The R (is for retro) Train

This morning, when the R train thundered into my stop in Jackson Heights, I noticed that the train’s digital readout said the it’s final destination was Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

I’ve been riding that train every day to work and had never noticed that before.

It triggered some reminiscing. At that hour of the day, I’m ripe for getting lost in fantasy  — open to anything that will take my mind off the eight-hour grinding drudgery that lies in wait across the East River (i.e., “The Office”).

In the late 1970s, I spent a lot of time in Bay Ridge. Disco was popular, of course, though not so much with most New Wavers I knew and hung around with, who pretty much boycotted everything “disco.”

I’ve always liked to remain open to all kinds of music, as long as it’s good. Back then, I was listening to Pere Ubu, The Cars, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, Devo, Lou Reed, The Cramps, Leonard Cohen — but also Donna Summers, The BeeGees, Sylvester, The Tramps….and Verdi and Beethoven and Bob Wills…you know, good stuff.

I’d frequent the  Met and The Mudd Club and the disco with equal alacrity. Why not.

Anyway, getting back to Bay Ridge…

On a main drag in Bay Ridge was a bar called Scarlett’s, which I believe might have been on 86th Street (or maybe was it Third Ave.? I don’t quite remember.) Possibly, it was on that same street where John Travolta is strutting his stuff to “Stayin’ Alive” in the opening scene of Saturday Night Fever.

One of my favorite memories of Bay Ridge (for the kitsch factor, alone) was the art show that Scarlett’s sponsored one Sunday afternoon. The theme of the exhibit? Frank Sinatra.

Neighborhood artists, most of them Italian-American, showed up to exhibit their portraits of Old Blue Eyes. His wildly interpreted visage could be found propped up on shelves, makeshift easels, barstools, basically, on every available space in Scarlett’s.

It was hilariously memorable show of art that’s so bad it’s good and an all around great day. Beer helped.

There’s something about sitting in a bar mid-afternoon during summertime, bluish light carpeting the floor, street noise filtering in through the open door, that I’ve always found inviting.

I think it’s because my dad used to moonlight (or sunlight, if you will) on weekends in my uncle’s bar in Brooklyn. He was so young then, in his thirties, and tended bar in a white dress shirt, sleeves rolled up, his thick black hair slicked back with some kind of tonic.

My uncle stocked the juke box with all the latest rock and roll 45 rpm records. My dad loved the song, “Black Denim Trousers.”


Wow, I found a version of it on youtube!

Whenever Rock Around the Clock would come on, he’d put down his bar rag, swing my mom around by the waist, and the two of them would break into a fast lindy hop.

Those were happy times.

My sister and I loved that we were allowed to hang out in the bar. We felt so grown up, even if we did spend our time skipping the length of the room spinning bar stools.

The movie Saturday Night Fever seemed to put Bay Ridge on the map overnight. A group of artist friends (some Bay Ridgers and a few Queens-ites, like me) had gathered together and gone to see the movie when it premiered — in Bay Ridge!

The theater audience was filled with locals. There were lots of knowing hoots and laughs and ad-libbing throughout. The screening took place at one of the King’s (Loew’s) Theaters a grand, elaborate movie house with a balcony, velvet seats and carved gilded moldings. The works. It was gorgeous.

We just loved the film — including the anti-disco faction among us. The opening scene of SNF is one of my favorites  of all time, for its excellent use of music — second only to “Raging Bull” (and one notch above “The Sound of Music.”)

Shortly before moving back to New York last autumn, I was lucky to have seen a remastered print of the film on the big screen in Los Angeles. It was fantastic, and funnier than I remembered.

On my commute home this evening, after disembarking from the R train in Jackson Heights and climbing the stairs to the second level, I noticed a trio of South American musicians playing on the second level of the station.

But it wasn’t the usual  “El Condor Pasa.” To my surprise,  they were playing, “If I Can’t Have You,” a song from the soundtrack of Saturday Night Fever.

On a pan flute, no less!!

It was very weird. But — in the best possible way.

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5 Responses to “The R (is for retro) Train”

  1. Ray DeBlasio Says:

    Hi My name is Ray and I am Gregg Grippo’s partner. Loved the story about Bay Ridge. Back in 1973, when I was first married, we got an apartment on 72nd street and Bay Ridge Avenue. I remember the movie theater you talked about. We frrequented it many times while we lived there. There were many things about Bay Ridge I liked. It was fairly clean and relatively quiet. When the weather was nice we would walk along the pathway that ran by the water. On weekends we sometimes packed a lunch and went to Owl’s Head park. Alas, as muchas we liked the area we were really Manhattan people and moved to east 25th street and 3rd avenue after only six months. When I was in high school I lived with my father on Grand street between Mott and Mulberry streets. Sometimes I really miss the city but I also remember the tedious subway ride from Bay Ridge into Manhattan. Don’t miss that at all. Enjoyed your story. Thanks, Ray

  2. Marianne Delgado Says:

    Scarlett’s was on corner of 3rd ave and 75th st in bay ridge. The owner was jason Frankfort.

    • Typehype Says:

      Thank you for your comment. I’m thrilled to be reminded about Scarlett’s and where it was actually located. So many good times, back then in Bay Ridge.

  3. linda oreilly Says:

    Hi, there… This is Linda, born and raised in NY.. lived in Bay Ridge with my husband and two littles ones until just after 911. We moved to Raleigh, and purchased the back bar that was in Scarletts. – strangly enough, we found the bar in Upstate NY. We’ve renovated it lovingly back to its former glory… and we are opening the end of this month. I need to write a PR kit… and believe me, Im no writer,.. so am looking for any pictures of the bar, and information, anything you have. I can be emailed at

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