Impressions with Patrick McMullan
The nightlife photographer whose name has become synonymous with the fashion, art and celebrity culture in New York City reflects on the evolution of Lower Manhattan since he started chronicling New York City nightlife in the 1980s.
When, in your opinion, did Downtown Manhattan really become a "scene"?
It was all about the 1980s. All the nightclubs were downtown and there were a whole bunch of people who only lived downtown. It was cheaper, like what Brooklyn is today. There were a lot of artists, loft spaces and cheap walkups. And the gallery scene was in Soho. Because you had a lot of restaurants, people from uptown would come downtown. Downtown was always more relaxed. You could wear jeans and a collared shirt, but uptown you wore a suit.
When you started shooting your first party pictures for Details Magazine in the 1980s, what was the Downtown scene like?
Nightclubs were a whole way of life. People would go out to the Mud Club and Area. There was the Limelight. Studio 54 was big during the late '70s and early '80s.
Most people considered 23rd Street down to Tribeca to be Downtown.
But these sections of New York were also kind of dangerous back then, right?
No one wanted to go past streets that didn't have numbers. The Bowery was really bad. The East Village was way more funky and dangerous. It really was a different scene. At night you could get cabs, though. In those days, you really didn't take the subway-definitely not at night. No one was going to Brooklyn then.
Who were some of your favorite people to shoot downtown in the 1980s?
Definitely [Andy] Warhol, Steve Rubell-he started Palladium-Tama Janowitz, Jay McInerney, Keith Haring, Billy Idol, Peri Lister-she was Idol's wife and did all the choreography for his music videos. Madonna was all over town then, Anita Sarko, Steven Meisel, Pat Field-she moved to The Bowery before The Bowery was what it is now-Betsey Johnson.
There were other uptown people, too. Matt Dillon was running all over the place. Rob Lowe and Demi Moore. They would come without handlers.
Downtown was a true melting pot. You had people in art, fashion and the literary scene. Even the club owners, bartenders and people who worked at the nightclubs were some of the true celebrities.
How has the Downtown scene and area changed since then?
Things are more posh. You have the Gansevoort market area, which is like a designated nightclub district. A lot of people are dressed up now. You have to have money to go to these places. That whole Soho scene has moved to Williamsburg and Brooklyn. In Chelsea, all of the art galleries are there. I am older now, so I don't really mind it.
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