Picks and Pans Review: A Roundup of

updated 05/12/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/12/1980 AT 01:00 AM EDT


While the disco craze maybe in a midlife crisis, one sublunacy has put the rollback into rock'n'roll. Dancing on rollerskates goes back to 1863 when New Yorker J.L. Plimpton invented a skate that turned, and the spinoff into the exhibitionistic terpsichore of modern disco was inevitable. Brooklyn's Empire Rollerdrome claims to be the Mother Rink, but now there's hardly a U.S. city without an emporium for eight-wheeled boogeying. Here's a guide to six of the kickier establishments:

From the outside, Roxy, on Manhattan's West 18th Street, looks as forbidding as a truck garage, which it used to be. But some very long limos carrying some very big names pull up outside on what used to be, at night, a deserted and dangerous block. Bette Midler, Keith Richards and Dustin Hoffman disco-skated for the first time there amid veterans like Lindsay Wagner, Lauren Hutton, Ali MacGraw, Mick Jagger, Gene Simmons and Vitas Gerulaitis. There is a fashionably long queue outside, and anyone in jeans or looking druggy or drunk won't be admitted. The rink itself is built of hard northern maple, which makes skating effortless and tempts fledglings to spin, dip, swerve and, among some retrograde couples, even waltz.

Spinoff is across the street from Boston's Fenway Park, so it's convenient for Red Sox pitcher Mike Torrez, a habitué along with Caroline Kennedy and her cousin Sidney Lawford. Recently Elton John skated the night away—unrecognized. Founded last August by two Transcendental Meditation instructors, lawyer Steven Foster and his wife, Gillian, the rink has hanging-plant decor and a predictably laid-back atmosphere. Disco is the major beat, but a skater can perform to reggae, swing and occasionally Beethoven's Ninth. Local nuns are among the regulars. Foster, who took TM with Beach Boys Mike Love and Al Jardine, says roller disco is like meditation—"a natural way to feel good." The karma and cash flow are so good, Foster is planning Spinoffs for Miami and New Orleans.

Axle Roller Rink in Des Plaines, Ill. has at times been filled to its 2,700-skater capacity. It is the largest (120' by 244') disco rink in the Chicago area, and maybe anywhere. Compared to some flashier spots, Axle features relatively subdued, conservative Midwest disco skating. Ken (Mayberry RFD) Berry even held a genteel Christmas party for 100 there. But Friday and Saturday are, as one 21-year-old macho man put it, "hot for pickups." There are other reasons skaters go there. "You don't have to stand around and wait for someone to ask you to dance," explains a regular. "Everyone just gets up and has a good time." "Besides," adds his girlfriend, "it beats bowling."

Jellibeans on Roswell Road in Atlanta was an ice arena rink until dentist Ron Feinman converted it last November. The place now includes a roped-off beginners' area where new skaters can practice steps like the twist turn, Suzy Q and the Alabama Special, which is simply skating backward. Country music is mixed with disco and rock. Local school kids get free passes (two for each A on their report card, one for a B or C).

The Hidden Valley Disco Skate Center in Houston is indeed hard to find. It's a block off the Dallas freeway on the North Side. Hidden Valley's unique feature is Garcan II, a remote-controlled robot made of garbage cans, with a tape-recorded voice. Garcan bumps and grinds, literally sometimes, and his remote mike acts as a gentle bouncer, reprimanding obstreperous patrons. Don't look for the city's oil rich spending windfall profits at the joint, but nationally ranked disco skater Susan Benner, 15, takes her turns there.

Flipper's Roller Boogie Palace in West Hollywood is where celebs really roll in. "I like it a lot," coos Britt Ekland. "It's one of the few totally up places in L.A. that isn't totally gay. And people can't be too stoned or drunk because they'll fall." The decor is a simulated Amazon jungle, and the natives include Cheryl Ladd, Leif Garrett, Loni Anderson, Robin Williams, Jane Fonda, Aretha Franklin, Jacqueline Bisset, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and countless other stars who get down there (and up too). Check before going. Sometimes it's closed for private functions like launching an Anne Klein fashion line or, once, a fund raiser for Jerry Brown's late presidential campaign.

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