Penthouse Retrospective

by Kathy Lowry Originally Published: July, 1981

Culture Fringe | 40 Years Ago This Month

The kinky dress code makes for a bizarre nightly floor show; one evening, when the fire department showed up to check fire-compliance laws, everyone thought that the band had arrived early.


Mudd is generally considered to be a mecca for people with trained ears, offering up a knowing, witty blend of New Wave and postmodernist rock, the right golden oldies, rockabilly, and campy stuff like “The Chipmunk Song” and “Sixteen Tons.” But music of any kind is obsolete, claims Steve Maas, a taupe-colored, soft-spoken intellectual whose father was a Georgia coroner and whose grade-school teacher beat him with paddles. Conceptual art, he claims, is the most important thing happening right now. (His own baggy, threadbare wardrobe seems to be making the fashion statement “blah.”)

Maas cheerfully admits he’s so flaky that he can barely use a Rolodex. His punky brainchild, he claims, has been the most unexpected, unpremeditated hit since Springtime for Hitler. “Most popular culture in America is disgusting.” says Steve over a drink at the formica bar, which is, when you look at it closely, an aerial relief map of the defense line of the Mexican Air Force. “The people in charge of popular entertainment don’t know what they’re doing; it’s like going to an auto mechanic for an appendectomy.” The name Mudd, he explains-probably for the hundredth time-was his attempt to fly in the face of all good consumer sense and also a way to “keep the straights out. It worked at first,” he adds wistfully. “They’d call up information for the phone number here, but they’d never have the presence of mind to ask for the address.”


At uptown Elaine’s all the insiders and hotshots want to be in the front room; at the Mudd Club they tend to gravitate upstairs to get away from the hoi polloi and the action. They’d rather slump around in the elementary school desks provided and suck on joints or stand around nudging dust rollies with their feet.

Some of Mudd’s regulars look forbidding; they may be sensitive artists, or they may be escaped inmates. One regular sports the face, body, and expression of Frankenstein’s monster. “Does he come here a lot?” a nervous-looking Park Avenue slummer asks a black girl in harlequin glasses and a sarong made from flowered shelf paper. “Yeah,” she shrugs, “who else would let him in?” As she speaks, young Frankenstein and a ghoulish girl with a problem complexion disappear into the upstairs bathroom. When they come out, ten minutes later, they’re disheveled and have funny stains on their clothes. It seems that they were in there making a Rosemary’s baby.

“Yeah, people fuck in the bathroom all the time here,” confirms a talkative punk. “One time a famous cover girl made it in there with her manager-boyfriend, and the next night someone barred the door while a guy and a chick had role-reversal sex with the help of a dildo. Naturally,” he adds, as if it goes without saying, “two guys go in there all the time for quickies. They used to do it mostly in the men’s room,” he adds, “but they finally took over the ladies’ room, too, because it had a mirror they could watch themselves in.”

“Wouldn’t it be better to go home and make love there, with just a cockroach or two looking on?” The boy turned to the hopelessly romantic 32-year-old inquiring reporter as if he were addressing an old codger and replied: “Nah … screwing is really boring. Ian Oury sings a song called ‘Sex and Drugs and Rock & Roll’; only he’s got the order backward. I mean, it’s just stick it in, pull it out, over and over. As Sid Vicious said, ‘Sex is hardly worth pulling down my pants for.’ People fuck in the bathroom so that they can get it out of the way and get back out here, to find some real entertainment.”


During the Mudd Club’s first flush of popularity in 1979, Maas staged campy, lovingly executed motif parties, usually making some bemused social comment. At a Mother’s Day party, everyone came dressed either as Joan Crawford or — in pinafores and Band-Aids — as Mommy’s battered dearests. For O-Day, Maas dressed up in army fatigues and walkie-talkie and carried a baton. Those attending, also dressed in military gear, were urged by a woman in a Nurse Ratchet uniform to “turn the other cheek! Step right this way and take your proctology exam!” A crazed Queens girl in a black kamikaze T-shirt, storm boots, aviator goggles, and a whip stalked around shouting, “What’s the difference between a Jew and a pizza? Answer: pizzas don’t scream when you throw them in the oven!”