New York in the early 1980's was ground zero for art and would-be artists. It was also economically depressed, which meant that kids could live in the city and work miracles with duct tape. Area's founders, Eric and Christopher Goode, Shawn Hausman and Darius Azari, four young friends from California, came here like the rest: to have fun while getting famous. They had thrown theme parties back home, but they wanted to make history. Eric Goode, who now builds hotels and restaurants (Bowery Bar, the Maritime Hotel, the Park), says the clubs back then were driven solely by music "” disco, punk or rock. "Area," he recalls, "was purely visual. It was based on ˜happenings,' on what Allan Kaprow and Jim Dine and Claes Oldenburg did."
Hausman, a designer, adds: "We were going to open this place for two years, and that was going to be it. We didn't want to be club owners."
Area's premiere, in September 1983, was announced by a pharmaceutical-looking capsule that arrived in a jeweler's box with the instructions: "Place capsule in glass of hot water and allow to dissolve." The club's "Disco" night was announced by a phonograph record; "Suburbia," by a slice of Velveeta; "Confinement," by a Chinese finger trap. "Gnarly" beckoned with a corrugated box that, when opened, set off a mousetrap smashing open an ammonium capsule. In turn, the capsule might have revived anyone who fainted at the mousetrap snap, but it did not amuse the United States Postal Service.
"I've never been in a rock band, but I would imagine our way of working was a little like a band," Hausman says. The themes, which changed roughly every six weeks, were generated by marathon brainstorming sessions and then put into play by a frenzied art department of rotating eccentrics that included brilliant and sometimes slightly mad talents like Kenny Baird, Michael Staats, Mark Garbarino (who later designed prosthetic makeup in Hollywood), Serge Becker (now an owner of Joe's Pub and La Esquina) and Reno Dakota (who made the film "American Fabulous").
Clockwise from left: Peter Fraser and Elizabeth Saltzman; members of the Ramones with Christina Downing; from right, Pilar Limosner, Dianne Brill, Rudolf, Carmel Johnson.