Great Clubs You Wish You’d Been To Part One: Xenon NYC

Douglas Trumbull designed the space ship that featured in the main area, Studio 54 acolytes derogatorily referred to it as ‘Xerox’ and it was constructed in what was an old porn theatre, but when Xenon opened on a Wednesday in June 1978, it was filled by the consegnetti of the era including Peter Frampton, Tony Curtis, Paul Simon, Mariel Hemingway, Bob Evans, Liv Ullman, Polly Bergen, Tony Roberts, Ahmet Ertegun and Bob McAdoo.  It likely would have featured more celebrities at its opening if the owners hadn’t tipped off the press and had photographers waiting outside the door for their arrival.

Mariel Hemmingway on Opening Night June 1978 – Photo Stolen From Web

Located at 123rd West 43rd Street in Midtown, it was named for the word ‘Stranger’ in Greek, and was opened by Swiss / Italian restaurateur Peppo Vanini and concert promoter Howard Stein who had met at Studio 54 and realised that disco would be lucrative hustle for a further year or two at least.

Howard Stein Circa Late 1970sPhoto Stolen From Web

With silver walls, it’s mothership and a giant ‘X’ floating above the dance floor, the club also featured a mezzanine with “… seven ‘playpen’ areas, featuring electronic games and huge couches for lounging and watching the dancers and the various visual effects that descend from the ceiling, including a neon shooting gallery, three gigantic pinball machines and several Maypoles” as noted in a contemporary New York Times article.

Inside The ClubPhotos Stolen From Web

While its patrons popped ‘ludes or sniffed poppers and coke, tunes like Dancing in Outer Space by Atmosfear, Free Man by South Shore or I Don’t Want To Lose It by Bambu inflamed their senses. Future 1980s club hero Jellybean Benitez (who went on to be the main DJ for famed 1980s venue The Funhouse, was Madonna’s boyfriend and produced her break-out single Holiday), did his DJ apprenticeship here under the tutelage of Tony Smith.

Madonna & JellybeanPhoto Stolen From Web

Tony SmithPhoto Stolen From Web

According to famed night club photographer Bill Berstein, “They had these moving sets, backdrops that would [change] during the night,” he says. “Every half an hour, 45 minutes, you would look up and see a different room.” The club generally catered for a more upwardly mobile, straighter and whiter crowd than Studio 54, without being as white and working class as Bay Ridge’s 2001 Disco, made famous by 1977’s Saturday Night Fever.

BouncersPhotos Stolen From Web

Satisfied PatronPhotos Stolen From Web

Elton John, Andy Warhol, Jerry Hall, Unknown & Ahmet Ertgun Circa 1978 – Photo Stolen From Web

Divine and Grace JonesPhotos Stolen From Web

Various Good TimesPhotos Stolen From Web

Current Day Façade Circa 2015 – Screenshot By Author

During its time as a night club, it was featured in the surprisingly good 1981 Sylvester Stallone movie Nighthawks…

And in much the same way that Italian movies of the late 1970s and early 1980s tried to rip off all films emanating from Hollywood, they also tried to rip off New York nightclubs, creating their own version of Xenon in the early 1980s with demonstrably poor results.

 

When disco finally died an ignoble death in 1984, sadly so did Xenon. Howard Stein passed away in October 2007 at the age of 62, while Vanini died in 2012 after complications of Parkinsons disease. John F. Kennedy Jr., who wa a frequent visitor to Xenon in the early 1980s was noted in Jerry Oppenhemer’s book RFK Jr, as being “…truly saddened when he heard [Vanini], his ‘disco daddy’ had passed…

As undoubtedly many others were too. Were you there? Any recollections would be most welcome.

Written and posted by Horatio Cornblower. Copyright 2017. All rights reserved.

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