-THE HISTORY OF CLUB 54-
As mentioned in PART 1, the beginnings of Club 54 were at Caesars Restaurant and Big Julies Disco in downtown Hamilton.It was there that I learned all the ins and outs of the hospitality industry – I was at various times a busboy, waiter, maitre d’, cook, bartender, DJ, doorman and manager. I also learned all the inner workings of audio, video, sound and light systems. All of this while travelling back and forth weekly to London, Ontario and getting my business degree at the University of Western Ontario.Caesars was a fabulous restaurant – the best Italian restaurant in the city at the time. It had a fantastic chef, Roy Bisulca, who made the finest Italian pastas and veal dishes – and everything was baked fresh on the premises – bread, cookies, cakes, desserts. The excellent service staff was headed by our maitre d’ Rinaldo, with entertainment by our strolling guitarist and singer Rudolfo, an amazing menu with the most incredible dishes and a beautiful décor – all conceived of and created by my dad, Jim.The mid 70’s were the heydays of the brand new Hamilton Place, headed by general manager George MacPherson, a veteran Broadway theatre producer from New York City . George brought in all the biggest acts from all over the world, and he would also bring them to eat at Caesars. Some of the most famous singers, actors and comedians of the time ate at Caesars – legendary performers such as Tom Jones, Liberace, Vincent Price, Rock Hudson, Andy Williams, Victor Borge, Ginger Rogers, Mel Torme, Rich Little, Henry Mancini, Tony Randall, Jack Klugman, Al Molinaro, Hal Holbrook, Dom DeLuise, Wilfred Hyde-White, Cleo Laine, Sir John Dankworth, Bob Fosse, Ben Vereen, Joey Heatherton and many more!
In addition to the great food, Caesars Dining Room also had top notch service, here’s a picture of me (trying to look serious) with some of the waiters, and also some more photos of the Hamilton Place celebrities who came to eat there.Of course, my dad always got tickets to some of the great shows at Hamilton Place – my personal favourites were Tony Bennett, Tom Jones, George Carlin, Victor Borge, Lou Rawls, Hall and Oates and The Bee Gees (yes, the Bee Gees – next to The Beatles, my all time favourite band) It was in September of 1975 – the Main Course tour – just before Saturday Night Fever exploded onto the scene – and we had two floors ready to take advantage of the new Disco craze! The great Vincent Price - Rich Little and Mel Torme - Henry Mancini - Joey Heatherton - Hal Holbrook - Sir John Dankworth and Cleo Laine - Victor Borge with George MacPherson - Bob Fosse - Ben Vereen - Wilfred Hyde White - Dom DeLuise (again). That’s our Maitre D’, Rinaldo, standing.
Big Julies Disco was a small nightclub that was dug out of the crawl space in the basement of the building at 30 King St. East, which housed Caesars Restaurant, which was on the second floor. When I was in high school in 1973 and ’74, I spent the better part of the summer holidays helping a crew shovel dirt and rocks onto a conveyor belt and out the back of the building as we cleared out the space in which the club was built. (this was in addition to being a bricklayer’s assistant and carpenter’s assistant while Caesars was being built upstairs). The building was slowly becoming a four floor entertainment complex. Once again, all this was conceived, planned out and created by my dad, Jim.The ground floor eventually became ‘Le Cabaret’, then ‘Paesanos’ and later, ‘Mulligans’. The third floor became Caesars Penthouse Dinner Theatre. More about that later.Big Julies opened in 1975 and became a nightspot to compliment the dining room upstairs. Little did we know that the disco craze was about to hit a year or so later and this small club (capacity 90 people) became the hottest nightclub in Hamilton (my opinion).Below are some random photos and newspaper articles about Big Julies.
Some random photos of staff and customers from Big Julies. The heydays of this club were from 1975 – 1983. In 1983 the original Club 54 opened (more on that later). Some of these photos are courtesy of Krista Warnke, and were taken the night of Jim’s 51st birthday. As mentioned earlier, the club on the first floor evolved from Le Cabaret, to Paesanos and finally, Mulligans.
As mentioned earlier, Caesars became a four-floor entertainment complex, and the ground floor eventually became known as Paesano’s, a casual Italian bar and bistro. For a time we booked live acts there – jazz bands, rock bands and comedians. One day in May of 1980, an old friend of my dad’s, Kelly Jay (of Crowbar fame), dropped in for lunch with none other than David Clayton-Thomas! They ended up staying all day, regaling my dad and I with lots of fascinating and hilarious stories from their years of experience in the music business.Later that night, Kenny Marco’s band, Gambler, was playing at Paesano’s (Kenny had previously toured with Blood, Sweat and Tears). After a bit of convincing, David and Kelly ended up on our tiny stage performing with the band.To have David Clayton-Thomas singing with his powerhouse voice in a small venue like that was absolutely amazing!Coincidentally, Darcy Hepner, the renowned sax player who played a few gigs at Paesano’s, also ended up touring with Blood, Sweat and Tears years later, (1999-2004)
Here is some more random stuff from Caesars Entertainment Complex – a Christmas card from Liberace, an autograph from Rock Hudson, some old newspaper articles, reviews and photos…. (Photots coming soon)
In order to have a successful and popular disco or nightclub back in the 70’s and 80’s, you had to have the latest dance music. The volume of great music during the disco era was huge, and the Billboard Hot 100 and the DIsco/Dance Chart was our guide to the newest hit records coming up from New York and LA. After many weekly trips to the Toronto DJ Pool and to the record wholesalers in Buffalo, our DJ Joey and I decided that it would be a good idea to open a record shop of our own.So we found a spot on the second floor of a building at 9 King East, right across Gore Park from Caesars and Big Julies – and The Record Attic was born.We specialized in imported 12″ disco singles and also Italian pop music, which was very popular in our area back then. I’ll never forget, our two biggest sellers at that time were the Soft Cell 12″ single of ‘Tainted Love’ and the Umberto Tozzi 45 of ‘Ti Amo’ – we sold hundreds and hundreds of those two records, we couldn’t keep enough of them in stock!
One night, my buddy Nick Randazzo and I were in Toronto bar-hopping, and I remembered that my pal, Kelly Jay (of Crowbar fame) was DeeJaying the overnight show on CHUM-FM. So we went over to the studio on Yonge Street and Kelly okayed our entrance into the studio, where he proceded to do an interview with me. I told him about our new record store and how we had the largest stock of the new Soft Cell 12 inch single (which was sold out everywhere) and the next day people from all over southern Ontario were showing up at the Record Attic to buy this record! I ordered as many boxes full as I could from our wholesaler in New York and we sold a ton of those records!
Here are a bunch of photos from Big Julies and Paesano’s that were graciously sent to me by my good friend, Sherry Destro. She and her late husband, my dear old buddy Al, held their engagement party there way back when.I hope you enjoy the photos and get an idea of what the rooms looked like – you may even see yourself in one of the shots!(Photos Coming soon)
Back in the late 70’s and early 80’s, I spent a lot of time with my buddies going to bars – lots of bars. Like everyone else in those days, we would check out bars and clubs all over Southern Ontario and across the border in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, N.Y. We’d also do some travelling to other cities outside the area. While checking out all the bars, discos and nightclubs, I would get lots of inspiration for what I was doing with the décor and the promotions in Big Julies and Paesano’s/Mulligans. However, I was really itching to get a bigger location and open a much bigger club.The most fabulous nightclub that I ever went to was the world famous ‘Studio 54’ in New York City in January of 1979. Studio 54 was notorious as a hang-out for all the big celebrities of the time and it was an amazing experience!Another great club was ‘The Twelve Thirty Four’ (Club 1234) in Montreal. The sound systems and light shows in these two nightclubs were simply spectacular.Acapulco also had amazing nightclubs back then, most notably Baby ‘O, Boccaccio, Extravaganza and The Palladium.In 1982 and ’83, the video era was just beginning. With the popularity of MTV, videos were becoming a really big thing. Someone told me about this huge nightclub in Cambridge, Ont., of all places. It was called ‘Ballingers’, and they had this giant video screen on which they would project the newest, most popular videos (from bands like the Culture Club, Thompson Twins, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Duran Duran and so on), and all the while mixing them in with the DJ’s records.Well, this just blew my mind, so I dragged my dad out to Cambridge one night to see this place and I told him that “This is it – we gotta do something like this!”With perfect timing, a huge building just down the street from Caesars became available for lease – at 54 King Street East. It was a huge, magnificent building on two levels with 40-foot ceilings and huge crystal chandeliers and big, winding staircases. It was formerly a Bank of Nova Scotia location, and most recently it had been renovated into a fine dining restaurant called The Overdraft. Fortunately for me, they went out of business, and I convinced my dad to lease out the building so that I could create a fabulous huge, new nightclub in there.I have to credit my father for having faith in me, because that’s exactly what happened!
A mentioned in Part 10 – I convinced my dad that we should lease this fabulous building just down the street from Caesars, at 54 King St. East. In an interview he called it “A masterpiece of a building, with 40 foot ceilings, winding stairs, brass railings, on 3 separate levels with French provincial décor and huge crystal chandeliers”.It really was beautiful, and it was the perfect room for what I wanted to create – a fabulous ‘Videotheque’, as we called it at the time – a disco that projected the latest music videos on a huge video screen.Now, what should be name the new club?Originally, Club 54 was called ‘The 54’.At the time, I named it ‘The 54’ because of the address, 54 King St. – and it was a perfect play on words with Studio 54 in New York City. Also, people often shorten the name of a club when they refer to it, and Studio 54 in NY was usually simply called ‘Studio’ or ‘The 54’. There were also number of notable clubs that I visited at the time that used their address, or a number, as the name for the club – ‘The Twelve 34’ in Montreal, ‘Club 747’ in Buffalo, and ‘The 21 Club’ in New York, and of course ‘Studio 54’.To this day, many of our Burlington Club 54 customers refer to the club as simply ’54’ or ‘The 54’ or even ‘C54’One other reason that I named the club ‘The 54’ is because there was a very popular disco song at the time called ‘Le Freak’ by a band called Chic. There was a lyric in the song that went like this:“…Just come on down,to the Fifty Four,Find your spot out on the floor,Ah, freak out!”Of course the song was referring to Studio 54, but I thought it was a really cool line and it’s another reason why I called the club ‘The 54’.
COMING UP IN Part 12 – THE GRAND OPENING OF ‘THE 54’
Part 11 – CONTINUED
It was October of 1983, and after extensive renovations, ‘The 54’ was almost ready to open.I put an ad in the Spectator for bartenders, servers and door staff and was amazed at the turnout for jobs. Over 200 were lined up from early in the morning.In the early ’80s there was a worldwide recession going on (interest rates had peaked at 21%!). There was also a high unemployment rate at the time, so a lot of people showed up for interviews. The Spec even ran a story on it, and the opening was very much anticipated among the bar crowd in Hamilton.I was doing a lot of advertising with CFNY radio, and I decided to hire their very popular duo ‘Pete & Geets’ to host the opening party. It would be a Grand Opening Halloween Bash on Friday, October 28.The stage was set!
Friday, Oct 28, 1983 – The Grand Opening of ”THE 54′ at 54 King St E. in downtown Hamilton.As mentioned in Part 11, the opening party was a Halloween Bash hosted by CFNY DJ’s ‘Pete and Geets’.It was a little risky to open a new club with the economy in a deep recession, but I knew it would be a hit. It was a fantastic night, great turnout, lots of fabulous costumes and afterwards the club began attracting huge crowds every weekend.
COMING UP IN Part 13 – More photos from ‘The 54’
Are you in any of these photos? Let us know!
Random photos from ‘The 54’ Nightclub in downtown Hamilton, circa 1983-’84. (Photos coming soon)
A nice write-up in The Spec and some random photos from ‘The 54’ Nightclub in downtown Hamilton, circa 1983-’85.