Starck Contrast

Another new documentary on the Starck Club revisits the storied Dallas nightclub of the '80s

It was May of 1984, and young punk Frank Campagna was racing around Dallas in his '75 burgundy Chrysler Cordova – the model with the real Corinthian leather. His mission: to find some green tea for Stevie Nicks.

"It was before there was Whole Foods or any of these organic places," he explains. "Hell, I'd never even heard of green tea before that. But that's what she wanted, and it was the only thing she drank."

Campagna, now a well-known local artist, admittedly only took a job at Starck Club in order to get in opening night. He skipped the line and $125 cover, and worked as a bar back. Nicks, one of Starck Club's investors, was in town along with performance artist and supermodel Grace Jones to christen the new venue's stage, launching what would become one of the most legendary dance clubs in Dallas history, at a time when the city was thriving, economically and culturally.

Starck Club was the brainchild of Dallas trust funder Blake Woodall. He reached out to up-and-coming Parisian designer Philippe Starck, who flew in from Paris and met him at Trader Vic's. The two shared their visions, and the blueprint for the Starck Club was conceived. The idea was to turn a run down warehouse space on McKinney, located in the middle of the rail yards, into the sleekest, most sophisticated club in town.

Starck Club opened on May 12, 1984. MDMA (commonly referred to as Ecstasy) was legal, and curious parties from all over the country flocked to the Bible Belt to partake in the debauchery. The music was trendsetting, the fashion was outrageous, and there was an air of anything-goes, penalty-free sexuality. It was a playground for the Me Generation.

A laundry list of stars made appearances: Madonna, Rob Lowe, David Byrne, Prince, Allen Ginsberg, Charlie Sheen, even Princess Stephanie of Monaco. On August 21, 1984, the club hosted the "Starcktari" party during the Republican National Convention, which featured a live baby elephant and attracted notable guests like a George W. Bush and Maureen Reagan.

"When I first walked into this place, what I could gather was that their goal was really bringing a downtown Manhattan nightclub warehouse thing to Dallas," says Joseph Alexandre, director of Warriors of the Discotheque, one of two Starck Club documentaries that has been in the works since 2009.

Now, more than two decades after the Starck Club closed in the summer of 1989, there is a race to preserve its memory. Alexandre's nineteen-minute short film premiered at the USA Film Festival in 2009, and the feature-length version was released in 2011. Meanwhile, two former Starck-goers, award-winning documentary filmmaker Michael Cain and local DJ Wade Hampton, had ideas of their own.

"I was shopping The Starck Project around for my own version of a feature narrative screenplay," says Hampton, now music director and co-producer of the documentary, "and I got eight days into Sundance and had four to five producers looking into it, and heard there's a guy down the street who's pitching basically the same film."

A producer hooked Hampton and Cain up, and they spent 45 minutes on the phone. "I figured after that phone call that we were either going to work together or have an interesting few years on our hands," Hampton chuckles. The Starck Project partnered with The Woodall Group, led by club founder Blake Woodall, in May of 2009, on the club's 25th anniversary.

During this year's Dallas International Film Festival last week, a private rough cut of The Starck Project was screened for a packed theater. Cain led viewers through scenes using Final Cut Pro and a Mac; the crowd, made up of festival-goers and "Starck-ers," cheered and laughed as friends and familiar faces flashed up on the screen.

After the screening, clusters of people lingered near the front of the theater and lined the steps, swapping remember-when stories. Stacy Fesler, a Starck Club regular, appeared in the August issue of Life magazine in a story titled "That New Drug Craze: Ecstasy."

"The guys from the magazine asked if I had taken Ecstasy," she explains. "And of course I had. It was my friend's birthday, and it was still legal."

The reporters from Life had Fesler sign a waiver, then handed her a white t-shirt with bold, black print across the front that read, "I'm In XTC."

"They also handed out two tank tops that read the same thing to two other girls who said they were strippers," she adds. "The journalists left the club with those girls, and I ended up in the magazine."

On Friday, April 20, Zouk - the space that was formerly the Starck Club - hosted a wrap-up party for Cain and Hampton's doc. While most young Zouk patrons danced near the DJ booth, a handful of Starck Club regulars conjured memories of the past by dancing on the black terrazzo steps. Lisa Wichman and Becky Spradling danced on the stairs every night.

"This music's OK," Spradling shouts over Rihanna's "We Found Love." "But the music at Starck was better."

The music was integral to the club's success. Starck's resident DJ Rick Squillante broke hits with his play-what-you-love attitude, and later went on to become a producer. DJ Mike DuPriest (aka Go-Go Mike) introduced Dallas to house music, a genre that originated in Chicago in the early '80s. Memorable DJs aside, the Starck hosted acts from New Order to Book of Love and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

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10 comments
Sheila Abbott
Sheila Abbott

My friends and I spent so many weekends here and it was the most decadent, hedonistic time of my entire life. I danced and partied my ass off. There's been nothing like it since! #StarckClub #survivor

GlennaMacdonald
GlennaMacdonald

"1984" I was naked on Paul McCartnys birthday conceived my son,and gave birth to him the following Purim,what a year,whahoo,Praise the Lord I have been in ecstasy ever since.Thank you father in heaven.

Timetomoveon
Timetomoveon

How many of these self indulgent drug addicts have since died of AIDS? Why isn't that mentioned in this article? Wouldn't be as glamorous reminiscing about that?

Also: Why is the word "punk" included in this article at all? If there is an antithesis to what punk is-- this was it.

Thea Goodman
Thea Goodman

I seem to remember one extremely beautiful woman with long dark hair being carried out of there one night and she appeared more dead than alive to me but what went on inside of there was none of my business, There were no sirens and no bad publicity that comes with them but that is to be expected. Just another broken toy from an encounter with the super rich and they don't play nicely with nobodies, with wannabes who would deign entrance to their rarefied circle.

And the guy we found on the parking lot on hands and knees puking up his guts in the wee morning hours -- real class.His suit easily cost a few grand and one of his Gucci loafers was missing but if he could afford to have the kind of job where he made that kind of money, how long would he keep it if he continued to do the hard partying scene? Nobody around to see this except the private security patrol. Of course, we summoned assistance for him and maybe he made it and maybe he didn't. Once we got him out of the area he was not my problem anymore. Nobody forced him to ingest whatever the hell it was that messed him up so badly and I hope he learned his lesson. He may even be dead by now...

And there were others. The indignant man who demanded that I tell him at 5 a.m. where he could get someone to clean out the vomit someone had unceremoniously put in his expensive convertible. A police officer solved that problem by arresting him for DWI and impounding his car. Oh,well...

So many others.

I remember two managers who each drove a black BMW sedan and a white BMW sedan,respectively and how they wanted us to make sure they got to their cars safely with the night's deposits, I think. It has been a while. They looked at us like precision machinery to do their will and we obliged because we didn't want to see anyone robbed.It worked.

I recall that whoever was in charge of hiring the kitchen crew and janitor staff liked non-English speakers, not only because they could pay them on the cheap but these poor folks were apparently used to being discrete, blind to their "social betters'" indiscretions and imbroglios, obedient and couldn't readily tell inquisitive persons about what they were privy to regarding their encounters with the rich,famous and powerful inside the Club.

I did understand and speak their language, however and when I was checking the stairwells of the service corridors that attached the Stark to the main building, I often heard their conversations,the conversations of servants having a bit of sport at their "masters."

The only thing even remotely "punk" about that Club was in the sense of the term as it is used in a Penitentiary setting.

The things I saw ,best not remembered but so difficult to forget. Every so often,they come to the surface of my memory from time to time these 30+ years later.

I have never understood why people who are blessed with power,influence, great looks and wealth and so much potential to good things for the world choose to indulge in polydrug and alcohol abuse and harm themselves instead.

But I was just a security person back then and it was not my job to know.

Thea Goodman
Thea Goodman

It was a legend,OK. Depends on who you are asking.

I think it was busted for drugs and innumerable TABC violations,but that has been a long time ago.Took them a while to make the case..and then, the Starck Club was gone!

It had unisex restrooms with video games over the toilets, beige drapes hanging from the ceiling that you could use to pull around your area of the club-- and the couches & chairs in it --for "privacy."

It had roaches-- both kinds.

The arrogance and presumed wealth of the clientele was legendary and they would often be high or drunk in there and apres le Club.

To me, it was just a place where ueber-wealthy, nouveau riche adult brats, their entourages and wannabes --so many wannabes-- came to wipe their asses on the rest of lower humanity.

I remember there were no paparazzi at the Starck which made it even more appealing as a bad boy/girl hideaway.

I remember seeing Stevie Nicks' white Silver Cloud Rolls Royce parked in the front of the place and was absolutely blown away at how TINY she was. I also remember seeing her smoking with the predominantly Mexican kitchen help by the dumpsters at the back of the club near the kitchen door.

I had other things to worry about besides what a celebrity is smoking --like keeping the transient and criminal elements from stealing,burglarizing, vandalizing the expensive cars and their occupants; calling EMS when there was an overdose victim outside of the club or trying to break up the occasional fights outside.

Although hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent inside to create the amazing ambiance and speed-of-light advanced tech decor --- multiple dance floors and state of the art sound system and outrageously overpriced everything, the patrons made it a sewer and every morning when the sewer was finally flushed, I was one of those outside security people who had to deal with the folks in the various states of "undressedness, drunkeness and highness."

Thanks for the memories, I guess. I have a lot of them concerning that place.First-hand.But if your idea of fun is polydrug and alcohol abuse and being f*cked up,you wouldn't be interested.

The absolutely unforgettable Starck Club.

And it is now an ICON?

It was a legend ,OK. Depends on who you are asking.

johneric9
johneric9

You sound bitter, perhaps because you were on the "other side" of the fence. The nightclub industry has always been about nastalgia, escapism. THIS club took it to a level that is still talked about today. What other club in big D will still be talked about twenty years from now? Perhaps if they had offered free cover, served warm milk and kept the lights on we would not of has to listen to you cry today.

Thea Goodman
Thea Goodman

Old dreams die as hard as illusions & as always, TRUTH HURTS.

Thea Goodman
Thea Goodman

I am neither bitter nor nostalgic about what I experienced there.

You probably weren't old enough --if you were even born --when the Club was around.

Truth hurts.

Thea Goodman
Thea Goodman

I don't think you were even born when the Stark was running wide open.

I WAS there, night after night, in the actual area where it was and I wonder what is there today in its place. I often wonder to this very day.

The word is spelled "nostalgia,"by the way and is NOT what the Stark was about --at least, not from my perspective.

I'm not bitter at all,certainly NOT nostalgic, but incredulous to think that such a place could possibly succeed in Dallas which, back then, was often referred to as the "buckle of the Bible Belt" -- sarcastically, I might add.

There are a lot more things I could write about it but won't.

I just wanted people to know there was more going on behind the legend it has become. Underneath the facade of elegance, suavity, urbanity, cool, chic, upscale and trendiness, it was a dive.

I am not crying. I am laughing at the damn fools who got their minds and health messed up/compromised by drugs, alcohol and paid outrageous sums of money for the "privilege" of doing so. A junkie is a junkie is a junkie no matter if you are a homeless soul in the ghetto or a matron in Highland Park. Maybe I should be praying for those long lost souls but, considering the way they treated the security who were trying to protect their expensive toys and their lives, it is often difficult for me to do so. Actually, I do, sometimes, when I think about them.

The club that SHOULD be talked about was Studio IV --a gay club where it was a joy to do security. The rousting of the motorcycle gang who came to "kill the queers"had to be one of the finest moments in Dallas nightclub history and it was all done with words. "Auntie Steve", Gaylen the DJ and so many great people...I remember and miss you all.

The Prohibition Club was a legend as well--the first time I saw someone on "Ecstasy" which was legal at the time and she was putting on quite a show on the pool table!

Callahan's was a great Irish style pub with a German manager named Werner.

Dick's Last Resort was where I liked to listen to the dixieland and commiserate with my homeboys, in the kitchen who were from New Orleans.

Like I said in my original comment: "But if your idea of fun is polydrug and alcohol abuse and being f*cked up,you wouldn't be interested." Not in what I have to say.

Truth hurts.

 

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