- The Saint (club)
The Saint opened in the old premises of the
Fillmore East, a 1926 built former theater turned classic rock and rollvenue of the late 1960s and early 1970s, at 105 Second Avenue in New York City's East Village at 6th Avenue. The Saint was opened by Bruce Mailman and his business partner and his genius architectural designer Charles Terrell. The original opening date was set for July 30th 1980 but construction delays forced a deferral to September 20th, 1980, with Alan Dodd as DJ. The club was a success even before it opened. Membership packs with floor plans were distributed and before the club opened 2,500 memberships had been sold at $150 each for the first 700 members and for $250 for the rest and a waiting list established. It was financed in large part by Mailman's other gay venture, the nearby hughly successful St Mark's Baths - a gay mecca at the time. The Saint renovation cost $4,500,000, being $2,000,000 over budget. Money was spent repairing the roof, paying 6 years of back taxes to the city and fitting out the interior. It opened initially as a private membership Gay bar|gay nightclub (returning the idea of a club to "club"), and set the standard for discopresentation, lighting, sound system, hydraulicsand technical support.
However, by the end of its second season, AIDS had begun eating through the fabric of gay life in New York and began to take a heavy and relentless toll on the Saint's membership. Change came quickly. Membership costs were lowered and the season extended into the summer so that the club was open almost all year round. By its seventh season, membership costs had fallen to $50. It also opened weekly for a straight crowd. Furthermore, by 1985, the famous Black Party performers were for the first time required to perform safe sex. By 1987, the performance emphasised jack off, phone sex and mud wrestling, all a far cry from the club's early days which even, on one celebrated occasion, a boa constrictor as used as a prop.
The Saturday night DJs at The Saint were at the top of their careers: Jim Burgess,
Roy Thode, Alan Dodd, Robbie Leslie, Mark Thomas, Terry Sherman, Shaun Buchanan, Michael Fierman, Warren Gluck, Wayne Scott, Chuck Parsons,Michael Cavalone, Nao Nakamura and Sharon White all had their time in the booth. The lighting was operated by Richard Tucker, Mark Ackerman, Jorge Villardell, Richard Erskine, Tony Devisia and Richard Sabala.
The Saint was also known for the quality of its performers. At show times a part of the dome would retract and stars such as Grace Jones, Betty Buckley, Tina Turner, Sam Harris and George Hearn would perform. The club became the standard against which all New York clubs were measured - many opened, closed and remodelled in the shadow of this giant. It was renowned for its invitations, design, annual makeovers, and even for its extravagant floral arrangements.
The Saint was therefore technically and creatively one of the best dance clubs of its era. The circular dancefloor was topped by a perforated seventy-six foot diameter by thirty-eight foot high
planetariumdome. In addition to hiding the speakers, the dome served as a spectacular palette for the lighting effects. A circular opening at the top of the dome could be automatically opened and closed to allow a large mirrored disco ball to be lowered into the space. The speaker cabinets were located and attached directly to the outer surface of the dome, creating a very euphonic "surround sound" effect. In the centre of the dance floor was a circular light tree constructed on a hydraulic lift it contained 1,500 lights and as its centrepiece was a rotating, dual Spitz Space System hemisphere star projector ten times brighter than that used in planetariums. Mailman had approached Zeissbut that company refused to supply a system, believing it was an inappropriate use for their system - that of a gay club.
Directly underneath the dance floor level was a large lounge with several juice bars. Beer on tap was sometimes served for free to avoid the licensing oversight of the
New York State Liquor Authority. Above and outside the dome, was what became the controversial balcony which overlooked the dancefloor through the scrim of the dome, where men relaxed and indulged in the sexual mores of the time. Several times during the year themed parties such as the "Black Party" and the "White Party" attracted celebrities from around the world. The Saint is considered by most disco historians to be the precursor to the Circuit party.
The closing party for the "original" planetarium version of The Saint in its eighth season lasted three days from Friday night (29 April 1988) through Monday (2 May 1988). There was a live performance every hour culminating in
Marlena Shawsinging "Touch Me In The Morning".
The club re-opened briefly in the same location for a while, minus the planetarium dome and most of the more elaborate architectural touches, which had been dismantled after the "official" closing in 1988. The very last party, without dome, was Saturday March 31, 1990 when [The Saint At Large Inc presented 'One Last Time', a benefit for AMFAR and CRINY with DJ's Terry Sherman, Michael Fierman and Warren Gluck. On the lights, Richard Sabala. Advance tickets $40. However, it wasn't the same.
Since its closing, the tradition of The Saint continues to a degree in the form of The Saint At Large, producers of various events, most notable New York's annual
Black Partytraditionally held every March at the Roseland Ballroom, a NYC landmark. The Black Party remains one of largest gay nightclub based events in the world and is due to celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2009. However the Saint at Large does not duplicate, nor could it hope to, the Second Avenue Club, with its purpose built space, lavish invitations, spectacular lighting, state of art sound system and atmosphere which has gone, will never be repeated and is much lamented.
* [http://www.saintdisco.com/ At The Saint, New York, NY: The Life and Times of New York and Manhattan's Most Legendary Disco and Club]
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