Last week, former Paradise Garage DJ David DePino recalled how, back in the mid-Seventies, he visited a cavernous club on the west side of Manhattan and wanted to show it to his friend Lawrence Philpot and party promoter Michael Brody. “I knew it was somewhere between Brooklyn Bridge and Christopher Street,” DePino said, “so I wove between Seventh Avenue and Hudson on foot until I found the building. Larry and Michael called the real estate agent and they took it.”
That building was a parking garage situated on 84 King Street, and it was soon transformed into the disco mecca known as the Paradise Garage. Philpot, meanwhile, was transformed into Larry Levan, the world’s first international superstar DJ and the club’s resident from its official opening in 1978 until its closure in 1987.
“There was a big void after the Garage closed,” DePino continued. “The Paradise crowd scattered and no one knew what to do. It was hard to get the core family of people all together again. There was a feeling of loss.” Yesterday, DePino — in conjunction with fellow Paradise Garage alum Joey Llanos and the dance music legend François Kevorkian — paid tribute to both the Paradise Garage (now a Verizon warehouse painted a ghastly yellow) and the departed Levan with a block party located on the street outside its former entrance, an event organized by Red Bull Music Academy in coordination with an effort to rename the King Street block Larry Levan Way.
Here, the drug-fueled party that could once run from Saturday night into the church-going hours of Sunday morning instead started at high noon and was brought to a glorious though premature end by 5 p.m. Phreek’s “Weekend” (in DePino’s estimation, the quintessential Paradise Garage song), which used to herald in every Friday night, was now relegated to the bright sun of 3 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon.
Walking across the crowded space as two staples of Levan’s DJ sets – Talking Heads’ effervescent “Once in a Lifetime” and Donald Byrd’s rapturous “Love Has Come Around” – boomed through lower Manhattan, it was easy to see how that core family to which Depino referred has both changed and expanded: While the same coalition of different creeds and sexual orientations remains intact, it has also grown to include children and grandchildren as well.
These dancers – some of whom could be seen grooving in front of their walkers or to the side of their canes – could reconnect after years and move their bodies to classics ranging from Modern Romance’s “Salsa Rhapsody” to Bohannon’s “Let’s Start II Dance.” Singer Anthony Malloy, whose single “You Don’t Know” was a bellwether of disco’s transition into house, joined the DJ triumvirate onstage to sing the the song before a crowd that shouted out every vocal tic and hiccup of the dubby original.
The block party peaked when disco diva Jocelyn Brown appeared onstage to deliver a set of Garage classics. “I’m not young like I used to be,” Brown at one point told her fans, but when belting out songs like “I’m Caught Up (In a One Night Love Affair)” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” her voice sounded so ageless and resilient that it briefly did feel as though no time had passed between the heyday of the Paradise Garage and this present moment staged in front of a featureless Verizon building.