|Address||625 W 51st St, New York, NY 10019|
New York City
|Opened||November 10, 1940|
|Reopened||February 5, 2022|
The Copacabana is a New York City nightclub that has existed in several locations. In earlier locations, many entertainers, such as Danny Thomas, Pat Cooper, and the comedy team of Martin and Lewis, made their New York debuts at the Copacabana. The Barry Manilow song "Copacabana" (1978) is named after, and set in, the club. The nightclub was used as a setting in the films Goodfellas, Raging Bull, Tootsie, The Purple Rose of Cairo, Carlito's Way, The French Connection, Martin and Lewis, Green Book, Beyond the Sea, The Irishman, and One Night in Miami. It was also used in several plays, including Barry Manilow's Copacabana. Also, the musical film Copacabana (1947), starring Groucho Marx and Carmen Miranda, takes place in the Copacabana, as does the made-for-television film based on the Manilow hit song, in which Manilow himself starred.
The 1940s to the 1960s
The Copacabana opened on November 10, 1940, at 10 East 60th Street in New York City. Although Monte Proser's name was on the lease, he had a powerful partner: mob boss Frank Costello. Proser (1904–1973), a native Englishman, was a well-connected nightclub owner and press agent whose various clients included Walt Disney, Maria Montez, Mary Pickford, and the Ziegfeld Follies. Costello put Jules Podell on the scene to look after his interests; Podell had a police record and would not have been an acceptable front man for the business, and indeed, the club faced tax problems and a racketeering investigation in 1944. However, by 1948, such pressure had lessened; Proser was out, and Podell was the official owner.
Podell originally had a strict "no blacks" policy. In 1944, Harry Belafonte, then a member of the U.S. Navy, was denied entry with a date. Eventually, Podell was persuaded to change his policy and Belafonte returned in the 1950s as a headliner at the club. Sammy Davis Jr. shattered attendance records with his run in May 1964 and Sam Cooke performed there on July 8, 1964, resulting in the LP Sam Cooke at the Copa. In July 1965, the Supremes made their debut there, resulting in Motown Records booking the Temptations, Martha and the Vandellas, and Marvin Gaye to perform at the Copa over the next few years. The Supremes also recorded a live album there in 1965 that just missed the Top 10, peaking at #11. Marvin Gaye also recorded a live album, as did The Temptations. The Supremes, who proved to be the most successful of all the Motown acts, released The Supremes: Live at the Copa Expanded Edition in 2012, featuring the much-sought-after original repertoire.
This nightclub achieved a degree of notoriety due to a May 16, 1957, incident involving members of the New York Yankees. On that evening, teammates Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Hank Bauer, Yogi Berra, Johnny Kucks, and Billy Martin, along with the wives of all but Martin, arrived at the nightclub to celebrate Martin's birthday. Sammy Davis Jr. happened to be the headliner. During the performance, a group of apparently intoxicated bowlers started to interfere with Davis' act, even hurling racial slurs at him. This behavior incensed the Yankees, especially Martin, since his teammate was Elston Howard, the first black player to join the Yankees. Tensions erupted between the two groups, and the resulting fracas made newspaper headlines. Several of the Yankees were fined. One of the bowlers, a Bronx deli owner, ended up with a concussion and a broken jaw, and sued Bauer for aggravated assault; the case was thrown out for insufficient evidence. Martin was later traded from the Yankees to the Kansas City Athletics, with this incident cited as a main cause.
The 1960s and the 1970s
Until 1972, mafioso Joe Gallo operated the venue. It was closed for three years in 1973 after Jules Podell died; after it reopened in 1976, at the height of the disco era, it operated as a discothèque. Barry Manilow's hit 1978 song "Copacabana (At The Copa)" referred to the club; the song later became the basis for the made-for-television film in which Manilow himself starred; as of February 2021, it was not known how much of the film's shooting used it as an actual location.
After the 1970s
In 2001, the club was forced to move for a third time to 560 West 34th Street and Eleventh Avenue on the west side of Manhattan, when its landlord terminated its lease early to build office towers on the site. Since then it has presented mostly hip-hop and salsa acts.
On January 20, 2007, the club announced that it would have to move by July 1 because its current location was condemned due to the construction of the extension of the 7 line of the New York City Subway, as well as the construction of the now-cancelled World Product Center. June 30 of the same year was the last night the club was open, with El Gran Combo performing there. From late 2007 until the club reopened in 2011, the club was sharing space with the Columbus 72 nightclub, which shares the same owners.
In April 2010, the club owners were approved for a liquor license to operate the club in a new location at 760-766 8th Avenue, on the second and third floors. In November 2010, the club owners were granted permission to allow dancing by restaurant patrons as well as the general public, not limited to private parties and catered events. On July 12, 2011, the club re-opened to the public in Times Square at 268 West 47th Street. The first performer at the new location was world-renowned salsa musician Willie Colón.
On May 26, 2020, the club announced that it had closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and that it planned to reopen in 2021 at another location. It eventually reopened in February 2022 at 625 West 51st Street under the direction of Ruben Carbera.
Outside New York City
A second Copacabana—the first outside New York—was readied for a grand opening in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on September 13, 2012, in the historic Las Olas District at 219 S. Andrews Avenue. On January 24, 2013, the location closed.
- Copa Room, now-defunct Las Vegas nightclub at The Sands Hotel
- Latin Quarter, competitor with a similar history
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- Copacabana Fort Lauderdale
- Copacabana Official Website
- Copacabana Historic Nightclub
- Brie Austin interview with Copa girls from the 1940s, 60s and 70s
- Memoir of a 1940s Copa Girl Harriet Wright