“Tone. . .I can’t go in there wit’cha. The joint creeps me out. I walked down the hallway and there’s nothing but Wicca broads, goth bitches, and gypsy types. The joint is crawling with snake pussy. The whole place gives me the willies.”–The late Ricky Viscosi, on a Halloween night at the Limelight, 1989. Chicago
Some time around 1985 , New Yorker Peter Gatien blew into town and opened a Chicago franchise of the Limelight, the notoriously cool New York nightclubthat attracted such downtown luminaries as Blondie, Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and a host of other famous and near-famous denizens of the downtown, Lower East side demimonde.
In New York, the club was fabulously cool and featured art by Julian Schnabel, Basquiat, Kenny Scharff and others who were hot during the mid ’80s. The Limelight in New York was a less avaricious and toxic place than Studio 54.
Oh, it had a VIP room like 54, it was just full of cooler VIP’s than Barry Manilow, Sylvester Stallone, and Liza Minelli, who were your dipshit-cousin-from-Long Island’s VIPs.
Studio 54 ruled the night-time club scene of the previous decade. Oh, there was no shortage of drugs, there was plenty of sex of every variety–boy/girl, girl/girl, boy/boy– you name it; plus a lot of guys getting down with women who were men. Even with the alarming rise of AIDS cases, it was still pretty wide open. There was more heroin than cocaine–the boy drug never having fully ever lost its cachet in the go-go ’80s. It was exciting, dangerous, culturally polymorphous and strangely necessary; a kind of last hold-out of Bohemia, before the real estate creeps started carving up the Lower East Side in earnest.
The Chicago Limelight wasn’t quite the same. We don’t really have movie stars or rock stars in as evident abundance as New York. Who wants to notice the local weatherman getting blown in the VIP room, or the Morning Zoo radio guy puking up his toenails over the balcony?
There are just some things one cannot UNsee.
They tried women dancing in glass booths and cages, art exhibits, cool liquor promotions, lingerie nights, book parties and a cool revolving art project in the Dome Room.
The place didn’t die for want of creative people trying to make it cool. Very good nightclub people ran the joint.
and they worked like sled-dogs promoting events there and eventually, none of it worked and for one good reason: We don’t stand in line like assholes.
For some reason, in New York, people will stand in line to spend their money. They will also endure being looked over and appraised like a veal shank at Whole Foods. All a joint needs is a velvet rope and a couple of hipster-shitheads with clipboards to start a line. Nevermind the joint can be a low lit shithole that smells like cat piss. In New York, this is cool.
I went to a joint called the Blue Angel there one night with the collector, Mickey Cartin. It was kind of a faux-Brechtian kind of deal with strippers and a guy dressed like a rabbi who, at the appropriate time, would whip out his cock and tell jokes.
People waited, like assholes, for hours to get in this place. We knew somebody there, so we just walked in, but what a shithole. It was the kind of place I was always afraid I’d be found dead in back in my drug and alcohol days, yet here they were, lines of New Yorkers. . .the women skimpily dressed in keeping with the thematic premise
of the “Blue Angel”. . .standing out in 10-degree weather waiting to get in.
When Limelight opened in Chicago, we weren’t used to standing in line and being looked over. Most of us didn’t bother with the place. I had carte blanche to come and go because I was an artist and they sought out this community for their events. Actors, artists, media creatures, the walking catalogs of the Ford and Elite Model agencies–this community was always welcome.
Joe Six-pack wasn’t. Regular, everyday working people were herded outside behind the rope and Chicagoans were creeped out by it. Standing in line to spend your money was for douchebags and pretty soon, if your friends spotted you standing outside of Limelight, you were pegged for a sucker and an overreaching shitheel. It didn’t last here, and in some ways it was a shame.
The Halloween party alone brought out the freak in everyone–naked girls lying wrapped in snakes, acrobats, crazy vampire girls, transgender, other-world girls giving hand jobs to confused LaSalle street brokers–it was a bacchanal worthy of New Orleans, or the way-out-of-hand Halloween parade in New York.
I brought my friend Ricky Viscosi. This was not his scene. He liked biker bars and dance clubs, but Limelight on Halloween freaked him to no end.
“Tone, I was in the Piss-te-jool (men’s room) and a broad walks in an whips out her crank. Tone, like a fuckin’ tree-trunk. You could beat a cobra to death with a joint like hers. This broad was packin’ and, don’t tell anyone. . . but she had a beautiful face. Like a Playboy broad and jesus, I start to stiffen’ up. Fuck. I’m coppin’ wood. I’m harder than Chinese algebra an’, if I’m honest, I’m thinkin’ I want to fuck this girl. I want to pound her like milk-fed veal. . .like a filthy animal, y’know? Barnyard shit. And this broad is a GUY!!!! Maroooonnneee. . .I’m fucked up here.”
For years I teased him about getting in touch with his wild side.
He owned a pizza place and would regale his friends with stories of that night, always finishing with, “Ya gotta BE CAREFUL. The broads might not be broads. Joint like that? Snake Pussy everywhere. You could fuck up your whole alignment, capeesh? An’ you might find yourself. . .liking it. Then, whattya’ gonna do?”
Limelight lasted five years here–just long enough to remind us of who we are.