Club 82 was a notorious nightclub in New York City from 1953 to the early 1970s and was home to a famous revue of female impersonators. Club 82, like many gay establishments during that time, was reportedly owned and operated by the mafia. And while the majority of the entertainers were gay, the club actually catered to a heterosexual clientele and became quite popular with the Manhattan party set. Famous actors such as Judy Garland were known to frequent the club and there is a long-standing and scandalous rumor that Errol Flynn once pulled out his penis and played the piano with it during one raucous night of revelry.
The Revue was directed by Kitt Russell, who popular radio gossip commen- tator Walter Winchell had named “America’s top femme mimic” in 1951. Music for the show was performed live, there was no lip-syncing, and the choreography was often complex. The costuming and stagecraft was also top notch and the shows became known for their high production value. Intimidation and control over entertainers and their livelihoods was a con- stant hardship made worse by the corrupt Cabaret Card system that was enforced in New York City from the time of Prohibition until 1967 (the archaic system was finally abolished after Frank Sinatra famously refused to apply for a cabaret card or work in New York City under the system).
In between the fall of the Mercer Arts Center and the rise of CBGB, groups like the pre-Blondie Stillettoes, Suicide, and New York Dolls, and glitter casu- alties like Teenage Lust and the Harlots of 42nd Street hit it’s stage, Celebri- ties like Lou Reed and David Bowie headed there for a walk on the wig side.
The place had the effect that all good sleazy joints do, making it seem that once you were inside, the world outside didn’t exist.