Part II: The GG Knickerbocker Barnum Room
The Knickerbocker Hotel
The Knickerbocker Hotel 1466 Broadway at 42nd Street, opened in 1906 – two years after the first NY subway line, the IRT, reached Times Square. It was "a Fifth Avenue Hotel at Broadway prices" - $3.25 a day (<1% of today’s rates).
It was owned by John Jacob Astor IV until he went down with the Titanic in 1912. Legend has it that the martini drink was invented at the Knickerbocker and named after the house bartender. World-famous tenor Enrico Caruso and his family lived in the hotel (until his death in 1921).
After that the hotel was closed and converted to commercial use. The same building was reopened as the Hotel Knickerbocker in 2015. However in-between, the brand name Knickerbocker was free for others to use, and in the 1960s the name was taken by a down-market hotel located at 128 West 45th Street.
The Peppermint Lounge
- Greg Garrison (dir) Hey, Lets Twist, with Joey Dee and the Starlighters. US BW mono 79 mins 1961. IMDB. EN.Wikipedia. A fictionalized story of the Peppermint Lounge, partially filmed there.
- The Starlighters. “Peppermint Twist”. 45 rpm single. Three weeks at number 1 in January.
- Sam Cooke. “Twistin’ the Night Away”. 45 rpm single. "a place/Somewhere up a New York way/Where the people are so gay".
“On 08/29/66 the informant advised that Matty Ianiello whom the informant has previously met had recently bought a piece of the Peppermint Lounge Nite club on West 45th St. NYC. He continued that Matty has an interest in a number of ‘Fag Joints’ in NYC and that the Peppermint Lounge is now a ‘Fag Joint.’ ” (Crawford:113).
The GG Kickerbocker Barnum Room
“A celebrity is no more to us than the average transvestite. Besides they are the cheapest people around. They don’t spend any money.”
“GG’s Barnum Room wasn’t exempt from providing us girls with the opportunity to make some extra cash. The clientele from the old Gilded Grape soon discovered this new location and men were continuously on the prowl for some action. Another way you could make some money there was by doing some lip-synching performances. As the reigning Miss 220, I got to perform there and was paid a hundred bucks a night. It was easy money. While I wasn’t comfortable with lip-synching, I rose to the challenge.” (p 106)
“The club had a circus trapeze on the roof of the club, Salvador Dali and many celebrities would come through the Barnum Room, at the time celebs would mix with people and it wasn’t such a big deal like it is today. Ava Hollywood was a great beauty and a great friend of Dali. I remember seeing them coming out of a large limo with ‘Hollywood’ on the limo’s number plate entering The GG’s Barnum Room. Grace Jones did a show there as well and Taxi, a beautiful girl did the show with her, it was history for Taxi, Grace Jones was her idol and became mine after that!”
“I worked in the Barnum Room as a coat-check girl. … It was right around the corner from my old school. Down the block there was a restaurant where all the thugs hung out. I was always scared to go there but because I worked in the bars and I was friends with some of the thugetts, the women who hung out in the restaurant, I would never get jumped or ripped off. The Barnum Room was as hip as studio 54, Zenon’s and the Limelight. But the Barnum Room catered to a more eclectic, shall we say common and perverse, clientele. Trans women and non-trans women who were working girls working out of the Barnum Room would sometimes take their tricks past the restaurant on 45th and Sixth and then their boyfriends would come out and rip the johns off or beat them up. This was the cultural norm in my life.”
“I entered the contest not even thinking the word ‘gay’ had anything to do with me or the contest. … And gay just meant that women who were not TS could not participate”.It was judged by gay men. The winner was Mara Devau from Cuba, the reigning champion. The first runner up was Sugar Belane. Blumenstein, under the name ‘Roe’ was third runner up.
The building was converted to condos in 1978 and then condemned and pulled down in the mid 1980s. Bad luck if you bought one.
- “GG Changes Name / Location”. Drag, 7, 25, 1977: 9. Online.
- “Gilded Grape’s Timmy Scott … Gone”. Drag, 7, 26, 1978: 9. Online.
- Orde Coombs. “Le Freak, C’est Chic on 45th Street”. New York Magazine, 8 Jan 1979:47-50. Online.
- John P French. “Drag” in True Tales of the City, New York Magazine, 1 September 1980. Online.
- Rosalyne Blumenstein. Branded T. 1st Books, 2003: 99, 101, 104-6, 112-3, 117, 144, 177.
- Jim Fouratt. “Studio 54, 1982”. RudolfPiper.Com, 2008. Online.
- John Johnson, Joel Selvin & Dick Cami. Peppermint Twist: The Mob, the Music, and the Most Famous Dance Club of the '60s. Thomas Dunne Books, 2012: chp 23.
- Paul Vitello. “Matthew Ianniello, the Mafia Boss Known as ‘Matty the Horse,’ Dies at 92”. New York Times, Aug 22, 2012. Online.
- Carmen Xtravaganza. “The Late 70s”. carmenxtravaganza.biz, February 4th, 2013. Online.
- Phillip Crawford Jr. The Mafia and the Gays. 2015: 23, 40, 50, 51, 58.
- Martin Aston. Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache: How Music Came Out. Constable, 2016: 104, 134-5.
- Tim Laurence. Life and Death on the New York Dance Floor 1980-1983. Duke University Press, 2016: 58.
- Ric Tennenbaum interviews Melissa Sklarz. New York City Trans Oral History Project, July 5, 2017. Online.
- Duncan Osborne. “Feds Tracked Mob Control of Gay Bars into the 1980s”. Gay City News, August 30, 2018. Online.
- Brian Belovich. Trans Figured: My Journey from Boy to Girl to Woman to Man. Skyhorse, 2018: 106.
- “GG’s Barnum Room”. DiscoMusic.Com. No Longer available.
- Victoria Cruz. Where Love is Illegal: A Witness Change Project. Online.