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A Chat With Marc Benecke: Studio 54 Doorman

[Originally published by NYNightlife November 21, 2011]
AT 19, Marc Benecke manned the ropes and called the shots at what would arguably become the most storied nightclub of all time, Studio 54.  Since his doorman days, Marc moved away from New York, opened his own bars, switched careers and returned to New York with a new gig.  I spoke with Marc about his time at Studio 54, picked his brain about current nightlife trends, and discussed why attractive bus boys are a thing of the past.You have a new radio show on SiriusXM and we’ll get to that, but prior to your radio gig, you were working in real estate.  Are you still involved in real estate sales?
Yes, I’m currently with Fox Residential, which is a boutique agency that specializes in the Upper East Side.

Some say nightlife sucks you in, making it hard to get out; while others find nightlife allows you to segue into different career directions.  How has nightlife affected your career?  
In many different ways, it opened doors for me to do my own clubs and bars in LA, but it also forced me to abandon law school.

What made you leave New York to open bars in Los Angeles?  Would you consider opening a bar in New York?  If so, describe your ideal bar.
After Studio was sold for the 2nd time, I knew it was right for me to make the move and go out on my own. My ideal bar would be intimate. I’m always open to the idea of doing a place here.

Do you still go out for fun?  If so, where do you go?  
Haven’t been going out much lately, been keeping it mostly to wine bars and restaurants.

New York Magazine mentioned your involvement in opening the Clift Hotel in San Francisco with Ian Schrager.  What is your current relationship with Ian?
Our relationship is fine, though I don’t see him that often.  I know he respects my opinion and that’s good enough for me.

Studio 54 is known for the shirtless bus boys who needed to have the right je ne sais quoi to be hired.  Today, bus boys in general (and while I hate to say it) are more diminutive beings who arguably work the hardest, but are not meant to be part of “the show.”  With nearly every aspect of Studio 54 being replicated, why do you think bus boys are some of the only employees who don’t need to be attractive to work in a nightclub?  Is it simply cost cutting?  
I think it’s a societal thing, it’s not viewed as an ok thing to do for a young person born in this country.  Everyone wants to start out as a bartender, they don’t even want to bar back, never mind bus.

Nightlife in New York seems to be making a turn from smaller, boutique nightclubs, to larger nightclub spaces.  What are the must have details to make a large club work well in the current New York nightlife climate?
I think the owners want to go big because of the money involved (understandably). I don’t feel there are enough great people who go out consistently to make a large club space spectacular. Even Palladium had the Mike Todd Room, so the short answer is you do need a separate area for those in the know, or the ability to divide up a larger space.

Of all the positions Studio 54 filled, outside of publicist, Carmen D’Alessio, you rarely, if ever hear about the club’s promoters.  Did Studio 54 use promoters?  If so, who were they?
Starting in 1981 during the Fleischman era there were club promoters. John Blair did a gay night, there was Foxy Night on Saturday.  Nothing in the early days.

In hindsight, do you wish you never used velvet ropes?  If Studio 54 hadn’t started using ropes, do you think ropes outside a club’s door would become the industry standard?  
I think ropes were the right choice at the time; we weren’t the first, we just made them famous.

The cover for Studio 54 was $8-10 and celebrities paid it.  Today, everybody wants to be comped.  How did this happen?
Although Nell tried in vain to reverse this by charging Cher, Madonna and other celebs, I have to say that the Baird Jones preppy parties at 54 in the 80’s really solidified that trend. The owners at the time were willing to fill the place with good looking younger people who would pay for booze which in turn would attract other paying customers.

What percentage of door decisions were made by Steve Rubell?
Hard to say, sometimes a few, sometimes a lot.

Doormen often complain about running into people in the daytime who in turn complain about being denied the night or weekend before.  Studio 54 has been closed for decades now; how often do people stop you on the street to tell you their memory of you denying them?
I lived in California for a long time so I missed a lot of that.  When it happens now, people would rather be remembered as getting in, even if they didn’t.

You co-host The Marc and Myra Show on SiriusXM’s Studio 54 channel with Myra Scheer, who handled the VIPs at Studio 54.  Describe the show.
On the show we want to be as authentic as possible, by having on guests who were really part of the scene, or those who worked there. I try hard not to make it a nostalgia trip, I’m always interested in what guests think of nightlife and the world today.

Are there parameters limiting what types of stories you can share on the Show?

Let’s talk music.  To you, is there anything better than disco?  
I have very varied musical tastes, I loved the late 90’s SF melodic house sound of Naked Music. Last year on my birthday my girlfriend took me to see Massive Attack and Thievery Corporation who are great. I also really like some dark stuff- The Golden Palominos CD “ Dead Inside” is awesome.  Love Tricky as well.  On the show I try to find some unusual tracks, not even that underground, maybe a B side of a hit.

The famed DJs then were Nicky Siano, Leroy Washington, Richie Kaczor and of course, Jellybean Benitez.  Do you pay attention to the DJs of today?   
Yes, but I’m more into the ones who rose to prominence ten or more years ago, like Oakenfold, Seb Fontaine.  Marcus Wyatt played my 35th birthday party in ‘91 and Jason Bentley was carrying his records!  I was very into the house scene in LA, I had a restaurant called Trinity that Sunday morning at 6am sometimes turned into this rotating party called SketchPad. DJ’s like Doc Martin, Fabian, the Love Boat parties – that was the time!

What is the greatest life lesson Ian, Steve or Studio 54 taught you?  
Steve taught me to try and choose higher and stay motivated. Ian taught me attention to detail.

The Marc and Myra Show airs on SiriusXM’s Studio 54 channel, Sunday’s at 10 PM.
Follow Marc on Twitter: @MarcBenecke


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