Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Saint-at-Large Black Party


Tonight marks the 30th anniversary of the infamous Saint Black Party here in NYC. The Black Party was and is, at it's core, a huge dance party - with the "black" representing leather, masculinity and foreboding.

The party originated at the Saint disco/nightclub - which opened in 1980 in the old Fillmore East Theater in Manhattan's East Village. The Saint's creator, Bruce Mailman, spent almost $5 million (an unheard amount in those days) to renovate the old hippie concert venue. What Mailman created set the standard for nightclubs of that time. The huge dance floor was topped by a planetarium dome - and the lighting was controlled by a huge spaceship-like projector which loomed over the dance floor. At various points of the night/morning/next day - the lighting maestro could create the illusion of dancing under the night sky - or produce intense lighting effects that kept the dancers moving.


When the the Saint opened, it was wildly successful. It was a members-only club - selling memberships for up to $250 per year (which sold out almost immediately). The Saint did not have a liquor license at first - but it didn't need one since various drugs fueled the party quite nicely. Original Saint members still speak in awe of nights spent dancing under the dome - a quasi-religious experience for many of them. Saint-goers felt as if they were members of a "tribe" - dancing to the same tribal rhythms, together as gay men. Yes, this tribe wasn't perfect - it was almost all white and primarily well-to-do (or at least middle class) - but the Saint provided a safe harbor where this particular tribe could gather and be themselves without fear.




Almost as popular as the Saint's huge dance floor was the balcony - where one could view the dancers through the planetarium scrim, and partake in the sexuality of the day. The balcony was where the action was - and, as was the custom of the time, sex was given and taken without guilt. The Saint was a place BY men and FOR men - and the hyper-masculine atmosphere helped fuel the sexual escapades.


Unfortunately this gay super party didn't last for long. During the second "season" (the club closed during the summer - so as not to compete with Fire Island), men began dying from a mysterious "gay cancer". For a while, the disease that ultimately became known as AIDS was nicknamed "Saint's Disease", based on the number of club members who died.

The Saint dealt with a dwindling membership by lowering fees, admitting women, serving liquor, and eventually having "straight nights". Finally, in 1988, the Saint closed with a party that went non-stop for two days.

After the club closed, the Saint-At-Large continued to hold annual parties at various venues - the most famous of them being the annual leather extravaganza - the Black Party. The Black Party was the first "circuit party" - the first dance party that attracted gay men from all over the globe. It is the granddaddy of them all - and is still going strong 30 years after the first Black Party held back at the original Saint.


I went to my first Black Party in 1993 at the Roseland Ballroom in Times Square - shortly after moving to NYC. I saved up the money I made working at Macy's to buy a ticket, squeezed into black jeans and a tight black t-shirt (I was skinny then), and accessorized with a studded leather bracelet I had bought on Christopher Street. I heard that only drunks and old queens showed up to the Black Party before 4:00 am - and I almost slept through my alarm while taking my "disco nap" in my rented room in Brooklyn. It would have probably served me right for being such a shallow little Twink.

I will never forget arriving at that first Black Party. The music THROBBED. The men looked like MEN, were gorgeous, and most were HIGH AS KITES. This was the first place I ever saw people snorting cocaine - and those bitches would have put Amy WineWarehouse, Kate Moss, and Lindsay Lohan to shame. These men were GOOD AT THIS.


Off to one side of the dance floor were the "Live Acts" - which culminated every year in a demonstration that involved "giving your partner a hand" (so to speak). Believe it or not, I used to get bored during the "shows", because the actual party-goers were much more entertaining. However, one year I did watch a gorgeous musclestud get EXTREMELY intimate with a traffic cone. That was interesting.


And then there was the balcony. Lets just say that for one night a year, the Roseland Ballroom balcony and the old Saint balcony have a lot in common. But what happens at the Black Party, stays at the Black Party.


I probably attended for 6 or 7 years in a row, until I grew tired of large clubs/parties. I always felt like the Black Party was an endurance test - like running a marathon - and I just didn't have the stamina anymore.

So, for those of you who are headed to Roseland tonight - have fun, take it easy, be safe ... and say "hello" to the boys on the balcony ... er ... DANCE FLOOR for me...

15 comments:

Eric Arvin said...

Traffic cone...eeeeek!! ;-)

kayce. said...

got DAYum, that's one big party! sounds like studio 54 but much, much crazier.

Miss Ginger Grant said...

What became of the old theatre was the original Saint? Is it still a club? Probably straight I'm guessing....

Beth said...

That dancefloor is amazing!

It was fascinating to read about this. I'd never heard of that party or the club. Ahh, the 80's. What a wild ride!

I loved the "disco nap." I used to try to take a nap before I went out dancing. When I started waking up a few hours later, decided I didn't feel like going out, and figured I'd just turn in for the night, I knew it was time to hang up my dancin' shoes. LOL

Hugs, Beth

David Dust said...

Oh Miss Ginger - I wish it were still a club (even a straight one). But this is Manhattan, and if I remember correctly the builing was torn down to make way for Condos.

I am so sad I never got to go to the club itself...

XOXOXOXOXOXOXOX

Beth said...

sounds like you had some BIG fun in the early days Tranny!!! ahhh, good times, huh?

and a TRAFFIC CONE??! ouch!

Sam said...

Wow, You are one of the luckiest ho's ever. I'm so jealous when I read the history of David Dust.

timmy said...

Thanx for the history lesson. I've always heard of The Saint but didn't know anything about it.

curt said...

Wonderful post...A whole 'nother side of David Dust!

Really, really fascinating. Briefly considered going just to say that I'd been there once (but now feel like I've already been there)! So thank you!

Anonymous said...

I was a member of the original Saint- after if officially closed it was reopened without the dome or most of the beautiful touches to the club-
this ghostly reincarnation lasted for another year or two before it closed again- was empty for years & subject to countless rumors- then it was demolished to make an NYU dorm...
the original front door area (from the Filmore East era actually) is now all that's left & it's a bank!

mistress maddie said...

AH! Good times!

Wonder Man said...

A lot happens there, I just saw a camera phone recording...that's some wild stuff

Berry Blog said...

Love this story telling...the history of gay life in NYC so to speak. I DO recall the shock I got my second stint in the city when friends took me to the liberated 8th avenue bars. Like nothing was hidden anymore...nothing.

Mark in DE said...

I'm exhausted just THINKING about it. If you're young and/or high I guess its easier to keep going for so long.

Joel said...

I never attended the closing party, but danced many a night underneath that dome. The music would be pounding and the light machine would slowly rise up out of the floor like a mechanical flower. Everyone would rush under it - more than a thousand shirtless men. It could project the entire night sky up against the dome. The Saint truly broke all records.

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