Bay Ridge Still Has Saturday Night Fever, 35 Years Later

Saturday Night Fever (Wikipedia)

Break out the bell bottoms–this month marks the 35th anniversary of the release of Saturday Night Fever. John Travolta launched his career playing Tony Manero, the movie’s disco-crazed main character, and the movie’s soundtrack was the vehicle for the Bee Gees’ comeback. Saturday Night Fever also put Bay Ridge on the national map.

Since the movie’s release, a lot has changed in Bay Ridge (I should know since I’ve spent most of my life here, although I was only three when the movie first came out), and not just because disco died a long time ago. A lot of the places that showed up in the film are no longer around, and Bay Ridge has become much more ethnically diverse over the years. The old school Italians and Scandinavians are still here, but there has also been an influx of residents who are Arab, Latino and Eastern European, which you can see reflected in the variety of shops and restaurants that line the streets here.

In my opinion, the strongest carry over from the movie is Bay Ridge’s character as an old-fashioned, traditional neighborhood. Compared to trendier areas like Park Slope, Cobble Hill and Williamsburg, Bay Ridge still remains middle-class and family-oriented–you’re more likely to find people who have lived in this neighborhood for a long, long time than in other parts of Brooklyn. Of course, Bay Ridge hasn’t been entirely immune from gentrification; places like the Little Cupcake Bakeshop and a newly-opened artisanal ice cream place on Third Avenue have been popping up lately, and there’s a new beer garden called The Lockyard slated to open next year.

Still there is a sense of pride that I feel for the neighborhood whenever I watch the movie and recognize familiar places. So to mark the film’s milestone, I recently decided to revisit a few recognizable spots–sans the sharp disco threads and slick hair.

Lenny’s Pizza, 1969 86th St.. Photo: David Chiu

Underneath the elevated subway track, Lenny’s Pizza in Bensonhurst is one of the few places from the movie that is still in existence today. It’s featured in the very beginning when Tony stops by for two slices, and then eats them sandwich-style while strutting down the streets of Bensonhurst. On my visit to Lenny’s, I wasn’t tough enough to eat two slices simultaneously while walking, so I opted to eat in. And I have to say the slice that I had was magnificent—you can feel like you’ve truly lived when you’ve had an authentic Brooklyn slice, especially in Bensonhurst–for me, any place outside of the borough just seems to pale in comparison.

Pearson Bay Ridge Home Center, 7305 Fifth Ave., formerly Six Brothers. Photo: David Chiu

There’s been a hardware store has been on 73rd Street and Fifth Avenue for as long I can remember living here. It used to be called Six Brothers, where Tony works for Mr. Fusco. In one scene that takes place inside the store Tony asks for an advance and Mr. Fusco refuses. Tony says, “Oh fuck the future,” to which Fusco responds, “No, Tony! You can’t fuck the future. The future fucks you! It catches up with you and it fucks you if you ain’t planned for it!”

Tony Manero’s home, 221 79th St. Photo: David Chiu

I must have passed by this house between 3rd Avenue and Ridge Boulevard many times without knowing that it was the home of Tony’s traditional Italian family—the façade is different now than in the movie. As fans remember, this is where all the family tensions take place: the arguments between Tony and his parents, and the return of Tony’s brother Frank, who has left the priesthood and the scene where Tony implores his father to, “watch the hair!” It’s also where Tony combs that mane and dons his disco gear before heading out to the 2001 Odyssey Club with his pals.

Former site of the 2001 Odyssey Club, 802 64th St. Photo: David Chiu

Nowadays, it’s just a large commercial building that, among other businesses, is home to a Chinese restaurant, but 802 64th Street used to be the 2001 Odyssey Club. Nik Cohn’s wrote about it in a 1976 story for New York Magazine, “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night,” which inspired the movie. It’s the club where Tony reigns as undisputed champ of the dance floor with his electrifying moves. According to the “Back to Bay Ridge” featurette on the Saturday Night Fever DVD, the place turned into a gay club called Spectrum in 1987 and then finally closed eight years later.

Former site of Phillips Dance Studio, 1301 West 7th St. Photo: David Chiu

This is the studio where Tony formally introduces himself to Stephanie and where the two practice for the big dance contest at the Odyssey. According to this movie locations website the place is still in business, but when I went to visit there recently, it seemed boarded up–there was no sign above the door and the facade was covered in graffiti.

Former site of White Castle, 92nd Street and Fourth Ave. Photo: David Chiu

If there’s one place that appears in the movie that I most wish was still around it would be the White Castle on 92nd Street in Fort Hamilton (don’t judge me). In one scene, Tony, his rowdy friends, and Stephanie hang out for a bite to eat. I remember eating there whenever I was visiting the shopping strip on 86th Street, but it shut down in the late ‘80s or early ‘90s and was turned into an office complex that included a Uno Chicago. Bay Ridge has a KFC, Burger King, Pudgie’s, Nathan’s and McDonald’s today, but I still miss that White Castle.

Verrazano Bridge. Photo: David Chiu

The Verrazano Bridge–the longest suspension bridge in the world, which connects Brooklyn to Staten Island–looms large in the film. It’s one of the first things we see as the movie begins; it’s what Tony and Stephanie stare at while sitting on a bench, dreaming their big dreams; and it’s on the bridge that tragedy strikes near the film’s end. Opened in 1964, the bridge was just over a decade old when the film was released.

Kelly’s Tavern, 9259 Fifth Ave. Photo: David Chiu

When Tony and Stephanie go on their coffee date, they passed by what was then the Grand Union supermarket on 92nd Street and Fifth Avenue, which I don’t think I’ve ever been inside of. Today, it’s a giant Staples store. And if you look carefully, the couple also passes by Kelly’s Tavern, which is still around, after having coffee.

The R train, formerly known as the RR, runs through Bay Ridge from the Bay Ridge Avenue station to the 95th Street station. Photo: David Chiu

What would a movie that takes place in Brooklyn—or New York for that matter—be without a subway scene? In the film, Tony rides the train alone all night after the horrific sequence of events on the bridge. Back then, the R was known as the RR and I wouldn’t be surprised if the service was as slow as it is now. As evidenced by the movie, the old subways cars were drab and full of graffiti–today’s cars seem sleek and modern in comparison, and you definitely can’t smoke on them anymore.

As someone who grew up here, in a neighborhood that often feels like a small town, I can understand and identify with Tony’s restlessness–the idea of wanting to do something bigger and better. Bay Ridge is for the most part a safe, well-to-do area if you want to settle down and raise a family. It’s seems like a totally different world, tucked away from Manhattan or from its northern Brooklyn neighbors, as Stephanie emphasizes time and time again in the film. Then again, as Tony replies to Stephanie, “Hey, you know Bay Ridge ain’t the worse part of Brooklyn…I mean, you know, it ain’t like a hell hole or nothing.”

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15 Comment

  • Hi David, great article, I grew up in Bay Ridge and was there when this movie was shot. You may be interested in a movie I wrote and directed called WHITE IRISH DRINKERS, set in 1975 and shot in Bay Ridge. It stars Stephen Lang and Karen Allen. Here’s the website with a trailer: http://whiteirishdrinkersthemovie.com/

  • Are you sure thats the house of the family??? Looks to me like a complete rebuild. I’d say it was more like the house on the same side, the second one down from the apartment blocks

  • Hi David,

    I’m living in Belgium and one of my dream will be to visit New york, because when i was young, i identify myself in toni Manero…and also most of my friend. I’ll visit bay ridge and i want thank you for the details you put into the site. I ‘m sorry for my poor english but i m trying to do my best.

    Paolo Ravaldi

  • The former Odyssey turned gay in 1984, and closed its doors in 2001. Doesn’t anyone fact check any more?

  • Great article David, I actually practiced at Phillips Dance Studio when it was open a few years ago when I lived in Brooklyn. The inside was EXACTLY as it was in the movie down to the booth seating and ballet bars. I’m surprised someone hasn’t declared it a heritage site.

  • Wow this brings back so many memories. All good. Every weekend my friends and I would get all dolled up to go to the odyssey., and then who would think that great film would be filmed there. It was an awesome movie I sure wish those days were back.

  • so i started looking into this movie because i watched wolf of wall street and jordan belfort mentions that bay ridge is “saturday night fever territory”. Having lived in bay ridge for the bette part of a decade it got me curious. I had seen the movie as a kid but i hadn’t even visited brooklyn at that point. Anyway, i watched the movie and recognized almost every scene. Hell, Tony Montero’s house is almost butted up right behind mine. I recommend riding by there at night. The owner got cute and made the address illuminate at night the same red that is used in the opening sequence.

  • I really liked the article and loved the movie. I remember my boy was 10 at the time and wanted to see it, but I didn’t let him go because of all the language. Little did I know most movies from then on carried the same language. I think the first movie we saw together was ‘Raging Bull’ 3 years later. ,yea, I know…… Anyway, sorry I am rambling……….. It’s a small point, but I remember it said several times the ‘Bee Gees’ come-back started in 1975 with the song Berry wrote called ‘Jive-Talkin’. I’m getting old now, long past ‘Senior Citizen so there is a good to fair chance I am mistaken. Any comments appreciated.

  • David,
    Thanks for writing this article. I’m a big fan of movies, a fan of Saturday Night Fever, and John Travolta and I’m always interested in seeing the location spots. If ever in Bay Ridge, I’ll for sure go to Lenny’s Pizza.
    Respect,
    RedBeard

  • Still a GREAT movie.

    But the only thing that still sticks in my craw?
    Travolta’s dancing.

    Brooklyn people would laugh him right off the floor with those corny moves!

  • I thought the White Castle scene was filmed at the White Castle that was located on stillwell ave?