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I was 20 years young when I fell witness to a very naughty Jennifer Jason Leigh getting a foot massage from a stranger after descending into a subterranean S&M club.

All these years I was certain that Single White Female was filmed at New York’s notorious sex club, The Vault. I was not quite right. The Internet (more specifically, Jeremiah) corrects me, as I research it’s salacious story. The Vault opened in 1984 in the basement at 675 Hudson Street. After some success, it moved to 28 10th Ave. Club Hellfire took over the space on Hudson Street. Disappointingly, only the street part of the scene was shot at 675 Hudson, and the interior elements were filmed in a Hollywood studio.

Frank Cooke and Janet Carpenter, a married couple founded the business. She was an ex-banker, solid and fearless. He was an ex-bus driver skilled at carpentry. He would build the various binding contraptions and sexual apparatus that would not only inspire years of spreading and spanking, but ultimately cost New York State a mint.

Janet had the wonderfully warped idea to dress a mannequin in head to toe leather, hang it out the window and illuminate the thing. As you might imagine, the police were called by neighbors thinking they were responding to a suicide.

There were four floors and a basement, each with its own target market. One floor was for couples, one for the gay boys (dubbed the Cell Block), one for the ladies who love ladies and another for straight singles. My personal favorite was the basement, otherwise known as “the Dungeon.”

I was 24 when I went to The Vault on a date. A gentleman named Jared took me there because I am an elegant lady. He paid a hundred at the door for the two of us. There was a steady stream of people going in. Imagine a car accident and subsequent traffic jam; we struggled to pass through because of all of the rubbernecking. But Jared was chivalrous. He was my guide and he held me close.

We began in the basement. The red lights were dim and the walls and ceiling painted black. There were a lot of people, mostly men, masturbating. Mounted TV’s played pornos on a loop. A tall, sinewy man in a tattered pink nightie and full face of make up locked eyes with me and gazed in my direction for the duration of my dabble in the dungeon. He began following us at a distance. Every so often I would look back to see if he was still there. Indeed, he was. Each time I looked at him he’d flap his arms like a bird, tilt his head back and open his mouth wide. “He forgot to put pants on,” I told Jared as I pulled him closer. There was security-a-plenty so I wasn’t frightened so much as I was disturbed.

In the dungeon there were several human sized cages. The biggest of them was in the middle of the room, being dominated by a large muscular man masturbating in his extremely oily birthday suit and Air Jordan’s sans socks. With his ample afro and a menacing manhood, he stroked ceaselessly well beyond dawn. I was spellbound; Who are you, Sir, what is your day job… and what, pray tell, do you tell your colleagues when they inquire about your weekend.

Jared and I found a bar in the couple’s lair. There was no booze for sale but there was a wide variety of Arizona Iced Tea to choose from. Lucky for me, Jared was stealth in his schmoozing and soon we were served some Jack Daniel’s Sour Mash and soda, courtesy of the staff’s own secret supply.

I observed from my barstool a short, stout man on a sad old sofa, ass in the air, receiving a lackadaisical jump rope type whipping from his short, stout spouse. Also on the menu was a romantic duo tenderly sharing a grapefruit, after he peeled a hole and ejaculated in it.

Jared and I didn’t last long, but The VauIt stayed strong, attracting a massive following of freaks and fetishists. There were goths and vampire geeks, tickle torturers and diaper enthusiasts. There were people that wore nothing but leashes and crawled around on the floor. Ponder for a moment, the filth on that floor.

Management was enthusiastic. They sponsored slave auctions, toe sucking summits, hot wax sports, uniform night, boobie contests and during Christmas they even put Leather Claus on the payroll.

Madonna was one of the first celebrity patrons. she wore track pants and baseball caps. She gravitated mostly to the homosexual sections and enjoyed watching girls and playful Latino boys fool around. She arranged a photo shoot there for her Sex book. In addition, she filmed the video for Erotica there and then mentioned it on Arsenio Hall. This was the definitive point in which the club spiraled into the mainstream.

Soon The Vault’s celebrity cameos were abundant. Sharon Stone arrived in casual attire with a couple of friends and spent the evening watching girls torture each other. The actress that played Jan on the Brady Bunch showed up once with two queens in full drag and expressed concern for a monkey that was in attendance. Joey Buttafucco rolled up in a white limousine and Lilo Brancato came in often and bullied the transvestites. He even went so far as to beat one over the head with a fire extinguisher. Elle Macpherson frequented having once brought David Lee Roth. Claus Von Bulow cheered on Tommy Lee as he tied up Pamela and another broad and continued to whip and fondle their boobies. One night Pam and Tommy brought Slash who then became a regular. Heather Locklear was aloof as a pair of foot fetishists groveled around her barstool. Claudia Schiffer and David Copperfield brought their realtor with them. Roseanne Barr was asked to leave for mocking people and jokingly ordering her bouncer to whip randoms’ asses for her amusement.

According to Anthony Marini, the General Manager, Al Pacino attended often, under the guise of ‘preparing for a role as an undercover homicide investigator on the trail of a sadistic psychopath’. Marini explained that Al became, “deeply involved in his research.” Today I combed to sort out which movie Al was researching and, indeed, there is a film that fits this puzzle. The film is entitled Cruising, and here is the description; “A police detective goes undercover in the sleazy and underground gay subculture of New York City to catch a serial killer, who is murdering numerous gay men with S&M tactics.” The interesting thing here, is that Cruising was released in 1980, four years before The Vault materialized.

Another celebrity scandal included Bob Dole’s political advisor Roger Stone. Some club personnel apparently provided some tangible evidence to The ENQUIRER exposing Stone and his wife as solicitous swingers, including a hand written note and a series of sordid snapshots.

Other regulars included Harrison Ford, Iggy Pop, Robert Downey Jr., John Wayne Bobbitt, Corey Feldman, Naomi Campbell and Mickey Rourke, who was bounced for belligerence.

At some point, Carpenter and Cooke turned to organized crime for help as they struggled to repay a loan they had taken from a wily motorcycle gang. This resulted in a split ownership with Anthony Rotundo, a capo in the DeCavalcante family and a couple of his cohorts. (The Sopranos were thought to have been inspired by the DeCavalcantes.)

In 1996 Mayor Giuliani shut it down for violating public health laws, but a judge deemed it safe shortly after and it reopened. However, the New York State Department of Transportation was beginning its expansion of West Street, which involved putting in six lanes and some peripheral parking.

Condemnation laws demanded full compensation for the take, so the State prepared to purchase the permanent fixtures as part of its relocation deal. Things like light fixtures, sinks, a subpar sound system, TVs, bar paraphernalia and refrigerated coolers. The more colorful items; things like St. Andrews crosses, gynecological chairs, cages, spectator platforms, hitching posts, kneeling horses, leather slings and shackles, which had been constructed from crap scrap and weren’t worth much, needed to be welded to walls and floors in order for them to be rendered permanent. The appraisal produced 579 separate items estimating a total of a hilarious $1.8 Million. And one can only assume the State was in a hurry to finish the project, so they settled… claiming it was a tiny fraction of the $104 million they spent acquiring three and a half city blocks of properties.

Interestingly, amongst the items was an actual twin seater electric chair, built for the purpose of tittilating nipples and genitals and such, donated by art dealer Andrew Crispo, who himself had been arrested for kidnapping and torture in 1988.

More interestingly, a nurse who moonlighted as an S&M aficionado, called Marini to let him know of St. Vincent’s disposal of an examining chair and from what such sidewalk he could scoop it.

Carpenter and Cooke had moved on, but the others tried to revive the club at 12th Avenue and West 23rd Street, but as you might predict, it failed after a couple of years.

This tale of the Vault is a great New York story. I’m confident in the idea that the one common characteristic of all New Yorkers is an unbridled affection for the mysterious. It wasn’t specifically sex that made The Vault irresistible. It was an unconventional thing to do with a Saturday night, and its risky location made it that much more magnetic. It was the opposite of boring. I believe the lot of us moved to New York to avoid all things beige and banal. The Vault’s is a story of corruption and greed loaded with lunatics and perverse anecdotes. But most of all, it is a story of change, which is what New York does best.





In 1983, the era of Save the Robots began as not much more than a storefront and basement at 25 Avenue B. Operating after hours, the venue wasn’t completely of legal standards in the beginning, although why that is remains unclear. The club shut down for a spell due to a fire violation and reopened legit. They only sold vodka, soda and juice. Street level was “the sandbox” and the basement was a frighteningly dark and loud dance floor… Wall to wall people danced to various DJs and a small strobe light.

Craig Ferguson, the talk show host was once a bouncer here, and Dean Johnson was a regular fixture. Dean was an East Village icon. He was a transvestite, musician, artist and FOW (Friend of Warhol). He was an integral part of the Queercore movement, which was somewhat of a homosexual punk subculture. Save the Robots also birthed Lady Bunny.

In 1993 the club closed because it was too out of control for that neighborhood, which is really saying something. I don’t have to tell you that anyone who ventured to Second Street and Avenue B in the eighties at 4AM was most definitely a deviant:

Avenue A was for the Adventurous

Avenue B was for the Brave

Avenue C, for the Crazy

Avenue D for Dead


The Stingy LuLu crew took over and tried to capitalize on the Save the Robots name without consent, by calling it Robots.

Just as you might imagine, none of the original clientele patronized.

Gregoire Alessandrini was a student in Greenwich Village in the ’90’s. I was too, but this guy actually did something with his time. He has posted these and so many more on his blog. I spent all day staring at these gems. He was everywhere. We must have passed each other because I have a picture of the same person from Wigstock ’93. There are so many memories here.

Have you ever had a tantrum over the closing of a restaurant?

My fat ass threw the mother of all fits when some killjoy told it that florent got bullied out of its lease at 69 Gansevoort Street. Some filthy animal wanted 30 G’s a month to keep the beauty alive.


My answer to this absolute blasphemy was to give the Meat Packing district, in its entirety, the HAND. I refused to grace its greedy blood soaked cobblestones with my adorable adidas EVER again.

(…until about six weeks later when some trick with significant shoulders offered to buy me a black and blue double porterhouse coupled with a bottomless Diet Coke.)

Guys! it was totally Field of Dreams. But so much more watchable.


The cornfield is a neglected parcel of lower Manhattan. Kevin Costner’s almost-as-boring-as-a-baseball-game character is, instead, played by a colorful Frenchman called Florent Morellet. Shoeless Joe Jackson comes, indeed… but he comes to 69 Gansevoort Street, and that barefoot bitch stays for nearly 23 years… in the form of the pinpoint perfect clientele. If every restauranteur could be so lucky; edgy celebrities, drunk drag queens, transgender prostitutes, and a hodge podge of insatiable late night lunatics.

…and the child that chokes herself unconscious on a hot dog?

…that’s my twentysomething ass.

Interpret that as you will, and let your sick mind meander… my floriend.

Someone handed Richard Sandler a Leica in ’77 and blessed us with this flawlessness. He believes everything can be seen on the streets. He believes filming is easier than still photography.

Sandler believes cellular phones have robbed the photographer of their subjects, “There is nothing more boring, nothing more nondescript and vacant than a person on a cell phone walking down the street. They seem to be out of the game. People are walking around in bubbles.”

Technology suffocates the mess. The mistakes are in the mess and the beauty is in the mistakes.

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