"It’ll be a spiritual experience." That’s what I was told by one of the guys from the Saint at Large, the committee that produced the 23rd annual White Party in Manhattan. Since I’d never been to this type of 16-hour, nonstop dance party before, I was skeptical that I’d experience any glorious awakening or sacred moment on the dance floor.
In 1980, in a now-defunct gay club called the Saint at 105 Second Ave., several traditions were started, four of which live on to this day, bringing generations of gay men together. The White Party, the Black Party, the New Year’s party and the Halloween party are all built around the purist ideal of dancing for dancing’s sake. With these events, the Saint—with its disco ball, grandiose light shows and classic house music intended to take revelers on a fantastic journey—became a decadent and debaucherous fixture in the minds of dancing queens everywhere. Gay men traveled from halfway around the world just to be part of the magic at the Saint.
The White Party is now held at a new space: Capitale, part of a stunning Stanford White building that was once the home of the Bowery Savings Bank. Of course, I never saw the Saint in its heyday—it closed in 1988; I was 11 years old—but Capitale is the most magnificent, opulent space I’ve ever seen. According to the Saint at Large, the club underwent a $20 million renovation that included installing new sound and light systems and creating a gigantic dance floor. Corinthian columns stretch way up, leading partygoers’ eyes to the domed light show, 75 feet above and timed expertly with the music. There are at least three lounges, each equipped with a bar and featuring red velvet banquettes, stunning crystal chandeliers and gold-gilded mirrors above every marble fireplace.
I was slightly bewildered and fairly amused by the card everyone was given upon arrival: "The Saint at Large and Capitale will not tolerate the use of illegal drugs. Anyone found using illegal substances will be automatically removed from the venue. By order of the Department of Health for the City and State of New York all contact of a sexual nature within this venue is illegal. You will be ejected immediately. There are no second chances."
That’s intense. I hadn’t planned to—and ultimately did not—ingest anything more than a few Red Bulls and lots of water. Of course, that doesn’t mean everyone took the warnings to heart, but considering this was a sold-out, all-night party, it’s interesting that I only saw one guy throwing up. He probably did too much Special K.
Didn’t matter. The crowd was well-behaved and mature: The vibe on the dance floor was undeniably sexual, but not aggressively so. The crowd was also extremely diverse. I saw older men, gay couples, burly men with hairy backs, Asian and Filipino guys, blacks, Latinos, muscle queens, leather queens, fashionistas, out-of-towners, younger guys, Abercrombie guys, ultra-skinny guys, sporty lesbians, straight women and even straight men. Of course, Sophia Lamar—with her fire-engine-red, too-large lips, platinum-blond hair and skimpy black teddy—wandered past a few times en route to the VIP section.
Thunderpuss—aka Chris Cox and Barry Harris—played the first set and kept the dance floor packed with a fine mix of uplifting, modern house, underground beats and some vocal tracks. I didn’t think I’d have the energy to keep shakin’ my ass, but I just couldn’t sit down. The duo played their remix of Whitney Houston’s "On My Own," a thumping version of Christina Aguilera’s "Beautiful" and more than one Madonna remix.
I sauntered onto the dance floor sometime after one in the morning, and immediately began taking mental notes on everyone’s outfits. Lots of—perhaps too many—blue jeans and white muscle shirts, dozens of guys in white jeans, guys who only wore 2(x)ist boxer briefs, those fashionistas in their Dolce & Gabbana finest—all grooving to the beats and having a good time. Two guys made it onto my Best Dressed List, but one took the lead: a cute blond guy wearing a jock, white chaps and a white vest. You’ve gotta have a beautiful ass to pull that off, and he certainly did.
I saw several colleagues—big surprise—at the party. I spotted a friend and fellow journalist who knows everything about these parties, about the DJs and about the scene in general. He gave me the lowdown, showed me around Capitale and invited me to hang out with him and his friends. I was introduced to the lighting master, Guy Smith, and I complimented him profusely. I also met DJ Warren Gluck—set to take over the turntables soon—who was clearly excited to be spinning.
At 7:00 a.m., Thunderpuss stepped down to great applause. Gluck took over with a long track from Alice in Wonderland, playing into the party’s theme: Alex in Wonderland. As a Black Party and White Party veteran from previous years as well as a Saint regular from 1983 to 1988, Gluck knew how to bring us into the morning. After being taken up by Thunderpuss, hearing his music was a trip, and Smith’s light show was matched perfectly. One track of note was Gluck’s version of Gloria Gaynor’s "I Never Knew," a song I’m told is a Saint-era classic.
At 11:00 a.m., the sparkling silver disco ball finally came down, low enough so that a dozen or so lucky, ecstatic revelers could reach up, touch it, and lovingly worship at the gay altar.