New York City
The Hottest Spot North Of Havana
If a Club's success is measured by longevity, then this is easily the World's Greatest Club.
It was located in a Brownstone building just a few blocks east of New York's Central Park, at 10 East 60th Street
in Midtown Manhattan.
The building was allegedly won in a rigged poker game by Charles 'Lucky' Luciano, Frank Costello and
Albert Anastasia of the infamous "Murder Inc." in late 1929. After they took over the place, it was an
underworld hang-out and a "Speak-Easy" for the Mob. Once they had their hands on it, they never let go of it. In
fact, it wasn't until Paul Castellanos' was murdered in the mid-1980's that it finally became a "legit"
In 1930, it had a huge kitchen that was famous for Chinese food and classic Italian Dishes, located in the basement.
On the first floor was the Main section of the Club, that had a stage large enough to hold a full Orchestra, and
still had room for the Copacabana Showgirls. The Bar served liquor despite the laws against that during
'Prohibition'. On the fourth floor, there was a full Casino, with as many as four Roulette Tables, two Craps tables
and five BlackJack tables. The upper floors were allegedly used as a Brothel.
Once "Prohibition" was repealed in the early 30's, it continued to be a Mob hang-out, and an illegal underground
Club, until the Mobsters managed to acquire a Legitimate Liquor License in the late 1939, by using a 'puppet' owner.
His name was Monty Prosner. With him on the City and State books as the "owner", THE COPACABANA opened its
door for the first time to the General Public on November 10th, 1940.
Now a legal or "legit" club, nothing changed. The Casino and the Brothel remained. Under the ruse of legitimacy,
the Club gained wide acceptance and became the place to go for the rich and famous. Exclusivity was the operating standard.
And with the Mafia controlling things, no trouble came from the police and the local government.
With Mob connections, the entertainment was the best in the world. It featured anyone and everyone.
Jimmy Durante and Frank Sinatra were booked regularly. To boost popularity, "management" helped
produce a movie called COPACABANA in 1947 that starred Groucho Marx and Carmen Miranda, plus The
The look of the Copacabana was now Carmen Miranda with a medley of fruits on her head.
It became the logo of the Club.
During the 40's and 50's any celebrity worth their weight in fame either frequented or performed 'At The Copa'.
By that time, there was trouble, and soon, Monty Prosner was out, and Jules Podell was the "official" owner.
There was a strict, 'NO BLACKS' policy that was changed by the mid 50's. In fact there was a famous fight between
The New York Yankee baseball team and some visiting bowlers who were shouting racial insults at Yankee Catcher
Elston Howard and performer Sammy Davis Jr. The fight became local and national news. It was in The
Copacabana where Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis debuted their act. It was also where their partnership
There were rumors of Mobsters "whacking" big Casino winners and trouble makers in the early 60's. And by 1969, when
the 'Puppet Owner" died, The doors closed to the public. It was still an underground club that was exclusively for
the Mafioso's and their friends.
In late 1972, there was a massive renovation, and a DISCO was installed on the bottom floor. In 1973, The Copacabana
re-opened as a showroom upstairs, and a state of the arts DISCO downstairs. The Casino remained. Though few even
knew about it. Only for the exclusive "High-Rollers".
The DISCO featured a light show with over thirty "Spinning Lights", a stream of flashing lights. Three Disco Mirror
Balls of various sizes. Ten large Strobe lights, that could blind the entire club, and a parquet dance floor big
enough to play a full court basketball game. Then there were the Neon lights! On the Ceiling, and along the
mirrored wall that ran the length of the Dance floor, were countless neon figures of past celebrities that
performed there, including Frank Sinatra and Groucho Marx. But the best of them was a twenty foot neon face of
Carmen Miranda and her fruit basket hairdo. That was the entrance to the hidden deejay booth behind the mirrored
Inside the booth to the back right hand side of this huge room was a couch, two chairs and a poker table. This was
exclusively for "Friends and Associates". Behind the two-way mirror, no-one could see what went on inside. To the
back and left was two stack-racks full of amplifiers and equalizers. Then there was enough room for a few thousand
records. In the left hand side, right along the front was the actual equipment for the deejay to use. Three
experimental turntables by Technics, that a few years later were called SL-1200. A new style mixer that was
referred to as a BOZAC, and various recorders. In 1973 - STATE OF THE ART! And next to them a "computerized"
box that controlled the light show. Incredible stuff in those days.
As one walked in to the building, you walked through the "Hall Of Fame". which had pictures of everyone who had
performed there through the years. There were over fifty of them. You ready, here goes; Harry Bellafonte,
Tony Bennett, Perry Como, Billy Daniels, Bobby Darin, Sammy Davis Jr, Tommy Dorsey,
Ella Fitzgerald, Jackie Gleason, Buddy Hackett, Lena Horne, Nat King Cole,
Peggy Lee, Jerry Lewis, Dean Martin, Carmen Miranda, Wayne Newton, Tony Orlando, Della
Reese, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, Don Rickles, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles,
Diana Ross, The Supremes, Bette Midler, Marvin Gaye, Frank Sinatra, The Temptations,
Danny Thomas, Donna Summer, The Trammps, Dr Buzzards
Original Savannah Band, Crown Heights Affair, Kool & The Gang, Silver Convention, Tina
Charles, John Davis & The Monster Orchestra, Michael Zager,
Village People, The Ritchie Family, The Salsoul Orchestra and
Patti Brooks. And that is just the ANGLO acts...
The Copacabana Girls were still there, dressed to kill, and the Latin flavor was becoming more prominent. It
started with Salsa nights on Sundays, and soon Brazilian nights on Wednesday. The Disco music still was there but
slowly it shifted, and by the early 80's it was dominant. By the 90's it was a full SALSA club that occasionally
played DISCO. The "Hall Of Fame" soon had every Salsa star on its wall as well.
Did I forget to mention Barry Manilow?! In early 1975, Barry would sit with friends, and talk to "old timers".
Little did I know he was doing research. When he finally released his "Copacabana (At The Copa)", this Club
exploded! Think about this; Twenty Dollars a head to come inside, seven dollars a glass. Water $7; Soda $7; a drink
$7; Name Brands $15, Champagne $150 to $10,000 a bottle! No club made more money, remember, there was a Casino as
At 10pm, the doors opened to lines around the block. It remained that way until past 3am. The deejay stayed until
there was no-one left. Could be 7am, could be 1pm! This was a money making club!
Let me finish by saying this; Two movies were made about this club. It was featured in movies like Goodfellas,
Raging Bull, Tootsie, Carlito's Way and in Beyond the Sea. Countless covers of the song
"Copacabana - At The Copa" and a few plays as well.
Was there a more famous club, I don't think so, not Studio 54, not
Paradise Garage, not any! For almost 75 years this was the spot in
New York City. Finally after the city forced it to close its doors to make way for the #7 train, the Copacabana was
gone. It resurfaced later at other locations, but that too was closed by the city for transportation reasons.
There will be another Copacabana in the future, but this Copacabana was the real deal. I was lucky to be there for
five years at the rebirth in 1973. Thank You Lord!!!
© Pete Denis aka The Vynil Junkie
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CLICK to hear some Copacabana classics...
Copacabana "At the copa"
Ain't no mountain high enough
Ain't that enough for you
John Davis & the Monster Orch.
John Davis & the Monster Orch.
Crown Heights Affair
Do it with feeling
Michael Zager & the Moon Band
Don't leave me this way
Fly Robin fly
Michael Zager Band
I feel love
I love to love
I will survive
I'm coming out
In the navy
Let's all chant
Michael Zager Band
Michael Zager Band
John Davis & the Monster Orch.
Love to love you baby
MacArthur Park Suite
Michael Zager Band
No one gets the prize
Rumour has it
That's the way (I like it)
K.C. & the Sunshine Band
That's where the happy people go
What you gave me
But don't think Pete's memories from 'the Copa' would stop there... He goes on telling me about some other "incidents" that
took place in the Club over the years.
Pete remembers; "Once, American Gangster, Frank Lucas and his posse were there. Some
sailors had the balls to try and dance with some of his girls. A rumble started, over within a minute as I went out there
along with Copa Security and took the sailors to the alley. There they got beaten within an inch of their lives. The MOB
always sided with other gangsters in those type of situations. A code of behavior was expected to be followed. The sailors
failed to act properly, thus almost got murdered."
He goes on; "Another time, the famous WBLS radio jock Frankie Crooker came in with
Frank Lucas (the biggest Heroin dealer in NYC, a movie was made about him starring Denzel Washington
in 2007, called AMERICAN GANGSTER). He wanted me to play a record by James Brown, I refused, it was lame. Frankie
and Frank insisted. They threatened me! My bosses came to the deejay booth and 'took care' of them. Explained that I was
'Hands Off', and that was the last time they bothered me. See, no-one said no to Frank Lucas. I did!"
As you can see, lots of things were going on at the Copa and Pete have tons of stories from his years at the club;
"Once John Belushi was shooting up a 'HIGH BALL' behind me in the booth, a high ball being a Cocaine &
Heroin cocktail. At the time a female was all over him. He accidentally spilled his stash on the ground because of the girl.
He went nuts, slapped this female, and I had to physically restrain him. He was still welcomed to the Copacabana, but was
under 'double secret probation'. (That is a line from the Belushi film ANIMAL HOUSE). He was 'asked' to behave!"
Finally a last history that really makes you understand the seriousness in not messing with the Mob;
"There were three Japanese Business men who were caught cheating in the Casino upstairs. By the time
'security' caught up with them, they were in front of my booth. 'Security' sort of tackled them into my booth, where they
were beaten unconscious. They were removed, and found dead in the alley the next morning. This was a serious infraction of
the house rules. It made the paper, 'Three Japanese Tourists found dead in Alley behind the Copa' was the headline. No-one
was ever charged."
Thanks to Pete for his insight in this legendary NYC Club and now back to Barry Manilow and his famous song about
As already stated, the song's title refers to the Copacabana night club and as the lyrics goes; "...at the Copa,
Copacabana, hottest spot north of Havana...", and tells the story of Lola who is one of the Club's showgirls
and a bartender at the Club, named Tony, who was her lover.
As mentioned above, the song was THE anthem of the Copacabana Club, but it also became a huge worldwide hit for
Barry in 1978 and it even earned Mr. Manilow a Grammy Award, which he received in February 1979 at the
Grammy Ceremony. The song was even recorded in Spanish as "Copacabana (En el Copa)" and it was a huge success
in the Spanish speaking communities and countries over the world and the Spanish version was even a 12" release in the US.
The original version was remixed in 1993 and entered the Billboard charts one again as a Top 20 success.
In 1985, Manilow and his co-writers, Bruce Sussman and Jack Feldman wrote additional songs to expand
the love drama of Lola and Tony in order to create a musical movie for television. The film version then led to
a full stage musical which was running in the Prince of Wales Theatre in London's West End for two years. Since
then over 200 productions of the musical has been set up over the world.
Several artists have made cover versions or have performed the song, latest is Kylie Minogue who sings "Copacabana"
in her Kylie X 2008 Tour Show. Before that, acts like Amanda Lear, Shirley Bassey and Liza
Minelli have had success when singing it.
Barry's song has also been featured in movies like Foul Play, starring Chevy Chase and Goldie
Hawn, among many others. For example Jennifer Aniston's character, Rachel Green, in the TV Show
'Friends', sung the song in Season 2 Episode 24, the episode when her ex-fiancé is marrying one of her
former best friends.
And in 'Sex And The City', Season 4 Episode 8 - 'My motherboard, my self', actor John Corbett's character,
Aidan Shaw, is cooking in Carrie's kitchen while listening and dancing to 'Copacabana'.
As you understand by now, great music and shows were essential to the Copacabana and the mob knew just how to get the best
acts around and didn't save on the expenses.
They even made sure to get promotion via these acts, because many acts made live recordings in the club, which was released
on LP's (some even re-released on CD later on). The list of acts is long, but some of the ones who made a "Live in the
Copacabana" record include; Edith Piaf, Petula Clark, Jimmy Durante, Connie Francis, Tony
Martin, Paul Anka, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Bobby Darin, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations and
the Supremes among many many others.
When I asked Pete about other Disco tracks that got heavy rotation in the Copa, he list a bunch of them;
Bad Luck - Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes
Cher Chez La Femme - Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band
Dancing Queen - ABBA
Don't Leave Me This Way - Thelma Houston
El Bimbo - Bimbo Jet
Fly Robin Fly - Silver Convention
Galaxy - WAR
I Will Survive - Gloria Gaynor
Let Me By Your Lady Tonight - Stratavarious
Let The Music Play - Barry White
Let's Get it together - El Coco
Like Her - Gentlemen & Their Lady
Love Hangover - Diana Ross
Love's Theme - Love Unlimited
Makes You Blind - Gary Glitter
Night & Day - John Davis & The Monster Orchestra
Pagliacchi - Maynard Ferguson
Quiet Village - The Ritchie Family
That's The Way - KC & The Sunshine Band
That's Where The Happy People Go - The Trammps
You Set My Heart On Fire - Tina Charles
The Copa and the Ipanema were clubs that attracted the same kind of crowds and there were a positive competition
between the two. They were located less than 10 blocks from each other, with the Copa in 10 East 60th Street and Ipanema in
240 West 52nd Street, why many guests used to visit both clubs in one night.
In the Ipanema, DJ and Remixer Ray "Pinky" Velazquez kept the floor moving and he
has said the following about the Copa; "The Copa was always a hot spot in the city and even though I
personally never really heard you spin, Pete, my followers were constantly informing me about the great spininning ability of the
Coming from a DJ like 'Pinky', these are great words that acknowledge the top notch spinning abilities of the Copacabana spinners
and crediting the Copa one of the hottest clubs in New York.
Mob controlled or not, it doesn't matter, still Copacabana was a Club that satisfied your needs, whatever they might
have been... A very popular high class Club which served you with both Disco and Salsa, as well as showgirls and
OR - as they say in the song...
the hottest spot north of Havana