Sally's Hideaway: A History

Gina Germain, Christina Piaget, Christy Hill at Sally's II, 1995

    "Sally's Hideaway" was a Times Square nightclub located at 264 West 43rd Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues, from 1986 to 1992.  It occupied a small, narrow, one-story site that had formerly been the home of "Blue's," itself a Times Square landmark.  Blue's was refuge, watering hole, and mecca to its patrons -- purveyors and practitioners of the Times Square sex trade and other various related street business.  Blue’s had been managed by a man named "Conrad," the former manager of "The Anvil," a groundbreaking gay club opened in 1974 and located near the waterfront at 10th Avenue and 14th Street, as famous for its graphic onstage shows featuring dildo play and nipple clamps -- usually starring a hunky, square-jawed and macho young man named Toby -- as for its freewheeling backroom action.  Felipe Rose, the "Indian" in The Village People, had danced on its bar before his ascent to Village People-fame.  The mid-70's roles and playful stereotypes The Village People celebrated were, in fact, typical of the macho gay male ideal of the era -- in fact, "Village" in "Village People" referred directly to that cluster of gay clubs where that macho gay male ideal reigned supreme - aligned along the West Side Highway from 14th to 21st Streets - the Eagle, the Spike, and the Anvil - and south to the piers along the Hudson River and to Christopher Street, historically emblematic of the gay spirit in New York City

    Times Square, during those days, in contrast to the Village, was the place where Black and Latin drag queens and hustlers were in their element, where sex was more a business than a form of recreation.  The Village, with the exception of a drag/femme queen hustling strip along 14th Street and 9th Avenue stretching over to the Hudson River, was more Caucasian, the sons (mostly) and daughters of the middle class, more educated, generally more privileged and "entitled."  This constituted - generally - the racial and economic Divide but as AIDS began to devastate the gay landscape in the early 80's many fell and fell hard - on either side of the Divide.  The Anvil, which had opened it doors in September, 1974, on the tide of sexual liberation, after a spectacular 11-year run, was forced to close its doors in November, 1985, as much a casualty of the disease itself as of the homophobic hysteria that began to grip the country.  Other businesses closed - either forcibly or voluntarily - including the Mineshaft (around the corner from the Anvil on Washington Street) and the bathhouses - the Everard Baths on 28th Street, the Club Baths and St. Marks Bathhouse, Man's Country Bathhouse on 15th Street, the Barracks.  The Cockring, a popular dance club at the corner of Christopher Street and the West Side Highway, was on the ground floor of a building remodeled into a luxury hotel - the River Hotel - in anticipation of the gay boom the late '70's seemed to offer - but both closed as AIDS decimated the culture and the hotel, in a tragically ironic twist, was ultimately converted to an AIDS hospice - Bailey House.  That time - the early mid '80's - was a desperate time.

    After the closing of the Anvil, Conrad moved on to Blue's, managing it from January of 1986 until later that same year when a man named Sally Maggio took over the space, renaming the bar "Sally's Hideaway."  Sally's previous business venture had been the "Greenwich Pub," at 8th Avenue and 13th Street in Greenwich Village, opened in the early 80's.  The Greenwich Pub was a popular gathering place for transgender gays and their "admirers."  Drag shows and male strip shows constituted the cabaret entertainment and as popular as it was with its colorful clientele, it was Sally's move to Midtown and the opening of "Sally's Hideaway" that solidified Sally's preeminence in the world of pre-op transsexuals, drag queens, cross-dressers, transvestites, male strippers and hustlers of every stripe and hue.

    Sally began his show biz career as a manager at the infamous "220 Club," located at 220 West Houston Street, one of the most famous of the transgender/gay nightclubs of the early 1970's, where he met Jesse Torres, an ample-bodied femme queen who also worked at the 220 and who became one of his closest friends and - later - his business partner.  It can probably be said that the 220 Club descended directly from the Stonewall Inn and - by extension - the Stonewall riots.  The Stonewall Inn was popular with transgender gays and it was their courage that played such an important role in the Stonewall riots of 1969, the beginning of the modern Gay Liberation Movement.  The 220 Club was the foremost venue for the transgender crowd in its day, a distinction later shared by the Greenwich Pub, Sally's Hideaway, and, later, Sally's II.

    Sally's Hideaway was damaged by fire in 1992 and Sally, undeterred, moved a few doors down the block to 252 West 43rd Street, formerly occupied by an after-hours-style drug den named "Rose Saigon."  Renamed "Sally's II," it would thenceforth be known simply as "Sally's."  Sally's conveniently connected by way of a catwalk to the lobby of the Carter Hotel (previously known as the Dixie Hotel).  The 24-story Carter Hotel towered monumentally over the cityscape, its huge red neon sign visible for miles, a phallus, a temple, its rooms available for the "short stay."  

    Sally's held a circular bar, two flights above the street, and a small lounge, up another small flight of stairs at the side of the bar.  The low-ceilinged lounge area consisted of a dozen small cocktail tables, a pool table, a parquet-tiled open area set aside for the drag shows and go-go boy contests.  Behind the bar a wall of doors remained permanently closed until one day Sally discovered that the "Carter Theatre " lay beyond.   This large, shabby, unused space - originally the hotel's dining room - contained another long set of doors to the immediate left as you entered the room from the bar area which opened directly into the lobby of the Carter Hotel.  This space had apparently once been converted to a 70's-style disco, the mirrored disco ball and strings of flashing lights and spotlights were still in working order around its expansive dance floor.  The room bore witness to the hotel's former grandeur, two of its walls still covered with a beautiful hand-painted mural on lacquered canvas, from the 1940's when the space was called the "Plantation Bar & Lounge" and/or the "Plantation Room," replete with genteel antebellum scenarios and depictions of classic Greek architecture.  A trompe-d'oeil striped awning was painted onto the upper reaches of this near-15-foot-high mural to a ceiling said to be upholstered in leather hidden behind the dropped ceiling of acoustical tiles.  A stage stood at one end of the room, directly in line with the bar, and it was into this space that Sally's II expanded, coming into its own, a venue for numerous drag pageants as well as a number of drag balls hosted-by or in-homage-to the great ballroom legends of the day - including Octavia St. Laurent, Pepper LaBeija, Danielle Revlon, Avis Pendavis.  It was here that Paris Dupree's "Paris is Burning" ball - the annual ball from which the documentary, "Paris is Burning," took its name - was held in 1992.  Each week, the Wednesday night Go-Go Boy Contests featured a handful to as many as 15 contestants - a mix that included beefy "professional" strippers from the Show Palace on 8th Avenue or the Gaiety Theater (201 West 46th Street) to anorexic Latino Fan Club porn "stars" to a kick boxing champion to a certified porn star to your average-Joe-wandered-in-off-the-street.  Their names . . "Lionheart," "Special K," "Kaos," "Doctor Love," "Brown Sugar," "Pretty Boy," "Honey Boy," "Johnny Boy," "Midnight," "Obsession," "Shogun," "David Flex," "Suave," "Mike Love," "Finesse."  These shows attracted an audience of admiring "girls" who, otherwise, held sway, here in their brokedown palace.  It was in this hallowed place and against these murals that I photographed these . . the Gods of Times Square . . in all their unfettered glory and recorded a last fleeting and - in retrospect - poignant glimpse of an endangered Times Square lifestyle - an endangered species, if you will, now extinct - from 1992 to 1997.

    Sally took his emcees - Dorian Corey, Angie Xtravaganza, who was the Mother of the House of Xtravaganza, and the "Amazing, Electrifying Grace" with him from Sally's Hideaway to Sally's II.  Another emcee, who died shortly after the move, was the famous Chaka Savalas.  Both Dorian and Angie were principals in the film "Paris is Burning," an acclaimed documentary on the drag balls of Harlem released in 1990 and both were considered "Legends" within the drag ball world.  It should be noted that - fittingly - the opening and ending sequences of "Paris is Burning" were shot outside Sally's Hideaway.

    The "Amazing, Electrifying Grace," the sharp-tongued and quick-witted "diva," was a lip synch performer and comedienne who began her career in the aforementioned Anvil in the late 1970's where she performed on a permanent basis until that club fell victim to the AIDS hysteria and panic that closed it and several other gay businesses in 1984.  She went on to emcee and perform at Sally Maggio's Greenwich Pub and later at Midtown 43, a club descended from the Nickel Bar, a black gay bar originally located on West 72nd Street, and which then moved to the basement of the Diplomat Hotel and was renamed "Midtown 43" in 1986 before moving across the street and down the block, where Grace headed a Sunday night drag revue.  Midtown 43, a gay disco who's House DJ was the famous Andre Collins (currently of "Warehouse" fame) was, in its final incarnation, located one block east of Sally's Hideaway on 43rd Street, just east of Broadway, directly next to Town Hall and across the street from the Times Square landmark, a cavernous Nathan's Restaurant (of Nathan's Famous Hot Dog), since replaced by an office tower.  Midtown 43 closed abruptly in 1989.  Grace was working at Sally's Hideaway at that time and when it moved into the Carter Hotel and was renamed Sally's II, Grace was given a steady gig emceeing Sundays and sometimes Monday nights (Talent Night).  Grace was loved by many and had a loyal following, especially among the ball house crowd - which consisted mainly of 'butch queens" - who were the predominant patrons of Midtown 43.  These same butch queens, for the most part, rarely patronized Sally's Hideaway or Sally's II as Sally's catered pretty exclusively to the working "girls" or "femme queens" and their admirers.

    Times Square, during this period, was a hotbed for the drag ball scene.  Ball queens/transgender "show girls" supported themselves working in the peep shows - Show Center (on 42nd Street, between 7th and 8th Avenues) or Show World (at the corner of 42nd Street and 8th Avenue).  Show Palace, a male burlesque house located on 8th Avenue between 42nd and 43rd Streets, featured male strippers who might, on occasion, "walk the balls" for "Body" or "Realness" or who might show up to compete in the scandalous Wednesday night "Go-Go Boy Contest" at Sally's Hideaway and, later, Sally's II.

    Sally Maggio died in October, 1993.  His friend and business partner, Jesse Torres, managed the bar following his death.  It was during this period that Times Square, under Mayor Rudolph Guliani and the real estate interests, began to undergo re-development, much of the area bought up by the Walt Disney Corporation, driving out the adult businesses, condemning and demolishing the heart and soul of the district, including Show Center and Show Palace.  That heart and soul, immortalized so vividly in John Rechy's City of Night, represented a singular American sensibility, one that combined such venerable American traditions as vaudeville, honky-tonk, Barnum and Bailey, the sexual liberation of the 1960's and 1970's.  The vibrant street culture - sidewalk preachers, portable photo studios, bangy boys and girls, tourists, hustlers, gawkers of every persuasion, the sexual libertines - was stopped dead in its tracks by power-hungry politicians and greedy corporate entities intent on obliterating Times Square to be remade into its own bland, safe, sanitized, commercialized, cynically re-packaged, contrived, and inauthentic image.  The mall-ing of America had finally infected the symbolic heart and soul of the greatest city in the world.  Where there once stood real steel and concrete and paint and grit and longing and lust there now stands a plastic theme park far removed from the blood and guts of real life.

    Jesse Torres, tragically, died quite unexpectedly while attending the Miss Continental Pageant in Chicago in September, 1996 and Giselle, a long-time Sally's barmaid, was installed as the new manager.  Sally's II, however, teetered on, closing off the ballroom space as business waned, sadly relegated to a small alcove area a few steps above the front bar, until it finally closed its doors forever, following a series of Guliani-inspired police busts, in November, 1997.  Since then, the management of the Carter Hotel leased out the space, including the ballroom or "Carter Theatre," tearing out and trashing the historic murals, despite efforts by myself to save them.  The dreamy and idealized depictions contained in those 1940's murals - a candelabra, a Southern lady and gentleman dining, a violinist, a lady playing a piano, Greek revival architecture - emblematic of the "Southern hospitality" of the original Dixie Hotel - provided a visual counterpoint to the cruder realities of late-20th-century Times Square.  Now those backdrops against which so many dramatic lives were lived, just as those who lived them, exist only in photographs taken by myself over a five-year period - 1992 to 1997.

    All of Sally's businesses had one thing in common - they were places where the dark and ravishing beauty of those denizens of the City of Night flourished - and it is in a spirit of awe and wonderment at the expression of freedom and the strong, flawed, fearless, tragic, and heroic humanity I found at Sally's Hideaway and all its satellite venues that this site is dedicated to Sally, Dorian, Angie, Grace, Jesse and the very many wonderful, beautiful, inspiring people who passed through those doors.

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