From the early years of rock and roll to the dawn of disco, when DJs were gods, every musical era has had its places that set the hipster pace.
Perhaps you chomped back poppers and did the hustle all night in your sequinned day-glo polyester outfit, or maybe indulged in some rampant group sex in the stairwell while the crazy light system rippled across the room till you needed more blow: if you weren’t living it up at a hedonistic secret loft party, you were at a nightclub.
And if you were anybody important, that night club would be one of these.
1950s – 1960s
The Cavern, Liverpool
Billed as the most famous club in the world, The Cavern opened in the 50s as a jazz club but it’s most famous as the start of the most exciting period in Brit rock history – and it’s the club where several massive bands, including the Beatles, first broke onto the scene.
The members of the Beatles all performed there separately as members of unknown bands before they joined forces and had their debut gig there in 1961, quickly becoming favourites for lunchtime performances. Massive favourites. Between 1961 and 1963 the Beatles made almost 300 appearances, and it was at one of these gigs that the band were first discovered by their manager.
Since then, acts like The Rolling Stones, Arctic Monkeys, The Who, Queen, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, Rod Stewart, The Kinks, Chuck Berry and The Yardbirds have all performed there. Cilla Black worked at The Cavern as a hat-check girl before she was famous, and a recording studio for new talent opened in the basement.
The club was eventually closed down and demolished, but since then it’s been rebuilt using the original bricks on the same site and Paul McCartney even performed his last gig of the century on The Cavern stage. You can still go there now and watch 40 hot new live acts a week perform at the club that made the Beatles famous. You can even buy a new 3 disc CD to celebrate The Cavern’s 50th anniversary this year. Containing 50 tracks from artists who have all appeared at the club over the years, The Cavern – The Most Famous Club In The World’s tracklist reads like a Who’s Who of the best British music over the decades.
1970s – 1980s
Studio 54, New York
No list of notorious nightclubs would be complete without a respectful nod to the biggest of them all, Manhatton’s Studio 54. It will always be the ultimate status symbol, the club where the line at the door was so long that guests had to be hand picked and even celebrities had to beg the mysterious doorman, Marc Benecke, for entry. In fact, on its opening night, Cher, Frank Sinatra and Warren Beatty were all too uncool to get in!
Soon, it was a fashionable favourite of New York celebs like Mick and Bianca Jagger, Jerry Hall, Debbie Harry, Donald Trump, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Janice Dickinson, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Truman Capote, Goldie Hawn, Woody Allen, Valentino, Elizabeth Taylor, Kiss and lots more.
But even more famous than its glittering celebrities were its notorious sexual encounters and rampant drug use – even the dance floor was decorated with an animated cocaine spoon. Studio 54 was said to be the biggest party that ever was, and ever will be. Its owners were arrested and jailed for tax evasion, fraud, obstruction of justice and conspiracy. Twice. And on one occasion police found cocaine and money hidden in the walls.
Since it closed for good in 1986, it’s been used as a rock venue and a strip club. Now, you’ll find the Roundabout Theatre Company housed where the club once stood. But don’t despair. You can still party with abandon at the copycat Studio 54 club at the MGM Grand in Vegas. It won’t be as authentic, but you’re still guaranteed one hell of a party.
The Warehouse, Chicago
The history of house music starts at The Warehouse, where resident DJ Frankie Knuckles took the art of mixing to new heights, revolutionising the club scene and spawning a hot new music genre from the second he stepped onto the decks for its opening night in 1977. The first choice for the DJ job had actually been Larry Levan of Paradise Garage fame, but Larry was otherwise engaged so his mate Frankie took over instead – a lucky break for The Warehouse.
Frankie mixed disco classics with Europop and synthesised beats for a high energy sound that kept the dance floor pumping till dawn and made The Warehouse the trendiest night spot in Chicago – possibly in the world in the late 80s.
The warehouse was a small dark club in a crumbling factory building, so achingly hip that it was only supposed to legally hold 600 people but usually housed over 2000, cramped and dancing frantically to Frankie’s magic till Sunday morning.
The parties were so legendary and the music so famous that house started having Top 10 hits off the back of Frankie alone.
The Paradise Garage, New York
The Paradise Garage is probably the most revered dance club of the 80s. Resident DJ Larry Levan made the club famous for its hot and innovative techie-disco music – eventually spawning the music genre Garage as a tribute to the fantastic parties the club threw.
Located in an old garage building, the Garage was a club legends were made of. It was meant to be an ongoing party for its owner Michael Brody rather than a nightclub, and it was the most exclusive club ever: only invited members were allowed to attend. The garage was renowned for having one of the biggest sound systems of all time – it was so good scientists at the International Convention of the Audio Engineering Society wrote a study on it, and since then superclubs like the Ministry of Sound have tried to copy it – and haven’t even got close.
Its walls were an ongoing art exhibition, the envied members partied hard and the club boasted some massive performers including Grace Jones, Patti LaBelle, Chaka Khan, Sexy Chocolate, New Order and lots more.
The Garage had its final party in 1987, with 14 000 people clawing at each other to get in the doors – and not succeeding.
1980s – 1990s
The Hacienda, Manchester
The Haçienda was considered to be the most famous club in the world in the 80s; its mad partying and drug culture were legendary and continue to live on – 2004’s hit film 24 Hour Party People is based on the superclub.
Financed by record label Factory Records and hot band New Order, the club featured acts like The Smiths, Simple Minds, Echo & The Bunnymen, Divine and loads more – it was where Madonna performed on her first ever foray into the UK.
It was one of the first Brit clubs to start playing house music, with Nude, Ibiza and acid nights hosted by DJs like Mike Pickering and Jon DaSilva fast becoming legendary, not only for their banging beats but also for the crazy drug-fuelled antics of the beautiful party people. On one occasion Einstürzende Neubauten drilled into the walls that surrounded the stage while in concert, the downstairs cocktail bar was known as “The Gay Traitor” and for some time the venue housed a hairdressing salon so stylish revellers could pop in and update their ‘do mid-party.
The club was so popular that even though it made almost no money (it all went to the drug dealers) its doors stayed wide open till the mid 90s. That was when things went from glam to dodgy, with multiple shootings not just outside but actually in the club, and a fraught relationship with the police for the establishment’s underground dealings. Then in ’97 the club’s security killed a student, witnessed by police and council officials, which is basically when the former superclub finally bit the dust.
In a last final burst of disco defiance, the Haçienda held a free party that ended with a police riot and a siege of the building. Soon after, the club was demolished and bits of scrap and furniture were sold off to enthusiasts as souvenirs. All you can see of the once massive nightclub now is a block of flats.
What is the best club of the naughties? Ministry of Sound, Fabric, or some exclusive London club awash with celebs? Perhaps it’s an underground wonder down some back alley only the cool-kids know about, please let us know. Share your favourite clubs using the Comment on this Article box below.