By Amy Phillips Penn

“I always knew that my life would be about fate… Even when I was a little girl, I would tell everybody that one day I would have a big nightclub, and rule the world. I always knew I would be a legend,” crooned chanteuse/ nightclub owner Regine Zylberberg.

That was the fringe on the fantasy.

Regine tried her voice as a chanteuse, crooning “I Will Survive” en Francais, but her career as an entertainer was a succes fou…not.

“My whole life I wanted to have my name on Broadway. All I got was Park Avenue,” she sighed.

Life, indeed, can be a bitch.

A one time hat girl at Whisky a Go-Go, the fiery redhead was eyed by a heady group of patrons from Rothshilds to Jean-Paul Belmondo, some of whom financed her first eponymous nightclub.

She became the self-acclaimed “Queen of the Night.”

Her beginnings were less than glamorous.

In 1941, Regine hid from the Nazis in a convent, a time that she described as “the worst of life.”

Flash forward.

In 1975, Regine moved to the US and “packed enough Vuitton luggage to sway a ship, and ARRIVED in New York.”

As a poor child, she had always considered shoes to be the symbol of freedom, and she was accompanied by close to a thousand pairs, triumphant in excess and Parisienne come-and-get-me stilettos when she came to the Land of Liberty.

Regine’s reputation of ooh la la French decadence and splendor were her calling card. Before you could say “voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?”, she had 200 memberships sold at $6,000 each.

Nameplates for VIPs included: Milos Forman, Mick Jagger, and Andy Warhol.

Regine Zylberberg had opened yet another of her fabulously edging on elite, extravagant and tres cher nightclubs to New York at Delmonico’s on 59th on Park Avenue. She took a lavish suite (were there any other kinds?) upstairs.

“Regine’s is opening and the drinks are $20 at least,” was the mantra that circulated the club lovers. Was ice included?

Mario Wainer, the current maitre‘d at Le Cirque, exquisitely executed the same role at Regine’s for ten years.

“It was the only elegant club in New York at that time. Regine was the best in the business; she had extraordinary energy, and knew everyone and everyone liked her.”

While Regine knew and cultivated many celebrities, she was savvy enough to know that youth was seductive.

“If you bring a pretty girl to a club, they don’t charge you at the door,” says Marc De Gontaut Biron, the once-upon-a-club co-founder of the Junior International Club.

“I loved Regine’s. It was mirrored, glamorous and very eighties,” says Biron, whose guests at the club included Prince Albert of Monaco and various other titled and entitled.

Mirrored indeed it was, with brocade couches and serpents sinewing around decor.

The dress code was formal, indulgent, and ready to be flashed and embedded in W and the society columns. Wretched excesses overflowed along with the overpriced aperitifs.

A young, attractive decorator was nonplussed in that inimitable “young and attractive New York decorator attitude,” when he was turned away from Regine’s door.

“You’re wearing jeans,” the doorman told him.

“You let me in when I was with Andy Warhol. I was wearing jeans then.”

“Exactly,” said the doorman.

Regine sparked headlines, especially when she lit up a cigarette in flight.

“Une cigarette allumee avait deroutre le vol Paris-Miami: Regine, victime, de la rigeur anti-tabac Americaine,” which roughly translates to “mundane rules pooh-poohed by celebrities equals even better fame”.

Legend has it that when a plumbing problem dared to pipe in at her club, Regine took her dirty glassware to Le Cirque, where they shared their dishwasher to the cause célèbre.

Regine, in her glory, had twenty-five clubs in three continents. She brought the “twist” to France and is credited with bringing the modern disco to the world. Jukebox need not apply.

As for Regine, she has shoe boxes that make for a stairway to heaven; and many a Prince tried his luck at making the slipper fit, just to get into the front door of her clubs.

Oooh la la.


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