Tag Archive for 'le jardin'



It’s 1973 and nobody goes home until they run out of money, drugs or hope. At 3:45 am Le jardin in the Hotel Diplomat on Times Square, is so crowded that short people are having trample anxiety. The dance floor is too jammed to do anything but bump and grind. The DJ has forsworn elegant variation and is blasting one jump tune after another. Drunks pass out and are held up by the crowd. People hang over the ledges of the roof garden nine stories up, flashing boobs, dropping pants. Behind the bar I’m confronted by a wall of clutching hands. In my dive joint experience, a four deep bar at last call means one shove too many, an elbow, an angry word and suddenly an ugly brawl, which the bartenders, in those pre-bouncer days, are required to break up. But we are in Disco Eden, before the fall, and good spirits prevail. There is a lot of pushing, groping, giggling, waving money, making friends. Not a cross word or a clenched fist in the crowd.

Sal Mineo is surrounded by devotees, talking theater. Jill Haworth sits outside the charmed circle, the beard that’s no longer needed.

Roy Cohn is leading his muscle boys in a spirited rendition of “God Bless America.” He glares at me. “Don’t you know the words?”

Ira slips under the bar and lifts the drawer to remove the stacks of 50′s and 100′s. My paranoia flares.

“Can you put a slip in saying how much money you took out?” I say. “I don’t want to be short in the total.”

Ira grabs a fistful of 20′s. “Now who would ever accuse a bartender of stealing? Don’t worry, a man comes in and re rings the tapes for Uncle Sam every morning.”

An hour before the tip cup had runneth over, bills sprouting like a bonsai. Now it’s almost empty. Has Jimmy been skimming? I check the cup. The singles, fives and tens have been “married” into a thick stack of twenties. Jimmy gives me a thumbs up and I feel a twinge of guilt for my suspicion.

People are screeching in desperation. “I didn’t hear you give last call.”

Bianca Jagger squeezes through the crowd and holds out her glass. She’s been drinking Cinzano, but now says: “Can you make me something better?”

If I get the drink right I’m in. I decide on a stinger, Remy and white Creme de Menthe, shaken over ice. She takes a sip…”Delicious…” Before I can ask “are you Bianca…?” her German friend pushes her aside…”And a Tequila Sunrise, extra grenadine…”

Suddenly, the music stops. Everyone is frozen in the silence for a moment. Then, they charge John Addison, pleading for one more dance. He shakes his head, sternly. “There’s a cop in here somewhere, checking his watch, who would love to lift our license if we serve a drink at 4:01.”

As senior man, Jimmy divides the tips. I get fourteen nice crisp twenties, the most I’ve ever made. That’s almost half my child support. I’m jubilant.

“Hold out your thumbs,” Jimmy says. He sprinkles cocaine on both my thumbnails. “Blast off…” This is not a good idea, but I have to show solidarity. I jam my thumbs into my nostrils and take a huge snort. The coke races like a burning fuse. I can feel the brain cells flaring like emulsifying film.

Jimmy holds his thumbs out. “Do me…”

The coke makes me edgy and talky. I’m wiping the bar, cleaning the ashtrays. Jimmy shows up with two shots of 151. “Going off drink…”

We click glasses and throw down. I am immediately on fire from my throat to my scrotum.

“C’mon boys, leave some for the customers.” It’s Addison. I can’t place the accent. “Are you Australian?” I ask.

“No, are you a fucking college graduate?” he says.

On the way out I get the wobbles. The Pippin gypsies are pushing into the elevator singing: “Gay Gay Gay/Is There Any Other Way?”

“I’ll take the stairs,” I say.

I descend into the seven circles of Disco Inferno. Every landing a different sexual permutation, a different piece of paraphernalia. Clinging to the banister I stagger through smoke and over writhing bodies. People are moaning, screaming with laughter. Somebody grabs my ankle.

Finally, the fresh air of Times Square. I cram the tip money deep into my sock and leave a twenty in my pocket to satisfy any mugger I might encounter. It’s a few blocks to the subway and then to an unmade bed in a sweltering apartment where I’ll lie in wakeful torment. Suddenly, death seems a viable alternative.

A redhead in white short shorts, black boots and a halter top runs across the street and right by me to Jimmy.. A big kiss.

“This is Adrian,” he says. “She dances at Robbie’s Mardi Gras.”

“Robbie’s Mardi Gras used to be the Metropole,” I say. “A Dixieland club. You could see the greatest musicians playing on the bar—Gene Krupa, Red Allen, Buster Bailey, Marty Napoleon…” The coke is talking, but I can’t shut it up. “I used to stand out there in the freezing cold to watch these guys–Max Kaminsky, Pee Wee Irwin and Pee Wee Russell who wasn’t really that short…”

A stretch limo glides up and Bianca’s German rolls down the window. “Get in tarbender,” he says.

The limo is crammed. Bianca is sharing the jump seat with two skinny blondes who are dressed like twins. She smiles an invitation. Is that Addison in the front seat?

“We’re going to 228 and then I’m preparing omelets for anyone who is still breathing,” the German guy says.

228 is an after-hours club in the Village. It’s in an old sweatshop with blackened windows where you can lose days at a time.

I can’t go.

“The Loew’s 83rd. Street had a kiddie matinee at 11 today,” I say. “They show cartoons and the Seven Voyages of Sinbad. Sometimes they even have a clown…” The coke is broadcasting again. “I take my son, you know. He gets really mad when I fall asleep and keeps poking me–’wake up, dad, wake up–so I should try to get a few hours…”

The limo rolls away, but I’m still talking…”Although I’ll have to take six Advil and then I’ll be groggy all day and he’s going to want to fly a kite…”

I never worked at Le jardin again.

The Disco scene was too good to last. Everybody got too high too often. They lost control, talked too much, did too much and ended up dead. Everybody got too rich and drew too much sinister attention. The wiseguys who ran the gay bar scene in the Village branched out into the clubs. Addison had to seek police protection from a very tough guy from Brooklyn, who later became a big TV star. The IRS locked up all the major club owners for tax evasion. The wild sex turned lethal in the 80′s when the AIDS epidemic hit. Life became dangerous for the hard partyers. Sal Mineo was stabbed to death outside his West Hollywood apartment. Roy Cohn died of AIDS, denying to his last breath that he had it. John Addison also died of AIDS. By the late ’80′s Disco was dead. Only the music lived on.

It wasn’t all bad. Jimmy gained 50 pounds, married a model and became a movie producer.

And Bianca Jagger must be a grandma by now. If that was Bianca Jagger.



So I’m tending bar in the newest, hippest club in the universe. Before the night is over I might even make cigarette change for a celebrity. But I’m still a scuffler who pays child support with crumpled tip money. Le jardin is dead and it looks like I’m going to get stiffed on a Saturday night.

A little after 11 o’clock a haggard dude with a gray ponytail bops out of the elevator. The word spreads– “the DJ is here–” and everybody drops to one knee like he’s Richard The Lionhearted home from the Crusades. He is followed by a hotel porter (this in the days before unpaid “interns”) pushing a hand truck loaded with .45′s and LPs.

“Gimme a Gorilla Flush,” he says.

I look to Jimmy for guidance. “OJ with Seven-up and Perrier, a shot of grenadine and about twenty cherries,” he says. “Washes down the downs.”

I stock the bar. It’s top shelf –Commemorativo Tequila, VSOP cognacs, Wyborova Vodka, which is the height of class, single malt Glens, which are very exotic. Speaking of grenadine, I see three bottles in the carton.

“In most bars one grenadine lasts ten years,” I say.

“This is Sweet Tooth City,” says Jimmy. “You’ll go through all three bottles in one night.”

Jimmy turns an ashtray upside down under the bar and lays a two lines of coke on it. In a few fluid motions he takes two pachyderm snorts, rubs the residue on his gums and lights a cigarette.

“You can give yourself a coming on board drink, man, they’re cool with that,” he says.

What the hell I’m a short timer. I pour myself a triple Martell Cordon Bleu. Jimmy is glittering. I’m glowing. We slap fives.

The DJ goes up on stage for a “sound check,” and suddenly music is blasting out of speakers all over the room. He starts out with a medley of the ’50′s oldies. Another triple and I’m getting goose pimples. With every song another episode from my yearning adolescence flashes before me.

The DJ must be the Pied Piper. People begin trickling in. This is before velvet ropes and snotty doormen take the fun out of the scene. Fifi is at the door collecting admission. Pay your ten bucks and you’re on your own. It’s an eclectic crowd. Some chorus boys from Pippin, which is playing down the street—”we can only stay for a few dances; ” a few tall, blonde foreigners, who tell Addison “you are already very famous in Amsterdam; ” three guys in leather jackets who look like off duty cops; two couples in tuxes and prom gowns–but a closer look reveals they’re all guys; a few red-faced drunks who look like bus drivers, but talk like high school music teachers; a suburban midlife crisis couple–she with the mahogany tan and the polished eyeballs, he with the floral shirt open on the Magen David glittering in the chest hair.

The DJ waits for critical dance mass to be reached and switches to disco. Motown, Stax, Chess and suddenly a Sinatra ballad or even an old tune like Earth Angel…The crowd is his instrument. They go from festive to funky to nostalgic at his command.

The bar is three deep and frantic. No beer drinkers here. Everybody wants an “innuendo”cocktail. A “Harvey Wallbanger” (vodka, OJ, a float of Galliano,) A “Sloe Comfortable Screw”(sloe gin, Southern Comfort, OJ with a splash of Grenadine.) A “Foxy Lady,” (Amaretteo, creme de cacao and heavy cream.) A “Golden Shower” (Galliano, white cream de cacao, Triple Sec, OJ and cream, grenadine optional). A “Comesicle” (vodka, rum, white mint, orange juice and cream.)

After a half hour my fingers are sticky from the grenadine and I’ve got cream all over my shorts. Ira comes back to check the register and looks at the stains. “I’m glad somebody’s having fun…”

There’s a commotion at the door. A blonde transsexual is borne through the crowd…”Candy’s gonna sing…”

“That’s Candy Darling,” Jimmy says.

The music stops and everybody quiets down. From out of the darkness comes a quavery contralto “Some day he’ll come along/The man I love…”

She gets a cheers “We love you, Candy…We won’t forget…”

“Candy’s got terminal cancer,” Jimmy says. “They give her three months, tops…”

For about two hours it’s so busy I can hardly look up.

Suddenly, I get a sane order.

“Two vodka martinis, straight up.”

They look like two kids viping cigarettes and looking wide-eyed at the crowd. But wait:

That’s Sal Mineo

It’s always a shock to see a celebrity. This is the kid from Rebel Without a Cause and Exodus… Curly hair, big nose, thick lips, baby face. It’s gotta be him.

That little skinny chick huddling next to him looks like Jill Haworth, his co star in Exodus. They were on the cover of Life Magazine together. Funny, the things you remember.

I grab Jimmy by the register. “Is that Sal Mineo?”

“Be cool,” he says. “He doesn’t like it when guys flirt…”

I get a queasy feeling. What did I do to make Jimmy think I was gay? Maybe I didn’t slap him five hard enough. I go back through my memory. Once I was running for a bus and a bunch of firemen in a passing engine truck jeered “Hurry up sweetie…” But I was wearing tight shoes that day and carrying two heavy bags of groceries.

I lay down the martinis with my eyes averted.

“That’s on me.” It’s Addison in the middle of the bar. Sal Mineo raises his glass. “Thanks, John…” He holds out a bill. “Here man, thanks…” I take it, eyes averted. It’s a twenty. Jimmy watches to make sure I put it in the cup.

“Hey,” Addison calls.

A girl is waving at me. I walk right past him like a man in a trance. Slim, dark, mocking eyes. A spangled dress. Great legs…”Cinzano and soda,” she says. Very familiar. Is that Bianca Jagger? She hands me the money, grazing my wrist with her nails. Gives me the chills.

“Hey,” Addison calls.

“Are you a basketball player?” she asks.

“I played in high school.”

“You have an athlete’s body,” she says.

I try to graze her wrist in return and drop the change in the sink.

“Is that Bianca Jagger?” I ask Jimmy.

“Where?” he asks. but she has already vanished in the smoke and left me a ten dollar bill.

Addison grabs me. “What’s the matter with you?” He has his arm around a bulky little man in a blue suit. “This is my attorney. Take good care of him.”

He’s got a bulbous nose, thick lips, angry pout like a thwarted baby.

It’s Roy Cohn.

This man was the villain of my childhood. He was one of DA’s who prosecuted Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, the Soviet spies who went to the electric chair. He was counsel to the notorious witch-hunting Senator Joe McCarthy. He was absolute anathema to my left wing family. My aunt burst into tears every time she saw him on TV.

He sees it all on my face. The contempt, the revulsion.

“Cutty on the rocks,” he rasps.

I could make a gesture now. Refuse to serve him. Remind him of how he hounded innocent people, destroyed lives…

He’s with two bodybuilders in white tee shirts, who are knocking back 151 shooters with beer chasers. He puts the change back in his wallet with a pointed look at me. No tip for you, Commie.

People are screaming for drinks.The music is non-stop. The dance floor is a blur. I decide to write a poem called “Disco Dervish…”

Bianca has brought somebody to check me out. A lanky guy in a white dinner jacket over a hairless fish-white chest. He pushes a dank blonde lock out of his eyes.

“And vot do you do?” he asks with a German accent.

“Make drinks,” I say.

He waves impatiently. “Don’t you do somesing creative?”

“I’m a writer.”

“A writer,” he says and turns to Bianca. “Pearfect,” he says. ” And now Mr. Writer make me a tequila sunrise with extra grenadine…”

Jimmy comes up from under the bar so wired he’s woozy.

I try to discreetly point over my shoulder. “Look over there. Is that her?”

His hands shake as he lights a cigarette. “No…”

I turn back. She’s gone. But there’s a twenty under the ashtray…

It’s gotta be her.


NEXT: The End Of A Perfect Evening



July ’73, Times Square, New York…There’s a recession on, but you can’t tell by me. I’ve got a bar job– twenty-seven bucks a night and all the goldfish I can eat. It’s at the Hotel Diplomat, an SRO on 43rd. St. and Sixth Ave. We call it “the Roach Motel” because once you check in you don’t check out. Half the tenants are seniors, shuffling around the mahogany chairs and sputtering lamps in the lobby until they find a spot on a lumpy sofa where they can lean on their walkers, muttering to the ghosts in the gloom. They stop breathing in rooms filled with fifty years of clutter, and lie forgotten until their stench signals their demise. The stronger ones make it to the hospital, bounced down the steps on a gurney, heads turning for one last dazed look around before they vanish into the ambulance of no return.

Hookers live in rooms rented by their pimps, who hang out in a bar off the lobby. They are hustled out, handcuffed and hysterical, by Vice Squad cops. New girls immediately take their places like there’s a waiting list. The seniors lean on their walkers and watch as they lead raucous sailors, nervous high school kids or furtive men in suits across the lobby.

Slouchy guys mutter in the phone booths by the elevators. Some of them are found with the needles still in their arms. Alerted by a trail of blood under the doors the maids enter to find the others tied, gagged and slashed in ransacked rooms. The seniors hobble down the hall as EMS workers wheel the bodies out, wrapped in their bloody sheets.

Rats the size of anteaters raid the liquor room, ripping open the bags of pretzels, unscrewing the tops of the maraschino cherry jars. We shout and sing to get them to scatter before we enter, but there are a few practical jokers in the pack. You don’t know what terror is until you’ve been startled by a giant rodent covered in Red Dye No. 2.

The Diplomat was once the hotel of the soft Left. The Socialist Party had its meetings and dances in its three ballrooms. Now promoters rent the spaces for dances and special events. Friday, Saturday and Sunday night the Crystal Room, so named for its chandeliers, is taken over by Alfredo, a twitchy middle-aged Neapolitan and Gerry, his blonde Brooklyn girlfriend. They put on dances for Italian immigrants. They charge ten dollars at the door and the hotel gets the bar. The room has a capacity of seven hundred and fifty. Every night begins with Alfredo pacing nervously as a few people straggle in. But by ten o’clock the place is jammed.

Three of us work a ninety foot bar. It’s Paul, a retired mailman from Harlem, Al, an angry butcher at Gristedes, who sells swag steaks out of the trunk of his car and me, a recently separated hack writer with a six year old son. We each have a bottle of Seagrams Seven, Highland Dew scotch, Gordon’s gin and Wolfschmidt’s vodka–and a soda gun. Seven and Seven is the cocktail du soir; we go through at least three cases of Seagrams a night. All drinks are $1.25 and served in plastic cups. No bottled beer; quarrels often erupt and the management doesn’t want any throwable glassware available.

The customers rush the bar, hundreds of them, shouting and shoving and clamoring for drinks for like they’ve been crawling on the Sahara for weeks. They pay in small change. “These greaseballs don’t go for spit,” Al says. By midnight, we have so many nickels in the register that Lester, the night manager dumps them in a huge sack. A quarter is considered a big tip and is presented with much pomp and ceremony. A few of the guys proffer a buck like it’s the papal crown on a plush pillow, but then they want free drinks for the friends and any stray girl who happens by. We do the math and figure that with people coming and going Alfredo is grossing ten thousand cash a night on Friday and Saturday and about five on Sunday– twenty-five G’s for low. Figuring an average crowd of twelve hundred, averaging three drinks at $1.25 per, that’s about $4500 for the hotel. For very low. “Everybody’s makin’ money and we get screwed,” Al says. We decide to charge the customers and steal from the till.

A quintet plays Top 40 and traditional Italian. Vito, the vocalist, a short kid with a gimpy leg and coke bottle glasses, is the ideal cover singer, doing Marvin Gay, Frankie Valli or Domenico Madugno with equal fidelity . Gerry rakes the dance floor with disco lighting, flashing, strobing, changing color, sweeping the room like a prison spotlight. The dancers do the same steps to a proto party list, going from Swear to God to Let’s Get It On to Volare.

There is a hard core of about a hundred regulars who show up every week. Among the men, an older group, smooth-shaven and slick-haired in wide-shouldered suits clusters at one end of the bar. They own pizza parlors all over Brooklyn and Staten Island, Vito explains. Another faction, young and modish in jeans and leather vests over sleeveless tees comes to my end. They work in “debt collection, you know what I mean?” Vito says flicking his nose. The two groups greet each other guardedly and never mix.

The females are either overdressed, heavily made up and deliriously sexy, at least to me, or mousy and awkward and giggling with each other. They arrive in groups like a bus tour and dance together for the first hour until the men join in. Everyone usually pairs off, but one night I spot a melancholy lady staring at me as she knocks back Seven and Sevens. At closing an invitation to coffee leads to a lurching clinch in the lobby and more stumbled kisses on the subway steps. But she sobers up on the long ride out to Brooklyn and by the time we get to Bensonhurst it’s life story time with lots of names and places, weddings, spiteful cousins, he saids, she saids… I find out she lives on 18th. Avenue with her parents and her “fiance” is a few doors down and I’m out of there. The next week she’s at the bar with one of the “debt collectors,” giving me a complicit smile like we’re having a mad affair.

The ’60′s had been a stressful time, what with psychedelics, army physicals and the shock of parenthood. Now, in the ’70′s I wake up broke, rejected and full of guilt on a mattress on the dusty floor of an empty apartment. But I’m not in school, I’m not in the army, I’m not married and I’m up for a job writing porno novels at ten dollars a page. Life is good.

One night I come to work to find a line a gleaming limos in front of the hotel.

“We doing weddings now?” I ask Lester.

“They’re havin’ a big party at Le Jardin tonight.”

He’s a black dude who’s been at the Diplomat for forty years, working his way up from porter. You’d think he had seen everything, but he shakes his head in amazement.

“They had Diana Ross and the Supremes up there the other night. They get just about everybody…”

I remember a few weeks ago when the place opened. “They got a fag joint on the roof,” Al had said.

Vito had gone up there one night and come back with a dismal report. “No live music…They got a DJ like on the radio. Two turntables goin’ back and forth…” He looked at me helplessly. “Everybody’s gonna do this now. We’re dead…”

It’s the beauty of narcissism. A seismic cultural phenomenon was erupting right under my nose and I didn’t even notice it.

For the first time I notice that the lobby has a new population. Young, stylish, flamboyant, pushing the seniors off their perches, interfering with the orderly process of prostitution, even sending the dope dealers into temporary retreat. They jam into the only elevator that goes to the roof, making so many trips that the motor burns out and they have to take the stairs.

“They wait on line like they’re givin’ out twenty dollar bills,” Lester says. “You oughta go up there. They got everything goin’ on…”