Michael Fesco, Whose Gay Clubs Were Innovators, Dies at 84


Michael Fesco in 2015 at a Sea Tea cruise around Manhattan. Mr. Fesco started the cruises in 1997; he had actually earlier run successful gay nightclubs on Fire Island and in Manhattan. Credit Credit HeyMrJason Photography

Michael Fesco, whose trendsetting clubs on Fire Island and later in Manhattan gave gay men a place to gather, dance and explore sexually at a time when homosexuality was largely unwanted in mainstream society, passed away on April 11 in Palm Springs, Calif. He was 84.

His good friend Tony Powell, who worked for Mr. Fesco on Sea Tea, a gay celebration cruise around Manhattan that he started arranging in the 1990 s, verified the death.

Mr. Fesco gave a shock of energy to the gay scene in 1970, when he opened the Ice Palace in Cherry Grove, a gay neighborhood on Fire Island. He had actually recently visited the Sanctuary, a discothèque on West 43 rd Street in Manhattan with a mostly gay male customers.

” I stated, ‘I have actually just got to do something like this!'” Mr. Fesco said in an interview for “Love Conserves the Day: A History of American Dance Music Culture, 1970-1979,” a 2003 book by Tim Lawrence. “I sat there in the rafters mesmerized by the individuals on the dance floor.”

Mr. Fesco borrowed the name Ice Palace from an F. Scott Fitzgerald story. “It was always so damn hot in there that I believed a great, cool name would be mentally appreciated,” he said.


A 1998 advertisement for a Sea Party cruise. Credit by means of Tony Powell

Certainly gay men valued having such a place to go.

” We had a line outside that ran all the method to the beach,” Mr. Fesco remembered of the opening night, on Memorial Day weekend in1970 “I believe 1,800 people came to the opening. We charged 5 dollars admission, and my lease for the season was guaranteed.”

For several years the Ice Palace did flourishing organisation. But competition from a nearby facility, the Sandpiper, made 1973 a rough year for Mr. Fesco, and he started turning his attention to Manhattan; management of the Ice Palace, which is still a popular event area, passed to others. In December 1974 he opened Flamingo in a 10,000- square-foot area in SoHo.

Flamingo was a membership club: Acquiring a subscription card (the initial price was $35– about $190 today– though a black market is said to have developed) entitled you to go into and bring a guest.

Mr. Fesco employed various theme nights– a “black celebration,” where everybody would wear black, a “white celebration,” where that was the color of the night, and so on. More essential was what was coming out of the speakers.

” It was his use of music that set the club apart from the competition,” Get Out! Publication wrote in2012 “Flamingo was a Cathedral of Sound and the D.J. led the parishioners through nighttime services.”

Flamingo dominated the scene for seven years, up until the Saint, an even bigger and flashier club, opened in the East Town.


Left, Mr. Fesco at a Halloween party at the Ice Palace, his Fire Island bar, in the early 1970 s; right, Mr. Fesco during his days as a dancer on Broadway. Credit Collection of Michael Fesco

About the time Flamingo closed in 1981, the gay club scene was starting to be disrupted by HELP. However Mr. Fesco would resurface with other ventures throughout the years, possibly most plainly his Sea Tea cruises, which he started in 1997.

Michael Eugene Fesco was born upon Might 24,1934 Pals interviewed for this obituary were unsure where however knew that in his youth he resided in the Seattle area and hung out as a lumberjack. (Information on his survivors was not instantly readily available.)

His genuine interest, though, was dance, and in 1958 he transferred to New york city to study at the Ballet Arts school.

Mr. Fesco made his Broadway launching in 1958 as a dancer in the musical funny “Goldilocks,” which was choreographed by Agnes de Mille, and he built up three more Broadway credits over the next four years.

In the summertime of 1969 he took a task assisting to handle the Beach Hotel and Club on Fire Island.

” The friend who provided me the task ended up being a heavy drinker,” he informed Mr. Lawrence years later on, “and after a month I found myself running the entire complex.”

He went about revamping the hotel bar, lining the walls with tinfoil and replacing the jukebox with a stereo. The Ice Palace opened a year after the Stonewall uprising, a turning point in the gay-rights movement in which protesters rebelled versus a cops raid at a gay bar in Greenwich Village. On Fire Island, at least, cops interference was fairly light, and clients could be uninhibited.

” The club world was where people wanted to go because that was where all the young boys might remove their t-shirts and sweat and dance,” Mr. Fesco said. “That was where you met your sweethearts, and that is what it was all about. Sex.”

At the Ice Palace and especially at Flamingo, Mr. Fesco made good use of his theater background.

” Michael was an entrepreneur who cannily saw a big new gay male market in the 1970 s and satisfied it remarkably,” Felice Picano, an author and publisher who has focused on gay culture, said by e-mail. “Flamingo was so popular and prominent that major acts like Diana Ross would go in person to ‘break’ their brand-new disco records there. Fesco’s theatricality from his work on Broadway and his creative pals and ambitions suggested amazing nights and mornings.”

George Stambolian, an important figure in the gay literary motion, eulogized the club when it closed, saying that going to Flamingo was about more than a good time; it had to do with identity and empowerment.

” You picked up that appeal was more than pecs and proportion, it remained in all those bodies moving to the exact same beat,” he wrote in the newspaper New York Native “You understood that pride was not just in individual accomplishment but in the reality that these men in this area could develop such joy.”

Scores of tributes to Mr. Fesco have been published on Facebook and in other places. Mr. Powell kept in mind that he was understood far and wide– which he found out when Mr. Fesco when let him utilize a house he had in Puerto Vallarta.

” Even in Mexico,” he stated by e-mail, “all I had to state was ‘Michael Fesco,’ and you were in.”

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