From about 1900 to 1920, working class Americans would gather at honky tonks or juke joints to dance to music played on a piano or a jukebox. Webster Hall is credited as the first modern nightclub, being built in 1886 and starting off as a "social hall", originally functioning as a home for dance and political activism events. During Prohibition in the United States, nightclubs went underground as illegal speakeasy bars, with Webster Hall staying open, with rumors circulating of Al Capone's involvement and police bribery. With the repeal of Prohibition in February 1933, nightclubs were revived, such as New York's 21 Club, Copacabana, El Morocco, and the Stork Club. These nightclubs featured big bands (there were no DJs).
In Germany, possibly the first discothèque was Scotch-Club. In Occupied France, jazz and bebop music, and the jitterbug dance were banned by the Nazis as decadent American influences, so as an act of French resistance, people met at hidden basements called discothèques where they danced to jazz and swing music, which was played on a single turntable when a jukebox was not available. These discothèques were also patronized by anti-Vichy youth called zazous. There were also underground discothèques in Nazi Germany patronized by anti-Nazi youth called the swing kids.
In Harlem, Connie's Inn and the Cotton Club were popular venues for white audiences. Before 1953 and even some years thereafter, most bars and nightclubs used a jukebox or mostly live bands. In Paris, at a club named Whisky à Gogo, founded in 1947,Régine in 1953 laid down a dance-floor, suspended coloured lights and replaced the jukebox with two turntables that she operated herself so there would be no breaks between the music. The Whisky à Gogo set into place the standard elements of the modern post World War II discothèque-style nightclub.
At the end of the 1950s, several of the coffee bars in Soho introduced afternoon dancing and the most famous, at least on the continent, was Les Enfants Terribles at 93 Dean St. These original discothèques were nothing like the night clubs, as they were unlicensed and catered to a very young public—mostly made up of French and Italians working illegally, mostly in catering, to learn English as well as au pair girls from most of western Europe. In the early 1960s, Mark Birley opened a members-only discothèque nightclub, Annabel's, in Berkeley Square, London. In 1962, the Peppermint Lounge in New York City became popular and is the place where go-go dancing originated. However, the first rock and roll generation preferred rough and tumble bars and taverns to nightclubs, and the nightclub did not attain mainstream popularity until the 1970s disco era. Sybil Burton, former wife of actor Richard Burton, opened the "Arthur" discothèque in 1965 on East 54th Street in Manhattan on the site of the old El Morocco nightclub and it became the first, foremost and hottest disco in New York City through 1969.