Thursday, February 09, 2006

Over The River

With exception to NYC, most of my nightlife experiences in the 1980s took place in Center City Philadelphia. Sure, there were the trips to Upper Darby to the MSA Club at 69th Street, located above the CR Bar - - both pretty sad spots for someone used to center city glitter - - and of course the trips to beach points like Rehoboth Beach DE and Atlantic City NJ [I have a seperate post about Atlantic City coming soon - some bizarre stories from that place!].

But most of my nightlife was spent in Philly ... except for those times when we piled in the car and drove over the river and through the woods to Cherry Hill, New Jersey to an oasis amidst the marshes known as Gatsby's.

Gatsby's was a disco that catered to the straight crowd when it first opened - it shifted to the gay market around 1980 or so and became THE bar that all of queer South Jersey considered their 'coming out' bar.

To me, it was fascinating to see a bar/disco have a parking lot! Between all the spots in Philly and NYC, this was never needed and I remember that being so odd to me. I first went as a representative of PGN and quickly became friends with several folk, including Wilma - the doll behind the bar. He was already an icon in the gay community and wound up working in clubs in Philly later in his career. VERY FRIENDLY! Also friendly to me was the manager - Richard McPeake ... who currently is the owner of 12th Air Command in Philly.

Once Au Courant opened, I was there often - both as their ad rep and also to party and dance as much as possible. The space was a bit of an escape for me, since there were so many faces I didn't know (unlike any club in Philly by this time). One of the sweetest people I have ever met, I first met at Gatsby's. Debbie Spadafora. She was just the warmest person out there and I always looked forward to heading over the bridge to see her again.

This rare image is probably from 1983 ... that's a 20 year old version of me, in front is Chino (who I posted about a while back). Jason, the then-assistant manager, is next to me and there's Debbie!!

Those of you in the scene today know Debbie. She's been involved in the nightlife for decades - currently assistant manager at Pure (the old DCA). She also created and is the webmaster of http://www.phillygayborhood.com. Some used to call her 'Big Debbie' cause of her size at the time ... to me she is always Big Debbie, because of the size of her heart and her spirit.

She's good folk - say hi to her the next time you see her out and about!

6 comments:

Maidink said...

Yikes! I remember Gatsby's. I dropped many a dollar on drinks there. It was practically my weekend home in the late 80's early 90's. I even named my cat Gatsby.

*smile*

Thanks for the memory.

Liz said...

OMG! I went to Gatsby's. I totally forgot about that place, thanks for reminding me. Jesus I really did club my ass off in the 80's, that much I do remember. hehe!

Slam said...

Wow, thanks for the walk down memory lane. I grew up near Gatsby's and it was my the place to be in the late 80's. Lots of great memories there.

"Chris" Joe said...

OMG- I loved Gatsby's. I was a regular there in 1981. Loved the wed. night Nickle Nights. I even worked the lights on the dancefloor I was there so much and was put on the payroll. I'll never forget Val, Danny and so many bartenders there and the great people that danced and partied there- Chris

"Chris" Joe said...

I loved Gatsby's. It was the place I came out. I started going there in 1981 when I was 19. I loved the crowd. The bartenders, Val and Danny. Richard was wonderful. I was there so much he hired me for the dance floor lights.
I eventually followed and worked at Key West with Richard when he left Gatsby's. I wish there would be a reunion... so many great times

PatrickinWyoming said...

Ahh this was a fun little place! I lived in Philly still going to college, and we'd all pile in my car and drive across the bridge to get to Gatsby's. Became a gay/mixed club in 1979. Great music, was less disco with it's mix of new wave/punk thrown in, and the DJ whose name I don't remember was a really nice black man who wanted to go to Florida.
Small dance floor but friendly younger crowd. I remember when 'Rock Lobster' (B-52's) started playing here..we'd all crotch down on the floor as the song went "down, down, down....."
Great days in a great era never to be repeated.