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From the archives: 50 years ago, discotheques become a mass movement

Discotheque dancers on May 16, 1967.

Discotheque dancers on May 16, 1967. Credit: AP Newsfeatures Photo

This article was originally published in Newsday on February 10, 1965

Two years ago it arrived here from Europe as a private plaything of the elite, the hipsters with the cash to finance their jet set appetites. To belong to the first of New York’s discotheques, Le Club, you had to spend almost $300 in annual dues.

Today, everyone can afford to dance to the recorded big sound, and that’s exactly what everyone is doing. Everywhere. This has been called the winter of our discotheque, but prospects are strong that things won’t be any different for many a season, if ever. Discotheque clubs are popping up like track touts onto a good thing. Manhattan is already jumping and Long Island is gathering steam in the race for the dancing dollar.

“Fantastic. Unbelievable. Last Sunday night – that’s Sunday, mind you – it was pouring and we still had people waiting in line outside.” Shaking his head in pleased amazement, manager Romy Aguirre spoke of the Ondine, one of New York City’s newest discotheques. “We have lines every night of the week, all kinds of people of all ages coming in to dance. And the day or the hour makes no difference. Every night is wild right up to closing time.”

 The Ondine’s wildest night was its first one, this past New Year’s Eve. By 8:30 the next morning most of the mob was still swaying to the ear-splitting noise of the Beatles on multitrack stereo, frugging, twisting, monkeying and feeling no pain.

Aguirre, a 31-year-old Argentinian lawyer (“I don’t like law, I like people”), keeps his following by showing no preference to the celebrities who rub ribs with the masses. “I receive everyone as though they were royalty,” he said. If genuine royalty or its equivalent isn’t made to stand on line, it must put up with a wait at the bar. “Once, Bobby Kennedy dropped in without a reservation. There were no tables open, so what could we do? He had to stand at the bar. He was very nice about the whole thing.”

The minimum at the Ondine is $4 a person, roughly the same as it is at discotheque spots around town. And the crowds are roughly as large and enthusiastic elsewhere as they are at the Ondine. L’Intrigue, the Disc Au Go Go, Shepheard’s at the Drake Hotel, the Garrison – all are doing well enough so that the Stork Club recently added disc dancing, and others are expected to follow suit.

Long Island has been a little slow in catching on, but it won’t be long now. Duke’s Restaurant in Mineola turned discotheque in November and Great Neck’s Red Glove made the transition last week. Duke’s operates in the traditional manner, with a “discaire” taking requests and spinning the records. Manager Veronica Prezioso reported that the changeover brought about a sizable jump in profits.

The Red Glove, however, employs the system that conceivably could turn every neighborhood tavern into a dance hall: Seeburg’s Automated Discotheque. Seeburg installs the special “big sound” juke box, prefabricated hardwood dance floor, lighting, even the napkins, and is currently working out arrangements with several Long island establishments. Red Glove Jim Flaherty Jr. raved about the results so far and brushed off the notion that discotheque might be a fad. “These are married people coming in here, not kids,” he said. “As long as there’s dancing, there’ll be discotheque.”

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