Peter Gatien opened the first Limelight nightclub in Hallandale, Florida, in the 1970s. Following a devastating fire in the late 1970s, Gatien chose Atlanta for his next incarnation of the club. The Atlanta Limelight opened in February 1980. It was housed in a strip mall at the former site of the Harlequin Dinner Theatre.
The Limelight in Atlanta was a high-profile Euro-style night club that hosted many notables and celebrities over the years. A single photo taken in June 1981 skyrocketed the focus on the club, when celebrity photographer Guy D'Alema captured an image of Anita Bryant dancing the night away with evangelist Russ McGraw (known in gay communities as an activist). Several hundred newspapers and magazines ran the photo with the headline "Anita Upset Over Disco Photo". Peter Gatien relished the publicity. The club hosted many Interview Magazine events which brought names like Andy Warhol, Grace Jones, Debbie Harry, Ali MacGraw, and Village People's Randy Jones, among others to the club. Celebrity sightings included Tom Cruise, Pia Zadora, Shannon Tweed, Gene Simmons, Rick Springfield and Mamie Van Doren, to name but a few. The club also served as a location for Hal Ashby's film The Slugger's Wife (1985), which starred Rebecca De Mornay.
In 1983, when Gatien relocated to New York to open another Limelight club, his brother Maurice managed the Atlanta club. Maurice reportedly had less talent for running a nightclub than Gatien. "Peter was the brains behind the operation," according to house photographer and publicist Guy D'Alema. "Maurice ... didn't want to spend a dime and didn't have a creative bone in his body." The Atlanta club was located next to a 24-hour Kroger grocery store, which became known widely as "Disco Kroger."
In July 2010, several former Limelight employees – including Randy Easterling, Jim Redford, Noel Aguirre, and Aron Siegel – along with a few of their regular customer dancers – including Jonathan Spanier and Bret Roberts – produced "One More Night at the Limelight", a 30th Anniversary Party, at The Buckhead Theatre, formerly The Roxy Theatre. Due to the party's success and great attendance, combined with the untimely death of one of its organizers (Spanier), the remaining team produced another party, "Limelight Revisited: Déjà vu Discotheque", on August 6, 2011 at Center Stage Atlanta in midtown Atlanta.
The Limelight in Chicago was housed in the former home of the Chicago Historical Society; the building itself is a historic structure. It was opened in 1985, and became Excalibur nightclub in 1989. The steps to the entrance led to a hallway lined with museum cases which housed carnival like models dancing and generally moving about. There were several levels to the club. The main dance floor had a stage for the DJ. There were several private rooms that often played host to a bevy of celebrities both in music and in sports. The alternative music scene was critical at the Limelight as it played late into the 5 a.m. hour in Chicago on Saturday nights.
From 1985, the Limelight in London was located in a former Welsh Presbyterian church on Shaftesbury Avenue, just off Cambridge Circus, which dates from the 1890s. The London club's decline in popularity led to the club being sold as a going concern, eventually being taken over in 2003 by Australian pub chain The Walkabout, which converted it into a sports bar. This too eventually ceased trading and the premises is now[when?] empty and awaiting conversion to a new performing arts use by the charity Stone Nest.
The club in New York City, situated on the Avenue of the Americas at West 20th Street, was inarguably the most significant and infamous of all the Limelight locations. It opened in November 1983 and was designed by Ari Bahat. The site is a former Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion. The church was a Gothic Revival brownstone building which was built in 1844-1845 and designed by architect Richard Upjohn. In the early 1970s, when the parish merged with two others, the church was deconsecrated and sold to Odyssey House, a drug rehabilitation program. Amidst financial hardship, Odyssey House sold it to Gatien in 1982.
The New York Limelight originally started as a disco and rock club. In the 1990s, it became a prominent place to hear techno, goth, and industrial music. It earned the media's attention in 1996, when club kid and party promoter Michael Alig was arrested and later convicted for the killing and dismemberment of Angel Melendez, a fellow member of the Club Kids and a drug dealer who frequented the club. The 2003 biopic Party Monster, starring Macaulay Culkin and Seth Green, was based on this event. The Limelight was closed by the police, and subsequently reopened several times during the 1990s. In September 2003, it reopened under the name "Avalon"; however, it closed its doors permanently in 2007. Since May, 2010, the building has been in use as the Limelight Marketplace, but in 2014 it was converted into an outlet of the David Barton Gym chain. On December 21, 2016, this location as well as all four other David Barton Gym locations in NYC abruptly closed their door for business. In June 2017, it reopened as Limelight Fitness.
In April 2011, Rakontur released Limelight at the Tribeca Film Festival. The documentary's world rights were bought by Magnolia Pictures. The documentary, which highlights the club's history during the Gatien era, was produced by Gatien's daughter, Jen, and directed by Billy Corben.
Mr. Alig, who pleaded guilty in State Supreme Court in Manhattan to one count of first degree manslaughter, admitted that he and a friend smothered Andre Melendez, known as Angel, chopped up his body and threw it into the Hudson River.