Pyramid Club Flyers
Pyramid Flyers, date unknown, Box 2, Pyramid Club Flyers MSS.435, Fales Library & Special Collections, New York University Libraries.
Out of the many artifacts one can find in the Downtown Collection at the Fales Library, the box of artifacts that stuck out to me the most were the Pyramid Club flyers from the 1980s. Pyramid Club is located in the East Village and it quickly became one of the most prominent venues for drag and gay culture in New York City during this time period. The club first opened doors in 1979 by founders Bobby Bradley, Alan Mace, and Victor Sapienza, and is still open today; however, like most things in New York City, things have changed quite a bit (Sheryl). New York Mag describes the club as a “temple of iniquity,” as it’s been around for so long and has gone through so many different phases (Landau). I had originally thought that Pyramid became Elvis Guesthouse, since both are located relatively close to one another, but after a little more research, it turns out I was wrong and the venue is still up and running today. Nowadays, when you visit Pyramid, they have throwback 80s themed nights Thursday through Sunday. In the 80s, their events were much less themed and events revolved around performance series, slides, and seminars, as advertised on their flyers.
The Pyramid Club flyers look nothing like what today’s club flyers do— unless the club is modeling their flyers off of Pyramid’s in order to appear more unique and give off “80s vibes”. Pyramid’s flyers are all black and white for the most part, for obvious reasons, and they resemble cut and pasted magazine clippings. There are never many words on them and the graphics are usually somewhat weird, but in a way that seems like it suits the club. The text is both handwritten and printed, and the typeface chosen is usually a sans-serif type. The display of text and photos is definitely not traditional. While some flyers have straight left-to-right aligned text, most flyers have text that are displayed diagonally and some are even upside down. From flipping through the different club flyers that the Downtown Collection holds, a few of the flyers also had text displayed upside-down. There isn’t much consistency between the different flyers, either. The most consistent feature is probably the information given on the flyers— the name of the venue, the address, and the phone number. These few things are a given though and they have to be shown on the flyers, so they don’t necessarily count in the topic of consistency.
Some flyers, however, only have the date and “Pyramid” written on them, so it made me wonder if Pyramid is assuming that people know where the club is, or if they’re only appealing to people that live in the area. The flyers aren’t that informative and even the ones that have a little more information than others are still pretty vague, so it’s hard to tell what’s going to take place at the event. Was the club just a place you have to hear about through a friend? How else would you hear about Pyramid or know where to go? What about the time? Are these flyers only posted in the neighborhood? Or were they found all over the city? Most club flyers now have the same information, but with the additional contact information, a link to the club’s website, the age requirement, and who’s playing that night, if there’s a special guest. The differences make sense though because of advancements in technology.
On the occasional flyer that does have a little more information, there are some times listed on the flyer for what I’m assuming to be set times. There’s 11:30, 12:30, and 1:30— but nothing on whether this is 1:30 in the morning or in the afternoon. Because Pyramid is a club, I’m assuming that it’s night time, but isn’t that kind of late? I know most clubs don’t open until 11pm now and they don’t become “fun” until around midnight, but going to something that starts at 1:30am seems exhausting— especially for a Wednesday night. Maybe people were more lively in the 80s, but I know that I’d definitely be nodding off in the back of the venue, ready to go home.
In 2007, nearly thirty years after the venue opened, there was a push to name Pyramid Club as New York City’s first “drag landmark”. Before Pyramid became Pyramid, the four-story building was still a place for social gatherings and performances that was considered a “cultural petri dish” (Hedlund). This building has always been associated with the abundance of culture that the East Village was known for. Pyramid was much more experimental during the 80s and had an “anything goes” attitude that allowed for anyone to come and perform as they pleased (Hedlund). People would come to Pyramid from Connecticut (which answers my questions from earlier about who was coming to Pyramid) to attend their “Trip and Go Naked” parties, in which people waiting in line would be granted a lowered admission fee if they stripped down to nothing to nothing outside (Hedlund). There were numerous clubs in the East Village during the 1980s, and even more throughout Manhattan, but most of these clubs catered to the jazz scene— if you wanted to go to a place that was more “avant garde and progressive,” Pyramid was the place to be (Hedlund).
While Stonewall Inn is always tied together with the Gay Rights Movement as that was the location of the protests of 1969, Pyramid is well known for its unique drag performance art. Drag queens weren’t the only people that performed at the Pyramid though. Live bands also held performances here, and both Nirvana and The Red Hot Chili Peppers played their first New York City shows at this tiny 300-person capacity venue (Sheryl) The Red Hot Chili Peppers played at Pyramid in 1984 and Nirvana played in 1989 (Sheryl). Pyramid is evidently not the same anymore, but that’s what happens in New York City. Things change pretty quickly— and that explains the random Whole Foods popping up on 125th Street. This building, nevertheless, is now being considered an East Village/Lower East Side historical landmark by the New York City Landmarks Preservation, as it should be (Sheryl)
Hedlund, Patrick. “Push to Make Pyramid Club City’s First ‘drag Landmark’.” The Villager. Accessed March 28, 2018.
Landau, Peter. “Pyramid Club.” NYMag.com. Accessed March 28, 2018.
Sheryl. “Pushing the Envelope on Avenue A.” Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation. June 29, 2011. Accessed March 28, 2018.