By James Maher
Name: Gigi Watson
Occupation: Writer, Artist, Cartoonist, Former Club Worker and Owner
Location: 3rd Street between 1st and A.
Time: 1:30 pm on Friday, Oct. 24.
I’m a native New Yorker. I grew up in Ridgewood, on the border between Brooklyn and Queens, which now they can’t decide whether it’s Brooklyn or Queens. It was basically a German, Italian and Jewish neighborhood. The first thing you asked when you met another kid was what was your nationality.
There were places that we didn’t go. Bed Stuy and Red Hook, these were not places to go. In Red Hook, they used to find a dead body every single day. My train was the L, which used to be a horrible, horrible train. The L train connected with the G train, which was murder central. If someone paid me a million dollars in cash and said, ‘Here, get on the G train’, I’d say, ‘No thank you.’
My first apartment in Manhattan was a sublet on Christopher Street in the West Village. I moved in 1979. I then moved to the East Village in 1982, on 2nd Street between A and B. You had to have two or three jobs at the same time just to survive. That’s being a real New Yorker. My rent was so expensive. If I didn’t have two jobs, there would be no way I could cut that rent.
The first club I worked at was Bonds International Casino on Broadway and 45th Street. I was working behind the scenes in the office with guest lists, counting money. We had Blondie, The Clash, Blue Oyster Cult, Motley Crue, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, who sucked. We had all kinds of punk rock bands. That’s where I developed a fear of crowds because the owner, John Addison, sold double the amount of tickets. We had 2,500-seat capacity and he sold 5,000 tickets per performance, and everybody showed up and was hammering on the door, ‘We want the show, we want the show.’ That place was fabulous.
[After Bonds] I worked at an after hours, where I worked the door. Cocaine was fantastic in the 1980s. That went right along with being at the front door. ‘Here, thanks a lot for letting me in,’ and I’d get a gram in my hand. That meant thank you. The stars I met — Nick Nolte, Grace Jones, Robin Williams, Paul McCartney. The list goes on and goes. Cause they would want to party late too.
I first worked in the cashier booth in Crisco [Disco], which is a famous haunt. We must have taken in at least between $8,000 and $10,000 on a Saturday night. It was a lucrative place.
After that I worked at Page 6. I was working the VIP room one month. Liza Minnelli was there snorting her brains out. Rick James comes in and puts a pile of coke on the table. All of a sudden you hear, ‘Freeze.’ So Rick James gets up, ‘Oh, I ain’t going to be arrested, I gotta get out of here, how do I get out?’ I said, ‘Mr. James there’s only one way out and that’s the way you came in.’ He walked out without a problem. It was the people that worked there that got busted because they didn’t have a liquor license.
After that I opened up my club, Trash. I was working at the time at Club 82, which was another after hours on 4th, and the manager there, John Matos said said to me, ‘Gi, why don’t you start your own club? How much do you need?’ We went shopping for furniture and I got all the stuff. I wanted neat 1960s furniture that was gaudy and cool looking. I wanted to do all the murals inside the club. I made the VIP room. I painted a big huge spider web so when you walked in, it was spinning. They would look up and sway from side to side. It was a cool place to be.
But that didn’t last very long because all the people who were great to look at had no money. Punk rockers do not have any money. Nobody had fucking money. Nobody had money for rent, forget about anything else.
Then one day a Hells Angel — this big Angel came in and went up to somebody at the bar and said, ‘Hey faggot’ and pushed him on the shoulder. The guy was a really cool looking punk rock guy and he was intimidated. Once the Angels come in, then it’s their club, and then it’s no longer my club or Trash. One brought many. Nobody would go there anymore. They were too afraid to go through the door. So that’s how Trash ended. That was about the time that punk rock itself was sort of waning.
Punk rock to me means anti-establishment. Punks saw that people conformed all over the place. It’s somebody with real talent to be unique and wild and out there. People used to come and sketch what I was wearing. The more beat up it is the better. They now have distressed leather. What fucking distressed? If you keep it on long enough, believe me it’ll become distressed. I always wanted to look different. I don’t want to look like anybody else. I want to look like me.
James Maher is a fine art and studio photographer based in the East Village. Find his website here.