Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Carmelita's Reception House

Some years ago, on the southwest corner of 14th St. and 3rd Ave., above Disco Donut, there was a place called Carmelita's Reception House.


Walter Grutchfield at 14to42 writes, "I'm not sure what it was, but Carmelita's Reception House dates from the late 1970s and derived from Carmelita for Bridal, Corp., (bridal gowns and such?) from the mid-1960s."

Lori Horvitz recalls in her non-fiction story "The Last Days of Disco Donut," "I thought Carmelita's was a massage parlor that doubled as a house of prostitution. Only years later did I find out it was a legitimate bar that frequently held parties for gay women."


Filling out the mystery, reader Yvonne B. sent in the above ad for "Girl + Girl" at Carmelita's, and we got an informative comment to my post on 14th and 3rd from "SF," who writes:

"If anyone cares to read more about Lite Lounge at Carmelita's contact me. I rented Carmelita's Reception House at 150 E.14th St., NYC from 1988-c. 1990 with my dear friend Miss A. We founded Lite Lounge together and made parties for our downtown friends with 'lite' music like Bacharach, Beatles muzak, and our 45's collections to heighten the crazy sensation of cocktails & dancing, mirrors and Christmas lights beneath a whipped cream ceiling. One claim to fame of LL@Carmelita's was that 1,000 people on a Monday night could walk through those doors and have a blast. Yes, it was a watering hole for Mr. Forbes, but he drank club soda, nothing else. I know the correct answer to bordello rumors, which celebrities came there, and how the night became a huge success. Including tidbits like James White came out of his remote/quiet phase to perform there twice, and opening night was attended by the Beastie Boys and Alan Vega. It was truly fun for all and came together because of many friends' input and camaraderie. The club received a ton of press and was first covered by WWD, then Paper Magazine, which remains a huge support for all things 'Downtown.' -SF"

SF has not responded to follow-up comments, and I hope she does. I have to assume that she is Stacy Fine, co-founder of Lite Lounge, held in what New York magazine called the velvet-and-mirrors room of Carmelita's.



At Sabotage Times, James Brown recalls with Bret Easton Ellis:

"J:...We met in Carmelita’s, in the light lounge (Bret laughs loudly), and it was my first night in New York, I was 22 and I went to interview Sonic Youth for the NME.

B: You’re telling me about that dive… but it was a cool dive. Up the stairs. Christmas lights all over the place.You had to know people to get in I think. My house was around the corner, it still is, I still have that apartment."

The New York article describes a scene featuring Rockets Redglare, along with Jay McInerney. Very 1980s Downtown, indeed.



If anyone else has memories or photos of Carmelita's to share, please leave a comment or email me at jeremoss[at]yahoo[dot]com. Thank you.

15 comments:

onlythejodi said...

Carmelitas was also home to the "reception" following the original Tony and Tina's wedding. That would have been in the early 90s if my memory is correct, although considering my activities of the 70s and 80s, my memory is no always all that reliable.

John M said...

Fascinating. I walked by it thousands of times and never noticed it was there. Never read the articles at the time, totally out of the loop though living just blocks away. It's great to discover these little gems of history that, had life been just slightly different, might have been part of my history, too. Thanks, Jeremiah.

Alex in NYC said...

I appreciate the added bonus of the old Disco Donuts sign!

Anonymous said...

Carmelita's was also a hard core after hours club in the 80's. Went there a few times but due to the nature of the visit can remember nothing.

Shermanator67 said...

In the 80s my New School classmates and I hung out at the Dug Out, the basement dive bar, below what was an SRO, around the corner on Third. I remember noticing the very red drapes in the windows of Carmelita's and I guess I assumed it was some sort of bordello. The SRO and the adult cinema on that block may have influenced my thinking. What a shame, sounds like a fun place

Anonymous said...

I've lived here since 1986, and I probably walked past this hundreds of times. Don't remember it at all but wish I did. It never ceases to amaze me, I find out about some of these old places and unfortunately have no recollection of them. I took it all for granted. Never thought that NYC would change that much.

Anonymous said...

I went to a wedding reception there once, (a real one, not Tony and Tina's). It was such a delight to go up the stairs and emerge into that red and white and crystal explosion. my most vivid memory is of the tables, covered in red velvet cloths, with round glass over the velvet, and then a crystal lamp bolted through the whole deal, so that you had to take apart the table in order to wash the tablecloth. very early 90's
-e-

cathryn said...

It was definitely the 'place to go' and once inside it had such a vibe and also felt sort of protected. I brought one of my music artists here to be 'seen' and go somewhere 'in' in New York and honestly soaking up the atmosphere was enough. Nice to remember it. Can't believe it only was there for two years? I read that right?

Anonymous said...

Used to go dancing there, especially for the Monday night party described in your piece. It was really a great scene, and as others have said totally different than the dance clubs of the era. And just a little bit nuts!

Bill Telepan said...

Loved loved loved the place. used to go after work when i was a cook at Gotham. special place and time

Anonymous said...

I too walked by that corner thousands of times and wondered what it was. I suspected a bordello or something strange which might find itself at home in a David Lynch movie. But I remember people started talking about it a lot circa 1988 when David Letterman showed a picture of the outside on his old NBC show and made some lame joke about how it was the only place in NYC which allowed Willie Nelson to take a shower. After that, many people started inquiring about what it was and who went there (and why) and soon thereafter became a major hipster scene for the downtown crowd.

glamma said...

How i wish we could party there now!

billske said...

also a party there called "house without a home " i believe on monday nights we used to go alot also never thought it would disapper

Anonymous said...

I was a DJ in the late 80s / early 90s in NY and had the good fortune of playing at Carmelita's. It was a fun place. Before that we used to go to Disco Donuts after late nights at the Palladium. Both were tacky, fun, gritty New York places that I thought would never go away!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for adding comments and posting the 411 Jeremiah. If it weren't for native NYC friend and Music Video Pioneer (Video Mix, Afrika Bambatta, Breakers in London, Danceteria VJ, Computer wiz), former WBAI employee Danny Cornyetz I wouldn't have seen all these great comments. My knowledge of Carmelita's Reception House prior to '88 was going there because Edwige Jean Paul Gaultier's "it" woman/model and maybe bartender at Rock 'n' Roll Fag Bar at Boy Bar (who later made "Beige" at Eric Goode's first place on Bowery) was hosting a night at Carmelita's. Edwige is just one of the coolest realest people ever. For a few weeks or more Edwige held court at Carmelita's with an amazing Spanish guitarist and she sang a set or two. Edwige was 'La Chanteuse du Soir.' The lights were dimmed it was sophisticated real downtown-insider. A few yrs later Miss A. and I were jobless after Undochine, 420 Lafayette shut down because it had no cabaret license:( A. and I thought to sell sandwiches in Central Park or do art, but when Miss A. came back from a wknd at a NJ beach mourning a heartbreak, she said, "I listened to Lite FM all weekend and it made me feel better. Do you realize that station plays very good music?" I thought about it and could relate--I too loved Carol Bayer-Sager(carole-barrel-sarol;) Laura Nyro, Carole King, Willie Nelson-Patsy Cline and Nilsson. A. said, "We could have a Lite lounge." I blurted, "I know a place." So we got a meeting w/ Carmelita and made a deal. All Alison and I needed to start were our friends and some NY know-how. Our rent was $150 each + promotional items. (2 Rubber Stamps, Little Ricky's decks of naked lady cards, a Lettra Set, pink card stock and a copy shop.) TMI but we thought as long as we break even the first time we'll do it again. So we broke even. We weren't aware we were fashionable and young because we lived Downtown and didn't stand out too much- A was big on floral printed shifts and pumps w/ her signature cat eye glasses, A. is a Southerner and NE Ivy Leaguer, a former City (Paris) model. I was a Bx Sci- City- As-Bard dropout who worked at the original Ritz and many other venues and just returned from living in Europe. Our favorite shop was Patricia Field on 8th Street. For our Mondays we kept everything at Carmelita's comfortably bright/LITE in the room to see the details. BTW: we knew our Lite Lounge was inline w/ trends too like lite salad dressing, pepsi lite, lite on politics-- we chose Mondays because it was the only night there was no competition in clubland. We were about the wrong night, the wrong music and the wrong way. At the time no one wanted to hear The Raspberries, Bee Gees, Cher, "Love Goes Where My Rosemary Goes", "Sally Go Round The Roses" or Tom Jones.It was pre-Tarantino soundtracks so to hear Nancy Sinatra outside your cozy weirdness at home was novel (Congo Bill had closed). Our point was to be unpretentious, no velvet ropes, we charged $5. We were the anti-club. When the NY Post wrote about it and we started to get cab lines and droves of people I figured the only way to keep our friends around, our base camp was to make the music more awful, nothing like the 70's disco songs that were reportedly rocking the dancefoor. It kind of upset the DJ Steve Blush, but it had to be done. Cut away from "Don't Rock The Boat" straight into "New Rose" by The Damned, Follow up w/ Dionne Warwick, Various Coca-Cola sound-ads, Gil Scott Heron, Fela Kuti, Strawberry Alarm Clock->Sinatra, anything but flow and it worked! People we didn't know would lose their smiles, pack up and leave. At the time we only had the downstairs because upstairs was a Chinese w/ Chinese rental and we needed to maintain a capacity rule. Eventually we expanded to the upstairs (the other renters left.)