No nightclub had more spectacular successes and crashes than the Limelight. Opened by Peter Gatien on Saturday, November 12, 1983, on Sixth Avenue and 20th Street, the New York branch of the Limelight chain quickly became one of the hottest clubs in the country. The decadent club was later plagued by clashes with the law (mostly for suspicion of drug trafficking), which led to a number of closings in the 1990s and eventually shut down for good in 2007.
Gatien opened the Limelight in a building that formerly housed the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion (built in the 1840s) and then Odyssey House, a drug rehab center (from the early 1970s until 1982). It was like no other nightclub: “Primary entry to Limelight [was] provided through a dark and understated entrance, in front of which the wealthy, creative, and young elite of NYC line[d] up around the block every night. Through the dark, one [wound] up a narrow spiral staircase into the box office area decorated with artwork, dozens of video monitors, and sinister lighting. Beyond [was] a tunnel-like area with a wall composed of back lit electron micrograph [sic], access to the back areas through a dark tunnel, and a large mouth-like opening to the right, leading to where the pews once were, the main dance floor. Packed with hundreds of flailing bodies and speakers of breathtaking size and power, the main dance floor of Limelight has given the venue a nickname: ‘The Church of Thump-Thump-Thump.’” according to the Limelight page on Facebook.
Originally a disco and rock club, it featured many of the most famous acts of the era, including Ozzy Osbourne, Deee-Lite, Missing Persons, the New York Dolls, Cheap Trick, and Guns N’ Roses, before becoming better known for the ease with which patrons could score drugs. Most notoriously, Michael Alig, one of the Club Kids, was arrested for the March 1996 murder of the Limelight’s resident drug dealer Andre “Angel” Melendez, pleading guilty in 1997 to first degree manslaughter.
Also in 1996, a federal investigation to link Gatien to the rampant drug sales in Limelight began, but eventually failed, leaving him with massive legal bills. The Canadian native was deported in 2003, after his 1999 guilty plea for tax evasion.
Limelight closed and reopened a few times in subsequent years – at one point under the name “Avalon” – closing permanently in 2007. Since May 2010, the location is now the Limelight Marketplace, a “three-level shopping destination… home to a variety of retailers, covering everything from fashion and accessories to food, design, art, beauty and more.”