Note: Before clicking through, note that some of these are NSFW.
Last week a flyer arrived in my inbox advertising an upcoming exhibit that would offer a behind-the-scenes look at the life of a 1970s New York City go-go bar waitress. There was no message accompanying it, and little information, but the waitress sent the email herself: Judi Jupiter.
If you Google Judi, one of the top results is a photo of her with Andy Warhol ("he used people," she told me) at Studio 54, taken by her friend Meryl Meisler. Jupiter's exhibit, which opened last night on Mott Street, documents a less glamorous scene, however. Her collection of photos gives you a glimpse at what life was like for those working in the topless go-go bars of New York circa 1977. "See what really went on during that time," Jupiter, a former waitress at 9 of the most infamous topless go-go bars in the city, promises. "It will show the shocking and not-so-glamorous life of workers in the industry." And customers, too.
Jupiter told us the "most lucrative clubs I worked at were: Playmates (49th St and 7th Ave), and Winks (53rd St between Lexington & 3rd), across the street from Citi Corp... Their lawyers and bankers would spend spend thousands on us girls. We were such an embarrassment they paid my boss millions to close down."
As for her subjects, Jupiter says she photographed everything from dancers shooting heroin in bathroom stalls, to "a guy giving himself head" (he signed a release, even!). She has stories of a dancer holding up her own boss and walking away with stacks of cash, and well-known theater impresario Joseph Papp frequenting the clubs—"I approached him [one night] and he told me to get lost, he had already spent thousands."
Jupiter eventually became Studio 54's first official photographer—"I experienced NYC to the fullest in the late '70s," she told me, "It was much more fun—no rules or regulations. Drugs and sex were rampant. There were no computers, no cell phones, people actually communicated in person. Everyone was on the dance floor, ages 14 to 80. Disco Sally was an 85 year old woman who came to Studio 54, being carried by young beautiful boys—she danced the night away. Everyone was happy. No one thought it would ever end."
What were some of her most vivid memories of that Studio 54 era? Jupiter told me, "Liza Minnelli would swing naked spread eagle on a chair in the VIP room downstairs," adding, "Sorry, no photos."
Jupiter's exhibit, "Queen of the B-Girls," is at L'Asso Gallery, 192 Mott Street, through July 21st.