Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Chemical Cowboys: The Club King Of New York

Gatien & Alig

Club Kids
Club Kids
In 1987, Alig was twenty-one years old and the most famous party promoter in America. Alig and his Club Kids were written up in the pages of Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, and People magazine. They were TV guests of Joan Rivers and Geraldo Rivera.

PICTURE1Alig's popularity as a promoter coincided with Peter Gatien's initial descent as a club owner. Limelight courted 1980s chic, hosting star-studded Academy Awards parties, William Burroughs's birthday party, and celebs such as Mick Jagger, Rob Lowe, Phoebe Cates, Melissa Gilbert, and Grace Jones. The club had even staged such rock luminaries as Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Guns N' Roses. But a confluence of financially challenging events almost buried Limelight. In May 1985, former Studio 54 owners Steve Rubell and Ian Schrager rebounded from tax evasion to open a rival club, Palladium, luring Gatien's regulars away with free admission. In 1987, a stock market crash drew away the wealthy clubgoers who paid full-price door fees and bar tabs. The club's faithful gay patrons also seemed to be less interested in dancing and more focused on fighting the AIDS epidemic that was ravaging the community. Compounding lackluster attendance was the increasing gentrification of Limelight's former industrial-zone setting. The new next-door neighbors didn't appreciate the big bass beats of Prince's "Erotic City," powered by 14,500 watts through 130 speakers, rattling the windows of their loft apartments at 4:00 a.m. By 1989, Limelight was nicknamed "Slimelight."

But then Tunnel's owner made the mistake of cutting Michael Alig loose, believing the Club Kid scene was on its last legs. Gatien quickly scooped Alig up. Gatien saw himself as a patron of fashion, art, and music, but unlike Studio 54's gregarious Rubell, Gatien seemed to have little interest in circulating. Alig, on the other hand, was charming and arrogant, the consummate party host, court jester, and people pleaser. Alig played the role Gatien would not. Gatien gave him cash, creative control, and carte blanche to reinvent Limelight. In turn, Alig remade the Gothic church into a thriving, moneymaking epicenter of nightlife once again, a feat that officially crowned him king of the Club Kids.


Excerpt from Chemical Cowboys by Lisa Sweetingham