Midnight at Marrakesh

Photos: Death To Stock

From the late 1970s through the ’90s, the summer party almost never reached all the way to Montauk. It didn’t get much further east than Westhampton. Such was the draw of Club Marrakesh.

I won’t let you down
I will not give you up
Gotta have some faith in the sound…

Even before those words were sung, at the echoing sound of the congas and tambourine, everyone stopped what they were doing. By the time the first piano chord rang out, there was a stampede, with a few hundred heels clicking against the hardwood; it seemed every woman in the club needed to be on the dance floor for this song. Then, the critical moment:


All the women sang out, threw up their arms and swayed their hips in unison. Didn’t seem to matter what they were wearing. Blouses lifted, bustiers shifted, skirt vents opened. All the guys watched. Even the bartenders stopped to see. The women didn’t care and didn’t hold back.

The thick-necked, hard-drinking guys in plaid shirts that clustered around the bar then started their own sing-a-long. They shouted out “Please allow me to introduce myself, I’m a man of wealth and taste…” And what troubled me WAS the nature of their game: they just stood around all night and drank sooo much! The group had a nickname: they were called “Donkeys.” Maybe not to their faces.

The MTV imitators, called Guidos, even to their faces, waited longer, until after the second chorus of “FREEDOM,” and then joined the women on the dance floor. I asked one once, “Why the wait?”

“You gotta let them get it out of their system,” he told me.

Outside on the patio, where conversations were had, the guys stood around awkwardly, having been abandoned by their dates, or by women they just met. I never got why they weren’t prepared for the moment. After all, anyone would tell you that the patio was populated by the so-called “Thinking Men.” Didn’t they know what would happen when the clock struck 12?

It was midnight at Marrakesh. And from 1992 through 1996, I was there most Friday nights from Memorial Day to Labor Day. During that entire time, at midnight, without fail, the DJ spun “Freedom” by George Michael. I don’t know why. I don’t know what it was supposed to mean, if anything. I don’t know why the women all loved it so much. But I do know you could set your watch by it. And you could count on everything I just told you about, happening just the way I said, every time. The only variation? Sometimes it rained.

Have Some Belief in the Sound

Marrakesh was undisputedly THE Hamptons disco for many, many years. Opened in 1976, it had a twenty-plus year run of society and celebrity-filled bacchanalia. Of course, I never saw any celebrities, but you heard things. On the other hand, everyone saw the rich people who partied there regularly. And, naturally, the hoi polloi filled out the room, which easily held 500 people. Marrakesh was both famous and infamous. It was the destination of David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam, the night he was arrested in 1977. He had planned to spray the dance floor with bullets later that night. It was also where the MTV Beach House crew blew-off steam in the early ’90s. Kennedy herself is rumored to have danced and drank there when she was a wild child, pre-Fox broadcaster days.

Marrakesh was both famous and infamous.

Marrakesh was right on Main Street in Westhampton Beach in an enormous vaulted warehouse building with a tiny storefront. It was utterly undetectable from the street, demarcated from the stores that surrounded it on the strip only by the “Marrakesh” logo stenciled on the tinted glass of the front doors. Those doors opened up into a lobby of sorts with a box office window to the left and a wall to the right covered in photos of partying patrons with that same Marrakesh logo superimposed upon them. There was the usual red velvet rope there, leading to doors opening to a huge room with a long bar hugging the wall. The entire remainder of the room was a dance floor, and by midnight, there was always a visible cloud above it formed by the combination of rising body heat, sweat and cigarette smoke. In the back, doors opened onto an enormous patio with another long bar. The entire place was tucked behind the boutiques and trinket shops of Main Street, and it went back quite a ways, nearly to the canal.

Marrakesh spawned quite a lively street scene in Westhampton Beach. People came early, well before the club opened at 11, and they lined the streets and filled the parking lots with Mercedes and BMWs and Audis, as well as the occasional Ferrari and Maserati. They had dinner at Ottomanelli’s and Magic’s Pub and the other restaurants, all of them packed. They shopped in the shops and bought muffins for the next day’s breakfast from Hans at Beach Bakery. Afterward, they turned the sidewalks of Main Street into a veritable European promenade. Because of this, I always thought Marrakesh was welcome in town. After all, it was good for the economy of Westhampton. But I later heard that the town’s people actually hated the place. That couldn’t have been because of noise: You couldn’t hear the music outside at all. It must have been something else, something I never saw.


Waiting in Vain

There was always a long line to get into Marrakesh. I never waited on it. I knew the doorman, Moby—yes, a whale of a man, and no, that wasn’t his real name (and he wasn’t that Moby, it goes without saying), so I walked right into the lobby. I think it cost forty bucks to get inside. But I never paid either, not once in five years. That’s because my friend Jimmy was a bartender there, and my name was always on “the list“ of people to be comped. Also thanks to Jimmy, I have no idea what drinks cost at Marrakesh. I heard they were expensive. But I was drinking Coors Cutter, a non-alcoholic beer, back then (not a recovery thing, a sports training thing), and Jimmy said, “I just can’t charge you for this crap.”

Also thanks to Jimmy, I have no idea what drinks cost at Marrakesh.

I never spent a whole Friday night at Marrakesh. My girlfriend at the time worked the late shift at a law firm in Manhattan and took the train to Speonk straight from work. So I left the place around 1 or so to go get her, and we almost always headed straight to our share-house, which was empty at that hour. I think I missed a lot of the Marrakesh madness that was spoken– no, bragged, about. But I still saw plenty.

As luck would have it, one of the very few times I returned with my girlfriend, Marrakesh messed things up for me but good. An obviously rich guy was standing near us, at the corner of the bar, under an AC vent, talking to a much younger and very pretty woman. His Rolex reflected the disco lights and his diction reflected his patrician status. At some point, he vented his exasperation:

“Can we stop all this now? Be honest: you want to sleep with me tonight.”

Minutes later, they left together.

My girlfriend heard all that, and was appalled.

“Did you hear that?” She asked me.

“Yeah. Wow.”

“What an asshole!”

“Yeah, I agree” I said. And then, the big mistake: “But she did leave with him.”

Now I was the asshole. And I heard about it, and paid for it, all weekend. I think my penance involved jewelry. It was a good thing she didn’t do Marrakesh often.

Manic Depression, Guidos and Donkeys

Another night, I had the great, great luck to have a car pull out of a space in front of the Post Stop Cafe, right across the street from the club entrance. I pulled into the angled spot, nose in, and lingered a moment to let a song finish. I was in my candy-apple red Supra, windows and roof opened, and the music was a bit loud. As I waited, a muscular guy with a curly pompadour and sleeveless dayglow shirt walked over to my window. Yeah, a Guido. I feared the worst.

“Excuse me,” he kinda’ bellowed.

Oh, here it comes, I thought, and I braced for the inevitable anti-rock diatribe.

“I’m sorry to bug you. What was that I heard?”

“The music? That’s Hendrix. ‘Manic Depression.’”

“Really?! What was he saying just then?”

“Manic depression is touching my soul”

“Not that bullshit. What did he say after that?”

“I know what I want, but I just don’t know how to go about gettin’ it.”

“Oh, man.” He let that linger, and shook his head ruefully. “Don’t I fuckin’ know it. Man, he really put his finger on it, didn’t he? I have to check this guy out.”

“Yeah. Jimi Hendrix.”

“Got it. Hey, thanks. Have a good night.”

I think I ‘got’ Guidos a little better after that.

But I never really came to understand the Donkeys, the other horrifically nicknamed group of faces in the crowd. They were all into Pearl Jam and Nirvana and classic rock and liked to dress in the ‘grunge’ style of the day. They had an incredible capacity for alcohol and an astounding aversion to dancing. Their big moment came when the DJ played “Laid” by James. They would air-drumroll to it and sing along to the part about what she could only do when situated a certain way. But I never got why they wanted to shout this out. To make matters worse, the Guidos used to laugh in their faces when they did. I was embarrassed for them and thought maybe they didn’t know how to go about gettin’ it.

Of course, the Donkeys used to laugh in the Guidos faces too, when the Guidos did their signature crazy, springy dance to “I Like to Move It“ by Reel to Real. I did, too. I called it the Tigger dance, out of earshot of the Guidos, of course.

They all drank and danced a lot, and they seemed to know how to go about getting whatever it was they wanted.

There were other factions: The Jewish girls who brought along the issue of J Date magazine with their profile and picture in it, and, of course, the guys that danced with them and paid for their drinks. They all drank and danced a lot, and they seemed to know how to go about getting whatever it was they wanted. The Spanish-speaking couples that could dance salsa like nothing you’ve ever seen. The Black Girls who sang along to every song, and often better than the artist performing it. And, of course, their guys, who proved that men actually could dance well.

Then there was me. Both the Guidos and the Donkeys called guys like me “Thinking Men.“ Derisively. We wore linen sports-coats and Hush Puppy lace-ups with baggy Levis. The Thinking Men liked to go out on the patio, where it was actually quiet enough to have a conversation. I did too, and whenever I ran into old friends, I guided them out there so we could catch up.

When I wasn’t on the patio, I was at the corner of the bar, under the much-needed AC vent, along with my friends. I didn’t stay long, I didn’t drink, and I didn’t dance much, but I sure did soak it all in. And it must’ve been obvious. One night, a Donkey said to me

“Hey, what are you always lookin’ around for? Who do you think you are, fuckin’ Tom Wolfe?”

“Nah. Maybe I’ll grow up to be Nik Cohn. The New Tribal Rights and all that.”

He stared at me blankly: he didn’t get the reference.

Then “Freedom” came on, and he had better things to look at.