Who Can Even Remember New York’s Wildest Halloween Parties of All Time?

Heidi Klum, Susanne Bartsch, and other queens of Halloween struggle to recall legendary nights, pre-Instagram.

Costumed Woman At Studio 54 Halloween Party
Allan Tannenbaum

The problem with revisiting vintage New York, that period in the not-so-distant past when the beau monde divided their time between Manhattan, Fire Island, and the social pages, is that many of the key players cannot remember much from their salad days. People not only forget names and dates; in some cases, they’re off by decades (I’m talking about you, Elsa Peretti). As Joel Schumacher, the window dresser turned fashion designer turned filmmaker, once told me of the ’70s and ’80s, “I was a drug addict at the time, and I speak through a drug miasma.”

And this collective haze would appear to be at its foggiest when it comes to recalling the ghosts of Halloweens past. “I wish we had Instagram back then because I really don’t remember much,” says Patrick McMullan, the legendary New York nightlife photographer. “I remember plenty of men dressed as loose women, and that when the alcohol starts flowing, loose can get real loose. But specifics, not so much.”

Egyptian-style costumes were in vogue still at Studio 54’s Halloween party in 1978.

Photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images.

As with most New York lore, all roads eventually lead back to Studio 54. “Other clubs, like Les Jardins, New York New York, and Area, had Halloween nights, but they were nothing compared to Studio 54,” says Scott Bromley, the Studio 54 architect and habitué. “[Steve] Rubell and [Ian] Schrager threw Halloween parties that were notorious for their bacchanalian splendor. Halloween was always a big production.”

“The decor,” which, Bromley points out, was often done by Kevin Bacon’s sister, Karin, “was sheer lunacy, real theater. Nothing was barred, and everything was magnificent.”

On the dance floor at the third annual Halloween party at Studio 54 in 1979.

Photo by Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images.

“Halloween at Studio 54 made Halloween on Santa Monica look sort of sober, okay—and that’s pretty wild,” says the party promoter extraordinaire Nikki Haskell. “They really decorated it like a fun house, with all these crazy vignettes. You’d be walking by one part, and a ghost or a guy in a suit drowning in ketchup would come out at you. And then you’d walk around the corner, and there would be snakes running around in little boxes.”

If there is one person to have given Rubell and Schrager a run for their ghoulish money, it’s Susanne Bartsch, the regnant Queen of the Scene. Think of any infamous club of the past three decades—Roxy, Limelight, Palladium, Copacabana, and, yes, Studio 54—and Bartsch has held a Halloween bash there. “There have been some quintessential Halloween hosts such as Amy Sacco, Patricia Fields, and the Baroness,” says the photographer Roxanne Lowit, a nightlife fixture. “But Susanne always put on a memorable show and turned out the best looks.”

Cher emerging as Cleopatra at Susanne Bartsch’s Halloween party at the Diamond Horseshoe in 1988.

Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage.

“You could say I built my career on Halloween,” says Bartsch herself. “My very first Halloween was at the Red Parrot, up on 57th. But my favorite was when Cher launched her perfume at the first Halloween party we had at the Diamond Horseshoe, under the Paramount Hotel. It’s always a good party when Cher shows up.”

This Halloween, Bartsch is involved with no fewer than four parties, including her takeover of the entire top story at the Standard Hotel in the Meatpacking District and hosting Bette Midler’s annual fundraiser for the New York Restoration Project. (At last year’s event, Marc Jacobs, who, over the years, has dressed as everything from SpongeBob SquarePants to a camel toe, was almost unrecognizable as a female bodybuilder named Stacie.)

Calvin Klein, Allison Sarofim, and Christopher Makos at Sarofim’s Halloween party in 2007.

Photo by Clint Spaulding/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images.

Though Bartsch decries the current state of affairs (“All those dreadful mass-market people and their Ricky’s looks,” she sniffs), she applauds the efforts of Allison Sarofim and Heidi Klum. “Allison’s Halloween is very chi-chi, but people really make an effort with the looks, and it’s at that gorgeous home,” she says, referring to the VIP party at Sarofim’s West Village town house, where Valentino might be introduced to Andy Cohen by, say, Cardi B. “And Heidi turns it out.”

Does she ever. For the past 19 years, Klum—who is from a town outside Cologne, the European capital of dress-up parades—has practically owned the actual night of Halloween (Sarofim’s bash is always held the Saturday before) with her A-list party and outrageous costumes. “Even when I was nine months pregnant and about to pop, I still dressed up and had a ball,” she says, referring to the time in 2006 when she went dressed as a gigantic apple with a snake wrapped around her; her ex-husband, Seal, went as Eve after the Fall. Klum’s other legendary costumes include her completely unrecognizable as a 90-year-old version of herself and as the wolf from the Michael Jackson “Thriller” video. The one year she was recognizable as Heidi Klum, she was flanked by five prosthetically enhanced “clones.”

Heidi Klum and her “clones” at her 17th annual Halloween party, in 2006.

Photo by Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Heidi Klum.

“That was probably the hardest to do because first I had to find five girls who were exactly my height and body type,” Klum explains. “Then they had to be willing to be unrecognizable in a wig and prosthetics all night. For a model, it’s not really that great a gig.”

Though Klum’s party has ballooned in size and become frightfully corporate (it’s at LAVO New York and presented by Party City and SVEDKA Vodka), all eyes will be on Klum and whatever divinely phantasmagoric outfit she has planned. Not that Klum, who caused a stink in the Hindu community in 2008 when she went dressed as the deity Kali, is worried about being PC. “My two rules,” says Klum, “are that you have to make an effort, and that you can never go too far on Halloween.”

And the third unspoken, universal rule? If you can remember Halloween, it probably was a Halloween not worth remembering.