Thursday, October 22, 2009

Roller Disco Week! Day 4: Famous Roller Disco Rinks Revisited

I stumbled upon a People Magazine from May 12, 1980 that had a little blurb about the hottest Roller Discos in the nation. I took a closer look at the small article and decided to do a little research to see what became of these Roller Palaces. What I could find was very trivial, in both senses of the word, but I still think it’s blog worthy…

1. Empire Rollerdrome – Brooklyn , NY
Known as “The birthplace of the roller disco,” it is located at 200 Empire Boulevard in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and opened in 1941. During the height of the roller disco era, you could see “The Godfather of Roller Disco” Bill Butler showing Cher “The Brooklyn Bounce” out on the rink, and all ages of skate enthusiasts grooving along to Donna Summer and Earth, Wind & Fire. It went strong until they closed the doors for good in the Spring of 2007 to make way for a storage facility. Not quite sure if the colorful interior is still up and the 150’ “miracle maple” rink is still in tact, but there has been much public outcry as the Empire was one of the last remaining indoor skate rinks in New York. Holding rallies, raising money, even trying to consider the building for landmark status couldn’t save the great skate its fate.

2. The Roxy – Manhattan, NY
A well known nightclub that, like the Empire closed down a few years ago, much to chagrin of gays worldwide. It was known as THE place to be in the 70’s and 80’s, then changing it’s tune to a kitschy gay haven in the 90’s. Still located at 515 West 18th Street in the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City and is in debate with the city and residents of its re-opening.

Here is a video of Dorothy Stratten and John Ritter roller skating inside of the Roxy...

3. Spinoff – Boston, MA
Located right across the street from Fenway Park at 145 Ipswich St, The Spinoff opened up in 1979 and deemed the first upscale roller disco. In 1987, the same owners shut the roller disco down and turned it into the first of many Jillian’s Billiards.

4. Axle Roller Rink – Des Plaines, Il
While they were a chain in Illinois, People Magazine put the spotlight on the Niles location, just north of Golf Road on Milwaukee Avenue. Kind of a vague address, but luckily I found it was turned into an SYMS clothing store so from there I was able to Google Street Map it. According to the People Magazine article, it was the largest (120’ x 244’) Roller Disco rink anywhere. Axle didn’t have much of a run, opening in 1974 and closing in 1984, but it sure holds a lot of childhood memories for a lot of Midwesterners.

5. Jellibeans – Atlanta, GA
Jellibeans (or Jellybean’s from countless internet memories) was one of the most confusing out of the bunch to research. It ends up that there were TWO Jellibeans in Atlanta. The first one, which was the one mentioned in the People article was located at 3833 Roswell Road and opened in November of 1979. It was mostly a white roller disco hangout, being that its locale was in a heavily white neighborhood of Atlanta. Although known as ‘kid friendly,’ blacks were not really feeling the warm and fuzzies and the tension between the groups eventually led to the closing of this Jellibeans location in the 80’s. The building has since turned into a professional office building/strip mall. Here’s where the other, more famous of the two Jellibeans comes to be. The owners opened a new location in the more predominately black neighborhood of Greenbriar. This rink used to be the big hang out in the 80’s for many famous R&B artists like mega music producer Dallas Austin, the ‘T’ in TLC Tionne ‘T-Bone’ Watkins, Jermaine Dupri and Lil Jon, just to name a few. It has also become inspiration for the movie ‘ATL’ starring rapper T.I.

6. Hidden Valley Disco Skate Center – Houston, TX
Hidden is right! I couldn’t find any documentation that this place ever existed. So, I took a chance and e-mailed a rink that was in the vicinity. The owner was very helpful to tell me the address, which was in The Middle of Nowhere, TX and that it unfortunately burned to the ground in the summer of 1984. It is now a sheet metal shop. Also, the article mentioned that local disco skate champion Susan Benner, 15 hangs out there. Well, I found lil miss Sue and she is now all grown up and involved in left wing politics.

7. Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace – West Hollywood, CA
Located on the northeast corner of La Cienega Blvd & Santa Monica Blvd, Flipper’s was probably the most documented, being an exclusive, chic roller disco nightclub for the celebrities of the time to coke and skate their worries away. It was also rumored to be the filming location for Roller Boogie (I’m not so sure though). Being as the roller disco fad was a shooting star in way of longevity in pop culture, Flipper’s revamped, determined to evade their fate being synonymous with the death of disco and somehow transformed the place into a punk/new wave club in the early 80’s. Acts like the Go-Go’s, Berlin, The Germs (oh hey Darby Crash, wanna roller boogie with me?), the Ramones and the Plimsouls performed on certain nights. Soon, the party would be over and Flipper’s closed it’s ambivalent doors in the mid 80’s. It is now a mega conglomerate CVS Pharmacy.

Be sure to tune in tomorrow for a look at the modern take on roller disco!


  1. The Roxy was pretty great. The rink shrunk over the years, but the vibe was pretty rad.

  2. I'm glad to see this information about Spinoffs of Boston, Ma!!!! I really missed that place!!!! Thanks much for that little bit information. It was the only information that I could find on the web! It closed the same year that I went into the Navy which was sooooo very sad!!! I wish there were pictures that at least showed the place!!! Thanks again

  3. Myra, have video from inside of Spinoffs