Vintage ads for downtown clubs from the 1980s

They’re long gone, the spaces they once occupied now housing much less cool venues—even a shopping mall.

But in the early and mid-1980s, these were the dance clubs and after-hours spots where the cool kids hung out.

Save the Robots operated at 25 Avenue B—near the corner of Second Street, a notorious heroin cop spot—as a semi-legal underground club. Club kids, drag queens, and bar employees from other establishments finally off work after 4 a.m. were frequent customers.

“In the olden days of a mere two years ago, 8BC had a log cabin ambiance—dirt floor, no heat—and didn’t meet a single licensing requirement,” wrote C. Carr in On Edge: Performance Art at the End of the Twentieth Century, published in the 1980s.

The performance space-slash-club only lasted a few short years, but it hosted artists and bands from Karen Finley to They Might Be Giants, with Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat on the walls.

Nightlife king Peter Gatien opened the Limelight in a circa-1845 Chelsea Episcopal church in 1983. Its rise as a goth dance club and club kid drug mecca has been pretty well-documented.

Who would have though that in 2011, it would be the site of the Limelight Marketplace, sort of an upscale mall with boutiques and food stalls?

All ads come from various issues of The East Village Eye.

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18 Responses to “Vintage ads for downtown clubs from the 1980s”

  1. prb Says:

    seriously though, what corner in the east village and lower east side was NOT a “heroin cop spot” in the 80s?

    • Peter Bennett Says:

      I remember East 3rd btwn Band C as being the worst. There were lookouts stationed along the block and when the cops drove by, they would scream “red light, red light” in Spanish and the streets became deserted in seconds.

  2. prb Says:

    ps, can anyone else confirm that Save The Robots got its name from the Robert Sheckley short story “The Battle”

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    It seems to always come up in punk and drug memoirs chronicling the 1980s. Just like East 12th Street gets referenced as a hangout for prostitutes.

  4. Joly MacFie Says:

    @prb There’s something to what you say but 2nd and B was surely the most notorious.

    There’s some great footage in the Clayton Patterson film ‘Captured’ of the lower the bucket out the window sales procedure.

    I was regular habitue of STR. Loved it. Hanging out on the sandy floor upstairs, and then dancing with the after work strippers from Billy’s downstairs. One had to remember to bring dark glasses for the blaring daylight when one emerged.

    Co-proprietor Denis Pruvot can be found on facebook. I’ll direct him here to answer the name query.

  5. Peter Bennett Says:

    From 1979 to 1987 I worked at St Marks Bar & Grill and other bars in the East Village. I spent many nights and mornings after work at Save the Robots and other little hole in the walls. 8BC was a very funky and cool place to go too. I used to work at nights and photograph during the day and I am currently working on a book of the East Village during the eighties from the pictures I took then. Here is a link to a photo of 8BC during the daylight hours and you can really see what East 8th street looked like then (1984), 8BC is on the left. I also have an interior shot of the club, but it is not scanned yet.

    • petey Says:

      “I am currently working on a book of the East Village during the eighties from the pictures I took then”

      keep us posted, i’d have a look at that

    • wildnewyork Says:

      Yeah, I’d love to see those photos in a book too.

  6. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    My ‘100 Whores’ covers prostitution on 3rd Avenue between 12th and 14th Streets in the late 60s. It may not go to 3rd Street but re-explores the street life of the East Village fairly well.

  7. petey Says:

    i was in 8BC a few times, but i never liked that Limelight.

    • Marc Jeffrey Says:

      I’ve only good memories of 8BC. And one very bad one of Limelight, when Ruth Polsky gruesomely died there in September 1986.

  8. mykola (mick) dementiuk Says:

    There’s also a photo in my ‘100 Whores’ that the photographer graciously let me use of hippies, whores and pimps hanging out in front of the Belmore Cafeteria on the 27 Street that also plays a small part in the movie “Taxi Driver.”

  9. Lisa Says:

    On July 3, 1985 my roommate and I went to Milk Bar (7th Ave & Leroy) where I picked up a skinny guy wearing a Mister X T-shirt. A half-hour later I ditched the roommate and left with the skinny guy– we went over to Save the Robots, across town. The skinny guy and I have now been together for almost 26 years.

  10. Stacy Fine Says:

    i have a slew from the 90’s. interested?

  11. Joly MacFie Says:

    There is a Save The Robots fb group:

  12. Zoé Says:

    I used to make posters/flyers for my friends’ & my brother’s bands. (One of that circle who is no longer w/ us is mentioned by Ephemeral above). One of them worked at the copy place on St.Marks opposite Trash & Vaudeville & would print colour copies of my posters for free.

    We would walk around w/ a bucket of wheat paste at night. (That’s flour & water Kids – no need to add glue as some people say…). It was illegal & would not have been easy to ditch the bucket if the men in blue drove by! That was another life there then. It feels like a dream to me now… and sometimes nightmare.

    Fifth & A was a dangerous block as far as drugs & dealers & crime – despite the police precinct being so close by. My brother had a knife held to his throat in a hallway. People have a weird nostalgia for that neighbourhood given how unsafe it was… & filthy…

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