“Welcome to Twin Donut! Have a doughnut, have a cocktail!” a slim man in a leather jacket unsteadily calls out, pressing his face into the camera. It’s 5 a.m., but the room is packed with bodies, most wielding glitter and liquor. Another slight man—this one wearing a white onesie covered in black stars and fuschia feathers—stumbles into view. The man, Michael Alig, is the king of the New York City Club Kids. He holds a vodka bottle in one hand, and an Anthora coffee cup in the other. The camera pans down as he falls into a group of onlookers—Whoopsie! Yay!—and a neon mixed drink sloshes over the rim. The video is grainy (it’s sometime in the early ’90s, after all), but you can see regular customers easing in and out of the frame.
In the late ‘80s and early’ 90s, the Club Kids in this video, and others like them, were sought out by club promoters to attend their parties because their over-the-top costumes and drug use attracted customers. Led mostly by Alig and James St. James, the Club Kids also held “outlaw parties” of their own; quick pop-up affairs that often resulted in police intervention.
The Club Kid scene was memorialized in 2003’s Party Monster, in which Macaulay Culkin portrays an increasingly drug-addled Alig. The film tracks his rise to fame, and how it all came crashing down after he and fellow club kid Robert “Freeze” Riggs killed Melendez over drug debts—bludgeoning him with a hammer handle, dismembering his body in their bathtub and sinking the remains in the Hudson. Alig subsequently spent 17 years in prison for murder. In 2014, he sat down for an interview with Rolling Stone. In it, reporter Gavin Edwards asked, “Can you explain why you killed Angel?” to which Alig replied: “No, there is no reason. Not only is there no reason, there’s no justification.”
All that was after the footage of the Twin Donut Party. That video clip, “twindonutparty,” was a tiny portion of the 1,900 hours of footage that documentarian Nelson Sullivan of the Club Kid scene, film he captured with his handheld camcorder, a cumbersome thing that was basically attached to his shoulder for the better part of a decade. Like Andy Warhol, Sullivan had his own “factory,” a former carriage house where he edited the film that he captured over the course of seven years. He was dedicated to showcasing the outcasts, those who fell outside the city’s glossy facade. This is how he met the Club Kids.
But in 1989, just as Sullivan was preparing to produce a cable TV show filled with the clips that he had captured, he died of a heart attack. For years, the content of his archives floated from hand to hand. Some, like “twindonutparty,” ended up on YouTube, leaked on the internet before finally being turned over the to the New York University's Fales Library & Special Collections in 2012. Many of the Club Kids went off-the-grid after the “party years” were over—eager to start normal lives post-rehab. Some didn’t make it far past those years, dying of overdoses or during the AIDS epidemic.
All of Sullivan’s clips—even the seemingly mundane captures—are compelling. Gritty, simple and evocative of a New York gone by. But I kept coming back to the one at Twin Donut, filled with this select group of nightlife celebrities whose presence lent touches of glamor and bad behavior to an otherwise mundane morning—things I desperately wanted in my own life.
So for a while, while I went to graduate school in Kentucky, I quietly found an alternate reality in the lives of those who I suspected were braver than me: artists, authors and eccentrics in New York. I was watching The Complete Picture, a Warhol documentary, on a hot September day—the one when I first saw a clip of the Club Kids. Nestled in bed, I viewed the movie in short, pixelated YouTube fragments on my laptop. In a separate grid, recommended videos ran down the side of the screen. Most were art-based —Warhol interviews, old news clips about his openings, painting tutorials—but a different one caught my eye. I clicked over and the speakers buzzed: Welcome to Twin Donut! Have a doughnut, have a cocktail. I was hooked.
With Sullivan gone, there were only a few sources who would vividly remember the group. One is Michael Musto, former longtime society columnist for the Village Voice. He had followed the Club Kids around, writing about their movements in his column “La Dolce Musto”—including his blind item about the murder of club kid Angel Melendez, bringing national attention to a case that resulted in the trial and ultimate conviction Alig and Riggs. I sent Musto a message on Twitter asking if he would be willing to talk about the party at Twin Donut. He replied:
All I can say is that outlaw parties were held in public places like that and everyone got there on time for a change, knowing the event could be busted. So these parties provided very concentrated bouts of fun, with everyone acting wacky and outrageous to try to raise the eyebrows of the customers (who never seemed that alarmed). Anyway, I'm minimizing my focus on club kids these days, so that's about it, but hope it helps.
I was about to sign off—relatively content with the information given—but my phone buzzed again.
By the way, did you know Michael Alig is out of prison again?
Since his release, Alig has maintained a pretty public persona. He has an active Facebook presence, and a YouTube show, “Pee-ew!,” in which he and fellow ex-Club Kid Ernie Garcia-Glam chat about topics like Rosie O’Donnell, fat shaming and American Apparel. Via Facebook, I asked Alig if he would be up for reliving that night at Twin Donut. “The customers reacted typically in that they didn't react much at all,” Alig said in an email. “Maybe they moved over slightly so as not to have anything spilled on them. But there was no freaking out or awe or shock or anything like that. This is New York City, after all!”
The Club Kids brought the alcohol and bought all the doughnuts in the shop. “It was a birthday party for one of the It Twins—either Tim or Robert, I can't remember,” he said. He ran through the guest list— names I put to the faces who were strewn throughout the video: James St. James, Amanda Lepore, Sacred Boy, Chris Comp, Leigh Bowery, Jennytalia, Sushi, The It Twins, Ernie Glam.
Alig says he was too high and drunk for a donut. But he did leave that morning with a cup of coffee—a gift from the manger for getting out the shop. “The party lasted about 45 minutes or so,” he concluded. “The cops never came and we were all very disappointed about that. Otherwise, a good time was had by all, as they say.”