The East Village apartment that belonged to Bruce Mailman, the entrepreneur who opened The Saint in 1980 and died in 1994, is still the nucleus of the legendary Black Party. Here The Saint at Large has carved out a headquarters for itself, conjuring the Black Party as well as the numerous other events it puts together each year.
The three-level space is a riot of books, graphic matter, and artifacts, and the configuration of desks at which The Saint at Large team works seems an afterthought. There are two exceptions to that observation: One is the perch of Stephen Pevner. The Black Party produer’s desk is catty-cornered from the elevator door, commanding a view and a modicum of control over the talent that parades in and out. The other exception is the solarium, a hand-painted oasis perched at the top of the apartment, and which opens onto a rooftop terrace with cinematic views of New York.
On a recent afternoon Pevner took leave of his power corner and met me in this daylight-flooded penthouse. Here is an excerpt of that interview.
In a meeting predating this conversation, Pevner asked that we not demystify the Black Party completely. Pevner’s narrative actually reinforces the myth of the Black Party. His high regard for this gay rite is so genuine that even readers of Black Party how-to manuals will want to discover firsthand the source of this passion.
Learning About the Black Party
Pevner attended college in Washington, DC, where he stormed the club scene. He arrived in New York in 1981, as the disco scene was transitioning into New Wave.
“When I first got to New York I worked for a talent agent named Jeff Hunter. He represented Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin; it was the nexus of New York theater. These guys looked ancient to me, although they were probably in their 30s, and they all talked about The Saint. It held no interest for me at all. I was from another generation and I wanted to go to mixed clubs, like Area and the Palladium and Danceteria. During the ’80s AIDS crisis, too, I had a million reasons to avoid all gay discos, for obvious reasons.
“One night I went to a Columbia student screening with Alan Pakula; we went out to Chinese food afterward. I started a conversation about the old days, and he said he thought The Saint was closing. He goes, ‘The Saint experience is an investment in time, and I’m not going to be responsible for taking you there. But if you showed up I would certainly escort you and show you the ropes.’ Because The Saint experience was very much about passing information down to people: where to stand on the dance floor, the kind of cocktails you drank, dance-floor etiquette. Being the remnant of a members-only club, there were cliques and moirés that you had to know about. I was a very wide-eyed 28-year-old; this was two weeks before the closing-night party.”
On the Closing-Night Party
“I was more than blown away, I was touched. I had an epiphany, which I witnessed as a lover of music and dance music and disco. I also witnessed that the crowd became the lead character in a theatrical event. I had never seen it done quite so brilliantly. I thought that whoever came up with that concept was a genius. The Black Party took it way beyond what I had known as the disco experience. If that was religion, I could understand what religion was.
“And I was blown away by the magnitude of it. This music had become the soundtrack for so many people’s lives, and I think everybody present was aware that this moment will never pass again. On many different levels: The economy will never allow for this, discos would never be built on this scale, the music would never be so in sync with the time.
“I went back to work on Tuesday, my office was right here on Astor Place. I went down the street to Taco Loco, and on a table just sitting there was the addition of New York Native dedicated to the closing of The Saint. I opened it up and the first story I read was about the guy who created it, Bruce Mailman.
“’Is that my cousin? The one who my mother encouraged me to get in touch with? Who I kind of dismissed?’ And sure enough... Mind you, I was so intimidated by his brilliance that I never got in touch with him. Something in me prevented it unless I could meet him in exactly the right circumstances.
“Those right circumstances came a year later when my grandmother passed away. He was at the funeral. To this day my stepsister remembers when I saw him for the first time -- my eyes lit up. We took the train back to New York and we became fast friends. He was a real businessman, and he turned to me for ideas about what acts to book and what music I was listening to. Just picking my brain. I got involved at a purely congenial level.”