For over 20 years club promoter Mario Diaz has combined filth and fun and created some of the most legendary parties in New York and Los Angeles. Mario’s reign as club king began in the mid-1990s when he opened The Cock, the East Village gay bar which became infamous for embracing raunch and seediness. While Mayor Rudy Gulliani was doing his best to eliminate Times Square of its signature porno theaters and strip clubs, Diaz was defiantly re-introducing sex-positive energy back into Manhattan nightlife. After conquering New York, Diaz moved west. Combining ’70s porn chic, subversive go-go boy styling’s and his own unique brand of humor, Mario successfully infiltrated the L.A. nightlife. Club King is the enlightening new documentary that traces 20 years of the nightlife impresario’s (night)life and how he became the club king of New York and Los Angeles. The film will screen at Outfest July 14. Diaz chatted with Queerty about the film and how helped make nightlife sexy again.
Your friend Jackie Beat says in the opening minutes of Club King that you, “Single-handedly changed the club scene in New York.” What was —or wasn’t— happening in the NY club scene 20 years ago that you wanted to change?
When I moved to the city it was a very unique moment in naughty New York history. The city was homogenizing and gentrifying quite quickly and it seemed that the sexy, gritty New York that I dreamt about was slipping away. Clubs like Squeezebox, BoyBar, Jackie 60, Dean Johnson’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Fag Bar were a few of the amazing parties that inspired me in my early NYC days. But it was getting more difficult to be as down and dirty as we wanted. (Mayor) Giuliani was enforcing his “Quality of Life” campaign using antiquated laws to shut down many of the unsavory businesses at the time. The city was becoming more and more policed and was targeting many of the homo venues, the exotic dance venues and most of the adult themed spots that made the city so rich and exciting in my opinion. Times Square was becoming white washed and all the freaks and artists were being forced out of the east village. I wanted that sexy, seedy NY that I read about growing up. I made it my mission to throw the kind of parties that I always imagined were lurking in the sexy corners of the East Village. I helped bring back the back rooms, turned down the lights and gave them retro porn inspiration. If it turned me on, I served it up.
My ideas really come from the days of my youth. The NYC underground, particularly the leather scene I read about as a kid. But I’ve always been titillated by the 1970s in particular. That unique and special decade that in my mind is unmatched. That short time in history when sexual liberation was truly being celebrated; disco ruled and free love was the norm. Key parties and swingers were taking over the suburban landscape. The fear of sex had subsided for a moment. I felt like I missed out on the heyday. But like all good things- it ran its course. AIDS came around and scared everyone back in the closet. And, of course, there were rulers like Giuliani who also pushed that freedom back in the closet. So I figured, fuck that. I’m gonna be in your face; gay, nasty and unapologetic. But with a sense of humor and some style. My parties resonated well, people were craving that experience. We needed it. And that’s what led me to open (New York gay bar) The Cock. And what good times we had.
To talk about the outrageous acts on the stage of the Cock I would be amiss to not give special honors to the work of the incomparable Krylon Superstar. We titled her work “Anal Arts and Crafts” and they were highly anticipated performances that took place at my weekly party, Foxy. Always jaw-dropping, ridiculous, wild and hilarious. And it was all about her ass. Whether it was doing a milk enema on stage, squirting it into a bowl of Frosted Flakes and enjoying a healthy bowl of cereal or when she stuck that corncob in her ass and popcorn magically came flying from her mouth. Or the time when the batteries she carefully put inside her gave light to the light bulb in her mouth. I’ll never forget the time Justin [Vivian Bond] commented on stage, “Ladies and Gentlemen Krylon Superstar has had everything in her ass but the bathroom sink.” Well, moments later who takes the stage after having literally unhinged and removing the bathroom sink from the wall? Krylon. She then proceeded to shove the faucet in her butt. Oh yes she did! Krylon was what Foxy was all about. It was a hoot. It was punk, fearless and hilarious. But I must say I still have a great affection for the sweet southern girl who queefed the entire chorus of “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” into the microphone. That was an impressive skill.
Justin Vivian Bond, who should definitely have a formal job as tourist ambassador for the city of New York, does an amazing walking tour of the East Village and shares memories of first meeting you. Why did you seek out Justin to do your first New York club night?
Justin is brilliant. Perhaps the most brilliant performer I’ve experienced in my time. Aside from Jackie Beat, my Tranma and wife, of course. Justin and I both moved to the city around the same time and I was lucky enough to snag V up early on. We were a great team for years and I couldn’t have had more fun. To have witnessed the drunken stream of consciousness ramblings of Mx. Bond on the stages of my clubs was one of the great honors of my life. I spent countless nights with my jaw on the floor choking and giggling to Justin’s acute and hysterical rants and observations. The caliber of talent I’ve been blessed to work with over the years is astounding. It truly is one of the main reasons I’ve had any success at all. People like Justin Bond, Jackie Beat, The World Famous Bob, Mistress Formika, and Dean Johnson. These brilliant and talented people are my co -workers and loved ones. It still boggles my mind. Lucky boy.
When I first got here to L.A. I was unsure if they were gonna get it. The gay clubs were bright, clean and pretty. It looked like all the boys, although handsome, had a bar of soap in their pocket. Not really my cup of pee. So I basically turned the lights down, turned the music up, blew some smoke in the room and messed their hair up a little bit. It didn’t take much to get them on board.
Big Fat Dick (BFD), your weekly L.A. club night at Fubar recently celebrated its 12th anniversary. For many, BFD was the first introduction to the Mario Diaz brand. What were those first months like? Did the West Hollywood crowd immediately get what you were doing?
I had already had a hit party with Hot Dog so when I started BFD they were already on my side. It’s been such a blessing as far as parties go. I mean 12 years every Thursday night? Longest weekly boy party in town. And it’s still a blast! I couldn’t be more happy. It pays the mortgage and is still fun for me. But yeah, I was pleasantly surprised to see them come out in droves, drop their pants in the back for my photo contest and then get naked and jump around on my go-go boxes. I love watching people make a fool of themselves, really cut loose and have a night to remember. I always say if you don’t regret your visit on Friday morning then you didn’t do it right.
You invest a lot of time and effort styling your go-go dancers. What’s the essential ingredient you look for in a go-go dancer?
Obviously they have to be sexy. And that’s not just an aesthetic, although of course that helps. I try and find a diverse group of guys, something for everyone. Dark, light, smooth, hairy, little bit of everything. But they have to be cool. Someone I want to hang out with. Sexiness is in the attitude really so it makes a huge difference. They don’t necessarily have to have good style because that’s what I’m there for — to make them look cool. If I wasn’t there to do that they’d all be wearing giant logos on their underwear, flip-flops and sweat bands on their upper arms. They need me as much as I need them.
Dirty Sanchez has not performed in some time, although we are not dead in the water. With Jackie’s busy schedule entertaining less fortunate sodomites around the world and all my shenanigans we’ve sort of put our band on the backburner for now. But we have been discussing getting back in the studio soon so I smell some new music just around the corner.
Justin makes an observation about the influence of cell phones and cameras in clubs. “All of the things that happened then (1990s) – getting people to spontaneously take off their clothes and do crazy sexual things. It would never happen now. At that time it was right before cell phones. People would do something and it would be in the moment.” Do you agree with that or do people party with abandon the same way they always did?
I completely agree with that. It’s a new frontier we live in now. Not sure if it’s better or worse, but certainly different. Social media has taken over and our mixers are filled with camera phones. People have to be more thoughtful about their public behavior. I do feel quite lucky that I was around to experience the debauchery pre-cell phones though. When people would do whatever they wanted, no matter how naked, without fear of documentation. You were in the moment. We were all tipsy and we didn’t give a shit. It was awesome.
I would be lying if I said it didn’t annoy me when other promoters cop my style but, it’s par for the course. There are those who are the idea people; the ones who create and inspire. And there are the imitators. Those are the ones who see what works and follow suit. Whether you are savvy enough to tell the difference is another thing. There are copycats making quite a living nipping at our heels but so is life. I’m just grateful that I am innovative and am one of the idea people.
It clearly takes a lot of work to be you. What’s a typical day like for you from start to finish?
Computer, audition, computer, brunch, computer, rehearsal, gym, party……hangover….and repeat.
In the film you say, “The last thing I ever want to feel is stuck or stagnant.” What’s next for you?
Hmmm, I’ve spent my whole life with plans and ambition. So many things to achieve and my incessant drive to create. I think my goal these days is to just exist. Trust in myself and enjoy this process. The path is laid before me and I will continue to walk it with vigor. There is no plan to slow down but I’m really learning to relax and try and enjoy it. To be more present and grateful. It’s a good life. No, it’s a fucking amazing life. I’ve been blessed.