Like a pack of Gazelles, we leapt over the subway turnstiles, three by three, bounding into the rapidly approaching train, while the defeated token booth clerk squawked, “pay your fare!” over the public address system, without a hint of emotion.
On any typical day of the week, hopping the train might have quenched our delinquent thirst, but this was destined to be a special Saturday night — a real rite of passage. For the first time, The Nasty Four Crew was leaving Astoria and heading into Manhattan to go to a real nightclub. This meant an end to crashing Sweet 16’s and house parties. There would be no more break dancing in strangers’ living rooms or going to the local dances at the Crystal Palace, Chiotiko Spiti and St. D’s.
The Nasty Four Crew was going to the FunHouse Disco…and nothing would ever be the same.
The FunHouse wasn’t just a nightclub; it was a phenomenon. It was like Disneyland for teenagers. Kids came from all five boroughs to party there. It was the coolest looking club I’d ever seen. When you first walked in, the brightness of the blinking and spinning lights immediately blinded you. Then, as soon as you got your vision back, you noticed that you were wading through a sea of freaky looking people.
The only difference between being at the FunHouse and being at a carnival was the music. It was the best music you’ve ever heard in your life…and dancing to those rhythms were the prettiest girls you’d ever seen in your life. The DJ was the legendary Jellybean Benitez, and his office was located in the smiling mouth of a humongous colorful clowns face. The never-ending dance floor was home to the free style dancers, in their webo-pants, cut up sweatshirts and studded belts. The main stage was for the kick-dancing Italians, in their striped satin shorts, FunHouse tees, knee high socks and deck shoes. The back stage was strictly for the best break-dancers and poppers in the world, sporting windbreakers, Lee jeans, and shell top Adidas with the fat laces.
Even though it was early 80s and the neighborhoods outside the club and throughout New York City were heavily racially divided, inside the FunHouse we were all one. There was rarely if ever any trouble, and if there was a fight, the FunHouse had the biggest bouncers I had ever seen in my life. One bouncer’s nickname was, “The Indian.” He was a giant and was built like a brick wall with 21’ arms. He used to sit at the front door leaning on an axe handle.
The club had an arcade full of the latest video games with bumper cars used as seats, a punching bag, and huge bowls of fruit. Even in today’s health conscious world, it would be tough to find a nightclub that sold fresh fruit and smoothies. What was even more unusual was that the FunHouse did not serve alcohol. Over a thousand patrons a night, and you couldn’t get a shot of Jack anywhere in the club…but you could get two hits of Purple Double-Barreled Mescaline for seven bucks as soon as you walked through the front door.
To memorialize the Nasty Four’s first night out in a New York City nightclub, some of us decided to take advantage of the great sale they were having on Mesc. What a better place to hallucinate than at a fun house. I remember laughing uncontrollably for what seemed like eternity, as we took turns making funny faces in front the carnival mirror. Then like little kids visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame for the first time, we made our way to the “Back Stage” to watch urban legends break dance. The Dynamic Rockers, fresh off their appearance on the TV show That’s Incredible, were in da house. Mr. Glyde performed a hand glide into windmills, into a backspin, into a crotch-grabbing freeze that would’ve scored a perfect 10 in the Olympics.
Then the lights dimmed, the music paused and all our attention was directed to the main stage. From the DJ booth, Jellybean announced, “here to sing her brand new single, entitled Holiday, give it up for… Madonna!!!”
Yup, before anyone in the world had ever heard of Madonna, The Nasty Four Crew saw her sing for the first time live, at the FunHouse.
The original members of The Nasty Four Crew were Jim Swift, E Rock, Baby D & Frosty. Then they the opened up the books and became the Nasty Four — plus a few more — recruiting, in no particular order, CoCo, Jimmy Blazed, Mr. Gleem, Tommy D, Sky-Ski, Prince Quick Mix, Flip and me, Kid Fresh. The FunHouse became our main club…our home away from home. Like we used to say back in the day, “we lived there.” In the summertime, we’d fill our backpacks with bathing suits and towels and, when the club closed at 10 a.m., we’d hop the train to Brighton Beach.
Although the FunHouse closed its doors on West 26th Street a long time ago, and a lot of those memories are a little blurry for some reason, to this day, anyone who’s ever been there will tell you it was the best club they have ever experienced.
Back in the day, I was the only child of divorced, immigrant parents. I went to boarding school in upstate New York from third to eighth grade. When I came home and started going to a local high school, I didn’t know many kids in the neighborhood. Then one night at a dance, I met some new friends and we bonded immediately. They asked me to be in their crew…and the rest is history.