The legendary Limelight nightclub that anchored Buckhead’s 1980s nightlife scene came back to life Aug. 22 in a slide presentation by its former in-house photographer.
Guy D’Alema showed images of movie stars, the glass dance floor and more in the presentation based on his recent book “Limelight…in a Sixtieth of a Second.” Sponsored by the Buckhead Heritage Society, the event drew more than 70 people — including some former patrons in disco gear — to the Sanctuary nightclub in Buckhead Village.
Buckhead residents Sandy Goldstein and Kathy Marsik showed up in their original Limelight satin baseball jackets. They used to be regulars at the club at Piedmont and Peachtree that gave the neighboring grocery store the “Disco Kroger” nickname it still sports today.
“Everybody came together and there was no separation. … We weren’t separated by race or gender or anything,” recalled Marsik of the disco glory days. She lamented the loss of not only the club, but most of Buckhead’s nightclub scene, largely wiped out by redevelopment. “My children will never experience anything like that,” she said.
The Limelight was in business from 1980 to 1987, the brainchild of reclusive, eyepatch-wearing owner Peter Gatian. Features at various times included an artificial snow machine, an in-house theater showing old movies, and theme nights that encouraged as little clothing as possible. It drew such stars as Burt Reynolds, Rod Stewart and Andy Warhol. It also played a role in supporting the gay community with “tea dances” earlier in the day.
D’Alema, a New Jersey native who attended Mercer University, scored a job as the house photographer in 1981.
“For a lot of people, it was a voyeurs’ paradise,” he recalled, showing photos of a balcony that ringed the dance floor. He said it was like a “fishbowl [for watching] all the strange behavior going on on the dance floor.”
D’Alema said the club had a dress code that was really an “attitude code.” Many people were rejected for entry, and if they asked why, the stock response from the bouncer: “It’s not up to you to ask and it’s not up to me to answer.”
“It was part of the allure and magic of the club … not everyone would get in,” he said.
Long, four-hour lines to enter were also in part a PR gimmick, he revealed. The owners would deliberately delay entry so that passers-by would see the huge line and think the club was even more popular than it really was.
D’Alema photographed many major and underground stars, from Warhol to iconic singer/model Grace Jones to Divine, the start of John Waters’ punk-style movies. His biggest photo was of singer Anita Bryant, by then a notorious opponent of LGBT rights, whom he snapped dancing with a relatively gay-friendly pastor on the eve of a gay rights march. The photo was picked up by worldwide press and drew Bryant’s wrath.
D’Alema debunked some myths about the Limelight and confirmed others. No, it did not have a pet black panther; that was staged for a publicity photo. Yes, it did have sharks swimming under the glass dance floor for a while, though scuff marks quickly obscured them.
The club went downhill when Gatian left its management to a brother who turned to more mainstream events and décor, D’Alema said.
“He wanted the endorsement of normal society, to put it that way,” he recalled. “It was the kiss of death.”
Today, D’Alema shoots photos for movie and TV productions, and the long-gone Limelight site is now the home to the Binders art supply shop, which sports a disco-themed mural.