New York’s Iconic Pyramid Club Closing
April 02, 2021
Renowned queer cabaret and nightclub the Pyramid Club, which opened in New York’s East Village in 1979, will not reopen following its closure in March 2020 as Covid-19 arrived in the city. The news was first reported in local blog the EV Grieve. Described by writer Tricia Romano as a “safe haven for freaks, geeks, weirdos, queers, and dreamers,” the club in the 1980s was uniquely inclusive across cultural lines, serving as an incubator for early drag artists, downtown performance artists, and young punk and hardcore bands of the era, while also hosting disco nights and art shows.
Originally a dive bar where “old Polish men would come in for their 50-cent shots at 9 in the morning,” as performer Brian Butterick characterized it, the club began hosting drag performances in 1981; it is reported that RuPaul made her debut in drag there, dressed as a bridesmaid in electroclash creator Larry Tee’s band Now Explosion. In 1984, in the midst of the AIDS crisis and under the guidance of Butterick and the noted drag performer Lady Bunny, the club launched the first Wigstock, a raucous and boozy drag show taking place in Tompkins Square Park across the street; at first a ragtag affair, Wigstock drew ever-wider attention over its twenty-plus-year run and ultimately became a victim of its own success as drag entered the mainstream.
Concurrent and entwined with the drag scene were the burgeoning East Village music and art scenes; David Wojnarowicz’s band Three Teens Kill Four played the Pyramid, as did local noisesters Flipper, No Wave howler Lydia Lunch, and clean-cut “youth crew” hardcore bands like Warzone, Gorilla Biscuits, Judge, and Sick of It All. Director John Jesurun staged his “living film serial” Chang in a Void Moon, 1982–83, there, and performance artist Karen Finley inserted yams into her anus, prompting Cynthia Carr to admiringly describe her in Artforum as a “gaping, leaking human body, an uncontrollable and engulfing female energy.” Ethyl Eichelberger performed as Nefertiti over a string of nights; Peter Hujar shot the photos for the show’s promotional poster.
In later years, the club served as the home for weekly performances by a then-unknown Antony Hegarty (now ANOHNI) as part of the Blacklips Performance Cult, which they cofounded with Johanna Constantine. The Pyramid over the past two decades continued to host bands but was largely known for its dance nights, many of which featured ’80s or ’90s themes. The club and the building housing it were landmarked in 2012.
“It was just a comfortable den where you could run wild,” longtime Village Voice nightlife columnist Michael Musto told Romano in 2014. “I’m not saying it was great every night, or that the shows were always fantastic. Sometimes they were painful to watch. But it was a place where performers could experiment and go too far and learn their craft in front of a live audience. Even if it was five people. And when the shows clicked, they were truly magical.”