Queer History Was Made in ’90s Clubs. These Fliers Captured It.

In the new book “Getting In,” the journalist David Kennerley takes an electric visual stroll through New York’s 1990s gay club scene. Not with photos, exactly, but through fliers — more than 200 of them — featuring polychromatic drag queens and come-hither hunks who enticed him to dance to Frankie Knuckles and Junior Vasquez remixes at popular nightclubs like Twilo and the Palladium, and parties like Jackie 60 and Lick It!

“People threw the fliers on the ground,” Kennerley, 63, said in a recent interview at a Midtown cafe. “I thought, why would you throw this out? It’s going to be a memento.”

Kennerley assembled the book from his collection of over 1,200 fliers that he acquired from several sources — promoters outside clubs, now-closed gay shops and bars, club mailing lists — all before social media. A self-described “bit of a hoarder,” Kennerley considers the book an act of queer music history preservation.

“We weren’t all snapping pictures at clubs back then, so we don’t have much of a visual record,” he said. “These provide some sort of visual evidence of what went on.”

Kennerley and other ’90s club veterans recently shared memories of some of the fliers, and the era. These are edited excerpts from the conversations.

LADY BUNNY, D.J. and CLUB KID Back in the ’80s and ’90s, we felt we needed to come together as a community to fight AIDS. The fear of AIDS made us party with greater abandon. For an entire generation of gay men, especially those connected to the club world, we weren’t saving money. We assumed the odds were against us. Loleatta Holloway and Lonnie Gordon — that’s quite a lineup in terms of what songs packed dance floors.

MICHAEL MUSTO, NIGHTLIFE CHRONICLER We learned the power of graphic art from ACT UP and Queer Nation. They knew how to use slogans and imagery to get a point across. Promoters used that know-how to sell their parties.

DAVID KENNERLEY It feels like she’s a superhero in a way. That’s what people needed to be then because of the stigma and persecution.

KENNERLEY At first glance it would be muscle boys in short shorts. It is, but someone Photoshopped on the heads of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Notice it was about getting out to vote. This one has credits of Jon McEwan and Jason McCarthy, the photographer and the promoter. They did one of George Bush spanking Dan Quayle, too.

MARK ALLEN, GO-GO BOY and MODEL This was taken during a session where I was photographed with Richard, this kid from Venezuela, whose body was Al Gore. Mine was Bill Clinton. And Jon goes, I want to photograph you in cutoff shorts, the kind that were popular on Fire Island then. It sounded like something Spy would do in the ’80s. They took three shots and we went on to the next thing.

You saw T-shirts of this image on cards. It was a good example about how something could go viral before the internet. I didn’t mind being anonymous. I thought it was art.

SUSAN MORABITO, D.J. I don’t remember that particular party but I remember the flier.

MORABITO Back then, fliers inspired conversation and controversy sometimes. When the Saint at Large party used to send them in the mail, you couldn’t wait to get it. You’d get on the phone with your friends and talk about it.

KENNERLEY Marky Mark had a song called “Good Vibrations” that went to No. 1. He was the Calvin Klein model for a while, and he would pull down his trousers and show off his tighty whities.

The promise of the poster is, he’s going to show off his muscular physique. I paid a lot of money to go that night but I was very disappointed. He got onstage and he strutted around in a dark hoodie. Before you knew it, the song was over. I was like, wait, what about dropping the pants? I guess you could say it was misleading advertising.

CHIP DUCKETT, PUBLICIST and PRODUCER Susanne [Bartsch, the club promoter and hostess] has a deep love of all things party. Inside Copa it was this perfect mix. There’s a baroness over here, a real one. Here’s a hooker and here’s a fashion model and it’s really gay but it’s also not gay. I don’t think Studio 54 did it in the same way. She’s still hosting parties every week.

In those days I printed 50,000 fliers a month. Some guys in Queens who ran a club opened a printing company called Nightlife Printing. They did fliers for everybody. When I think of the amount of paper that got delivered to my office …

KENNERLEY The Lure was leather and Levi’s oriented and they had a dress code. The party on Wednesday was geared toward the younger crowd, to get them involved in the scene. They also had B.D.S.M. shows on occasion. It got racy.

MUSTO The way people forged a sense of communal identity was by going out. It was vital to have niche parties, where you had an exact type of gay, like twinks or bears. Now everybody has sex via Grindr, so that if you walk into a gay bar there is zero sexual urgency in the air.

ALLEN This was me, taken by the photographer Hans Fahrmeyer. I made some money on that one. It was on greetings cards and posters. I remember being in a cab and somebody had plastered on scaffolding 50 or 100 of the posters. I saw it for a few seconds. I thought, this is the closest I’ll ever get to my picture being in Times Square. I went back a week later and it was gone. That captured the fleetingness of the whole scene.

LADY BUNNY This was a time when record companies would send D.J.s records to see what was a hit with our crowd. Gays has such good taste in dance music with zero promotion and a cover that didn’t even have the artist’s picture on it!

ALLEN I thought it would lead to something incredible. It didn’t. But now it makes me think of my youth and the passage of time and how important the memories are.

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