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Saturday Night Headache

[whitespace] disco Brooklyn's
Spectrum
is disco's
Mecca

By Millie



Start spreadin' the news ... Millie's in New York. Actually, he's in a cab, hurtling over the Manhattan Bridge on his way to meet friends at a legendary dance club, the Spectrum. "What's so legendary about some disco dance-barn deep in the heart of Brooklyn?" Millie wonders. "Spectrum ain't just some outer-borough pick-up joint," the cabbie shouts back with visible indignation. "It's the place they filmed Saturday Night Fever! That movie with Donna Pescow!"

Under the shadow of the Verrazano Narrows bridge, the cab pulls up in front of a nondescript warehouse. Foreboding black glass double doors can't keep the pounding base from pouring out into the street. "You're lookin' at a piece a' history, right there," says the cabbie. Just outside the doors, two women shout obscenities at one another in that thick "Brooklynese" one usually only hears in the movies. "You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me?"

After paying the meager $5 cover, Millie quickly gets the lay of the land. A youngish-looking crowd covers the dance floor. An ambivalent stripper of indeterminate race waves his package around from an elevated platform. Dancers who "act out" the music and take up a lot of room have commandeered the stage at the end of the club. An overbuilt, 40-something guy is sweating and heaving, lip-synching to that Celine Dion remix. And the floor--it lights up, just like in the movies, except it's considerably filthier than it was in the film.

Along with glitzy Studio 54 in Manhattan, the Spectrum defined disco in the '70s. When John Travolta's tight ass led the line dance across the Spectrum floor it continued a marathon boogie across cinema screens from coast to coast. Every club, lounge and airport bar dressed itself up to look exactly like the Spectrum. It was the pinnacle of design, technology and fashion of the disco era.

Unfortunately, today Spectrum can't figure out if it's a shrine to the past or a cheap rendition of today's hipper club fashions. The result is a mish-mash of bad dance-club design from the past three decades.

Lighting throughout the club relies heavily on that perennial favorite, the disco ball ('70s). Meanwhile, psychedelic projections of amoebas ooze across a wall of stretched fabric ('90s throwback to the '60s). A side bar video room is distinguished by brown shag rug carpeting on the walls sliced up diagonally by a grid of long narrow mirrors (unforgivably '80s). The one timeless feature of Spectrum: everyone is doing cocaine.

Even the crowd is a weird hodgepodge of styles. Two androgynous fat guys wear rouge and dangling earrings. A sassy dyke with the Farrah flip wears her blazer rolled up to her forearms. One guy looks like a Mafia don in tight white slacks until he does an awkward split in the middle of the dance floor. No one seems to notice.

Millie's friends still haven't shown up. Millie stubs out his cigarette (it's more fun when it's illegal). Two familiar women are leaning on the cigarette machine just outside the ladies room. Millie must be seeing things. Isn't that Toni Tennille, '70s pop chanteuse, chatting with '80s one-hit sensation, Toni Basil? Millie can overhear Tennille wearily ask Basil, "You too, huh?"

If you've ever wondered what happened to all those pop sensibilities of the '70s and '80s watered down after too much airplay and endless derivation, now you know. They're alive and well and dancing their asses off at the Spectrum.

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From the June 29-July 12, 1998 issue of the Metropolitan.

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