, West
- as in Greenwich Village
s and historic tavern
s and row house
s - was good. East
- as in Lower East Side
, East Village
s, Hells Angels
s and other assorted low lives - was bad.
Naturally, as soon as I was warned about it, I gravitated from the Upper West Side
via a series a subletted apartment
s to the East Village
Running an Art Gallery
and programming from home for Dow Jones
, I kept strange hours.
Without a regular 9-5
responsibility, lots of times, I'd find myself drifting easily and quite naturally into what I still call alternate time
I'd go to bed at 5AM or later, and get up around 2PM. Hit the cheap Polish
cafes that were plentiful in the Lower East Side
at that time for lots of coffee and a heavy heavy Eastern European breakfast
. Head home and code for eight or ten hours, and then it was time to play.
I'd head to CBGB
s or Downtown Beirut
; see a few bands, have a few drinks and start the evening in earnest.
Then I'd move over to Pyramid
(where Nina Hagen
would coat check as a joke when she was in town) and see three bands and two performance artist
s for five dollars, seven nights a week. Years later I still can’t believe what a deal that was!
Later it was back to CBGBs for a nitecap and once it closed – like all bars in New York – at 4AM, then the question was always what next?
For a long time I'd be a good geek, head home, maybe code a little or watch infomercials and then sleep but after a while craziness and a crazy crowd got a hold of me and we’d head to after hours clubs
At that time the Lower East Side was a pretty lawless place; the cops didn’t give a shit what anyone did as long as you didn’t destroy property, damage property, vandalise property, kill a landlord, etc, etc. After hours clubs – as illegal as they were- ranked quite low on their list of priorities.
And the scene was hot back then!
New clubs would spring up almost every week, each with its own speciality and with the most exotic names – Black Market
(dance, located in an squatted warehouse), Save the Robots
(bands would go in the sand filled basement promptly at 7AM), Gas
(an abandoned Gas Station
serving mostly fruit juice, but if the German
owner knew you he’d ask With gas?
meaning Would you like some grain alcohol with your fruit juice?
(heavy drug scene; $5 for a beer and a hypodermic needle and you’d frequently see people shooting up and then nodding out at the bar), Sinners Unite!
with a dash of performance art), the list went on and on.
Leaving an after hours club was quite a disorienting experience, since I’d head out for the night usually around 11PM and carouse the legal bars until 4AM. The after hours clubs all opened around that time, and I’d usually stay at one until 9AM or so. Walking out into the bright morning sunlight, sweaty
, fucked up and looking like shit
gave one a rather different perspective on the day.
I frequented them all at one time or another, but my crowd mostly gravitated deep into what was then the burned out rubble of the East Village
, towards a place called the Sin Club
We never were really sure what Sin stood for; the owner, a gregarious Jamaican
who insisted that we call him “Wild”, would say nothing on the subject, leaving us to speculate.
I like the acronym “Safety in Numbers”, since you had to walk through some pretty wild parts of the neighbourhood to get there and with all the junkies roaming the streets back then you’d be crazy to go alone at four or five in the morning. Once you arrived, you were greeted with an extremely solid metal door
. Even from the street you could hear a dull bass “thump thump thump” of music through it.
You’d ring a buzzer
to gain admittance, taking care not to hit the wrong button and pester the working class folks in the apartments above. When this happened too much they’d respond by dumping pails of shit and piss out their windows onto the boisterous crowd below. It made for good fun watching some Mohawk
or Asterisk head
haircut getting soaked!!
Once you got the right buzzer Wild himself would answer and you’d talk for a short time. If he didn’t know you or anyone you were with then you didn’t get in. It was that simple.
Once Wild approved he’d buzz the door open and you entered a small metal chamber
. The bass “thump thump thump” was louder here, and there were two closed circuit camera
s mounted on the ceiling. Wild would use them to look you over one more time and if he didn’t like something about you or your friends, you’d be asked to leave. There were two large slots in the wall that it was rumoured were there for tear gas
to force you out if you wouldn’t leave, but I never saw them used.
Once the inner door opened you’d be hit with a blast of noise and odours of illicit substances. But you still
weren’t completely inside.
There were several rows of high school locker
s and some REALLY BIG
sun glass wearing Jamaicans waiting for you.
”Please check your weapons”
they’d politely ask.
Out would come knives (I had a way cool switch blade
back in those days that I’d painted myself and named Mr Slice and Dice
, complete with a nice smiley face) and clubs and sometimes even pistols. After you surrendered your stuff they’d pat you down just to be sure. After a few nasty incidents that threatened his business (cops tend to go where ambulances go, especially when weapons are involved), Wild became big on security.
Then they lock the stuff up, and give you the key. Now you were ready for some fun!
The Sin Club occupied an old New York saloon
. In the front there were these wonderful wooden booth
s where all sorts of wild looking undergrounders would hang out, conspiring with each other.
The big room in back was reserved for dancing. Wild had a decent sound system and lights installed, unlike lots of lower budget after hours clubs.
Although you paid a steep price for admission
– twenty dollars – and the drinks were expensive – watered down draft beer
went for five dollars a pint
, the dark corridor connecting the front and rear rooms were where Wild really made his money.
Several of his “associates” lurked there, hawking any type of illegal substance
you could name. This stuff was priced pretty dear, since Wild wouldn’t allow you to consume substances on his premises if you didn’t purchase them there.
Wild was first and foremost a businessman
and he knew that at 5AM if you wanted a drink or something else, you’d pay whatever he asked. I’ve since attended business school
, and I now know this is what economist
s call “The Theory of the discriminating monopoly
The place had good energy, and unlike lots of other after hours clubs was quite safe, so none of us minded much. Besides, we all had our demons to chase, that’s why we were out drinking at 6AM anyway, so cost was a minor consideration. Needless to say, I had lots of fun there and lots of good memories.
But there was one incident at the Sin Club that firmly established Wilds reputation with us as a very good business man : the bust.
It happened one morning at maybe six AM. I was dancing with some babe in the back room, when all of sudden the music stops and the house lights came on. This was quite unusual since the Sin Club didn’t close usually until 10AM.
All of sudden about twenty blue jacketed Police Officers
“All right everyone up against the walls” they barked, roughly shoving people to the sides of the room.
As people cleared the dance floor a quite sizeable collection of drugs and drug paraphernalia
was revealed. You could actually hear stuff hitting the floor as people were rudely shoved towards the walls. A white shirted Lieutenant
– they always sent senior officers along on these raids to supervise – walked in from the front. “Start cuffing these people and get them out of here” he ordered the cops.
Some people started protesting loudly that they hadn’t done anything, others sobbed at the thought of being arrested
, and the real crazy ones started eyeing the cops, thinking about making a run for the door. I was in the latter camp since it didn’t seem you had anything to lose – you were getting busted one way or another –why make it easy for them?
All of sudden Wild walked out of his office in the rear. He broke into a wide Jamaican grin at the sight of the cops swarming around. I found it pretty incongruous since all of us – including no doubt him - were getting busted. He approached the white shirted Lieutenant and put his arm around him. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
“Officer officer, Ahh tole you…” they walked into his office and shut the door. About thirty seconds later the Lieutenant came out and ordered his men to leave.
The lights went out and the music started up again. It was definitely an eye opening experience for me.