Liberty Ross Shares the History and Significance of Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace
Trade your ice skates in for some quads, and get ready to boogie: There’s a new rink in town. Beginning April 15, The Rink at Rockefeller Center transforms into Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace, an open-air roller rink revival of the former Los Angeles-based institution.
While Flipper’s may be opening on the site of an already iconic New York landmark, this roller rink is bringing a novel disco energy to the plaza. The original Flipper’s was first opened by Ian “Flipper” Ross in LA’s West Hollywood neighborhood in 1979. Though the rink was only in business for three years, it left an indelible mark on its city and drew an eclectic crowd, from curious teens to celebrities like Cher and Elton John.
Now, Ross’ daughter, fashion model Liberty Ross, is reintroducing the beloved brand.
The roller boogie palace is a throwback in many ways. It's not only a revival of a Hollywood institution, but also a nod to an even older era. The April opening will mark the first time that The Rink at Rockefeller Center has transitioned to roller skating since the 1940s. Ross, Flipper’s founder and creative director, believes the timing is particularly apt for a project of this kind.
“Roller skating is the ultimate equalizer,” she says. “When you strap on a pair of skates, everything goes out the window. It doesn’t matter where you come from, what background you come from, famous or not, you’re all united in the simple, joyful thing that is roller skating.”
The venue also strikes the right tone and it’s something that Ross is particularly excited about. The roller skating rink, designed by Bureau Betak, will be just over half the size of the ice rink, leaving room for adjacent tables, chairs, and greenery. The design will help to draw crowds down to Rink Level and encourage congregating for those passing through. “Part of the success of Flipper’s was that it was right in the middle of Hollywood and very accessible for every person to get there,” Ross explains.
In terms of accessibility, there are few places in New York City more central than Rockefeller Center. “The fact that we can open in New York at Rock Center is huge,” says Ross. “We always want to be accessible to as many people as we can.”
Accessibility goes hand-in-hand with inclusivity, another hallmark of the Flipper’s ethos. “We’re a safe home for everybody,” says Ross. “We create an environment of shared safety so all the misfits of life can gather. That’s what happened at the original Flipper’s, it was a home for everybody.”
Even for those uneasy on wheels, Flipper’s holds a particular kind of allure. Craig Robinson, executive vice president and chief diversity officer for NBCUniversal, may have lost a tooth while skating for the first time at the original Flipper’s, but even that couldn’t dampen his good time. Robinson isn’t exactly sure how he and his friends ended up at the rink one evening in the early 1980s, but he does still remember the spirit of the place. “For someone who felt a little bit like an outsider, the concept of a place like Flipper’s was just magical,” he says.
Flipper’s will also launch weekly and seasonal programming that includes disco nights, family and kids programming, meditative morning skates, and gospel music Sundays. There will no doubt be dancing and tricks and some folks moving as if more comfortable on wheels than their own two feet. If you’re a hug-the-railing kind of person, though, Flipper’s is still a place for you.
“...the thing about roller skating is it's just so positive,” says Ross. “You have to be connected and present, be in the moment. It really helps your mental health — less scroll, more roll, as we say. We really encourage people to put their phones away for periods of the day and let go and experience the freedom of skating.”
Beyond the office buildings, television studios, famous Art Deco architecture, and world-class public art, Rockefeller Center represents the spirited essence of New York City, something that Flipper’s identifies with as well. “It’s a place where you want to come and have fun,” says Robinson. “Everyone’s welcome and no one will be judged.”
Starting April 15, Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace will be open at The Rink, between 50th and 49th Streets, Monday-Wednesday 10am to 10pm, Thursday and Friday 10am to 12am, Saturday 8am to 12am, and Sunday 8 am to 10 pm.