The clubs, clothes, and characters of Buffalo’s Disco Era

By Steve Cichon
steve@buffalostories.com
@stevebuffalo

This week we’re looking back at the Disco era in Buffalo.

By 1975, the music and fashion and lifestyle associated with disco music was sweeping the nation.

Buffalo in 1975

Today, what Buffalo looked like when we first did the Hustle and learned to do a little dance, make a little love, and get down tonight in 1975.

Stan Makowski was Buffalo’s mayor. He had taken over City Hall a year earlier when Mayor Frank Sedita resigned because of failing health.

Mayor Stan Makowski was a state champion bowler.

Rick James had just signed with A&M Record, and was getting ready to return to Buffalo to form the Stone City Band.

Rick James, on the hood of his Cadillac, at Main & Genesee, Downtown Buffalo, 1977.

OJ Simpson had a career high 16 touchdowns for the Bills… and was known to enjoy the nightlife in Buffalo’s disco clubs.

Rick Azar with OJ Simspon

Only five seasons after first skating into Memorial Auditorium, The Buffalo Sabres were playing in the fog in the Stanley Cup Finals.

Gil Perreault congratulated by Jim Schoenfeld on the ice at Memorial Auditorium.

And when the Sabres weren’t playing at The Aud, it was the NBA Buffalo Braves with Bob McAdoo and Randy Smith.

Bob McAdoo signs with the Buffalo Braves

The Clubs

The flashy sights and groove-filled sounds of the disco experience filled places like Club 747, Uncle Sam’s, Mulligan’s, and dozens of smaller clubs around WNY.

In 1975, New York City’s Studio 54 was still two years away, but Buffalo’s Club 747 was touting itself as “America’s only superjet disco.”

WKBW Radio disc jockey “Super Shannon” was “in the cockpit” playing records and bringing plenty of energy to the microphone and atmosphere.

Club 747.

As many as 5,000 people a week were hustling their way through the airplane-themed club on Genesee Street.

MORE: Buffalo in the ’70s: Dancing at Club 747

By the end of the ’70s, the place had a $100,000 renovation, carried out by the same lighting crew that was responsible for “Saturday Night Fever.”

Uncle Sam’s on Walden Avenue was part of a chain of discotheques around the nation. The music was just as dance-able– but the dress code was a bit more relaxed and over all the crowd a big younger than it was over by the airport at 747.

Uncle Sam’s, Walden Avenue, 1974

Not too far away, Big Bertha’s at Broadway and Transit had an electronic dance floor.

MORE: Buffalo in the 70s: The early days of disco in WNY

There was He & She’s, the former Mother Tuckers, inside the Fun & Games amusement park near the blue whale car wash in Tonawanda.

Buffalo’s ultimate disco scene was Hertel Avenue’s hotspot of the 1970s, Mulligan’s. There was a little of everything there. It was the scene of a mafia ambush hit murder in 1974.

When a renovated Mulligan’s opened in 1975, it was billed as “a dancing and dining emporium modeled to suit the far ranging and capricious fancies of all who enter its doors.”

A trip to Mulligan’s might include a sighting of any number of national celebrities known by only their first names, like Cher or OJ, along with Rick James and his girlfriend Exorcist’s Linda Blair.


Buffalo’s Disco Fashion

We’re looking back at the disco era in Buffalo– and fashion was a big part of it.

During the late ’70s heyday at Club 747, a “boarding pass” to get into the club was $1, $2 on Saturday nights. Dancers were expected to be dressed appropriately — no sneakers, sweatshirts or “non-dress jeans” (remember, this was the ’70s) were allowed.

So where did you get your dress jeans?

Perhaps the best remembered disco duds stores were ManTwo and Pantastik. Each had as many as six WNY locations, but they were headquarted next door to one another on Bailey Avenue in the city.

Morey’s bellbottoms, Bailey Avenue, 1969

Morey Holtz was selling youth fashions at Morey’s on Bailey Avenue, when he decided to open ManTwo to sell youthful men’s fashions suits and leisure suits. Ads talk about things like “sensuous velvet” and “clothes that make it happen.”

Next door was Pantastik, which opened bragging about 10,000 unisex pairs of pants– mostly bell-bottoms, dancing pants, and even those “dress jeans” that Club 747 was talking about.

Also unisex were Bastad clogs.

Bastad clogs at The Sample

Early on, you had to go to the Trillium Shop in Fort Erie to get a pair, before Trillium opened and Amherst store, and then The Sample started selling the Scandinavian footwear, too.

The Trillium Shop, home of Bastad Clogs in Fort Erie

It’s what we were wearing in Buffalo during the disco era.


The Personalities

There were a few personalities who became known as Buffalo’s disco ringleaders…

Frankie Nestro at WNIA

Right here on 1230am… back when our call letters were WNIA–in the late 70s, this station was Buffalo’s disco outlet as “The New Super Sound 12.”

DJs like Frankie Nestro– who was former recording artist himself and a Motown record promoter– was spinning the disco hits on these very airwaves.

Shane Brother Shane was spinning the music on the radio, but also at Club 747.

Shane Brother Shane

Aside from playing the music, he helped design the cockpit, the sound system, and the take off video. That video played every night at 9, when in a soft voice Shane would call to their seats to prepare for takeoff. As the engines started, and sound rattled glasses on the bar, “Higher and Higher” by the Moody Blues would play, and a dozen television monitors would hop to life with video of a 747 takeoff.

Kevin O’Connell is forever tied to Buffalo’s disco era, too.

Kevin O’Connell at Club 747, shooting “Disco Step-By-Step”

Not only did he air “Weather with a Beat,” a collection of weather statics scrolling with disco music playing in the background during his Channel 4 weather segments, he was also the host of Channel 4’s Disco Step-By-Step show.

Of course there were dozens guys in DJ booths in bars across the city who kept the music going, guys with names like Dr. John and Captain Disco.

Dr. John, left, and Captain Disco at Club 747. (From the John Bisci collection)

All providing the soundscape for the Disco era in Buffalo.

Published by

Steve Cichon

Steve Cichon is a proud Buffalonian helping the world experience the city he loves. writing about the people, places, and ideas that make Buffalo unique and special. The storyteller and historian has written six books, worn bow ties since the 80s, and is the News Director at WECK Radio. A 25 year Buffalo media veteran, Steve's contributed more than 1400 Buffalo History stories to The Buffalo News, worked at WIVB-TV, Empire Sports Network, and spent ten years as a newsman and News Director at WBEN Radio. He's also put his communication skills to work as an adjunct professor, a producer of PBS documentaries, and even run for Erie County Clerk. Steve's Buffalo roots run deep: all eight of his great-grandparents called Buffalo home, with his first ancestors arriving here in 1827.