Monday, November 18, 2013

Crisco Disco to Monarch

Monarch, a new upscale restaurant, has moved into a long-empty warehouse at 408 West 15th, next to the soon-vanishing Prince Lumber.

408 W. 15th (a few years ago)

The owners told The Observer that the warehouse was "unoccupied for 30 years and home to old abandoned cars." The new space, they said, is meant to be “old warehouse meets a 1920s club room... sophisticated and comfortable yet [with] the intrinsic architectural quality of the neighborhood and New York as a whole." (Did it open yet? Zagat has a preview.)

What they don't mention is that Monarch is in the space once occupied by the famous gay club Crisco Disco.

408 W. 15th: Crisco Disco

In his book Turn the Beat Around, Peter Shapiro recalls the club's giant Crisco can DJ booth, the sleaze, the "wanton open sex," and the drugs. Everyone, said music producer Ian Levine, was "drugged out of their mind, completely drug fucked. No one ever got to go home with anyone because they were just out of it."

The website Disco-Disco has a few fascinating tidbits about the place. The owner, Hank, "used to invite attractive people into his VIP room where a huge pile of blow the size of a card table would be waiting." In Blondie's song "Rapture," the line "Flash is fast, Flash is cool" refers to a "well known coke and heroin dealer who hung out in the club." And Crisco Disco also had a bartender "who would only drink the urine of his lover and kept a glass of it on the bar."

Don't miss Disco Music's amazing page of 1980s photos from Crisco Disco, featuring the Crisco can DJ booth ("it's digestible"), and many fabulous-looking people--in tangerine furs and shiny gold pants, with names like Lonny, Tony, Mindy, and Hank.

We can add this one to the list of what's become of this area's raunchy queer havens.

See Also:
Men in Leather


kingofnycabbies said...

Always thought the "Flash" referenced in the song was Grandmaster Flash, the rap pioneer.

Anonymous said...


The "Rapture" lyric goes:

"Fab Five Freddie told me everybody's fly
DJ's spinning I said my, my
Flash is fast, Flash is cool"

Im pretty sure that Debbie Harry is referring to DJ Grandmaster Flash.

Mark said...

I can't vouch for the wanton sex, but I will agree that we were beyond high at this dump! My few visits took place under the influence of little purple capsules that were called THC, but who knows what they actually contained. It was a whole lot of fun, however.

Anonymous said...

The city was once "open" and a lot more fun. Whether you are gay or not, the point is that in those days (everything prior to the mid-late 90's) the city was more liberal. Now, everything is pretty much "sterilized" and totally boring. The clubs in those days had a cast of characters from the NYC of yesteryear. You had all classes of people (working class and blue collar to street types, to affluent) all mixing together for the sake of good times. I feel like when I go to a club it's like nobody is having fun. People seem to be in bad spirits, and hateful. I just don't see the love everyone talks about when they mention clubbing NYC in the 70's. It's very pretentious, hateful, and boring most of all.

This hipster thing going on in Williamsburg isn't any better. The city in my book died and is dead pretty much. It's a whole new thing now which I just don't get.

Ed said...

I agree with Anonymous 8:39. Its hard to imagine circumstances where places like this would be my scene, but I think its important that one or two of them exist. That makes it more likely that there is enough variety so that other places I do like exist.

Also, I have noticed that places where lots of people are gathered in public have increasingly become fairly depressing places with subdued crowds.

Anonymous said...

Ugh. That's all I can say about Monarch. Just ugh.

Anonymous said...

Caleo said...

I agree with Ed said. Although I wouldn't have frequented this place, I was glad to live in a city where it existed. Where any type of "scene" and related sub-scenes could exist simultaneously.
Now, an FLAT blandness. Bars and clubs are filled with twentysomethings who are all texting each other and don't appear to be having much fun.

The End of History said...

They did the same thing when the building that once housed the famous leather gay bar, The Spike, was turned into a condo called The Lifesaver Building. Talk about sugar coating.

The End of History said...

Also check out the new book about the night club "Area". A great place that was an evolving art/performance/disco from 1983 to 1987

Anonymous said...

"Crisco's" (as we called it back then) was one of those wonderful bastions of hedonism provided by "Old New York" (Koch era) where I had visceral experiences of Divine Decadence. I MISS IT in this time of "pseudo-free spirit neo-conservativism" .

Anonymous said...

I never saw anyone have actual sex there but i did see a certan movie star who is now married and whom famously misspronounced a singers name on the oscars making out with his at the time film director ,oh what the fuck it was John Travolta and the director was Sly Stallone and NO i didnt do drugs then LOL

Christopher Duquette said...

I was a dancer at the Gaiety Male Burlesque 1976 - 1978. I hoofed in underground clubs in NYC: Crisco Disco was first introduced to me as a club for sea of sweaty shirtless gay black men dancing to the Original's "Down to Love Town". I will always remember the night Yoko Ono arrived in the VIP room to the sounds of "Walking on Thin Ice". I tell more lurid details about Crisco Disco as well as other clubs: 12 West, the Gallery, the Anvil, Flamingo, Paradise Garage, Studio 54, the World, Sound Factory, the World,....
in my book, Homo GoGo Man
by Christopher Duquette
now available on DonnaInk
& Amazon

Christopher Duquette said...

Crisco Disco was housed in an old taxi garage, located on 15th Street and Eight Avenue, an enormous black box of a room with ceilings as high as the club was wide. The DJ booth was a reproduction of the household product and eponymous sexual lubricant Crisco can, the DJ visible on the top of the ten foot structure lit bright in the otherwise black space. I was taken to Crisco Disco at the age of 18 by a club savvy mentor who knew the underground scene. I was overwhelmed walking into this enormous club by the humidity from the sweat from a sea of shirtless masculine black gay men, more homogeneous in character than any other club I had ever been in. They looked like an army of black action figures. The men were very much into each other. No one seemed to notice or care that I, a white beefy chicken, was there. I loved the large main room. The music was more of a celebration of male dominated R&B Disco.I was sold on The Original's "Down To Love Town":
I thought that there goes my honey,
My happy shoes,
Find someone,
To help me lose these blues
I'm takin' my body down,
To love town
Goin' down...
Down to love town
I'm gonna take my body down
Down to love town.
Kool and the Gang's epic song "Open Sesame” was played for my ears for the first time. It was later featured in the soundtrack of the disco movie "Saturday Night Fever":
Get down with the genie
Open sesame of love
Fly - open up your mind
Get down with the genie.
The Tramps "Disco Inferno" would ramp me into dance frenzy in Crisco Disco and anywhere else I heard it. Even in my Stony Brook dorm room. These were the last vestiges of the large all-male groups of talented black men who would wear matching outfits to show how serious they were about their music, performance, and dance routines. I danced to these songs at Crisco Disco with my friends, stomping my heavy boots in synch with the rest of the crowd like I belonged to the tribe of men that filled the large dance floor. On one of my binge weekends partying in New York I found myself with some devious friends at Crisco Disco on a quiet Sunday night, the big empty dance floor haunted by the ghosts of the previous Saturday night party. I was wearing a tight dark green t-shirt with jeans tucked into my knee high Frye boots, with heavy knitted socks cuffed over the boot top. My energy level on this day of rest was still at a high level due to the Black Beauties, which were my drug of choice. I was in the VIP lounge when the bizarre disco sound of Yoko Ono's disco sensation "Walking on Thin Ice" came howling from the ten foot speakers:
Walking on thin ice,
I’m paying the price
For throwing the dice in the air
Why must we learn it the hard way
And play the game of life with your heart?
I knew a girl who tried to walk across the lake,
Course it was winter when all this was ice
That's a hell of a thing to do, you know
They say the lake is as big as the ocean
I wonder if she knew about it?
Yoko Ono herself in her iconic enormous wraparound black sunglasses materialized. I came to realize that DJ's would always play the song of a disco artist if they surfaced in their club. What the widow of John Lennon was doing in an underground downtown club on a Sunday night was a mystery to me. It was important to always respect a celebrity's privacy in a disco. I looked away from her like she wasn't there as her distinctive song was blasting the VIP room. Disco protocol dictates to never stare at a star in a nocturnal spotting for fear of chasing them away, like a deer caught in headlights. 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.