TRUDE HELLER’S--418 6th Avenue (SE corner of 9th Street and 6th Avenue). Sometimes spelled “Trudy”; having never seen an original ad for the place, I’m stumped on the actual spelling, but I’ll go with the majority rule here. This club had a 20-year life span, but its legend looms large mainly for its ‘60s pedigree. It was originally called Trude Heller’s Versailles Club (the earliest reference I’ve found dates it to 1960), but the name was soon eponymously shortened—and throughout the decade, the place had a rep for raucous, crowd-pleasing music and frenzied go-go dancing. Brewster and Broughton's Last Night A D.J. Saved My Life (New York: Grove Press, 2000) and this interview with Jimmy Castor state that the place went by the name Trude Heller's The Trick (spelled Trik in Last Night a D.J.), but I have not seen it referred to as such anywhere else.
So who was Trude Heller? I haven’t been able to dig up much personal info on Trude, save for what I recently read in Genya Ravan’s memoirs, Lollipop Lounge (New York: Billboard Books, 2004). Back when she was still Goldie Zelkowitz, Ravan performed at the club with her first two groups--the vocal/doo-wop-oriented Escorts, and the groundbreaking girls-only Goldie and the Gingerbreads. She describes Heller as an out lesbian with an intimidating “tough cookie” demeanor. “She required rockers to rock—no ballads. She’d go crazy with rage whenever we sang a ballad. I’d look down from the stage and see her getting angry, then she’d run over to the light switch and start flicking it on and off, screaming, “C’mon! C’mon! Let’s twist already! Let’s twist the night away! Come on, baby, let’s do the f**kin’ twist!...All she wanted was action and for the place to rock.” She also required a lot from her performers—Ravan describes a schedule of “six 45-minute sets a night, with half-hour breaks in between.” In addition to running the club, Heller produced/promoted big concerts at other venues (such as the Supremes at Lincoln Center) and started a record label, Tru-Glo-Town Records. With her son Joel, she co-owned another equally wyld club on 8th Street called the Eighth Wonder (as told to the Spectropop yahoogroup by Alan Gordon, songwriter and member of the Magicians, post # 20101).
Trude's featured live music interspersed with discotheque interludes. Go-go dancers of both genders twisted, frugged, and jerked with abandon all night long, encouraging customers to do the same. Ravan writes, "[T]here was even a gay boy, dressed very campily, twisting on the wall. The walls had handles on them for the dancers to cling to, and even ledges for them to stand on...between the dancers and the patrons, everyone doing the Hully Gully, the Swim, or the line dance, the place was one big sweat box, a real circus, loud and hot." Francis Grasso, later a prominent NY club dj, was one of those dancers, though he's likely not the gay boy to whom Genya is referring. He describes the dancers' duties as "20 minutes on and 20 minutes off, and you could only move your ass from side to side because if you went back and forth you'd bang off the wall and fall right onto the table you were dancing over." When asked if the club was "ritzy," he acknowledges, "Kind of. Kind of like date oriented. Very few recorded records...It was the hardest 20 dollars I ever made in my life. I'm going home, my muscles were killing me." Other dancers included Kathleen Cano and the folks referred to here. Ravan adds that there were no dressing rooms, so performers had to change in the customers' restrooms--often choking on the noxious aerosol hairspray fumes of primping female patrons. Across the street stood the notorious Women's House of Detention, whose inmates would catcall to Ravan and presumably many of the club's other comers and goers.
A multitude of bands played at Trude's, and of course I can only list a few notables. Chief among these for me, and dearest to the hearts of garageniks everywhere, would have to be Boston's Barry and the Remains. Their late-1965 residency at Trude's led to an appearance on Ed Sullivan's Christmas "shew" accompanied by some of the club's dancers (go-go action was rare on Sullivan--dig the evidence here or here), and eventually to a slot on the Beatles' final tour. Joey Dee and the Starliters received high praise from Peter O'Toole when they played Trude's in 1965: "When I was in that bloody desert making Lawrence of Arabia, your record was my only link to civilization." [Peter Criss was drumming with the Starliters at that point. Speaking of celebrities, George Hamilton and his then-steady gal Lynda Bird Johnson were photographed at the club that same year. And according to one of Walter Winchell's last Variety columns in 1968, "Salvador Dali showed up at Trude Heller's Greenwich Village fruggery with his pet ocelot for his date."] A Floridian girl group called the Sandpipers had an engagement there in mid-1966, backed by the Allman Joys, which featured young Duane and Gregg Allman--and they "shared the stage with the likes of Otis Redding, Ben E. King, and Sam the Sham and the Pharoahs," according to this great article. [The Sandpipers also snagged a contract on Tru-Glow-Town Records, an offer curiously not extended to the Allman Joys. According to Ralph Scala of the Blues Magoos, "We made friends with them when we were first touring in Florida. We brought 'em up to the city. They couldn't get into any of the clubs we played. They had to play at the disco clubs. You had Trude Heller's and the Eighth Wonder. They only played cover music. So, that's how you got discovered in those days."] Other performers with Trude's gigs include Lothar and the Hand People, Childe Harold, the Soup Greens, the Rock-Itts, the Angry (a.k.a. the In Crowd), the Progressions, Curtis Blandon, Baby Huey and the Babysitters, Rod McKuen, the Peanut Butter Conspiracy, the Magic Tramps, and Gandalf. Supercool memories and memorabilia about Trude's and other Greenwich Village clubs of the day are available at Chuck Harris' (a.k.a. chazzsongs) blog--particularly chapters 11, 13, 14, and 27.
Based on what I've managed to Google, it seems that by the early '70s the club's policy turned more towards disco/funk and campier, cabaret-type acts like Holly Woodlawn, Blossom Dearie, and Manhattan Transfer--not to mention female impersonator Arthur Blake. I'm not even certain if the real Ms. Heller was still involved in running the place by then. [Side note: a Robert Christgau consumer guide from 1974 reports that the club was cited for several health code violations.] But rock and roll did still rear its ugly head at the club from time to time, such as the 1975 debut of Lance Loud and Kristian Hoffman's band the Mumps (opening for Cherry Vanilla), a 1976 gig by early "no-wavers" Danger, and occasional shows by the Shirts. Supposedly Trude's was used for some location shots in the 1977 film The Magic Hat. The club is listed in Punk Magazine's "Summer 1979 Punk Club Guide" with a 2-star "DJ-Dancing-Expensive" rating. Here's a circa-'78 photo of a band called the AllStars posing on the club's front steps (click on the photos link, then on the Seventies link). The most recent references I was able to find were for gigs in 1981 by the Beastie Boys (in their punk days), Reagan Youth, the Agents and Even Worse (this last site states that the club's name was changed to the Playroom for a while)--so I'm guessing the place met its demise around this time.
[UPDATE 5/31/2010: Someone did leave a comment about this a while back, but I just found a date for a show by Gang War, featuring Wayne Kramer and Johnny Thunders--December 29, 1979.]
According to the fun NY Songlines website, in the 1920s there was a gay bar called Paul and Joe's at 418 Sixth Avenue. The building now houses a mainstream brewpub called the Greenwich Brewing Co., along with an Italian restaurant called La Scatolina on the lower level.
UPDATE 7/20/2006: These restaurants were closed as of May, 2006. A comment left on gothamist.com states, "when this apartment house was built in 1901, the Greenwich Savings Bank was on the first floor."
UPDATE 9/28/2007: According to recent posts on Spectropop (#38435 and 38459), a Florida group called Tommy Strand and the Upper Hand put out a dance-craze 45 inspired by the club, entitled "The Trik" b/w "The Trik-INSTR." (R 1515, Ramot Enterprises, produced by Tom DeCillis).
UPDATE 5/26/2010: NYCDreamin' of This Ain't the Summer of Love found a 1967 scrap book at a flea market a while back, and one of the pages featured a Trude Heller matchbook and handbill.
UPDATE 5/31/2010: Just found this tidbit about it in the April 27, 1967 issue of the Village Voice: "And uptown, Trude Heller opened a new discotheque. Most amazingly dressed was six foot plus model Donyale Luna." A pic of her dress was printed on the front page, but the reproduction in the Google archives is not very clear. The location was at Broadway and 49th Street, according to a mention in Andy Warhol's Popism: The Warhol Sixties. Apparently it was this uptown branch that was called the Trik--pardon my confusion above, but I completely missed this bit of info when I was first researching this post! It gets a further mention in a June 22, 1967 Voice "Scenes" column about the expected summer influx of teen hippies: "Trude Heller, owner of the Trik, says if the hippie invasion becomes critical, she is considering making a place available for a Sleep-In. 'After hours, the Trik would be used for supervised sheltering of the hippies until they find other lodging or return home.'"
UPDATE 6/1/2010: I just saw a large ad for the Trik in the May 11, 1967 issue of the Voice. I wish I could copy an image of it, but the best I can do is relate the ad copy verbatim: "Be-in at Trude Heller's Trik, 49th and Broadway...That's where it's at...NOW! Tune up, turn on, keep time and create your own psychedelic lighting effects. Be in-sight, out of sight, in 5,000 Reflecto mirrors. All live up-tight sounds. Stompin, rompin, moovin [sic.], groovin, dancin, prancin [and no apostrophes--Ed.], nightly 8.p.m., Sunday matinee 2 p.m....The dancing arena for ages 16-100. Tel. 765-1430." That week's bands included the Indian Nuts, Rocky and His Friends, and a special "switch-on" on May 12, 13, and 14 with the New York Rock and Roll Ensemble. There was also a "Wild Freak-Out Dance Contest" that week
UPDATE 6/1/2010: Found a picture of some Russian ballerinas getting their go-go on at the Village Trude's in 1965
UPDATE 6/3/2010: Having finally figured out how to get the ad images, I posted a whole mess of Trik ads here.
UPDATE 11/16/2011: Here's a revised and improved post with 1967 Voice ads for Trude Heller's Trik.
UPDATE 12/29/2012: A deli called Lenny's currently occupies 418 Sixth Avenue. The club is mentioned a couple of times in Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir (New York: Atria Books, 2012)--one of her early bands, Flyer, played there. Page 68-9: "We had our first NYC gig at the famous music club Trude Heller's. I don't know whether they paid us or not and I didn't care, because it was the first time that people sat and listened to us because they wanted to. A lot of places in NYC didn't pay, like the Bottom Line...Even at CBGB, the owner, Hilly Kristal, wasn't such a sweet pussycat type of guy. He didn't pay anybody either...They were all cheap--they squeaked when they walked. They weren't very nice." Page 75: "After I [got my singing voice back], I got a gig singing at Trude Heller's. What I loved about it was that it was a nightclub (now it's gone) where people didn't pick up each other but really sat and listened to music. All of a sudden, they really heard the things I was doing...I wanted to sing like an instrument. And people noticed it and actually liked me. So when I got a taste of that, I told myself I wanted to keep playing in Manhattan and stop doing cover material." One of the people who caught her act there was John Turi, with whom she soon formed Blue Angel.