The Limelight

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The Limelight building in Manhattan, New York City, in 2007

The Limelight was the name of a chain of nightclubs owned and operated by Peter Gatien. It had locations in New York City, Chicago, Atlanta, London and Hallandale, Florida.


MDMA, the drug that became popular amongst club culture

During the 1980s, club culture had died down because of the AIDS epidemic and there were more regulations put into place in order to stop the spread. The music scene began to shift and the rockstar lifestyle had started to die down; bands like The Ramones and Blondie slowly sank into plastic commercialization. The artistic era also declined with the death of Andy Warhol. However, in the 90s, after more information was known about HIV/AIDS, people started to return to a club state of mind. In 1989, MDMA otherwise known as ecstasy, became a popular drug amongst the club scene. It heightened sensory perceptions which enhanced the experience of rave disco sounds and atmosphere. After the implementation of Rudolph Giuliani as the new mayor of NYC, the police cracked down on everything in order to fix the city's problems like prostitution, drug dealing, etc.


Florida and Atlanta locations[edit]

Peter Gatien opened the first Limelight nightclub in Hallandale, Florida, in the 1970s. Following a devastating fire in the late 1970s, Gatien chose Atlanta for his next incarnation of the club. The Atlanta Limelight opened in February 1980. It was housed in a strip mall at the former site of the Harlequin Dinner Theatre.

The Limelight in Atlanta was a high-profile Euro-style night club designed and built in partnership with a certain Guy Larente from Montreal, Quebec who helped in the build of the Limelight series. The Limelight in Atlanta hosted many notables and celebrities over the years. A single photo taken in June 1981 skyrocketed the focus on the club, when celebrity photographer Guy D'Alema captured an image of Anita Bryant dancing the night away with evangelist Russ McGraw (known in gay communities as an activist). Several hundred newspapers and magazines ran the photo with the headline “Anita Upset Over Disco Photo”. Peter Gatien relished the publicity. The club hosted many Interview Magazine events which brought names like Andy Warhol, Grace Jones, Debbie Harry, Burt Reynolds, Ali MacGraw, and Village People's Randy Jones, among others to the club. Other celebrity sightings included Tom Cruise, Liza Minnelli, Michael Jackson, Pia Zadora, Shannon Tweed, Gene Simmons, Rick Springfield and Mamie Van Doren,[1] to name but a few. The club also served as a location for Hal Ashby's film The Slugger's Wife (1985), which starred Rebecca De Mornay.

In 1983, when Gatien relocated to New York to open another Limelight club, his brother Maurice managed the Atlanta club. Maurice reportedly had less talent for running a nightclub than Gatien. "Peter was the brains behind the operation," according to house photographer and publicist Guy D'Alema. "Maurice ... didn't want to spend a dime and didn't have a creative bone in his body."[2] The Atlanta club was located next to a 24-hour Kroger grocery store, which became known widely as "Disco Kroger."[3]

In July 2010, several former Limelight employees – including Randy Easterling, Jim Redford, Noel Aguirre, and Aron Siegel – along with a few of their regular customer dancers – including Jonathan Spanier and Bret Roberts – produced "One More Night at the Limelight", a 30th Anniversary Party, at The Buckhead Theatre, formerly The Roxy Theatre.[4] Due to the party's success and great attendance, combined with the untimely death of one of its organizers (Spanier), the remaining team produced another party, "Limelight Revisited: Déjà vu Discotheque", on August 6, 2011, at Center Stage Atlanta in midtown Atlanta.[5]

Chicago location[edit]

The Limelight in Chicago was housed in the former home of the Chicago Historical Society; the building itself is a historic structure. It was opened in 1985, and became Excalibur nightclub in 1989.[6] The steps to the entrance led to a hallway lined with museum cases which housed carnival like models dancing and generally moving about. There were several levels to the club. The main dance floor had a stage for the DJ. There were several private rooms that often played host to a bevy of celebrities both in music and in sports. The alternative music scene was critical at the Limelight as it played late into the 5 a.m. hour in Chicago on Saturday nights.

London location[edit]

From 1985,[7] the Limelight in London was located in a former Welsh Presbyterian church on Shaftesbury Avenue, just off Cambridge Circus, which dates from the 1890s. The London club's decline in popularity led to the club being sold as a going concern, eventually being taken over in 2003 by Australian pub chain The Walkabout, which converted it into a sports bar. In 2013 the Walkabout eventually ceased trading and the premises is empty and awaiting conversion to a new performing arts use by the charity Stone Nest.

New York City location[edit]

The Beginning[edit]

The club in New York City, situated on Sixth Avenue at West 20th Street, was the most significant and infamous of all the Limelight locations. It opened in November 1983 and was designed by Ari Bahat. The site is a former Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion.[8] The church was a Gothic Revival brownstone building which was built in 1844-1845 and designed by architect Richard Upjohn. In the early 1970s, when the parish merged with two others, the church was deconsecrated and sold to Odyssey House, a drug rehabilitation program. Amidst financial hardship, Odyssey House sold it to Gatien in 1982.[9] He was deeply interested in art and architecture, so he thought the church would be perfect as a club. Spending close to five million dollars on renovation, the ceilings stretched four stories over the main dance floor, there were five staircases from the main chamber to numerous lounges that hosted a different crowd in each room, cloves, VIP rooms, and the chapel area where experimental parties would be thrown to test out the popularity of such event. The New York Limelight originally started as a disco and rock club. In the 1990s, it became a prominent place to hear techno, goth, and industrial music. The club was attractive to the people of NYC because it was inclusive; goths, drag queens, rockers, leather boys, and socialites could all be seen partying with each other in one night. There were approximately fifteen thousand people showing up to the Limelight per night. During this time, Peter Gatien was named the Club King.

The Trial[edit]

In October 1995, the club was raided by NYPD, but they were only able to make three small arrests of marijuana dealers because Gatien had been tipped off. The Limelight was temporarily locked up for a week after Gatien paid a thirty thousand dollar fine and posted a one hundred sixty thousand dollar bond. In 1996, club kid and party promoter Michael Alig was arrested and later convicted for the killing and dismemberment of Angel Melendez, a fellow member of the Club Kids and a drug dealer who frequented the club.[10] The Limelight was closed by the police, and subsequently reopened several times during the 1990s. In 1998, Gatien was put on trial for selling drugs within his chain of clubs. However, his lawyer Ben Brafman claimed that the eighty page affidavit used to arrest Gatien contained no proof that directly linked him to drug distribution at the clubs. He also argued that is was "selective prosecution" due to the fact that Gatien ran such a huge operation, he could not be held individually/personally responsible for isolated pockets of drug dealing.

The End[edit]

Assistant U.S. Attorney, Eric Friendberg, called the Limelight "a drug supermarket" where "massive amounts" of ecstasy as well as cocaine, special k, and rohypnol were used as "promotional tools to lure patrons to the club." In the end, the government agreed on not accusing Gatien of personally selling drugs or profiting from the dealers operating in his clubs. They argued that he allowed drug dealers into his venues to advertise and increase popularity, therefore pleading him not guilty.

In September 2003, it reopened under the name "Avalon"; however, it closed its doors permanently in 2007.[11] Since May 2010, the building has been in use as the Limelight Marketplace, but in 2014 it was converted into an outlet of the David Barton Gym chain. On December 21, 2016, this location as well as all four other David Barton Gym locations in NYC abruptly closed their door for business. In June 2017, it reopened as Limelight Fitness.[12][13]

2011 documentary[edit]

In April 2011, Rakontur released Limelight at the Tribeca Film Festival.[14] The documentary's world rights were bought by Magnolia Pictures.[15] The documentary, which highlights the club's history during the Gatien era,[16] was produced by Gatien's daughter, Jen, and directed by Billy Corben.[14]

In popular culture[edit]

  • The New York location was the site of Shirley MacLaine's New Age-themed 50th pre-birthday party, and was mentioned in her book Dancing in the Light.
  • The New York location was the subject of the 1985 song "This Disco (Used to be a Cute Cathedral)" by singer Steve Taylor. The song's lyrics mentions the club's name and history. It included on On The Fritz album. A live version appears on his album, Limelight.[17]
  • The New York location was mentioned and depicted in the second season premiere of Miami Vice, "Prodigal Son", on September 27, 1985.
  • The club was mentioned in The Horrorist's track "One Night in New York City".
  • LIMELIGHT ... in a sixtieth of a second, a photography book by Guy D'Alema was released in April 2012, visually documents the early years of the Atlanta location.
  • "Hush Hush", a first season episode of The Carrie Diaries, takes place at the Limelight New York in 1984.
  • A parody of the club, called "Slimelight", appeared in the first issue of the comic book 22 Brides.
  • The New York city location appears in Episode 6, Season 8 of The Venture Bros. where Shore Leave escorts Hank and Dean Venture. They lament the fact that it has become a mall.
  • Basic Instinct (1992) includes a nightclub scene with Sharon Stone and Michael Douglas filmed in Burbank, on a studio set inspired by the club's New York location.[18]
  • The novel "Christ Like" by Emanuel Xavier features a gay NYC nightclub called The Sanctuary which is actually The Limelight.

Notable performers[edit]

Roy Harter

See also[edit]



  1. ^ "Actress Mamie Van Doren on August 2, 1984 parties at The Limelight in..." Getty Images. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  2. ^ Ghosts of hotspots past from, April 23, 2003.
  3. ^ Turn off the mirror ball: 'Disco Kroger' getting makeover from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Published May 1, 2008.
  4. ^ "One More Night at the Limelight, July 30" Atlanta INtown (June 29, 2010)
  5. ^ "Limelight Revisited 'Déjà vu Discotheque'" Creative Loafing Atlanta
  6. ^ "Limelight & Excalibur: Celebrating 25 Years in Chicago - Nightclub & Bar Digital". 19 August 2010. Retrieved 18 September 2017.
  7. ^ "Reimagining a Historical Landmark" on Stonenest
  8. ^ Anderson, Susan Heller; Carroll, Maurice (9 November 1983). "NEW YORK DAY BY DAY". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 15 September 2022.
  9. ^ Mendelsohn, Joyce (1998), Touring the Flatiron: Walks in Four Historic Neighborhoods, New York: New York Landmarks Conservancy, ISBN 0-964-7061-2-1, OCLC 40227695
  10. ^ Sullivan, John (11 September 1997). "2 Men Plead Guilty in Killing of Club Denizen". New York Times. Retrieved 23 March 2008. Mr. Alig, who pleaded guilty in State Supreme Court in Manhattan to one count of first degree manslaughter, admitted that he and a friend smothered Andre Melendez, known as Angel, chopped up his body and threw it into the Hudson River.
  11. ^ Holy Headache! Finding Limelight’s Next Act from The New York Observer. Retrieved February 24, 2009.
  12. ^ "Limelight Fitness Club | Luxury Gym | Group Fitness | Personal Training". Limelight Fit. Retrieved 6 May 2019.
  13. ^ Beller, Sarah. "David Barton Gym Closes All 5 NYC Locations Without Warning". West Village Patch. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  14. ^ a b "'Limelight' Documentary Premieres at Tribeca Film Festival" Archived 2013-12-24 at the Wayback Machine. Retrieved December 21, 2013.
  15. ^ "Magnolia Pictures buys Peter Gatien Documentary 'Limelight'". Retrieved December 21, 2013.
  16. ^ Chew Bose, Durga. "Jen Gatien Dives Into the Limelight (Again)". Interview Magazine. Retrieved 20 May 2011.
  17. ^ Lyrics: This Disco (Used To Be A Cute Cathedral) from
  18. ^ "Basic Instinct | 1992". Retrieved 24 March 2022. ...churchified rock club – another studio set at Burbank, based on New York's Limelight Club, famously housed in a deconsecrated church on 6th Avenue at West 20th Street
  19. ^ a b Pareles, Jon (December 28, 1990) "Sounds Around Town: On New Year's Eve" The New York Times
  20. ^ You You You invitation for their concert at the Limelight


  • Owen, Frank. (2003) Clubland: The Fabulous Rise and Murderous Fall of Club Culture, St. Martin's Press, ISBN 0-312-28766-6 (UK title Clubland Confidential, Ebury Press)

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