Looking back at the Bacchanalian nights of my early 20’s living in NYC, most of the fun I had was in The Limelight Night Club on 20th Street and 6th Avenue in Chelsea. Less than a year after opening, my friends and I had found our way to become regulars in the club’s third floor VIP room know as The Library.
The Library had a front entrance at the top of a staircase with de rigueur velvet rope and a VERY sarcastic, almost urchin-like attendant named Leo. The thing was, if you could match his wit you could easily gain entrance, permanent entrance in our case…It didn’t hurt that my friends Christine, Mimi and Sandi – The Girls, as I had dubbed them, were all great looking and very outgoing. They were like three-dimensional calling cards…
The Library was managed by one of downtown NYC’s denizens, Fred Rothbell-Mista. He knew everybody and how to show them a great time. There was a cash bar in The Library, something that would be a feature of all of club impresario Peter Gatien’s clubs, but you couldn’t buy a drink from the bartender, you had to go though a short, amphetamine driven, “Mockney” by the name of Neville Wells. Neville was a miniature Bob Hoskins mixed with a bit of Michael Caine in Alfie, but man he was a lot of fun. Thing was, for every drink patrons in The Library attempted to purchase, they would likely be fed 3 or 4 more for free, once things in the room got going. Neville worked for the tips and the club just wanted happy beautiful people.
On any given night of the week, you could find Johnny Ramone or Billy Idol mingling with Herbie Hancock, or Tom Hanks, or some popular soap opera diva. Grace Jones, a long time friend of Peter Gatien held court there whenever in town and even snagged her longtime partner, Dolph Lundgren from among the club’s bouncers in those early years of the club. But most importantly to the club, and especially it’s Head Publicist, Claire O’Connor, was that it was a safe place for visiting Rock, Pop or Hip Hop artists to go out in NYC. Many bands playing in NYC would skip the after-show party and show up at Limelight to just relax and have a good and relatively quiet after-show night in NYC.
So that’s your setup….
One night in the late Fall of 1984, The Girls and I met up to go to Limelight. We were on a mission. The previous night, we were having a ball in The Library with Perri Lister, Billy Idol’s long time partner and a few of the guys from The Uptown Horns.
In came Simon Le Bon, John Taylor and Nick Rhodes. Much as we tried that night, we couldn’t really get the Brummies to join in our frivolity. It’s not that they weren’t friendly, they just seemed to not be used to the democracy of The Library. Any engagement was short and didn’t seem to hold their interest for long. So we left them to their own devices and didn’t really notice when they left.
Later in the night I was talking to the room manager Fred and related how they seemed a bit like fish out of water, but Fred told me they had a great time and planned on being back the next night after doing some publicity events. I related this to The Girls who agreed we had to be back the next night and get them to let down their hair a bit. I’m sure I made a smart comment about hairspray and how difficult that might literally be to pull off…
So back to the next night’s mission. I got a call from Sandi to tell me that she and Mimi had been out after work and stopped by a 99¢ Store and purchased a bunch of plastic water pistols that we would be bringing with us to the club. They were dead set on getting the Brummie Boys to get into the spirit whether they liked it or not. I thought, oh yeah this should be fun!
Later that night we arrived at Limelight, sometime close to Midnight. The Library was buzzy, but not crowded, as it was a Thursday night. We spotted Perri Lister and Billy Idol and sat with them, letting only Perri in on our plan. She was certainly game and excited to see how things unfolded.
Not much more than a half-hour after we had arrived, Simon and John arrived and Nick came with his wife Julianne. Nick and Julianne sat a bit separate from Simon and John, but still within chatting distance and they were all on sofas on the opposite side of the room from us.
Perri Lister started to pester us about when the fun was going to begin. I wanted to it to go off right and not seem like an unwelcome ambush. To this end I asked Christine and Perri to go fill the bag of water pistols in the ladies room and the rest of us would take the opportunity to chat with Simon and John. You could tell Nick and Julianne were a bit more preoccupied so it made sense to leave them be. After a few pleasantries, I could tell the guys were in a much looser and friendly mood and this would play right into our hand. Mimi met up with Christine and Perri coming back from filling the pistols with “ammo” and as they came back over to where Sandi and I were with Simon and John, Perri shout “alright, this is a stick up!” and threw a water pistol each to Sandi and I and we all just stood there pointing our pistols at Simon and John.
Simon began cracking up and John actually raised his hands up in the air. Mimi then pulled out another two water pistols and threw them at the boys. Well that was all that they needed to break out of their shells! Before any of us to squeeze our triggers, Simon started shooting a steady stream of water at Sandi and I.
Next thing you know we all scattered around The Library using the sofas as barricades and taking shots at each other. After a couple of minutes I realized that Nick and Julianne were hysterically laughing and so I offered my pistol to Nick so he could join in. He was all about it! Rather than go after one of The Girls, he went straight for John! I found refuge with Billy Idol who at this point was laughing hysterically and slapped me so hard on my back that I flew off the sofa on to the floor.
Thing really got going once Neville persuaded Mimi to give him a pistol and he started running around quoting lines from spaghetti westerns (he was of course a would-be actor). Neville would gather up any empty pistols and recharge them with water from behind the bar and the next thing you knew everyone in The Library was calling for a pistol to have a go. Having recovered from my moment on the floor and a few Jack and Cokes in me, I grabbed two of the pistols and challenged Billy Idol to a duel.
Fred heard my challenge and at the top of his lungs yelled out “Hold Your Fire! We have a duel!” Fred proceeded to choose each of us seconds and cleared the center of the floor. He put Billy and myself back to back and had us walk 5 paces (they were water guns after all) and turn before firing. Well I did have revenge on my mind and as soon as I turned I began firing right at Billy’s face. He just broke up in laughter and never got a shot off! In fact, it seemed like everyone in the room with a water pistol began firing in his direction!
This water pistol melee continued for about an hour and at some point many of the pistols seemed to have either Vodka or Whiskey in them. So by the end, most people were just shooting those pistols directly in their own mouths. Simon, John and Nick were all as drenched as any of us and had great fun. I remember that Julianne had managed to stay relatively unscathed in all the fracas.
Around 2:30am, Claire O’Connor arrived in The Library and Fred Rothbell-Mista told him of the goings-on she had missed. She ran over to me and I thought, right I’m done for. First words out of her mouth was “DID ANYONE TAKE PICTURES?” to which I replied in the negative. She just slumped on the sofa next to me. Then she sprang back to life and asked me if I thought Page Six would run the item even without a picture? Now I was a regular source of nightlife gossip to Page Six of The New York Post (sorry did I forget to mention that in the setup?), so I told her I could only offer the story and see if they ran with it.
I went with her to her office and called the night editor at The Post and found that I had missed the deadline for the second edition of the next day’s paper, but he liked the story and would see if he could get it in the following Monday’s edition. Claire was disappointed, but I told her that they ran a lot of my blind items.
Come the Monday, I bought a copy of The Post on the way into the subway heading to a morning of classes on Music Theory and Political Science and opened to Page Six as I sat down on the #7 Train. There it was, second item down titled “Water Pistols At Dawn!” As much as I would love to embellish and say I was listening to Duran Duran on my Walkman on the trip into Manhattan from Queens, I can guarantee it was more likely The Bunnymen, Simple Minds or Talking Heads.
On the way up from classes, and before heading to work in midtown that afternoon, I stopped by The Limelight and headed up to Claire O’Connor’s office to be greeted by a big hug and kiss and her famous loud laughter. I looked over, after being released from her bear hug, to see Peter Gatien sitting on the couch in her office and he looked up at me and said thanks for the story in the Post.
In the new year, I would find myself with the role of junior publicist at The Limelight, thanks to that night of wet and wild with Duran Duran. I worked with The Limelight on the club’s Rock and Roll Church nights where we booked acts like Johnny Thunders and a secret gig by Guns And Roses, a 4th of July show with Batcave veterans Specimen and later Communion at Limelight where Goth and Industrial bands would play to a packed house.
But my favorite job was joining in and instigating the fun in The Library at Limelight.