The Man Behind The ‘Limelight'

The first time Jen Gatien entered the Limelight Marketplace she felt a bit uncomfortable.

It's “totally different. These were wooden floors to do rave music and glow sticks,” says Jen Gatien  as she walks through the marketplace that was once home to the Limelight.  “It was a beautiful place I have great memories here.”

Jen Gatien is the daughter of Peter Gatien; the man who transformed the gothic church on Sixth Avenue and 20th Street from a place of worship into a place of dance, drama and celebrity.

Gatien’s nightlife vision along with the music, drugs, and crimes are part of a new documentary called ‘Limelight’ which premiered at Tribeca’s Film Festival.

 “It is the rise and fall story of Peter Gatien who owned the largest nightclub empire in the history of New York, but it’s set against the Giuliani revolution of the 1990s,” says director Billy Corben.

Jen Gatien, a film producer, teamed up with Corben who made "Cocaine Cowboys," to tell her father’s story.

 “Peter Gatien was an impresario; there was a magical quality to everything he did because everything he did was huge.  Everything he did seemed unsustainable,” says musician Moby in the documentary.

Picking up where Studio 54 left off Gatien’s parties were bigger, wilder, and according to police downright dangerous. 

“You really have to be a legitimate hardworking person to survive in the nightclub business,” says Peter Gatien in the film.  “It’s not a picnic. It’s not a party. It’s a very serious business.”

It’s a business that caught the attention of the NYPD and federal agents.

“We were the leaders of nightlife, not just in New York City but the world,” says Michael Caruso who is identified in the film as a former ecstasy dealer and Limelight promoter.

Unlike others in the industry Gatien kept the doors open for nearly 20 years.  He survived the board hearings, raids, even the bad publicity when his top promoter murdered another employee.  The feds accused Gatien of turning the Limelight and another venue the Tunnel into drug supermarkets for pill-hungry club kids.

 “People simplified his business to a bunch of drug dealers on the dance floor,” says Jen Gatien.

That’s one of the reasons Gatien’s daughter wants to tell her father’s story. Maybe it’ll give him a second chance.   Peter Gatien now lives in Canada, deported from the U.S. after pleading guilty to tax evasion.

“It was hard to relive certain aspects of that but I do think it’s an important story to tell sort of how the American dream can go wrong,” says Jen Gatien.

'Limelight' sold out at the Tribeca Film Festival but Magnolia Pictures will release it in August, starting in New York.

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