Last night, my friend Catie sent me a link to a Gothamist article with the headline "East Village Drag & Punk Club Closes Due to Pandemic." My brain went kind of numb. They were referring to the Pyramid Club, a dance place on Avenue A known for staying true to its 80s origins. She and I had spent countless sweaty hours grooving there. It was a place I would beg wannabe-new-wavers and non-80s-music-inclined friends alike to come with me to pay the $7 cover and bask in the day-glo graphics on the wall any chance I could.
Catie was the one who introduced me to Pyramid sometime during our sophomore year of college. We would request "Dancing with Myself" and various ABBA tracks and jump around on the stage like we were somebodies. I remember when they stopped letting just anyone dance on the stage and requesting songs and never said why. We kept doing our thing all the same. I was there a night shortly after Prince died and someone in a cheesy purple costume and curly wig came out and danced to "When Doves Cry" with so much heart that his get-up suddenly didn't seem cheesy. I'll never forget the night we briefly befriended a troupe of 40-year-old suburban woman or when the brother of a friend tried to pull me and him up onto one of the cubes and all three of us went tumbling like Humpty Dumpty. I was so drunk I didn't care how dirty the floor made my new jeans. Embarrassment was the last thing ever on my mind; here we were free. We went there on Halloween, New Year's, my birthday. It was that special to me. I loved taking trips downstairs to the basement where fog and techno distorted my senses and most definitely gave any and all behavior a free pass. I even took my mom there! An 80s queen in her own right, she retired her Debbie Harry two-toned bob long ago but still has the moves down. She was impressed to hear such a variety of New Wave, not just the overplayed hits. "It's exactly like the 80s in here," she told me.
I clubbed there for the last time on Valentine's Day of 2019 in a vintage pink two-piece and heart-print stockings. There was a guy my friends and I would always see there, this tall, older bald dude who wore a uniform of white ribbed tank tops, black kilts, chains, and heavy boots. To us, he was a stock character in video game. Like a lot of the staff there, he was about the right age to have been an original frequenter, a patron saint of this heyday we were all trying to get a piece of. That last night before the pandemic, my friend Davis and I were dancing our hearts out on one black cube when I looked across the packed dance floor to see this man doing the same. We made eye contact, not for the first time, and he said "nice moves!" with a huge smile and a thumbs up.
Lots of places in New York have sadly shuttered, so I maybe I shouldn't be so surprised. But Pyramid was the kind of place that felt totally preserved in time, almost not existing on the same linear track as the rest of us. It was easy for me to take Pyramid for granted because its existence seemed more like a fact. The Gothamist article includes links to all these amazing clips of Pyramid through the years. From drag queens to Deee-Lite to Nirvana, this place really drew in every person, famous or otherwise, who was cool and strange and wonderful. Among others, Michael T (a DJ and performer I know from giving me life at my other East Village haunt, Beauty Bar) has also shared some photos from years gone by. And there it is, a place that seems to exist in a vacuum from my position in time. I was slightly aware of the rich artistic history it held but I don't think I truly understood why it meant so much to me until now. It's a relic, a historic monument to the most discussed era of New York: the wave of experimental rock and queer expression in the late 70s into the 80s. Like all great eras for cultural progress, it's easy to romanticize the grit, the longing, and even the oppression otherwise found in the city then. A safe haven like Pyramid, where "freaks" of all varieties could freely party and express themselves and learn from each other, was a necessary by-product of a rough world, one not too dissimilar from our own confusing age.
I wish I had taken more pictures, more videos, spent every night I could on the little dance cubes they had living out my Go-Go dancer fantasy. In fairness to my past self, Pyramid was also never the most photogenic place, but that's what made it charming. The entrance and bar area was decorated with recognizable but uncanny portraits of various 80s icons: Madonna, Prince, Flock of Seagulls, Pet Shop Boys, Boy George, Debbie Harry, etc. The bathroom was kind gross, as all proper club bathrooms should be. And the dance floor was just one big square surrounded by leather booths and the famous black wooden cubes. The brick walls were painted black and decorated with day-glo graphics of Rubix cubes, Pac Man, and the words "80s DANCE PARTY." The floor was coated in a sticky mixture of city dirt and spilt drinks, plastic Dixie cups and all. Turn that flash on and the illusion is gone. I also didn't document the dozens of nights I've spent there because I was too busy enjoying it. It was a place you simply had to experience.
Last night Catie melodramatically joked, "and with that my youth has left me." I cried seeing all of the old clips Pyramid-ers were sharing and asked friends to send me footage they had of our time there. In looking through albums from college, I started to feel the same as Catie. My friends and I are all entering our mid-twenties and haven't gotten many opportunities to act reckless and fun in over a year like the shenanigans we used to get up to weekly. Returning to those days seems even more impossible with the threat of losing all our favorite spots.
I loved Pyramid because it really did make me feel like a star. It had that effect. How could it not with all the energy it contained, all the star power it conducted and held within those walls for the last 40 years? I loved feeling connected to that vibration, a current that could run through the entirety of New York City if we let it. In a video made by Pyramid's original crew, Nelson Sullivan says "I don't know what we'd do without the Pyramid. Without the Pyramid there would be no ancient knowledge passed on from year to year...the halls of the Pyramid are some of the most well traveled halls in New York City." By the time my crew got around to being Pyramid regulars, the club had evolved from a place of innovation to one of preservation. Any night after 11 pm you could stop in and visit a memory of a glorious decade. But, if I'm being honest, after the year we've had, I'm craving more than a memory.
I'm still in shock that I'll never get to be in those hallowed halls ever again. I'm holding out a hope that someone or many someones will swoop in and save the day, considering how hefty of a cultural institution Pyramid really is. However, I also have another, more forward-thinking dream. In it, we emerge from this half-quarantined existence into a world roaring with nightlife. Despite the city being much more gentrified and "cleaned-up," the pandemic has brought out the good, old-fashioned New York grit once again. People are broke and lonely and desperate for fun; the city is due for its next great wave of freaks to gather in our own little holes-in-the-wall.
Pyramid gave me some of the best nights of the first five and a half years I spent in New York. It will pulse in my veins forever. Sullivan was right about the "ancient knowledge passed down." With or without a physical Pyramid Club to go to, the energy it cultivated can never die. The cycle just continues. In this rotten little town, sweet air we breathe is down-right polluted with that kind of stardust.