OFFBEAT: Studio 54 owner ready to share and relive nightclub memories

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2012-12-12T00:00:00Z 2013-01-25T16:08:57Z OFFBEAT: Studio 54 owner ready to share and relive nightclub memoriesPhilip Potempa, (219) 852-4327

When famed hotelier Ian Schrager purchased the former Ambassador East Hotel at 1301 North State Parkway in Chicago in 2010, he promised big changes when it was unveiled in 2011 as the renamed Public Chicago.

While the attached Pump Room restaurant has kept the same name, the interior decor of this legendary watering hole of celebrities of yesteryear was changed and updated.

In October, Schrager returned to Chicago to host a party on Oct. 9 to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the property relaunch.

As for a theme for the VIP party, Schrager decided it was time to revisit an old and very entertaining friend.

After all, Schrager is the remaining surviving co-owner of the iconic Studio 54 nightclub of late 1970s New York City.

From 1977 until 1981, Schrager and co-owner Steve Rubell, who died at age 45 in 1989, ran the most famous nightclub of the Big Apple until it closed after the partners faced legal woes for tax evasion. The establishment's name came from the space formerly serving as CBS' sound stage studio 54 for radio and television where the panel game shows "What's My Line?," "To Tell the Truth" and "I've Got A Secret" were taped and aired.

So for one night only, Schrager decided to turn the Pump Room in Chicago into a tribute to Studio 54.

He even secured the original DJ Jellybean Benitez, and Mark Benecke, the doorman in charge of the coveted "velvet red rope" at the original Studio 54, to help host the October party event in Chicago.

Pump Room partner, Celebrity Chef Jean Georges Vongerichten, helped plan the night's menu.

I interviewed Schrager while he was in town and he said his Windy City one-night tribute ranks as the first time he's embraced and decided to once again hail his connection to Studio 54.

"Why wife Tania is from Chicago so even though I have other hotels, this Chicago location is very special for me," Schrager said.

"I would never think of changing the name of the Pump Room, or I'd be run out of town. But the Ambassador East Hotel hadn't been successful for 20 years and I wanted to change that."

Schrager said during the decades, he had opted for "distance from the Studio 54 days."

While recreated Studio 54 branded nightclubs were launched in the 1990s (one of the last to open being the one at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, having just closed in January 2012), Schrager emphasizes he wasn't involved in that venture.

And he's especially adamant that he wasn't part of the 1998 feature film "54" by Miramax, which he describes as "not accurate."

At it's peak, "Studio 54," described in media accounts as "a cocktail mixture of everyday party revelers rubbing elbows with the famous names of the day," attracted a who's who that included celebrities like Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Christopher Reeve, Grace Jones and Jerry Hall to Phyllis Diller, Olivia Newton-John, Frankie Valli, Liza Minnelli and Caroline Kennedy. Even Hollywood luminaries like Ann Miller, Elizabeth Taylor, Yul Brynner and Gloria Swanson partied with First Lady Betty Ford and dance legends Martha Graham and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Photographer Bobby Miller captured the best moments in his book "Fabulous" (1998 St. Martin's Press, $24.95).

Schrager told me he has plans to endorse the launch of a new group of Studio 54 nightclubs to be located in his hotel properties.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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