Life and Death on Fire Island

In other scenes, the hotel’s older guests congregate nude on a balcony under an elaborate fresco and cruise on a spiral staircase. They are figures standing proud amid their ornate surroundings. The spectral presence of the hotel’s founder, the late John Eberhardt, is seen in a portrait photo that has been set on fire, a flamboyant rendering of the past going up in smoke.

Several blocks west along the boardwalk is the Ice Palace bar, opened in 1970 and often described as one of the first gay discothèques. Its late founder, Michael Fesco, said that he named it the Ice Palace for a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, because “it was always so damn hot in there that I thought a nice, cool name would be psychologically appreciated.” The dance floor is the stage for this battle of elements, where erotic heat arises from playing it cool. In Leifheit’s images, go-go dancers under red stage lights blur into luminescent shadows. Desire takes shape in circumspect flashes of moving bodies performing for one another.

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