In business, especially fiercely competitive ones, it's unlikely that folks
from one company hang out with another. Imagine the folks from Coca-Cola
hanging out with the Pepsi people? Fancy the movers and shakers from
Chrysler having burgers and beers at lunchtime with the Ford hierarchy.
The Burden of Popularity - Or, Why Not to Say You've Got the Keys to the
In the business of nightlife, however, even upper-echelon people from different clubs formed a
little clique of their own. One reason is that when put in social situations
outside of that clique, someone in the crowd at the party/bar/wherever
invariably says "oh, that's (insert name) from The Red Parrot." This would cause
at the very least a few total strangers to visit one's table, perhaps buy a
round, and steer the conversation towards how he/she was going to get on the
"comp list" - meaning a green light at the door and no cover charge - the
ultimate in V.I.P. status.
So beside dining at a number of restaurants where we'd be guaranteed a
modicum of privacy (even if it meant, in the case of Rao's,
eating in the kitchen) we socialized only among "club people" and a handful of
wonderful, down-to-earth folks who happened to be celebrities - our V.I.P.
Just a Peaceful Watering Hole
After a weekend of frenetic evenings and mornings arriving home at 10:00
a.m., we needed a place to blow off steam. A place where we could be ourselves
and not play into the "roles" we so often played when dealing with the public.
For a couple of years after Steve Rubell and Ian Schraeger were forced to
sell the place to Marc Fleischmann, Studio 54 was the perfect spot to go at
about 6:00 or so on Sunday for what many clubs called "tea dance;" e.g., disco
in the afternoon.
On any given Sunday the top bartenders, dee-jays and management of a number
of clubs, including Area, Crisco Disco, The Red Parrot, and The Paradise Garage
could be found sitting at the bar, dressed in tees and jeans, buying rounds for
each other and laughing at tales of the more outrageous customers and
occurrences at each club that week. We could've chosen any other place, and the
reason we chose Studio was kinda sad; the place was on the outs. It just wasn't
cool enough to pull the V.I.P. crowd anymore. And on Sundays, it was amazing
they even staffed the place and opened before 10:00 at night. It was probably
because "Sunday tea" at 54 had been a ritual since 1977; and they were holding
onto any vestige of the heyday of the place they could. However, by 1982, they'd
let just about anyone with a pulse into Sunday Tea; and the loss of exclusivity
was a function of its loss of appeal.
One sultry summer afternoon, the place was particularly empty (everyone who
was anyone was at the beach, Fire Island, or the Hamptons). A handful of
those of us doomed to have to work the following day were enjoying tall drinks
and just talking bullshit; I guess there was nothing of substance to talk about.
The Jersey Boys
Into the main room walked a group of four young men who were definitely
not Studio material. Shorts (one of them wore sandals) and tee shirts that
advertised motor oil, and one that said "Kiss me, I'm Irish." Really. (These
four young men will hereinafter collectively be known as the "Jersey Boys.")
Now, I know some very nice people who live in New Jersey and I do not wish to
malign their state. Suffice it to say that these fellows embodied all that was
uncouth and rough-around-the-edges of towns like Hackensack, Moonachie, oh, the
list goes on and on.
The first hint that we were not dealing with club regulars was the fact that
they didn't know the price structure and asked how much everything was. The
first three ordered Budweiser. The last, who seemed to have more money than
the rest (or at least wanted to look like it) ordered a Heineken. The other
three were absolutely outraged to find out that no matter which of the four
brands of beer one ordered, it cost $5. Hard liquor was $8 and $12 - that's it.
The home run that revealed that they had no idea what they were doing was
when Bobbie got up to use the restroom and was followed by one of the Jersey
Boys. When Bobbie got back to the bar, he explained that the four of 'em wanted
to score. The bartender, Victor, was so stupid he asked Bobbie "why didn't you
tell them to go south on 8th Avenue looking for streetwalkers?"
We looked at Victor and, in unison, each sniffed very loudly. The
worst news was that Bobbie had not only told them that I was "the connection,"
but was also a powerful mafia middle-manager who was not to be played with. I
ordered a double scotch, neat, from Victor and downed it within 4 minutes. Then
I assumed my role as "Paulie from Bensonhurst."
Our Partners in Crime Couldn't Have Been More Charming
Around the corner, on the corner of 54th Street and 8th Avenue, was a
wonderful old Irish bar in the best of traditions. No fights there; just a lot
of old-timers (many who worked nights or weekends) and were known to the
barmaids. The average tenure of each employee was something like 20 years. They
made delightful corned-beef sandwiches, burgers, and had great hot dogs (your
choice: beans or sauerkraut; buns or rye bread). Many of the 54 employees
actually had charge accounts there ("tabs" if you will) which they dutifully
paid off each week. We would often sate sudden hunger pangs by having a busboy
go over and pick up a feast on Sundays. And yeah, we'd sit there at one end of
the long bar in the center of the room, eating out of waxed paper and aluminum
A source of great humor was a trick that had started in the days when,
occasionally by accident, a "wrong" customer was let through the velvet ropes by
accident. "Wrong" customers were usually people who looked just cool enough to
get in, but soon obviously were out of their league. Some committed other
violations, like brandishing cameras - in the club's heyday, a big no-no.
Back to the trick. The barmaids at our favorite little Irish bar were
hard-boiled New Yorkers through and through. Studio 54 had made these ladies a
lot of money in the days when the line to get in would snake around the block
and down 8th Avenue. These days, things for them had settled back down to the
usual; their regulars and the occasional nervous person who needed a couple 'a
shots and a beer fast. The code word for our little trick was "Big Patsy."
I sauntered over to the guys at the other end of the bar. "How d'ya do. I'm
Paulie. I unnerstan' you wan' a little stuff."
"Well, how much is this gonna cost..." one of them burst out rather loudly in
an annoying voice.
I held up my hand and said, "If ya gotta ask, ya don' got enough. Now don'
bother me." I turned and walked away.
The foursome talked among themselves for awhile. We went back to our banter
about who'd seen whom go out with whom earlier that weekend.
Victor showed up with four drinks (including another double scotch - $24 at
non-insider prices) and told us the round had been bought for us by the Jersey
Boys. And they wanted to see "Paulie" again, if it wasn't too much trouble.
Lordy, here we go
This time I summoned the foursome over with a wave of my hand. They
approached us in a fashion not unlike Dorothy, The Tinman, The Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow
first approaching Oz's inner sanctum in the famous movie.
"You boys ain't gonna waste my time no more, 'kay?"
They nodded agreement. I handed the ball back to Bobbie. "Bobbie," (I sounded
more like Marlon Brando in The Godfather than the real thing). "I wan' you
to take these nice boys around the corner to see Big Patsy. An' make sure they
take care of the gals at the bar."
Bobbie took the foursome out of the club and over to the Irish bar. Meantime,
we called in our dinner order and determined that the head barmaid on that
evening was Irene. Each of the boys was instructed to give a $10 to Irene, and
sit at the bar, waiting for Patsy, quietly. One of them had to be in the
bathroom, however, at all times, because that's where the "score" would take
place. $250 for two and a half grams of cocaine.
Bobbie dropped off the Jersey Boys and picked up dinner (some nice brisket
had been made that day, mashed potatoes and coleslaw). Victor had a salad. He
weighed all of 119 pounds and remained eternally "on a diet."
After about a half an hour, I called Irene and asked how things were going;
if the Jersey Boys were drinking. She replied that indeed they were, and that if
we gave the kids a half hour longer they'd be booted out of the place for D&D
(drunk and disorderly). We had to make our move.
It was decided that it'd be nice of us if we sobered them up for Irene.
Victor happened to have a small vial of some cheap stepped-on crap from
110th street that was given him as a tip Friday night. So I told my buddies that
I'd get a hundred for going over there, and the rest of them could split the
other hundred, and Victor would get $50 for the shit.
"It's takin' Patsy a little while to get over here so I thought I'd hook you
guys up with somethin'. Go get your friends." I ended up in the crowded little
men's room of the Irish bar, the most distinguishing feature of which was an old
fashioned trough, no urinals, and only one stall. I put my foot against the door
and dangled the little vial in front of their eyes.
"This is jus' somethin' from me to hold youse over. Patsy's gonna get me the
rest an' I'll be back. Gimme the cash." The moment they hesitated, I dropped the
vial back in my pocket and said "I can't stand people who can't make up their
minds. Youse are wasting my time." I'd raised my voice to a near-yell on the
last three words, and punctuated it by kicking the door. The money came out in
twenties, one of the kids carefully counting it out.
"Well, okay then. I'll see ya 'round." I set the little vial onto one of the
sinks. The four of them were grabbing for it as I left the bar.
About fifteen minutes later, the intercom buzzed at Victor's station. He
picked up the phone. It was Irene.
"Honey, your guys are a little sobered up now, but they're loaded for bear.
You better send security over an' get 'em outta here."
The Party's Over
Well, there went $50 of my $100. 2 of the doormen were handed $25 apiece to
go to the Irish bar, flash badges, and get rid of them. And under no
circumstances were these ne'er-do-wells to be allowed back into the club.
Apparently, our friends the Jersey Boys made quite a stink until Sammy,
another one of our group, went out back to the alley, got his car and drove
around to the front door, where the shit had by now hit the fan. Sammy
brandished a gun and informed the Jersey boys that they'd end up as fish food in
the Hudson River if they didn't get outta there. They'd angered both "Paulie"
and "Big Patsy" by not sitting tight like they were told. One of them yelled a
couple of obscenities and was silenced as Sammy discharged his .38 into the air
(no blank). Later on one of the security guys said one of the Jersey boys had
urinated in his shorts at that moment. Then they all dispersed.
The moral of this story is two-fold. If you're gonna do narcotics, you're
gonna end up in trouble. But if you fail to heed that advice, make sure you
purchase your narcotics from someone you can trust. Although "trustworthy dope
dealer" is somewhat of an oxymoron in my book, at least.
Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter
Three Chapter Four