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

Behold
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

Culturebox

The End of Pregnancy

And the inevitable rise of the artificial womb.

Doctor Tests Positive for Ebola in New York City

How a Company You’ve Never Heard of Took Control of the Entire Porn Industry

The Hot New Strategy for Desperate Democrats

Blame China for everything.

The Questions That Michael Brown’s Autopsies Can’t Answer

Foreigners

Kiev Used to Be an Easygoing Place

Now it’s descending into madness.

Technology

Don’t Just Sit There

How to be more productive during your commute.

There Has Never Been a Comic Book Character Like John Constantine

Which Came First, the Word Chicken or the Word Egg?

  News & Politics
The Slate Quiz
Oct. 24 2014 12:10 AM Play the Slate News Quiz With Jeopardy! superchampion Ken Jennings.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 23 2014 5:53 PM Amazon Investors Suddenly Bearish on Losing Money
  Life
Outward
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 6:55 PM A Goodfellas Actor Sued The Simpsons for Stealing His Likeness. Does He Have a Case?
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 11:47 PM Don’t Just Sit There How to be more productive during your commute.
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 23 2014 5:42 PM Seriously, Evolution: WTF? Why I love the most awkward, absurd, hacked-together species.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.