Books: He Captured the Intoxicating NYC Club Scene of the Early 1990s

By David Schonauer   Monday November 30, 2020

For Steve Eichner, the ’90s began at the Roxy.

“That’s where I met the Club Kids,” he recently told WWD. “The Roxy,” he explains for those too young to know (or for those who just can’t remember, for one reason or another), "was a roller disco, but at night it would turn into a regular nightclub.”

Eichner worked as a photographer at Women’s Wear Daily for almost two decades, but before that he had a job as a staff photographer for Peter Gatien, the proprietor, notes Vanity Fair, of a “four-club, seven-nights-a-week stable of that earned him considerable notoriety.”

Eichner hustled between those clubs — Limelight, the Tunnel, the Palladium, and Club USA — tasked with capturing celebrity images that would turn up in newspaper gossip columns. But he ended up with a much broader trove of images, adds VF.

Now never-seen photographs from his archive have been collected in a new book, called In the Limelight: The Visual Ecstasy of NYC Nightlife in the 90s. The glitter, sex, drugs and music that set the tone for a fin de siè·cle party embodied by the likes of Dennis Hopper, Tupac, Grace Jones, Dennis Rodman and Donald Trump. “We blended in the celebrities with the Club Kids, with the suit and ties, with the regular folks from Long Island who are trying to get a little kick for the weekend,” Sanchez told VF.

Texts by Gatien and the book’s photo editor, Gabriel H. Sanchez, offer a historic and cultural perspective on an era when New York City was more affordable and every night saw artists, bankers, drag queens, musicians, and poets reveling together, notes the book’s publisher, Prestel.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Dennis Hopper at the Club USA, 1994, by Steve Eichner

Prince performs at Palladium, 1994, by Steve Eichner

Mark Wahlberg and entourage at Club USA, 1994, by Steve Eichner

Sanchez, now a photo editor at the New York Times, was a photo editor at BuzzFeed when he began working on a story about New York’s nightlife in the ’90s. “I kept seeing the same byline by this Steve Eichner figure,” he tells Vanity Fair. He reached out to Eichner and the two began discussing a potential book project.

“When I was a kid, I always liked to party. I was always looking for a party,” Eichner tells VF. “Boy, I hit pay dirt.”

Tupac Shakur at Club USA, 1994, by Steve Eichner

Left: Palladium, 1995; right: Grace Jones at Palladium, 1992, by Steve Eichner

Boy George performs at Tunnel, 1993, by Steve Eichner

“I kind of had an inkling this can’t last forever,” Eichner tells VF, speaking of the clubbing era. His instincts were entirely correct.

“Rudy Giuliani cracked down on nightlife—and everything else,” notes VF. “Gatien was deported to Canada in 2003, where he continues to live, after pleading guilty to tax evasion in 1999 and serving a two-month prison sentence.”

“To mourn an earlier nightlife era is nothing new, but the tradition has ramped up in recent months as all sorts of venues across the city are shuttering due to the coronavirus pandemic,” adds VF. “In the Limelight is a look at the past, but to hear Sanchez describe the book, it could give an indication of what might be desired from some future era when clubs in New York are possible again.

“These pictures are aspirational,” he tells the magazine. “You want to emulate these fashions—you want to have a scene like this.”
At top: The ball pit room at Tunnel, 1994, by Steve Eichner


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