© Bouncer outside Palladium. Photo by Steve Eichner Bouncer outside Palladium. Photo by Steve Eichner
New York City after dark in the ‘90s was an ecstatic fever dream fueled by club kids’ outrageous fantasies, and as house photographer for Peter Gatien’s four iconic clubs, Steve Eichner had a ringside seat for all the action. To celebrate the October 20 release of “In the Limelight: The Visual Excess of NYC Night Life in the 90s,”Eichner’s new book with Gabriel Sanchez, Patch takes you back to his old stomping grounds. Our second club-hop stop transports you to the storied Palladium. Now an NYU dorm, it had a long, fascinating history in all its previous incarnations.
First opened in 1927 as a deluxe movie palace called Academy of Music, the ornate theatre on East 14th Street morphed into a live concert venue that hosted rock superstars like the Stones and the Dead in the ‘60s and ‘70s. In 1985, the rechristened Palladium was converted into a high-end nightclub by Studio 54 vets Ian Shrager and Steve Rubell, who handed the keys to the kingdom to Peter Gatien in 1992. Gatien worked his own mix-master magic on Palladium, which became a hip-hop hotspot for rising stars like Naughty by Nature, LL Cool J and Kris Kross, staged outrageous fashion shows and art installations, and drew A-list celebs and dressed-to-kill club kids in droves.
© Provided by Patch The scene at Palladium in the 90s. Photo by Steve Eichner © Provided by Patch The scene at Palladium in the 90s. Photo by Steve Eichner © Provided by Patch Nicolas Cage. Photo by Steve Eichner
The frenetic action started out on 14th Street, where the passing parade of would-be club-goers, bounced-out drunks, and street vendors hoping to feed them looked like something out of a Fellini movie.
“A sense of excitement and energy radiated throughout the loud din of people talking, screaming, and hooting in anticipation of what awaited them inside the humongous space,” recalls Eichner. “Police barricades were set up to corral the throngs of partiers into coherent lines, while Club Security surveyed the crowd and allowed any VIPs to skip the switchback line that snaked back and forth. From time to time, you would see drunken idiots being tossed out by the bouncers, mostly for fighting over a girl, while hotdog vendors waited patiently until dawn for hungry patrons starved from hours on the dance floor to empty out into the street.”
© Provided by Patch Outside Palladium. Photo by Steve Eichner © Provided by Patch Party at Palladium. Photo by Steve Eichner © Provided by Patch Mr. T from the A-Team. Photo by Steve Eichner © Provided by Patch Amber Valletta (left). Photo by Steve Eichner
If and when you got into Palladium, boy, was it worth the wait. “The first visual explosion was the staircase,” says Eichner. “Glass circles were lit from the bottom creating an awe-inspiring futuristic look. Ascending those steps was like walking up into club heaven. You knew you had arrived somewhere special.”
© Provided by Patch Dancer at Palladium. Photo by Steve Eichner
During the insanely creative fashion parties hosted by nightlife diva Suzanne Bartsch, you might see a Greek god-like guy gilded from head to toe in gold, clad in nothing but a G-string and silver platform boots. Or a totally surreal female model sporting a bikini made of giant plush chicken heads.
“It was the teenage bedroom I always dreamed of having,” says Eichner. “The room had a psychedelic feel with lava lamps on pedestals, hot pink and deep blue fur seat covers, 3D reflective rainbow metallic furniture, and electric space orbs. The perfect background for the Pepe Jeans shoot I did there. The team that day was inspired: the models, hair and makeup, stylists, and my photo assistant all got into the vibe. I enjoyed working with all of these creative people.”
© Provided by Patch Club Kid. Photo by Steve Eichner © Provided by Patch Performer. Photo by Steve Eichner
Eichner also snapped plenty of celebs at Palladium, from Chris Rock and Rosie Perez out on the town to Mickey Rourke backstage with House of Pain. But whether he was shooting A-listers or club kids, “when I rolled in with my camera, I was like a rock star,” recalls Eichner. “Everyone was there to be photographed, and I was the window on the world.”
Check out more from the series below:
All photos are by Steve Eichner and are featured in his new book called In The Limelight - The Visual Ecstasy of NYC Nightlife in the 90s
Steve Eichner is a legendary nightlife photographer. After his tenure in the clubs, he worked as a staff photographer for Womens Wear Daily for nearly two decades. His photographs have been published in Vogue, The New York Times, Newsweek, TIME, Rolling Stone, People, Vanity Fair, Cosmo, Details and GQ.
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