‘Way Before the Coffee, there was Starbucks the Dance Club’

NEW YORK STORIES

“NY Nightlife Time Capsule” by Marc Silvert

Idania & Rafael Martel with Mariela Pérez, Starbucks Dance Club, New York City, June 1982.


You’ve all read about Studio 54, CBGB’s, Max’s, Xenon and the Mudd Club. I think it’s important to document another example of nightlife culture in past NYC—Starbucks disco was a not a club for the beautiful people. If you wanted a prime example of a real bridge-and-tunnel crowd in Manhattan, then this was it. But I bet an icy Seven and Seven (1 shot of Seagram 7, 7-Up and ice) the crowd here probably had way more fun than at many of those pretentious upscale places on the scene. If you lived in NYC in the early ’80s and you watched TV at all, then you couldn’t have missed the endlessly broadcast commercial for Starbucks disco.

Way before the coffee, there was Starbucks the dance club. I just remember one shot of a Farrah Faucet-shagged blonde suggestively sprawled out on a bail of hay located on the “country floor” of the multi-level disco. She was saying something about how much fun one could have here. They also showed the slide, which you could use to get from one level to the other. After extensive research on the net Googling Starbucks, I found no mention of the club anywhere.

Well actually I did once, by a Bay Ridge DJ on Myspace who says he went to the club when he was tanked and remembers very little. Starbucks was like a lost piece of history.

Once, located on an innocuous stretch of 45th Street between Third and Lexington Avenues, the club was carved out of some strange office space. It was fairly small, but had four floors where you could find all kinds of nooks to partake in the many substances so common in the drug fueled ’80s club scene.

After work, during happy hour time, the place would be packed to the rafters from Wednesday to Friday nights—Friday was the big night. I can’t believe they don’t have any after work scene like this now. In the current nightlife scene what do you do, go to a lounge after work to sit on a leather couch and spend 12 dollars for a sour apple cosmo? No thanks. Back then, on a typical week night I remember walking into the first level main dance floor around 6:30 and Shannon’s “Let the Music Play” was blasting out of a series of huge speaker towers on the dance floor. The Bass was so loud you could feel it in your chest. The floor packed with hot Latinas who often stopped there for some after work getting down before taking the subway to their casas in the Bronx. The dance floor was a veritable melting pot of bridge and tunnel office workers out to cut loose after another day of partitioned drudgery. Let’s just say it was a very multi-ethnic mixed crowd. You could see really drunk pick-up teams from Bay Ridge asking every female in the place if they want to go “party.” And in this place, those guys sometimes actually scored. A common sight was the groups of Philippine nurses looking to unwind after a day of wearing white shoes. To add to the mix you had many exotic nationalities in the club due to the many workers from the nearby United Nations. Also a lot of brothers from Brooklyn and the Bronx tearing up the dance floor with rad break dancing, perfectly executing those really cool robot moves. The music was slamming with top 40 dance tracks, and the charts were still filled with great songs. A typical set included cuts like “Wanna Be Starting Something” by Michael Jackson, “Somebody’s Watching Me” by Rockwell, that song “Rumors” by The Timex Social Club and Grandmaster Flash’s “White Lines.” Yay for Arthur Baker.

There was a DJ on every floor—two of which were disco, one rock and the top floor was country. With no Studio 54 elitist door policy, the club was a truly a peoples’ disco. The second floor was dark and might have had some type of nautical theme. One wall was a line of lockers leading me to speculate that this location was once a school or health club. Smoking weed or doing lines of coke was not uncommon on this floor. The third floor was a balcony overlooking the dance floor on the first floor. More great places to get better acquainted with the very drunk dance partner you hooked up with on floor one. Then there was the fourth floor, the “country” one you kept seeing in the commercial.

And there they were, the stacks of hay scattered all around the sides of the room. There was a bar up there and another small dance floor. You could dance some more, get a Seven and Seven and plop yourself down on a bail of hay next to a wasted legal secretary. What could be better? I don’t remember what else made the country floor country, but I guess the hay was enough. I think eventually they got rid of the hay and it became just another level of this after work disco utopia. What a memory!


29 Responses to “‘Way Before the Coffee, there was Starbucks the Dance Club’”

  1. You have misspelled a very imporatnt reference . The club you reffered to as Zennon was actually spelled Xenon.

  2. important……corrected

  3. Thank you Anna. Actually this is not my article. I found it at Discomusic.com and found it very interesting since I went to this club back in the early 80’s. Thanks for reading, and if you have any additional information about Starbucks, and especially Starship Discovery 1, please contribute to our effort to rescue some of this Manhattan clubs. Thanks for reading.

    Rafael

  4. Ther was NOT a DJ on every floor. There was Jim Maxwell on the first floor and Dan (pooch) Pucciarelli on the third floor. That was in 1985 & 86 till it closed.

  5. We went here after graduation in 1984 – well several of the then popular clubs…..If I recall starbucks had a lighted glass floor and a slide that went between two of the floors. It was a VERY cool scene. Now I worl around the corner and you would never know how this place rocked when you walk past now.

  6. Prom night 1984 from Long Island, what a blast!

  7. Don’t forget the bargain it was,even then, $15.00 to get in and all you could drink as well as breakfast served around 4 am………….I loved that place ! Nothing could compare today……………

  8. What a great time we had there back in the day. After work, a bunch of us would get together and go before 8:00, when it was $10.00 fir all you can drink (they also served food/I remember the pizza and breakfast). I remember the 4th floor with the hay, wagon, and pool table. The music was always good. I believe we hung out on the 3rd floor the most. I still remember listening to Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me Baby,” and Soft Cells’ “Tainted Love.” I remember the slide. It was on 45th Street between Lexington and Third Avenue. Thanks for bringing back some great memories about the original Starbucks.

  9. I was a bartender there. What a great place to work!!! Joey C.

    • If any of you read this that I used to work with look me up on facebook. Joe Cusumano Mention Starbucks.. And I will friend you. Take care..

      • i used to bartend there, too. I am glad to see people still remember what a great and wild place it was. I will never forget it. Still remember the bouncers carrying bodies over their shoulders going past me and dumping them outside, and the poor bathroom attendent, stuck in the tiny, putrid restroom with all the vomit, trying to make tips.
        Jocelyn K

      • I guess we met Hank Apple

  10. I DJ’ed there a few times. Don’t forget they served Expresso on the 4th floor!!

  11. I went to Starbucks in 83. I remember the lighted dance floor, my first hard drink was a “baci ball”, the slide, the awesome music on every level. But the one thing that I don’t remember is the country music. I could have sworn that the 4th floor was alternative/rock. I couldn’t stand country music back then (though I live in NC and I do listen to it now) All I know is that I went to those other big clubs mentioned on this page and I preferred Starbucks because of it’s no hassle door policy and the people were the best. I really loved growing up in the 80’s and will cherish my time forever. Thanks for the memories! Sandy C

  12. Awesome place for the prom! Greta article, thanks.

  13. I have been looking for some history on the club. I met my wife there 27 years ago. I also remember that there were fireplaces on the first floor and we sat near one for about 2 hours talking. Little did I know that my sense of humor got her attention. No double half-caff latte at that Starbucks. I thought that maybe it was a converted brownstone. Anyone remember better?

  14. Alabama Slammers and Vodka Collins… wow the memories. There was always at least one fight a night there. Did anyone ever eat the food?
    I asked a girl to dance and she turned me down so I walked a way. Then “High Energy” came on and she asked me to dance… I married her

    • Had my first Alabama Slammer there!!! LOVED IT… surprised no one mentioned hanging out on the roof top!!!!

  15. Always had an awesome time with my Bronx buddies…went to many clubs back then none could compare..some of the best times of my life!!

  16. Loved the Prom Special…show up in a limo and no id required $25 open bar…

  17. I loved this place…we would go on Thursdays after work…I don’t remember the hay bales though. I think they used tape a live Saturday night dance show up on the top floor…

  18. Thanks to all of you who have commented on this post. It was a great place to me in 1982, since 1976 I’ve had danced on the best NY clubs of the mid 70’s. I truly lived the disco era with a passion. It was a time when young people went out on weekends to dance, and dance made them free in a world that will never come back. It was a generation that needed to get over the violent 60’s and the Viet nam War. Dancing was a subculture at Starship Discovery 1, where the best NY Hustle dancers in NY-and probably the world- congregated on Fridays and Saturday nights. I also danced at Starbucks, and I will never forget one night when a young lady, with whom I danced before, asked me to dance, and I hustled with her and her gorgeous friends, one of them was named Sarah or Marah, I hardly recall. I only danced with these great young ladies, who were excellent hustle dancers. Never did I have a extensive conversation with them but I remember them for their friendliness, their freedom to express themselves their great clothes, beauty, and their incredible dancing skills. At the time I was temporarily separated from my wife Idania. By “coincidence” she found the club I was regularly patronizing after the great Disco Revolution of the late 70’s. Once we met we danced the night away. I remember during that time Luther Vandross “Never Too Much” being a very popular and personal song to me. My wife and I went back, we were in love, and have been together for 36 years. Idania, who is in the picture with me, and her sister Mariela, in front of the second floor elevator, which you could see from 47th street took that picture in the Summer of 1982. Eventually, Idania and I had a great daughter, and we’re still together strong. It was a great club in its time. I will write my memories of Starbucks (I think I already wrote some memories of this club in another post in my blog). I never saw bouncers taking out people by force, then again, my purpose in going dancing was never to provoke bouncers but to dance and have a great time. I’m sure it must have happened. In my memories all who worked there were nice people, they just wanted us to have a good time and come back to the club. If any of the ladies whom I’ve mentioned read this please post your comment, and again I thank you ALL for your comments and memories of what once was the original Starbucks. God Bless!

  19. I was a part time bar tender at StarBucks during 1984. I had just arrived into NY from the west coast and hooked up with a bar tender [name withheld] she worked there for 2 years. [name withheld] got me the part time job when one of the other bar tenders called off. My 2nd night of work I was on the 3rd floor during happy hour when I was educated that during those hours floor 4 was closed and that was the place where bar tenders would take freshly happy hour lubricated patrons for any and all pleasures. After 6 months of working mainly Wed and Fridays I had worn myself out and left the job. I will say, having been to 54, Limelight, and many others that for sheer fun, Starbucks was tops.

  20. Thank you all for your comments. Many people are unaware that before there was the coffee store there was Starbucks, the dance club. Have a great 2014!

  21. I loved Starbucks but the rooftop was my favorite !

    • It was great all three floors. Remember the elevator that was seen from the street with neon lights? The 80’s was a great time, just like the late 70’s. Thanks for your comment. May you and your family have a great New Year!

  22. I was a dancer on the scaffolding which was on the first floor. Does anyone remember the unitards with the thong up the butt? At the time it was great “extra” money for a struggling trained dancer in the city. I was a newbie from Beaverton, Oregon. I dated and lived with the DJ Tommy Lewis around 82-84? I thought I was out of my mind for thinking it was called Starbucks. So glad I decided to Google it. Such a blast from the past and my youth. Love it!

  23. Thank you all for your comments. Starbucks was a really nice place to dance and have fun in the early 80’s. I’ll never forget one night that the great Tony Curtis came in dressed as Zorro, with his entourage. I was dancing with my wife Idania, and the nest thing I see is Curtis dancing next to us. I didn’t say a thing and kept on dancing. In retrospect I should have come up to him and told him that I’ve seen his movies since I was a kid in Cuba, like the unforgettable “Black Shield”, but in NY style I let him alone with a number of women flocking around him. It must have been 1982, and he was still in dancing shape. It was a great time, most people were polite, dressed great, and wanted to have a good time. The music has changed from the great era of the late 70’s but still was excellent. I posted this article written by Marc Silvert because I thought it would bring back memories to those who went to this club, and to let the young know that long before there was Starbucks, the coffee shop, there was a dance club, with a neon lights elevator, great people, great music in a NY that will remain in our memories and never come back. I have my own memories of Starbucks, and I will write them but as far as I researched no one has describe the club as Marc has. Again, thank you for the comments and hits in this post. What a time it was!

  24. I met the love of my life at Starbucks — most likely in 1982. I went to an after-work set there and met Shyvonne in the bar area. She was a tall, very attractive young lady about 19 or 20 y.o who lived in Harlem at the time. Near the bar there was a coin-operated machine that spitted out some sort of prize ( gum, ring or candy). It was a conversation starter for us. She took my number and called me several days later. We soon fell in love and became inseparable for quite some time. I will always remember Starbucks because it is where I met Shyvonne, whom I have not seen in over 25 years. I had just moved to New York City 12 – 18 months earlier and also recall going to Danceteria on Sunday nights, Studio 54 (juice bar days), and the Ritz ( where I saw Prince perform live in ’81). I also used to frequent Leviticus (45 W. 33rd) and 70 West in the early ’80s. Great memories!!!

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