Picks and Pans Review: The Last Party
The end came one cold December morning in 1980, when 50 agents from the IRS Criminal Investigation Unit raided Studio 54. They found, hidden behind the walls of the New York City disco, several Hefty bags stuffed with nearly a million dollars in cash—illegally skimmed profits that would ensure the demise of what one denizen called "the greatest club to ever come down the pike."
With the closing of Studio 54 went a way of life, an era of epic hedonism that is captivatingly recreated in this book by a freelance journalist who was there in its heyday. Haden-Guest has collected the sober memories of more than 200 night crawlers to piece together how the club, which opened 20 years ago, became the epicenter of '70s decadence, a place where guests were handed bags of drugs as "party favors," where Salvador Dali would sweep in with an entourage of transvestites, where celebrities such as Liza Minnelli, Andy Warhol, Diana Ross and Bianca Jagger mingled in unisex bathrooms while hordes of frumpish hopefuls—dubbed "the gray people"—huddled in the street behind the infamous velvet rope.
The driving forces behind all this—and the book's central characters— were Studio 54 co-owners Steve Rubell (who died in 1989) and Ian Schrager (now a successful hotelier in New York City, Miami Beach and Los Angeles). Their starry-eyed ambition and tragic arrogance (after paying only $8,000 in taxes in 1977, when the club made millions, they both wound up in prison) gives Party a compelling emotional core. Yet Haden-Guest is most evocative when describing the magical place itself, a converted TV studio transformed into a sanctum of unrivaled revelry. As Jimmy Carter's late mother, Lillian, put it after her one and only visit to Studio 54, "I don't know if I was in heaven or hell. But it was wonderful." (Morrow, $25)