The Limelight Discotheque Tapes, Atlanta ’83

‘Beneath the dance floor was a massive fish tank, which was home to two sand sharks. The club featured a 100,000-watt sound system blasting Euro disco…’

Atlanta’s Limelight – The South’s Studio 54

The Limelight Discotheque in Atlanta, Georgia was the hot spot I had always heard about just as I was coming of age in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Legal drinking age was eighteen in both states in 1982 when I was nineteen. So, after hearing stories such as “sharks underneath the lucite dance floor,” and “tigers in cages” and “Rod Stewart was there Saturday night!,” I could not wait to check out the Limelight for myself. […]

-Taken from Creative Loafing Atlanta:


After his Miami Limelight disco burned to the ground in the late ’70s, enigmatic club king Peter Gatien set his sights on Atlanta. Located in the “disco Kroger” complex on Piedmont Road in Buckhead, the Atlanta Limelight opened its doors in February 1980 in the former home of the Harlequin Dinner Theatre.
The Limelight lived up to its billing as the Studio 54 of the South. A large staircase in the lobby led downstairs to the infamous glass dance floor. Beneath the dance floor was a massive fish tank, which was home to two sand sharks. The club featured a 100,000-watt sound system blasting Euro disco, and thousands of mobile lights on the ceiling flipped and turned throughout the night. Confetti and snow would periodically fall from the ceiling. If this wasn’t enough to get the crowd going, Gatien hired “exciters,” scantily clad beauties who’d shake their groove things, urging patrons to do the same. A caged dancer would be lowered from the ceiling and land at the foot of the stage. This is how diva Pia Zadora made her entrance for a live appearance.
On weekends, lines sometimes stretched down Piedmont Road. The wait could be as long as four hours. Dress and attitude codes were enforced, and some wannabe guests were denied entry to the club altogether, sometimes just for the sake of sensationalism. The crowd was a mixed bag of straights and gays decked out in the tight, shiny disco style of the era.
In June of 1981, orange juice pitchman and former beauty queen Anita Bryant, known for her vocal anti-gay stance, stopped in. She spent the evening dancing with the unlikeliest partner, gay evangelist Russ McGraw, and D’Alema photographed them on the dance floor. The notorious photo made it on the cover of the Atlanta Journal, in the pages of Time, Newsweek, Playboy and more than 200 American newspapers. Bryant was furious, but Gatien relished the publicity.
In ’83, Gatien moved to New York to open a Limelight club there and his brother Maurice was given the reins of the Atlanta club. This marked the beginning of the end. “Peter was the brains behind the operation,” says D’Alema. “Maurice … didn’t want to spend a dime and didn’t have a creative bone in his body.” –
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It was the biggest dance floor I’d ever experienced, with giant speakers on each side that some of the Twinkies danced on. Us Twinkies provided free entertainment for the crowd, and for the Limelight club itself. Before the Twinkies, they actually paid scantily clad hotties to dance in cages suspended from the ceiling. When the club changed management, the paid dancers and cages were out, and the Twinkies were in. We got in free most of the time, bypassing the $5 cover charge. They’d hand out get-in-for-free cards, and sometimes even a permanent membership card, both of which I had (and still do!)

Limelight Atlanta was The Place to Be, and if celebrities came through Atlanta, that’s where they hung out. Farrah Fawcett, Andy Warhol, Rod Stewart, Burt Reynolds, Tina Turner, Neil Simon, Tom Cruise, Ali McGraw, Blondie (Debbie Harry), Rick Springfield, Madonna, and David Hasselhoff were among them. I personally saw David Hasselhoff, who danced in the center of three women. The Limelight staff told me that the women were his bodyguards.

Three disc jockeys rotated shifts: Randy Easterling, Noel Aguirre, and a third DJ whose name I don’t remember since he was never there when I was, but I think his name was Tito. My favorite was always Noel, who played the best mix of music to get my feet tapping the floor […]–

Photos: IndelibleMusings


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