Tunnel Crawlers

Photographer and DJ Lucien Samaha revisits the zeitgeist of 1990s club culture in New York City.

All photos by Lucien Samaha. Courtesy the artist.

Due to the huge success of my summer of 1997 party at the top of the World Trade Center, the producers at the mega-club, Tunnel, asked me to do something similar in their bathroom lounge. Yes, the bathroom lounge. Capitalizing on a phenomenon that took hold in the ’80s, particularly in clubs like Area on Hudson Street, where scores of scenesters would gather and party in the bathrooms, often doing lines on toilet seats and popping pills, the cavernous Tunnel—with over a dozen dance floors—decided to create a Bathroom Lounge, complete with its own bar and DJ.

I was given the choice to spin my Loungecore vinyl either from a “coffin” close to the bar or from a booth that looked like it had not been used in years, if ever. It was not a sexy room at all, at least not compared to the main dance-floor DJ booth where Junior Vazquez had his own super-opulent mini-club to host VIPs and celebrity friends like Madonna during his marathon nights. He’d spin for ten hours or more, sometimes until noon the following day, or so I heard.

I asked for some basic decor at least, and, after a couple of weeks of bare walls, I was given shiny orange paper stapled to the wall and a red glitter curtain. I suggested that the bathroom itself could use a facelift to match the name I gave to the party: Mondo Sparkle. With a very modest budget, I recruited Ali, my boyfriend at the time, a member of the Viennese art group gelatin (now gelitin). We purchased rolls of sparkly contact paper and cut them into squares exactly the size of the bathroom tiles, then spent several days pasting them to the walls.

Anyone in the club (up to four or five thousand people on a weekend night) who had to go to the bathroom walked by my DJ booth, located at a corner of a narrow hallway at the top of the stairs coming from the main floor. It featured a massive glass window on one side and a Dutch door, whose upper half could be flung open, allowing interludes with anyone passing by and conversations with visiting friends; one could say it was my own VIP area. Everyone stopped by, including club regulars and famous partiers like Amanda Lepore, Richie Rich, and Sofia Lamar.

Since I always have a camera with me—at the time, a Contax T2—I started photographing, using whatever expired film I had in the refrigerator from working at Eastman Kodak several years before. These photographs remain as an archive of those three months in 1997, a record of parties past in New York’s downtown scene.


Photo Essay