Before it became the institution it is today in the Village NYC the Monster bar/nite club began its journey on Fire Island in Cherry Grove, Known on all of Fire Island for its restaurant it became the place to go.
Owner Joe Scialo, who passed away in 2004 at 69, opened the first Monster in Cherry Grove, Fire Island as a bar and restaurant back in 1970. It swiftly evolved into the hottest gay nightspot of its time, and Scialo sold it in 1984. A Key West location launched in 1975 to great success (it was sold to partners in 1980), becoming,as Charlie Rice Joe’s longtime partner notes, a rival to Studio 54. “Those people flocked to Key West during the winter.”
The restaurant was known all over Fire Island for it’s food and entertainment. The Tea Dance was nothing like it is today in the Pines. At 4 pm you left the beach and walked into a pulsating disco beat crowded dance floor in your bathing suit. With sand on the floor your cares drifted away as you danced to the latest Disco hits.
Joe Scialo was one of the leaders in the fight against AIDS and discrimination against gay men afflicted with the disease back in the ’80s. The Monster became a beacon of hope, with Scialo leading by example, allowing employees to work till the very end when they were showing visible signs of the disease, and he even headed to Mexico to purchase over-the-counter drugs hoping to save his friends. “To the many generations of boys, men and women lost to AIDS, Joe Scialo was a guardian angel,” Rice says.
Scialo was a financial benefactor of the Gay Men’s Chorus and gave them an open bar at The Monster after rehearsals. He provided SAGE, the gay and lesbian seniors group, with the bus they used in the Gay Pride march each year and arranged and paid for Heritage of Pride’s liquor license for the annual dance on Pier 54 at W. 13th St. He was also a generous contributor to other charities.
In 1982, Scialo finally found a permanent home for The Monster in Sheridan Square, where it has served gay patrons from all generations and walks of life from twinks to daddies and everyone in between. Many a celebrity has also walked through the club’s doors, including gay icons such as Andy Warhol, Nathan Lane and Alan Cumming.
Undoubtedly, the longevity of The Monster can be attributed to Scialo’s magnetic presence. “He was the guy people identified the bar with, like, ‘That’s the owner there!’” shares Joe’s partner Charlie Rice, who is now running the joint. “He’d come over to you, and he might not always know your name, though he did know many, but he’d know what you drank. He created a family. When you come, you expect to see somebody familiar, whether it’s the customer sitting next to you or the guy behind the bar.”
Still paying respect to it’s history Fire Island memorabilia is on display.