Feel The Beat
Club Kids and Crooked Cops: When New York Went Wild ‘After Hours'
In the early 1980s, New York’s clubland suddenly throbbed with after-hours venues. Much fun was had, until the scene’s spectacular implosion.
It began with the party Arthur Weinstein threw for his wife, Colleen in 1980.
Hurrah, Weinstein’s live rock club, had been a playpen for the New Wavers before it was squooshed by Studio 54.
So the party, which was their loft on the second floor of the Jefferson, a defunct theater on West 14th, was wall-to-wall with creatures of the A-List night.
“I look around. It was magic!” he said. “I thought fuck it! I’m opening the place.”
As an illegal After Hours, that is.
Arthur Weinstein was Mr. Cool, his timing was immaculate. With the blossoming of club culture, tens of thousands were criss-crossing the city nightly and, within that culture was a micro-culture, clubbing harder, faster, later, but, as yet, with no particular place to go. He would give them that place.
He brought in a partner, Scotty Taylor. As a Studio 54 barman, Taylor, awestruck by what he had heard of Hurrah, had kept Weinstein supplied with Stoly-and-tonics on the house. He was now a barman at the Ritz, a club owned by the theater producer, Jerry Brandt, and a big earner.
All barmen steal—that was an accepted fact—and Scotty Taylor detached $300 a night for what was needed to build the space.
“I found out about it years later,” Brandt said. “And I was furious. I was mostly furious because they had only to ask me.”
They needed a final ten grand to kick-start their plans for the Jefferson.
Paul Garcia, a model, came up with the necessary funds and became the third partner.
The Jefferson opened on New Years Eve, 1981. Things were quietish for a bit. Then… whoosh!
“In those days you could run an After Hours club, and not get into any trouble, unless it got over the top. But then we started to get ridiculously popular,” Weinstein says.
On a good night 500 would show up—all, except celebrities of various wattages, paying a $15 door charge.
It was Jerry Brandt who warned they needed protection and hooked them up with the cops of the Ninth Precinct.
“So I began paying them $500 a week,” Arthur says. Then the fire department. “I was paying this schmuck who worked there to take care of it,” Weinstein said. “And it worked for a while. And then, forget it, all hell broke loose! They were closing me down constantly. And these cops were still looking to get paid. When I told them I didn’t have any money coming in they used to come and shake Colleen down after they saw me leave the apartment. Did you ever hear of such a thing? They’re worse than the Mafia. If the Mafia don’t do what they say, they’re not going to ask you for the money. Bad cops are crazy.”
Mr. Cool’s journey to the bottom of the night had begun.
After Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager had completed their sentences for evading taxes, Steve approached Arthur in the club.
“He said the feds want to talk to you,” Arthur said. “He said Artie! I’m doing you a favor! You’re not going to do too good in jail. Peter Sudler wants to meet you.”
Sudler was the prosecutor who had taken Rubell and Schrager down.
“The next morning Steve picks me up at the Jefferson. It’s like 8:30 in the morning. What am I gonna do? I’m gonna run! Steve was my friend. But let’s just say I knew he was serious. He took me down there.”
Sudler was no nonsense.
“I’m going to walk down the hallway, take a piss,” he told Weinstein. “Just remember this. Paying New York City police officers can land you in jail for seven years. When I come back you’re going to tell me who they are. Or else I don’t know when you’re going to come out. By the way, I understand you have a cute little daughter…” Dahlia was three. Sudler handed Mr. Cool a sheet of yellow legal paper, sauntered out, returned, lent an ear.
“Good, Arthur! I knew I could count on you,” he said. “You’ve passed your first test.”
Weinstein was to wear a wire.
The first time was almost the last. He was wearing a vintage uniform jacket.
“It was a hot day. I didn’t even have an undershirt on,” he says. “The guy reached over and started playing with one of the buttons. And the microphone was right there. He came within one half an inch. If the guy had looked a little closer…”
But the Jefferson was waning.
“We had a very good run. But it was pretty much the end of the line because I had been closed several weeks in a row,” Weinstein said. “In the nightclub business if you’re closed, it’s a real problem. AM-PM had opened. The Nursery was round the corner.”
It had lasted a bit less than a year. But the grifters in the Ninth Precinct had been picked up. That was over.
On to the next. The After Hours world had morphed into a pulsating mix of downtown scenesters, blazered Eurotrash, Waspdom lusting for a taste of decadence, rockers, Sacred Monsters from the Warholverse, models and fashionistas, and the core-of-the-hard-core was a breed who would spend the daylight hours in bed so as to be fresh when the nightwinds sang.
Even before the Jefferson was shuttered, Arthur was putting together a place in a garage on West 25th Street: The Continental. Didn’t the FBI mind?
“That’s how we got our money. From the feds!” Weinstein said. “I did what I usually did. I got money from whoever I could that I knew wasn’t going to turn around and kill me if I didn’t pay him back that day. I told the feds I didn’t have any money, and the fucking thing wasn’t going to make it. So they gave me about $15,000. Cash, of course.”
Why? “The feds had busted the Ninth Precinct. Now they wanted to get the Tenth,” Colleen said. The Ninth Precinct had been routinely sticky-fingered. The Tenth were professionals.
“A gang of cops in the Tenth Precinct was going into all of the warehouses and flagrantly robbing them blind,” Weinstein says.
Colleen put up dividers, creating little rooms, and pasted them with wallpaper from the ’50s and ’60s. She had graffiti artist Futura 2000 cover a wall and put a giant aquarium in the main space. It opened. Word spread. Ultra-heat, mega-soon.
“And the feds were more than happy,” Scotty says. “We put out the cheese and, sure enough, guys from Tenth Precinct came driving up.” The fire department soon followed.
The Continental had a longer run than the Jefferson, a couple of years, but whoosh can go pffft! And so it was.
But the trial of the Tenth Precinct cops began. It was colorful. They had been partying with the tranny hookers who were a feature of the district.
“They had orgies in a van. One of the transvestites had to turn in the cops and was down at the trial,” Weinstein observed. “It was an orgy. I wonder where he wore the wire?”
Weinstein testified. So his journey to the bottom of the night was over? No.
On February 22, 1983, the story made the cover of the “Metro” section of The New York Times. Weinstein had only worn the wire against targeted cops and firemen but the story ran: “Standing on the loading dock in front of the after-hours club, the Continental on West 25th Street, was Arthur Weinstein, the co-owner. His hair was slicked back 50’s style and he wore a white dinner jacket with a jet-black cummerbund. Underneath his evening clothes was a transmitter that allowed the F.B.I. to monitor every word he said.”
“A friend called me and said ‘You’re a star!’” Weinstein said. “You couldn’t get a copy of the Times downtown that day.”
Given what might have gone down there, regulars could be expected to be a bit… shirty.
“We booked ourselves into the Plaza under Art’s grandfather’s name,” Colleen said. A couple of days of were enough. They went home.
“Somebody wrote ART THE WIRE on my door. That was nice,” he says. “But I never stopped going out. Nobody had the balls even to stand next to me, that’s how hot I was. Why are you alive? Why aren’t you in Brazil?”
Then it died down. Why? “Because I was there. They figured if this guy’s crazy enough to be walking around, he’s not afraid. Because if he’s got something to hide, he don’t come around. So gradually people started to relax.”
Taylor remembers a hinge moment.
“One night Art and I went to the Ritz. And a Hell’s Angel guy comes up to Art. He said, ‘Oh, yeah? You’re the fucking rat!’
“Arthur turns to him and said ‘Oh, yeah? Are you a cop lover?’
“The guy said ‘Whaddya mean?’
“Arthur said ‘I handed in a dirty cop who was taking food out of my kid’s mouth!’
“The guy said ‘Uhh? I didn’t know that. C’mon! Let me buy you a drink!’”
But the After Hours joints—AM-PM, Berlin, Elan, The Pink Cadillac—were goners.
In 1984 Weinstein opened a legal club, The World, on Avenue C, and that was a crucial club for four years.
Now that New York is gone. Arthur Weinstein died with merciful speed of throat cancer in 2008, and what was The Continental space is part of a branch of the mega-gallery, Pace.