Cornwall - Mar. 24, 2011 - In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Peter Gatien was a king, and the New York City club scene was his kingdom.
The Limelight, Palladium, Club USA and Tunnel were among the nightclubs that he ran before his empire came crashing down.
It was surely a much different world than his hometown of Cornwall, where Gatien got his start in the nightclub business.
And it started in the most Canadian of ways – a game of hockey.
Gatien lost his left eye in a childhood hockey accident, and he received a $13,000 insurance payment which he used to open up a jeans store in his hometown. A few years later, he opened The Aardvark in downtown Cornwall, booking the rock band Rush as his opening act. The venue was a hit, and Gatien eventually looked for bigger opportunities south of the border.
“I think my best quality as a youngster was I was just beyond naive. I had the second largest club in America in '76, and going into the project I never once for a second thought, 'What happens if this doesn't work?',” Gatien said in a 2006 interview with Canadian Business Online.
Mayor Rudy Giuliani's campaign to clean up New York City eventually clashed with Gatien's clubs. A high-profile murder case involving a former “Club Kid” who was a fixture at Gatien's clubs didn't help matters. There were club raids, and Gatien was eventually nabbed on tax evasion charges. He pled guilty in 1999. In 2003, he was deported to his homeland.
A few years ago, Gatien was involved with a new club in Toronto called CiRCA, but he eventually severed his ties with the establishment, and it closed down last year.
These days, the trademark eye-patch that Gatien once wore is now gone and his New York club days are well behind him, but he hasn't been forgotten in the Big Apple.
Gatien's clubs and the events surrounding them have been covered in a few different books – one of which was later made into the movie Party Monster – and he's even gotten a shout-out in the song Foundation by rapper Jay-Z (in it, he raps, "Me and my operation, running New York nightscene, with one eye closed, like Peter Gatien”).
Next month, the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City will premiere Limelight, a new documentary about Gatien's rise and fall amidst Giuliani's rule of New York.
Interestingly, the film is produced by Gatien's daughter, Jen (you can read more about her involvement in the project here).
And to think, it all stemmed from a game of hockey and a rock bar on First Street East.
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Speaking of hockey, it's definitely a good time to be a local hockey fan.
The Colts open their second-round series tonight at home against their Highway 401 rivals, the Brockville Braves, in what promises to be a great round of hockey.
This is the deepest roster that Cornwall has had in some time, and if the Colts continue to get balanced scoring up front and strong goaltending from Pete Karvouniaris, they should stand to do well.
The playoffs also marks the final kick at the can for a number of seniors on the team, including Jacob Laliberte, Leslie Lavictoire, Matt Jacobs, Sean Blunden, Sam Gilbert, Michael Rowbotham and Karvouniaris. They'd probably like nothing better than to finish their junior hockey careers on a winning note.
Meanwhile, on Cornwall Island, the Akwesasne Warriors will have a chance to win the first-ever Federal Hockey League championship on Friday night with a win over the New York Aviators.
The FHL has certainly faced some challenges in its inaugural season, but it soldiered on and made it to the finish line.
I remember speaking to some of the Warriors players during one of the first days of training camp last fall, and even they weren't sure what to expect from the new league. Then Pat Deraspe arrived at the arena with friend and former NHLer Pierre Dagenais, and the pro hockey experiment in Akwesasne suddenly took on a whole new dimension.
Whatever you think of the FHL, this much is true: the players worked hard and travelled long distances to make it to this point, so that should count for something.