Is there anything left to say that hasn’t already been written about one of New York’s—and the world’s—most famous nightclubs of all time? Perhaps there is, now that R. J. Hay, Jr., has published a neat book offering an up-close-and-personal, you-are-there account of 54 different nights spent at Studio 54. Sure, we’ve all seen the highly publicized photos—Bianca Jagger strutting around on white horseback—but what was is it like to actually be there? The grand moments immortalized by famous photographers have long sustained the untouchable aura of the club—but in its formidable, intimate way, Hay’s 54 Nights gives us a director’s-seat view inside and behind the scenes.
Featuring images he shot inside Studio 54 on only one roll of Ektachrome film, Hay’s photos offer a true, almost gritty feel of the glamour. Other treasures include the tidbits of life inside: copious notes memorializing the playlists, the dress codes, the Studio “friendships” that consisted of exchanged looks, not words: “We said little to one another. But there was no need to. ‘Conversation’ at Studio was visual and visceral, rather than verbal.” This book, indeed, is like a visceral witness to the magic of a nightspot that hasn’t been replicated since it closed its doors. You can feel it from the moment the author first gets past the door: “At the rear of the short entryway, a stylish Asian woman uttered a sultry ‘Welcome’. . . . Then we looked up and saw it: a high, domed ceiling, with a collection of theatrical lights that was unlike anything that we’d ever witnessed. . . . At this point, we’d been inside Studio 54 for less than an hour. Our minds were still racing. But one thing was already clear: we were thoroughly immersed.”