Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace is back, baby, and it ain’t your grandma’s roller-disco. The new West London flagship opened earlier this month with a bang and a good ol’ rock and roller boogie, hot on the heels of its summer-long residency and NYC revival at the historic Rockefeller Center. Racing around the track on opening night was Usher, with his gold and diamond-encrusted blade pendant by Jacquie Aiche and his freshly bleached 360° waves. The R&B demigod partnered with Emmy-award winning producer, entrepreneur and National Champion roller skater Kevin Wall and British supermodel, actress and Flipper’s legacy, Liberty Ross, to get the venue up and operational.
Invested in the fable of Flipper’s quite literally since birth, Ross was the one to propose a 21st century revival. The original Hollywood roller rink had served as the playground of her youth after Ross’ father, Ian ‘Flipper’ Ross, opened it in ‘79. What’s wild though, believe it or not, is that Flipper – the heart and soul of the venue – couldn’t actually skate himself. But that didn’t stop him from turning a simple namesake space into a cross-cultural icon – not even for a second. Flipper’s would come to be frequently filled with famous faces (paparazzi were always swarming its doors) and known around town as the place where eccentrics, outsiders, punk-rockers and disco queens would come together for uninhibited fun. By 1980 it was THE place to be and was frequently compared to the legendary New York discotheque, Studio 54 – only this one was on wheels. By day, youths would loll around and learn to skate. By night, the LA masses partied beside a whole who’s who of A-listers. It gave skaters the space to be themselves, prompting a kind of radical acceptance that The City of Angels had never seen. It was edgy and authentic at once, a cultural hotspot in its own right. Sadly, after just three years of a whirlwind run, the family owned and operated rink became the stuff of Los Angeles legend, crashing, burning and rolling off into the sunset in flames — literal flames.
In its final months, everything had become more and more debauched: the drugs got harder, the rink’s regulars more depraved. Then, seven months after he was given an ultimatum by the LAPD to either shut down the venue or go to jail, Flipper’s closed its doors for the very last time one maniacal Halloween night in 1981. The feds, ready for a fight, pitched a battle against Flipper’s fans who instigated a fire-fuelled battle: flipping dumpsters, turning over cars and setting the streets ablaze.
The new, capacious West London flagship location is spread over two floors of a recently-remodelled former power station. Situated in the shadow of the Shepherd’s Bush Westfield, it’s actually a Grade II-listed structure dating back to 1899, which feels somehow fitting for Flipper’s first London location, considering the capital’s propensity for Victorian architecture. As soon as you ascend the fluorescent stairway to skate heaven, it’s like you’ve rolled right into a church – a place to practise your roll-igion. And the walls, splayed out with enlarged photos by down-to-Earth image-maker, Cisco Craig Robert Dietz, of celebs ’n’ civilians alike, only add to the vivid atmosphere.
Having just opened its first permanent, year-round, venture since the original Flipper’s closed, the 34,000-square-foot warehouse space will double as a live music venue too, and if the NYC sets performed this summer are anything to go by, you can bet there’ll be a pretty banging line up of elite talent. There will also be themed evenings, anticipation-worthy events and parties taking place in this fun-loving safe space. Perhaps the White City location can become the new Kinky Gerlinky, Blitz, Roxy or even a Fabric-adjacent destination for the terrible 2020s we’re in the midst of.
The Flipper’s of the future speaks to all corners of society. It’s a hub for uninhibited fun. There’s something for everyone.
On the first floor, you’ll find Flipper’s original All-American LA diner, an eatery appropriately named Hot Dogs and Caviar – yes, you can order both. On the menu, wacky dishes like wagyu smash burgers, decadent caviar covered french fries with lemon creme fraiche and deep fried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are on offer, alongside stateside classics like Nashville hot chicken, popcorn shrimp, grilled cheese and pizza. A curated array of California-inspired cocktails and mocktails are available to quench your thirst post skate – they’re there if you need a little liquid courage too; wink wink.
At the Pro Shop, fresh-faced and old-school designs revived right out of the 80s are available to buy. Managed by skaters and skate techs, the offering is primarily apparel based: think satin bombers, hockey jerseys, tote bags, sweat sets and, of course, skates. But not just any skates – oh no – a stellar revival of Flipper’s classic cobalt blue suede skates with their quintessential red polyurethane wheels and all. You can cop Dr Dre’s – who also made a surprise appearance – special-edition sneaker-skate at the Pro Shop as well.
If you were at the VIP opening party you might have even seen the queen of hip hop and soul, Mary J.Blige, wizz by in her super-cropped, baby-pink tartan blazer. The acclaimed songstress is a longtime friend of Ross’ and she, like Dr. Dre, has just solidified her place as a first-time Flipper’s collaborator with the Flipper’s x Sister Love Boogie Hoop earrings (Sister Love is Blige’s co-owned jewellery brand).
Leaving its unmatched counter-cultural mark on LA and now London, Flipper’s legacy is too formidable to die out. Ross can see the future: and it’s rink-shaped, waxed to a shine and ready to roll.
Photography courtesy of Cisco Craig Robert Dietz. Visit Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace at Ariel Way, London W12 7SL