"Nightclub City tells the behind-the-scenes story of Manhattan's glamorous nightlife at its peak. Packed with colorful characters, terrific original research, and an unusually accessible writing style, Nightclub City is a gritty social history of America's most glitzy fantasies."—Debby Applegate, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward BeecherIn the Roaring Twenties, New York City nightclubs and speakeasies became hot spots where traditions were flouted and modernity was forged. With powerful patrons in Tammany Hall and a growing customer base, nightclubs flourished in spite of the efforts of civic-minded reformers and federal Prohibition enforcement. This encounter between clubs and government-generated scandals, reform crusades, and regulations helped to redefine the image and reality of urban life in the United States. Ultimately, it took the Great Depression to cool Manhattan's Jazz Age nightclubs, forcing them to adapt and relocate, but not before they left their mark on the future of American leisure.
"Meticulously researched. . . . Peretti builds on previous studies of urban nightlife and entertainment, and his contribution is to look at institutions of commercial night life not from the perspective of consumers but from that of the reformer or official trying to tax, control, prohibit, or criminalize the purveyors of pleasure."—Journal of American History
"Peretti convincingly argues that nightclubs, at the peak of their popularity, played a small but highly significant role in redefining the relationship between America's government and its citizenry. . . . He skillfully wields illustrative quotes, cogent analysis, and an impressive body of archival evidence."—Journal of Urban History
Nightclub City explores the cultural significance of New York City's nightlife between the wars, from Texas Guinan's notorious 300 Club to Billy Rose's nostalgic Diamond Horseshoe. Whether in Harlem, Midtown, or Greenwich Village, raucous nightclub activity tested early twentieth-century social boundaries. Anglo-Saxon novelty seekers, Eastern European impresarios, and African American performers crossed ethnic lines while provocative comediennes and scantily clad chorus dancers challenged and reshaped notions of femininity. These havens of liberated sexuality, as well as prostitution and illicit liquor consumption, allowed their denizens to explore their fantasies and fears of change.
The reactions of cultural critics, federal investigators, and reformers such as Fiorello La Guardia exemplify the tension between leisure and order. Peretti's research delves into the symbiotic relationships among urban politicians, social reformers, and the business of vice. Illustrated with archival photographs of the clubs and the characters who frequented them, Nightclub City is a dark and dazzling study of New York's bygone nightlife.
Burton W. Peretti is Professor of History at Western Connecticut State University and the author of Jazz in American Culture.