New York’s Fabulous 1980s and ’90s Club Scene 

The Photo Blog
March 13 2014 12:00 PM

New York’s Fabulous 1980s and ’90s Club Scene 

blueErnie300
Club kid Ernie Glam at an outdoor party in Battery Park thrown by Susanne Bartsch, 1990.

Alexis Di Biasio

In New York’s nightclub scene of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Alexis Di Biasio stood out in the crowd. For one, he was older than most of the people out at the clubs, and with his salt-and-pepper hair, he looked it. Also, he was always taking photos.

Ernie Glam (his club name) met Di Biasio in the late 1980s at a party, and as they struck up a friendship, he learned more about Di Biasio’s life. “His day job was as a bookkeeper. Photography wasn't his profession. It was his hobby and passion. I don't know what he was doing with the photos other than meticulously putting them in boxes. They were all alphabetically organized with little index cards like you’d see in libraries. He took them because he just loved drag queens and club kids,” Glam said. “That was his niche. He basically just went out to clubs or whatever types of events we were going to and took photos. Those were the only places he took photos. He didn't take studio photography or anything like that.”

Keda&Sacred81
Club kids Keda, left, and Sacred Boy at the Limelight nightclub, 1992.

Alexis Di Biasio

LeeChappell103
Nightclub promoter Lee Chappell, 1990. Chappell was the co-host of the Roxy's popular Saturday night party for several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Alexis Di Biasio

JamesStJames141
James St. James, one of the original club kids, 1990. St. James became a nightlife celebrity in the mid-1980s megaclubs.

Alexis Di Biasio

MichaelAlig94
Nightclub promoter Michael Alig, 1991.

Alexis Di Biasio

In the late 1980s, many of New York’s megaclubs closed down as a result of the economic crash of 1987. In their place, smaller clubs like Tunnel opened in Chelsea, and that's when Glam said the “club kids”—young, outlandishly dressed people who partied several times a week—emerged. “This was still before [Rudy] Giuliani took over. There was still a wild abandon in New York. There were a lot of eccentrically dressed people, and those were the people Alexis adored,” Glam said. “There were a lot of incentives for being extravagant. Promoters would encourage that. They’d shower the eccentric people with free drinks or free admission to create a circus environment in the club that would be enjoyed by the other patrons,” Glam said.

Advertisement

Club kids were known for their wild ensembles, which drew inspiration from punk, S&M, and clown styles. Often homemade or assembled from thrift-store items, the outfits were unique and bold expressions of identity. “That was part of the ethos of the day. You were a legend in your own mind. Everyone was a star, and everyone could be a star. All you had to do was throw some glitter on,” Glam said.

In 1995, Di Biasio gave Glam four boxes of his photos to store in his closet. He was moving to Miami Beach, Fla., and he thought the humid weather would damage the photos. For almost 20 years, those photos sat in Glam’s apartment in New York. Now, a selection of them has been collected in the book, Fabulousity: A Night You’ll Never Forget … or Remember, published by Wild Life Press. Di Biasio died suddenly last year before the book was released, making it a tribute to both the photographer and the era. “I'm glad he took the pictures because there was a lot of free-flowing alcohol back then,” Glam said. “I wouldn't remember the clubs as well if he didn't take the photos.”

ClaraTheCarefreeChicken102
Clara the Carefree Chicken, the mascot of the Disco 2000 party at the Limelight nightclub.

Alexis Di Biasio

clubber19
New York City's club scene in the late 1980s often celebrated androgyny.

Alexis Di Biasio

clubber23
Club kid Dean Bowery, 1990. The British eccentric and performer Leigh Bowery was a huge style influence on NYC's club kids. Dean Bowery (not his real surname) adopted Leigh Bowery's name and even spoke in a fake British accent.

Alexis Di Biasio

FashionPatrol113
Brandywine of the Fashion Patrol, 1989. The Fashion Patrol were a pair of loud drag queens who threw parties and often engaged in outlandish behavior on the dance floor.

Alexis Di Biasio

clubber51
This young man reflects several style concepts embraced by the club kids, including underwear as outerwear, the use of lunch boxes, and the appropriation of drag elements like wigs.

Alexis Di Biasio

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 30 2014 9:33 PM Political Theater With a Purpose Darrell Issa’s public shaming of the head of the Secret Service was congressional grandstanding at its best.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Gaming
Sept. 30 2014 7:35 PM Who Owns Scrabble’s Word List? Hasbro says the list of playable words belongs to the company. Players beg to differ.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 11:51 PM Should You Freeze Your Eggs? An egg freezing party is not a great place to find answers to this or other questions.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.