Why you should care
Because cool is sometimes like lightning in a bottle, and if you blink too fast, you just might miss it.
Cool is so quicksilver. Ephemeral, even.
But once it bites, it bites hard, and it endures, at least in the minds of those who have had their perceptions permanently altered by the touch of its unlikeliest standard bearers: a doorman. Specifically, one Mr. Haoui Montaug.
You see, there was a time in the not-so-distant late 1970s when cheap sex existed without the fear of AIDS, when drugs flowed freely without the reality of eventual stints in rehab, when every idle moment was not Internetted into dust and you had enough privacy to get into all of the trouble embodied by the aforementioned. And more often than not, the era’s trademark trouble places were presided over by a doorman named Haoui Montaug — though to call him a doorman just invites the worst kind of misunderstanding.
Haoui was taking the framing of the cultural life of this city, as lived through its best clubs, seriously.
Which is to say he was not the variety of doorman who bows and appends “sir” or “madam” to inquiries about your day, but the other kind. The kind that stands in front of a velvet rope before a long line of dreamers trying to make it into Hurrah, Danceteria, the Palladium and Studio 54, deciding who gets in and who goes home disappointed. These clubs — and he was a fixture of them all in a movable feast of nights that never ended — were totally New York in tone and tenor, and mixed together races, classes, genders, sexual preferences, substances and musical genres. The parties were all-consuming, and they incubated all kinds of culture craziness from early Madonna, Basquiat and Johnny Thunders of the New York Dolls (arguably the godfathers of punk), to the more established set like fashionista Halston, Warhol and the Jaggers (both Bianca and Mick, married at the time).
And controlling access to all of this was a 25-year-old Brooklyn kid whose job was not just to check IDs, but also to guarantee that the party that seemed like it was never going to stop actually never stopped. With his dead-eyed aplomb, he was often described with words like implacable (at his best: charging Mick Jagger the full admission fee). With the possible exception of fellow gatekeeper Marc Benecke, no one held more sway over the kind of weekend, week and life you were going to have back then than Montaug.
A fact sometimes forcefully driven home when the martial artist Montaug took to fisticuffs to shake off unruly would-be patrons. The point remained crystal clear: Haoui was taking the framing of the cultural life of this city, as lived through its best clubs, seriously — with a capital S. It wasn’t just about tending a playground for the rich and well-heeled: Studio 54 was about gathering wanderers from meandering crossroads; it was a place where arts, fashion, music and culture came together with and partially because of the high life. And Montaug’s sense of this was strong.
So strong that he had a cabaret revue show called No Entiendes that featured early bows from Madonna and the Beastie Boys, and toured the U.S., Europe and Asia. He ran a karaoke show (well before karaoke was just a good night out for office workers) with other club great DJ Anita Sarko, and had deals and doings with a whole raft of downtown habitués like actress Ann Magnuson, musician Klaus Nomi and artist Keith Haring. He even appeared in Edo Bertoglio’s Downtown 81, a very real roundup of all the great late ’70s/early ’80s post-punk pre-Reagan artists who could actually afford to live in New York back then. That is, before rents and AIDS started to drive people off or snatch them away.
Montaug, loved and hated, inspired a wide variety of emotion. So when he said he was having a suicide party as his response to being diagnosed with AIDS, the 20 folks who showed up on June 7, 1991 (reported to include Madonna by phone from Los Angeles), had no idea what to expect.
But what they got was a great party, during which Montaug took five Seconals and went to sleep. And, the ’80s having ended, the party continued in celebration of both the past decade and his life and death — prematurely on the latter point, it turned out, as he awoke from a labored slumber, bitched everyone out for messing up his apartment, took 20 more Seconals and then died.
And now? Outside of bit parts in a few movies — Krush Groove, Cookie — some of his writing in Details, Paper and a few other mags, and an award named after him at the SXSW-esque New Music Seminar, where he had been panel director, Montaug is much more a vibe than anything else at this point.
Enduring cool, great crazy tastes and archetypal edge, all from the business side of the velvet rope.
Yeah, Haoui is dead. Long live Haoui.
This OZY encore was originally published Feb. 18, 2014.