From the 82 Club to Club 82

From the 82 Club to Club 82

Debbie Harry’s campy pre-Blondie group the Stilettoes were right at home performing at Club 82 on a bill with Wayne County. During the early 1950s and 1960s, when it was known as the 82 Club, this Lower East Side venue hosted nightclub revues that attracted A-list stars looking for edgier entertainment. Judy Garland frequented the basement venue and, according to a legendary showbiz rumor, movie star Errol Flynn once unzipped his pants and played the club’s piano with his penis. It had been one of the premier venues for drag queens—who were largely shielded from homophobia behind its closed doors. “I used to go to the 82 Club,” recalled Agosto Machado. “Gray Line Tours used to go down there, and they would advertise female impersonators there with a postcard of the showgirls in costume, which said, ‘Who’s No Lady?’ ” The drag queens who appeared at the 82 Club were relatively traditional—a far cry from the likes of Wayne County and Jackie Curtis, who never bothered passing as “real” women. After Stonewall, gay men no longer felt that they needed to hide behind the closed doors of Mafia-run bars; the crowds at the 82 Club thinned because drag queens could freely camp it up in the streets, and gay culture was also shifting away from a femme aesthetic. “There was a big difference between what had been gay in the fifties,” Tony Zanetta said, “and what gay life was in the late sixties, early seventies. The whole macho man thing emerged. Drag had a special place within gay culture, but after Stonewall it changed. The 82 Club had basically emptied out.” The neighborhood was also deteriorating; the cashier at the nearby corner bodega sat behind an inch of bulletproof Plexiglas, and on one occasion a man was gunned down in front of the 82 Club’s battered steel door.

From Chapter 30 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore


Club 82
82 E 4th St, New York, NY 10003