The old Columbus Avenue dance clubs
Oddly enough, dancing in a club never felt quite appropriate on the Upper West Side – although many Upper West Siders may remember leaving late, dressed in various styles of quirky or rare clothing, attractive to go by taxi or metro at night to go dancing in another neighborhood. More famous still, the extravagance of Studio 54 (closed in 1980) awakened many New Yorkers to the existence of a certain type of scene. This even included those who had no intention of waiting on a line tied with a velvet rope just to be examined by licensed bouncers who had the power to determine whether or not you deserved to enter.
The 1980s were the heyday of dance clubs. They might have been less eclectically decorated and elaborate than Studio 54 and others from the ’70s, but still, a late-night entertainment company seemed to promise’ 80s investors a fun way to reap the profits. – knowing that most clubs only lasted a few years. These clubs were primarily located in the village and downtown – with a small amount in Gramercy, Chelsea, and TriBeca – but a few were located on the Upper West Side.
While restrictive NY Cabaret law made it difficult, if not impossible, to open new dance clubs, a large basement that met the requirements was 246A Columbus Avenue, between 71st and 72nd Streets, where several clubs operated in over the years.
In the 1970s, a dance club called TRAX attracted non-paying celebrities who in turn attracted fans of paid clubs. According to DNAinfo, now defunct, “Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall have already been photographed by paparazzi pioneer Ron Galella” at the former location. As TRAX closed in the mid-1980s, a group of ten young bankers came up with a different concept.
This new club, called Baja, was designed to appeal to people like them – a group that today seems very limited to what have been called “yuppies”. The partners described by the New York Times were all under 33 and worked for prestigious banks. They seemed to have been upbeat, energetic, and determined to run a dance club for the Upper West Side.
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As described by The Times, Baja had “become a bustling hangout for young people who work in the Financial District, live on the Upper West Side and refuse to go downtown for a night out.” The scene has been described as “comfortable, [with the] relaxed atmosphere of a college-fraternity basement. Sports were played on a big screen TV and the bar featured “14-ounce college-sized variations on the tropical fruit drink theme.”
A key part of the business plan was to make the location available for fundraising events hosted by reputable organizations. Baja is listed, for example, in the Social Events section of the New Times for November 9, 1987, as a fundraising location. “The first annual dinner of the Legal Action Center for the Homeless, a three-year-old advocacy group, will be held at 7:30 pm at the Baja Club, 246-A Columbus Avenue (71st Street). The music will be provided by Ken Dashow, a disc jockey, and the food by the Fight Against Hunger students of the New York Restaurant School. Tickets, $ 75 and $ 85, at the door.
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The American Lung Association and the Jewish Guild for the Blind also held dinner and dance parties in Baja in the mid-1990s.
Eventually the energy died down, in line with the observation that the club always want a change. And after ten years, leaving home for a night of dancing and drinking until 4 a.m. may not have been so appealing to the original investment partners and their friends. The vast space was empty for years after Baja closed down sometime after the mid-1990s.
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Columbus 72 (later C72) opened in the space in 2006, cultivating a very young clientele. The dress code (found on the former club’s Facebook page) stated that patrons should “Make a fashion statement in C72, trendy and sexy is key. Sportswear, loose clothing, running sneakers and boots are not permitted. [An] a well-groomed general appearance is required. Admission is at the discretion of the porter.
C72 closed amid local complaints in 2013. Here’s a clip from a very festive Saturday night at the old place.
Are Upper West Side dance clubs a thing of the past? Is there a concept that would suit the ambiance and appeal of the residents of this neighborhood? Well, it might at least be possible soon.
The NY Post reported on September 2 that Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and other New York politicians “have proposed to repeal the remnants of the despised cabaret law that made dancing illegal. in most places in the borough from 1926 to 2017, when it was repealed. Zoning regulations separate from the Cabaret Act are still in effect, but perhaps not for very long. “
So if the rules are changed, going out dancing on the UWS may again be an option. If someone decides to open a dance club.