Holy Headache! Finding Limelight’s Next Act

talesavalon 1h Holy Headache! Finding Limelight’s Next ActAbout a dozen congregants meandered about the former Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion at the corner of Sixth Avenue and 20th Street on Sunday evening to the thumping tune of a strange but convivial hymnal.

“These sounds fall into my mind,” went the familiar refrain. It was the Bucketheads’ smash 1994 dance hit “The Bomb.”

DJ Lui Rivero was up onstage, manning the turntables in a black baseball cap and graying goatee, behind a large sparkly painting of Marilyn Monroe. To his right, a man in a blue hoodie was sifting through a pile of bright red shoeboxes.

“I remember being here back in the ’80s,” Mr. Rivero said. “I used to do sets up there,” he noted, pointing to the old DJ booth hovering above the de-consecrated church’s front entrance.

Back then, the ancient 12,000-square-foot Gothic Revival–style brownstone, built between 1844 and 1853, was a bona fide nightspot—legendary party impresario Peter Gatien’s infamous Limelight, perhaps the most popular dance club in the entire city at that time—serving up stiff drinks and an even stiffer dose of debauchery.

Opened in 1983, the club attracted all sorts of celebrities, including Burt Reynolds and Eddie Murphy, but became more commonly associated with its outlandishly costumed and chemically fueled club kids—most notably, flashy party promoter Michael Alig, who later went to prison for the murder of a fellow Limelight regular and reputed drug dealer.

The club was repeatedly closed by police, and after years of sparring with the Giuliani administration, Mr. Gatien ultimately gave it up. It later reopened under new management and various new monikers, including Estate and Avalon, before shutting its doors for good in 2007

Landlord Ben Ashkenazy has been wrangling with what to do with the iconic, asymmetrical Richard Upjohn–designed landmark ever since.

For the past two years, the building sat empty, until fashion retailer Jack Menashe, operator of the trendy Lounge boutique at 593 Broadway in Soho, lost his lease to a forthcoming Victoria Secret store and needed a place to unload leftover inventory. (Mr. Menashe recently relocated the rest of the business to Miami.)

Currently, albeit only temporarily, the place is filled with pop artworks, mirrors, plush furniture and racks of purportedly discounted, yet still steeply priced, designer apparel—French-made swim trunks emblazoned with skulls and marijuana leaves, originally $415, now just $200!

 

THE STEADY SUPPLY of nostalgia, however, remains its biggest draw.

“When we first opened, everyone came in just reminiscing—Limelight, Limelight, Limelight,” said Aaron Jones, an assistant manager at the makeshift store, dressed in a knit cap and a camouflage jacket. “But lately, business has been picking up.”

Even the affable manager wasn’t sure how long the pop-up store would remain in the old nightclub space. (He referred further questions to the store owner, Mr. Menashe, who did not respond to emails or phone calls.)