FRIDAY NIGHT FEVER: Bond International Casino

To get you in the mood for the weekend, every Friday we’ll be celebrating ‘FRIDAY NIGHT FEVER’, featuring an old New York nightlife haunt, from the dance halls of 19th Century Bowery, to the massive warehouse spaces of the mid-90s. Past entries can be found here .

Bond International Casino — save for fifteen days back in 1981 — should not really be considered a “legendary” New York nightclub, by any means. But the space it occupies has a fascinating lineage, and as for those fifteen days, well…can any other nightclub in New York claim to have started what is called the ‘Times Square Riot of 1981‘?

The room was christened in the 1930s as the International Casino (the Bond would come in a bit), not a casino at all, but a swanky dinner club and cabaret that could cater up to 1,500 socialites, sipping on champagne while watching exotic shows featuring “novelties from five continents and the beauties of ten countries” on a motorized stage. Ads in 1936 proclaimed: `a Hollywood dream in theatre restaurants.’ Elaborate musical revue at 7.30 and 11.30 P.M. Minimum charge $2.50 — Saturdays $3.50.”

Such luxuriance was not to last, but the dazzle remained, from a most unlikely vector — men’s clothing. Bond Clothes took over the location as a men’s clothing emporium, and chose a flashy facade to match the rooms of garments inside. A huge neon sign held a clock in the O of BOND, alongside a 50-foot man and woman, an electronic waterfall and a news roll zipped along the front — all drenched in electric lights! It all looked especially dazzling at night, as the New York’s Eve ball drop pictures proves below:

The elaborate sign gave way to a sponsor with bigger trouser pockets — Pepsi — placing gigantic soda bottles where the people once stood. Later the space was given over to a garish yet strangely hypnotic advertisement by Wrigley’s Gum:

The clothing store itself lasted until 1977. Sitting vacant for a couple years — at the true nadir of Times Square, the grit and garishness of 42nd street spilling over — it was finally reopened under a new name, incorporating both its prior incarnations. The ‘International Casino’ returned, the ‘Bond’ sign stayed, and Times Square had its own rock club.

This new incarnation Bond International Casino had interiors, at 9,000 square feet, as theatrical as those in the past. The staircase from the entry level to the dance floor glowed as you stepped on them and played musical notes, not unlike, I suppose, the gigantic piano in the movie Big. The dancefloor, one of the city’s biggest (much bigger than even Studio 54), was overseen by sumptuous on-stage water fountains and inflatable people who hovered above and would fill and deflate to the music.

Cream Magazine called it “a shopping mall with bars and a dance floor… and telephone in the men’s room.” Here’s one of their flyers:

In this ad, you can get a sense of what the dance floor must have been like inside:

Over the course of its brief foray as a rock venue, Bond would see the likes of Blue Oyster Cult, the Plasmatics, the Dead Kennedys and Blondie. Always a slave to disco on regular nights, however, it would eventually give way to full-time usage as an early ’80s dance floor. But not before it saw The Clash.

The hot punk group, who had just released one of rock music’s most important records (London Calling) in January 1980, were back in New York to do a series of shows at Bond in May of 1981. Originally they were supposed to play eight nights. The promoters however dangerously oversold the show — 3,500 tickets each night for a venue that could only hold about half that! 

Angry ticket holders rioted outside, filling the streets of Times Square, stopping traffic and drawing dozens of police officers to quell the rage. One website (with lots more information and more history on Bond and ‘the Clash riot’) claims Times Square “hadn’t seen that much commotion since … V-J Day.” The story made international news the next day.

Cream says, “There’s confusion over the numbers game, and inside it’s a sardine sauna. Fire marshalls count 3600 heads leaving the club in what has been a testy evening. Support acts suffered, being booed and hissed by the diehard fans impatient for the arrival of their heroes.”

To assuage the angry ticket holders, The Clash took the unprecedented step of extending their stay at Bond to seventeen shows over fifteen days, to cater to all those ticket holders who were not able to get in. Perhaps stress and the threat of violence and fire brought out the best in the group; the performances are supposedly their best ever, and a bootleg of one of the shows “Live at Bond’s Casino” is considered the finest ‘unofficial’ release in the band’s history. (All seventeen performances are available as bootlegs.)

For those polite enough and lucky (or unlucky? I can’t imagine how unpleasant and scary that club must have been) to have paid attention to the first show, they would have also caught opening act Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, the godfathers of rap music. Somebody actually booed them?

Ironically, Bond couldn’t fill the club on any of their other nights, being a discotheque trying to survive in the Reagan ‘disco is dead’ era. In the ’90s, the space was taken over by the Roundabout Theatre Company, who for several years brought some excellent shows into the space. 

It had two stages of different sizes, one classified a Broadway stage, the other off-Broadway. I saw a lot of great shows here back in the day, including Martin Short in ‘Little Me’ and an excellent revival of ‘1776’, starring Star Trek: Next Generation star Brent Spiner as John Adams. After several years, the Roundabout moved their stages to another former disco — Studio 54 — and another location on 42nd Street, the American Airlines Theatre.

Bond has a happy ending however. The space has reopened as Bond 45 restaurant and lounge, recreating the classic sign with some adjustments, and pomping up the front to resemble its ’30s glamour days. Of course, it sits between a Starbucks and a Swatch store, but you can run to the Virgin Megastore literally across the street and pick up some Clash CDs and memorabilia and start your own riot today. (45th Street, between 6th and 7th avenues)