Exhuming the Classic Mudd Club, ‘Scene of the Crime’ in the Late ’70s
In the canon of New York City nightlife, the Mudd Club might have made fewer headlines than, say, Studio 54 or CBGB, but it was one of the coolest places on earth. Opening its doors officially on Halloween in 1978 and closing in 1983, the loft-turned-nightclub was located in TriBeCa (before most people knew the name of that area).
Gritty, simple, and founded on a shoestring budget, the Mudd Club was all about the people and creativity they brought through the door. The mix of musicians, artists, writers, actors, art school kids, and performance artists blended well with live performances and theme nights, which created a mix of wild excitement. One had to brave empty streets to get there. The opening night flyer invite (remember those?) even had a map on the back, since in those days even cab drivers didn’t know where White Street was. You always went to “Mudd” feeling that absolutely anything could happen.
Representing the anti-Studio 54, the club featured gender-neutral bathrooms and a rotating gallery. Live performances ranged from new wave, experimental music, to readings by literary icons Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, and catwalk exhibitions for emerging fashion designers Anna Sui and Jasper Conran.
The club was opened by Steve Maas, art curator Diego Cortez and downtown denizen Anya Phillips, who rented the loft from artist Ross Bleckner. “Mudd” was named for Samuel Alexander Mudd, a doctor who treated John Wilkes Booth after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.
Part underground music club, part counterculture playground, the Mudd Club was, as artist and author Richard Boch says, “the scene of the crime…a living, breathing work of art, it was beautiful and way off-center, a slice of golden time.” His new memoir says a lot more about those days.
Boch was the doorman from 1979 and 1980 at the peak of Mudd’s cool factor. His memoir, titled “The Mudd Club,” is a very personal and fascinating story of his time there. Having moved from Long Island to New York City in 1976, Boch’s dream was to become an artist. He inadvertently got the doorman gig through word of mouth because he seemed to know everyone downtown. Boch tells a comical story about the quickest job interview in history. Owner Steve Maas took a quick look at Boch, said hello, and told him to come back the next day at midnight. He wasn’t even sure he had the job, but he had the feeling that something new was happening with this odd place, and showed up. Working at the Mudd Club allowed him to continue his art, hang out with fascinating folks downtown, and ingest a fair portion of drugs.
In the memoir, Boch talks about everything from getting tipped in cocaine to turning away famous people at the door. He also describes theme nights at the Mudd Club, like “the Joan Crawford Mother’s Day Party.” (Check out the chapter titled “Joan Crawford, Nyquil and Fried Chicken.”)
The drinking age was 18 at the time, and there was a feeling of “anything goes” every night. Steve Mass didn’t seem to worry about insurance issues, and allowed creativity to come first. (Case in point: he let artist Ronnie Cutrone install cages for people to dance in. When Cutrone proposed this idea, Maas immediately okayed it, without hearing any details.)
There was no social media, no marketing, no cell phones. Aside from an article in the Soho News, it was all word of mouth in the early years of the club. Hard to imagine a nightclub in NY taking off in that same way today.
In 1980, Boch quit working at the Mudd Club. Leaving made him realize that it was time for him to clean up his life. He took other jobs managing restaurants and nightclubs and eventually in 2004, he moved upstate.
Whether you were at the Mudd Club or not, the memoir is a gem. Boch is a master at collecting stories and tells them well, utilizing a bit of a film noir style, which is appropriate to the feeling of the neighborhood in those days.