Rare images of NYC nightclubs from the 1980s and '90s, including the Limelight and Roxy

By staff

The nightclubs of the 1980s and '90s were often wild landscapes that attracted unique nocturnal animals.

The Club Kids, led by impresario Michael Alig, turned places like the Limelight into backdrops of drug- and techno-induced drama, while live music dens like the Village Gate presented stages to some great jazz musicians.

A glimpse through the rare images below will remind you that as with everything in the city, the scene is constantly changing. These photos, from the early '80s into the late '90s, give glimpses of what it was like at iconic clubs such as the Limelight and Wetlands Preserve.

Let the party begin.

Jimmy Ryan's Dixieland

John Keveanos and Matty Walsh stand outside the legendary Jimmy Ryan's Dixieland club, at 154 E. 54 St., Manhattan, on Dec. 22, 1983. The nightclub closed later that year.


Patrons enjoy drinks by the bar at Tramps on 21st Street on May 25, 1985. The nightclub was located at 51 W. 21st St., Manhattan.


Area, an '80s nightclub that was open for only four years, between 1983 and 1987, is seen on June 24, 1985. It was located at 57 Hudson St., Manhattan.


Shout Disco

Shout Disco, pictured here on its opening night on July 31, 1985, was a new club on West 43rd Street that catered to '50s and '60s rock-and-roll.

Palladium Dance Hall

Legendary doorman Haoui Montaug stands with his assistant, Yehjong Son, to review the guest list and decide who will gain entry to the Palladium on Oct. 11, 1985.

The Playboy Club

Playboy "bunnies" Vallery, Lillian and Lenore talk in an empty Playboy Club at the Lexington Hotel, 511 Lexington Ave., on June 25, 1986. Hugh Hefner's Playboy Club was slated to reopen in a new location in 2017, but was delayed. It was expected to open not too far from its original 59th Street address, where the nightclub lived from 1962 to 1986.

Heartbreak Disco

Patrons dance at the Heartbreak Disco at 179 Varick St., Manhattan, on July 31, 1986.

Baja Club

Men gather at the Baja Club on Columbus Avenue in Manhattan on Dec. 11, 1986.

Village Vanguard

A sign for the Village Vanguard, 178 Seventh Ave., is seen on Aug. 20, 1987. The jazz club opened in 1935.

Blue Note Jazz Club

A sign from the Blue Note Jazz Club in Greenwich Village is seen on Aug. 20, 1987.

Fat Tuesday's

A sign from Fat Tuesday's jazz club in Greenwich Village is seen on Aug. 20, 1987.

The Village Gate Jazz Club

The Village Gate Jazz Club in Greenwich Village, seen on Aug. 20, 1987, was renowned for its bookings, including the legendary John Coltrane.

Nell's Nightclub

Jessica Rosenblum, who's in charge of the door, only lets members, friends or interesting-looking people into Nell's Nightclub on West 14th Street on Feb. 2, 1988.

Cat Club

A sign from the former Cat Club, 76 E. 13th St., Manhattan, is seen on Jan. 23, 1988.

The World

The balcony and dance floor are full at The World on Jan. 5, 1989. The club was located at 254 E. Second St. in the East Village.

Red Zone

A dancer holds a snake at the Red Zone club to celebrate the opening of the 20,000-square foot mega disco at 440 W. 54th St. in Manhattan on Jan. 19, 1989.

Club El Morocco

Michael Alig, left, once known as the "King of the Club Kids" and who went to prison for manslaughter, chats with Mykul Tronn and Caroline Lanson at Club El Morocco at 54th Street and 2nd Avenue in Manhattan on Jan. 7, 1989.

Marty's East

Freddie Cole, brother of the late Nat King Cole, sings to jazz enthusiasts at Marty's East at 209 E. 56th St., Manhattan, on Jan. 21, 1989.

Rose Saigon Club

The Rose Saigon Club, located at 252 W. 43 St. in Manhattan, is seen on Feb. 23, 1989. The club was an after-hours joint with a reputation for being a drug den. Today, the location is occupied by Cheetahs Gentlemen's Club.

Wetlands Preserve

Wetlands Preserve opened in TriBeCa on Valentine's Day in 1989 and became nationally recognized as a mecca for jam bands like Phish, Blues Traveler and the Dave Matthews Band. Larry Block, seen on March 3, 1989, in front of the '60s decor, was the club's owner. It closed in September 2001.


A street art sign for Handlebar in the East Village is seen on May 1, 1990.


A club-goer on a swing sails over heads on May 19, 1990, at the famed Roxy club, which was once called "brutally hip" by New York magazine. Located in Chelsea, it opened as a roller disco in the '70s and then became a center of hip-hop battles, and was even featured in the 1984 film "Beat Street." It closed in 2007.


This shuttered location at Amsterdam and West 85 Street, seen on Nov. 6, 1990, once housed Sabu's nightclub.


Patrons at Tramps, 125 E. 15th St., Manhattan, dance to the music of Nathan and the Zydeco Cha-Chas on April 28, 1990. On accordion is Nathan Williams; on washboard is Mort Williams; on saxophone is John Wilson; and on bass is Russell Benoit.

Roseland Ballroom

Roseland Ballroom, at 239 W. 52 St., Manhattan, is seen on Nov. 1, 1990.


Vito Bruno, who got his start in the city's nightlife business with the 2001 Odyssey in Brooklyn ("Saturday Night Fever"), kicks back on a '60s-themed couch off the main dance floor of Glamorama at 229 West 28th St. on Nov. 22, 1991. Bruno jumped between club promoter to manager. He later founded the event and production entertainment company AMPM.

The Village Vanguard

A jazz group performs at The Village Vanguard in Manhattan's Greenwich Village on May 5, 1992.


A man parties at the Limelight, 47 W. 20th St., Manhattan, on July 27, 1992.


Olympia, the Limelight's bartender for the night, poses for a photo on July 27, 1992.


An artificial palm tree stands tall inside SOB's nightclub on Jan. 11, 1992.


Dave Ouinet, lead singer of the rock group Motherhead Bug, belts out a tune at CBGB on Aug. 13, 1992. The club opened in the East Village at 315 Bowery in 1973 and shut its doors in 2006.

Club Shelter

While Liberty, left, and Popi cuddle, Diego snoozes on the couch around 5 a.m. at Club Shelter on Aug. 4, 1992. The club was formerly located at 157 Hudson St., Manhattan.

Club USA

Club-goers dress for a "Grunge Night" event at Club USA on Jan. 21, 1993. The nightclub, formerly at 218 W. 47th St., was open between 1992 and 1995.


Tony Bongiovanni, who worked as an attendant in the washroom of the Limelight, poses for a photo on Oct. 25, 1993.

Hard Rock Cafe

The former Hard Rock Cafe, located at 221 W. 57 St., Manhattan, is seen on Jan. 16, 1994.


A couple takes to the dance floor at Polyester, 1487 First Ave., Manhattan, on March 19, 1994.


Peter Gatien, the owner of Tunnel, is seen on Aug. 31, 1995. The nightclub, located at 220 12th Ave., Manhattan, opened in 1986 and shut its doors in 2001.