Flex: The first night Mecca came to the Tunnel, I remember thinking it was a very awkward space, very narrow with the train tracks.
Beck: It was just the main room [on Sundays], the big straightaway. They wouldn’t open up the small rooms in fear of God knows what could happen in there.
Mimi Valdés: When Mecca got to the Tunnel [in 1993], there was still some exclusivity, but it was such a huge space, much bigger than the Supper Club—now all the boroughs were represented, and they had different areas where they hung out. Bronx people stayed on this side, Brooklyn people stayed on that side.
Manda: There were no tables. It was all people dancing and congregating around the bar. This was before bottle service.
Prodigy: The bar was crazy long.
Robert Scagnelli: I worked the bar at the Limelight, the Palladium, and eventually the Tunnel on Sunday nights. Peter wanted some guys behind the bar because the crowd could get rough. We had bouncers behind the bar as well. The bar was maybe 75 feet by 15 feet. They’d staff six to ten on a Sunday, and you needed it.
The coed bathroom had urinals and stalls. The girls liked it, the guys liked it. Weed was being sold, people were having sex.
- Funkmaster Flex
Manda: At the bar, you’d say, “Give me a bottle of Moët,” and you would pay cash. “Give me a bottle of Cristal, give me a bottle of Dom—no glasses.” Watching a thousand people holding bottles of Cristal, Dom Pérignon, or Moët at one time was kind of amazing. The club constantly sold out of champagne. Remember, this is the Bad Boy era; Puff Daddy was king at the time. It was pre-Jay-Z. Jay would be there spending tons of money, but this was the Puff Daddy era.
Valdés: Walking around with an entire bottle to yourself? That was definitely a Puffy phenomenon; he was very flashy in the club. It was also a measure of the time—hip-hop was becoming this phenomenon, and people were making so much money. It was time for hip-hop to celebrate and say, “We’ve made it. We’re not struggling anymore. We’re out of the hood.”
Jadakiss: Bad Boy had its time at the Tunnel where we had it on smash, but Nas came through, Mobb Deep—everybody had their light at the Tunnel.
Scagnelli: Once the bottles were finished, people wanted them up on the bar in front of them to show how many they’d bought.
Gatien: There were nights where you would have competing groups trying to see who could have more Cristal sitting on the bar.
Flex: Diddy and Jermaine Dupri used to go bottle for bottle in there.
Rosenblum: Puffy and Jermaine Dupri were at the bar every week—there was no such thing as bottle service. There were no ice buckets. There were no tables. They were buying out champagne at the bar, and we had to serve it to them in rubber busboy trays, because we had nothing to put champagne in. It wasn’t like now, when somebody buys a parade of Dom Pérignon or Moët Rosé, and it comes out all lovely at your table with sparklers and shit—that didn’t exist. We were literally piling up champagne in those containers busboys would go around the club and throw dirty glasses in.
Scagnelli: Bartenders would walk out of there with $400, $500 in tips.
Rosenblum: I think the same things that made hip-hop and hip-hop culture exciting back then were the things that made the party exciting: it was brand new. It was unknown. Nobody had even been in a hip-hop party with this many people, this much energy, this many bottles, and this many artists.
Flex: The Tunnel was the last club that Eazy-E went to before he died. He and Ice Cube, they talked in the Tunnel for an hour the Sunday before he died, the first time they’d spoken in years. I didn't know what Eazy was doing there, I think he just wanted to see it. He had on a hoodie, and he didn't look well.
Manda: The artists mixed with the crowd; there was no VIP. It was a party that everyone felt was important; artists felt like they had to come. This was before rap played all day on the radio, before the Internet. This is where people met, this is where the records came from, where you heard them first, where you heard them 20 times in a row.
Flex: From the DJ booth, you saw everyone that walked in. The club could do 3,000 people; 4,000 on a holiday weekend; it would become impossible to control.
Rosenblum: If I was hanging out inside the club, I mostly stayed in the DJ booth, which had this spectacular location: it was at the end of the bar, slightly raised overlooking the dance floor. You could see everything. It was easy to sit there for hours and watch the room.
Jadakiss: I’d chill in the front for a while, chill by the bar for a while, then I’d go to the bathroom, then before I’d leave I’d go to the back. All the way in the back was love—all the people that were really enjoying the music were there. But to get to the back you had to walk through a long line of Brooklyn niggas, all types of incredible shit—you never knew what was going to happen on the way. You could get your chain snatched, you could get sliced with a razor, anything. From the front to the back was a whole adventure. That’s why I’d do that last.
Valdés: You felt that it was such an important moment for hip-hop because we had never seen this before. We had never been in a club where [hip-hop] was playing on a consistent basis.
Rosenblum: There are a couple things that make a great party: it’s the music, it’s the women. If you have the most famous artist in the world, and the club is packed but it’s all dudes, who wants to be at that party? And one of the best security measures in the world is to have more women than men. It keeps the guys from fighting—they’re too entertained by the women.
Cipha: Girls were usually free until 11 p.m., so for the first part of the night I would play R&B. To this day, girls come up to me and say, “I used to come to the Tunnel early and you played the dope R&B.” Total, Case, and all that shit.
Scagnelli: The crazy thing at the Tunnel that everybody liked was the unisex bathroom. There was a small circular bar right in the middle. Two people would work it, back to back.
Flex: The coed bathroom had urinals and stalls. The girls liked it, the guys liked it. Weed was being sold, people were having sex.
Rapaport: I was in my twenties, and you think you’re an adult, but you go into a bathroom with girls and you almost feel like you’re in high school. It’s like, “Uh, what the fuck are you doing in here? This is the men’s room.” But it was unisex. At the time I thought it was sexy, all the pretty girls in there.
Lighty: If you go back to the video for LL Cool J’s “Doing It,” there’s a girl putting on lipstick, and LL walks up to her—that was shot in the Tunnel’s bathroom.
Prodigy: You’ve got the ladies and the fellas in the same bathroom, so you know niggas is fucking. You wouldn’t walk in and hear people fucking, but you could see two sets of fucking feet in a stall.
Jadakiss: I used to do at least an hour in the bathroom every time I went. It was a bathroom but the party was still going on in there! That was crazy! Wherever Peter Gatien is, I send him all my love—I hope he ain’t die or nothing—because that was incredible, to put a coed bathroom in there.
Valdés: I made sure that I did not have to go to the bathroom when I went to the Tunnel.