• Dennis Howard

The Paradise Garage | The Home of House Music

Updated: Aug 14, 2021

Musically the 1980s was an uneventful decade for the most part. However, like anything else, there were some high points. The ‘80s was the period when New York was my playground. Manhattan was one of my favourite spots, with all the restaurants, movie houses, stores, book stores, Broadway, Time Square, Fifth Ave and the night clubs. Yes, those glorious New York night clubs Studio 54, Silver Shadow, The Red Parrott, SOBs, Palladium, the Latin Quarters and the most incredible night club of all, the Paradise Garage, the home of the late great DJ and remixer, Larry Levan.

Located at Varick St. in Greenwich Village, Manhattan, a few blocks from the famous SOBs, the Garage was an unbelievable experience. It was the ultimate night club – the best system, the best vibes, and a fantastic dance floor where you might even see two dogs dancing together. Everybody else was dancing: woman and woman, man and man; woman and man; man and two or three women. Just about every possible variation – it took place at the Garage. The club, built in an actual garage, was indeed the hottest spot to check out in the Village if you were a serious club-goer. It was the mid-80s when the famous Studio 54 was in decline, the regular owners were in jail, and the club had lost most of its mystique. House music was the best thing underground, and the Garage provided serious club-goer and house music fanatics.

Membership to the club was hard to come by; hence, it was a prized possession. At a pre-arranged time on a weekday, hopefuls would line up to see if they would be allowed in. The owner, Michael Brady, would then quiz you about your sexuality and why you wanted to join the club. You see, the Garage was a gay club. The core members – all gay – had their nights on Saturdays and could attend Fridays, the straight nights, but not vice versa.

Can you imagine the number of persons who lied through their teeth, proudly declaring themselves gay to get membership, as, for the most part, Saturday was the hot night.

Some of my New York friends had membership, and, to my knowledge only one of them was gay. However, that’s how I could attend the club since each member was allowed, two guests. At times, to earn some drink money, my friends would ask anybody who wanted to enter the club but had no membership to pay us US$20 to get in.

The entry fee was $15. We never had a problem in getting the US$20 or $40 we asked for entry. It was a desperate situation for lots of persons wanting to get into this club.

So, armed with our new “friends” and their $40, we would go to the convenience store just above the club to buy some Heineken, as no liquor was sold at the Garage.

Once in the club, you could help yourself with any amount of fruits and fruit juices. With a few Heinekens in our bellies, we would pay our “friends” money and begin an unbelievable night of music, dancing and fun. As you walked up the ramp of the old parking garage, you could hear the pulsating music, and it gave you the feeling of being somewhere special. I have never had that experience anywhere else.

Once past the ramp, you entered the Crystal Room, a rest area lined with glass blocks and a closet room; then it was on to the dance floor. Once there, you were faced with an unbelievable atmosphere. Over 2000 bodies, almost moving in unison, to one of Levan’s hot underground selections. Dancers – half-naked or fully naked; fully dressed in outlandish outfits or chic and sexy jeans – were making some unbelievable moves you saw nowhere else. They would dance for hours and then drop to the floor and sleep at the exact spot they were dancing.

The sound system was fantastic, and not even the disabled could resist the music. Once you hit the dance floor, you just had to move. I have seen hardcore Jamaican, who love dancehall and ‘hate Yankee music’ hit the dance floor, and danced up a storm and at 6:30 a.m. ask, ‘Yuh nuh ready yet?’

Under DJ Larry Levan, the Garage was famous for breaking new stars and new, hot music. The music played at the Garage was not heard on the radio; if radio played it, it was after the Garage had rubbed the groove out of the cut.

Frankie Crocker, that famous New York DJ, was said to have used the Garage as his source for new music. Tracks like 'Ain’t Nothing Going On But The Rent' (Gwen Guthrie), 'I Can Turn Around' (JM Silk), 'Hungry For Your Love' (Hanson & Davis) and Ma Foom Bey (Cultural Vibe) were all Garage house music classics. Some went on to be big, commercial radio hits.

Then there were the celebrity guests: Mick Jagger, Diana Ross, Boy George, Mike Tyson and Stevie Wonder; all came to see Levan and his dancing disciples. Sex and drugs of all kind were always around. I still remember the acrid smell of crack, which was the ‘in’drug at the time. There was a movie house and a roof garden, so while at the Garage, you could vary your fun and have many places to have sex. The music was predominantly house, with two or three slow jams after every three hours of non-stop house music.

On Saturday, Levan played a Grace Jones Night Clubbing, and that night I heard how reggae should sound on a super sound system and the power the music system has over people. By the middle of the song, everyone was in a trance-like motion. These Hispanic, African Americans and White people certainly knew how to dance reggae. Another time Levan dug up Third World’s ‘Now That We’ve Found Love’, the extended version with the percussion solo. That night, Third World took the Garage into fifth gear. When I heard the song first, I was sceptical, as I knew the songs that excited the crowd and Third World didn’t fit the bill. Poor Me!

The Garage was in a frenzy; everything that had life was moving on the floor, on the boxes, in the Crystal Room, probably even in the movie room and the roof garden.

I had never seen anything like it before nor after.

The Garage was indeed an experience. I usually left my Brooklyn apartment on Rockaway Parkway at about 11:00 p.m., took the #3 train, then transferred to the E, which took me into Manhattan. Once in the city, I hooked up with friends, and we took a taxi to the Village, where we partied until 7:00 a.m. the following day. It was almost taboo to leave before 7:00 a.m.; the session didn’t end until about nine. Those sessions were the highlight of my ‘80s trek to New York. I delighted in my regular visits to the hottest club on planet Earth, the Paradise Garage, the palace of Larry Levan and where straight people never minded being labelled queer for at least seven or eight hours while at the ultimate dance club experience.

Adopted from Dennis Howard's book Rantin From Inside the Dancehall