'Studio 54' documentary tells tale of wild, iconic New York City nightclub

EAST VILLAGE, New York City (WABC) -- "Music plays. Everyone's dancing, closer and closer," or so goes the old tune called "Native New Yorker." And 40 years ago, when that record first came out, so many New Yorkers were dancing at Studio 54.

Watching a new documentary about the club, I found myself wondering, "Where did all those yesterdays go?"

One of a new documentary's many narrators says, "When you walked through those blacked out doors, you were in another world."

Andy Warhol, Calvin Klein, Elizabeth Taylor, Mick Jagger and Michael Jackson were just a few of the regulars. The heyday of Studio 54 lasted less than three years, yet it came to define an age of excess in our city not seen before or since.

"If you wanted to explain in one sentence to someone, a millennial, what 'Studio 54' was, you'd say, 'This was the greatest disco of all time,'" director Matt Tyrnauer said. "The greatest nightclub of all time."

It was created by two guys from Brooklyn, the late Steve Rubell and his pal, Ian Schrager.

"We forgot about the liquor license," Schrager said, and that was just the start of their problems with the authorities -- who found bags of cash and drugs in the club's basement.

The pair went to jail after pleading guilty to tax evasion, got out and tried to forget about Studio 54.

"I had some very unpleasant memories about it," Schrager said. "It almost destroyed me and Steve, and so it took a long time for the wound to heal. I still have the scar."

The new documentary marks the first time Schrager has talked in depth about the famous club.

"I was very, very uncomfortable with it, because I'm a very, very private person," he said.

But after getting a pardon from President Barack Obama, Schrager figured it was time to come clean and cooperate with Tyrnauer. That still wasn't easy.

"All the scenes that I wanted out were what made the movie good," Schrager said.

In the end came, it provided a sense of closure for him.

"I committed a crime," he said. "You know, I paid for it. I'm proof the system works."

Proof because he staged one of the greatest second acts in American business. Today, Schrager's company builds and operates hotels in New York City and all around the world, with more opening every year. We interviewed him at one of his hip hotels called PUBLIC in the East Village.

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