Arts & Theater

Book Talk: We Started a Nightclub

The Segal Center celebrates the publication of We Started a Nightclub by Brian Butterick, Susan Martin, and Kestutis Nakas. A panel with John Jesurun, Kestutis Nakas, and others. Moderated by Frank Hentschker.

What Studio 54 was for disco, the Pyramid Cocktail Lounge was for the alternative scene of 1980s downtown New York. Located at 101 Avenue A, the Pyramid offered a mixture of cultures: from groundbreaking, irreverent theatre and experimental music to “anti-drag” that challenged the norms of gender binaries. It began in 1981 when the East Village was considered a dangerous no man’s land, rents were cheap, AIDS was still unknown and a new generation of creators broke the mold and went on to make art in an atmosphere of unbridled celebration. Theme nights and bar dancers, fixtures of the downtown avant-garde and kids escaping their past all added to the club’s popularity. At the Pyramid, John Jesurun and Ann Magnuson rubbed elbows with They Might Be Giants, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and 3 Teens Kill 4, who shared a stage with Lady Bunny and Hapi Phace. By offering a home to obscure, genre-defying and unpolished acts, the Pyramid played a crucial role in shaping the city’s underground cultural scene for decades to come. In 2021, the Pyramid closed permanently. Though the venue was no longer the hotspot of its early years, its closure prompted an outpouring of reminiscence and mourning for a bygone era, amid a broad renewed interest in the art and culture of 1980s New York.

We Started a Nightclub is an inside look at the cultural history of the East Village in the early 1980s. The project, which began in 2006, represents the only in-depth exploration of the Pyramid’s origins. An oral history comprising more than seventy-five interviews, it covers the early years of the Pyramid from the time of its founding through its rise, near demise and rebirth. The book includes previously unpublished photos, flyers and other ephemera, as well as excerpts from more than fifty press releases written between 1983 and 1986.

Image:  “Three Teens Kill 4”, courtesy of Lynn M. Grabowski

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