I used to love going to The Gallery disco/restaurant in ‘ The Ridge’, which is what Bay Ridge, Brooklyn was called. When I turned 18 my friends and I always headed for The Ridge most Friday and Saturday nights. The Gallery had been our place of choice. Now, there were a multitude of bars and discos in The Ridge, but this place had a special flavor to it. It sat on the corner of 4th Avenue and 90 something street, one block from the ever popular White Castle joint with its 25 cent thin as paper hamburgers. The Gallery had such a different demeanor than all the other of its competitors. You entered the place and were smack dab inside of a cozy bistro. There were tables and booths, all facing the open kitchen, where one could not help but inhale the smells of charbroiled burgers and French fries. To the left was a beautiful mahogany bar that did not hold any bar stools .The idea was to keep the upstairs room from becoming a regular hangout for Barflies. Meanwhile, the only music was rock and pop albums played just low enough to hear but never overwhelm.
The main thrust of the crowds that came to The Gallery was the downstairs dance room, replete with live rock bands each weekend. How in the hell did so many people fit in that basement was beyond me. Yet, if you wanted to meet a chick you headed down there. The bar was always jumping as were the slew of young, pretty girls… all out to dance and have fun. My friend Eddie actually met his future wife there. The secret was to meet a chick there, dance with her, buy her a drink and get her the heck out of the noisy basement and into the upstairs restaurant for a bite to eat. With that the two of you could have a conversation that could actually be understood. I spent many a Friday or Saturday night, if successful in my ‘ chick hunting’, eating a Turkey Club sandwich ( the greatest anywhere by the way) while having a few drinks with Miss Right as the Beatles White Album serenaded us.
The Summer of 71 had me doing what I usually did to earn money while on college recess. I had gotten my Hack license in June of ‘ 69 when they lowered the age requirement to 19 years of age. The money was great, as we kept 49% of the meter plus tips. The only problem was that I hated driving the day shift. The money was in the night shift which meant that I could not go to The Ridge to meet chicks. Well, providence was on my side that summer. All the bouncers at The Gallery knew me, as did the owner Ed, since I was what you would call ‘ A Regular’ there. I found out they needed someone to check proof at the front door since none of the bouncers wanted to actually ‘ Do grunt work’ . I grabbed the opportunity and they hired me. Now, picture this. I was on the Brooklyn College Football team, weighed maybe 175, six feet tall and was no Charles Atlas. The bouncers were guys who looked like NFL linebackers and had muscles on their muscles! The guys told me that if there was ever any trouble at the front door that they would ‘ Have my back’. What nobody understood was just how profitable it was for me to have this job. I don’t mean in dollars but in something else: Every single girl that wanted to get into The Gallery had to pass by me when I checked proof of age. This was like being a kid locked inside of a candy store. My social life increased immeasurably immediately!
Mid September that year had just beautiful NYC weather. It was a Saturday night and I had just finished my routine of checking proof and getting one or two phone numbers for my dating file. By 11 PM all was quiet as I stood outside by myself, leaning on a parked car. I could hear the sounds from the rock band downstairs flowing throughout. Suddenly, the exit door from the basement opened and this guy came storming out. He glanced at me but a mini second and headed for the corner of the White Castle. He appeared to be about my size, but I could see, as he passed by, that this guy was built solid. Seconds later another guy, smaller and a bit stocky, came running out. ‘ Sally, Sally’ he yelled, ‘ Where are ya goin?’ The first guy yelled back as he hurried down 4th Ave ‘ I’m goin to the car to get my gun!’ The second guy stopped by where I was standing, shaking his head. What happened, I asked. ‘ Some grease ball said something to Sally’s girl, they started shoving each other and then two other grease balls jumped in and Sally went bonkers! Shit! If he gets his gun…’ And as he said that the front door flew open. There was Dutch, the head bouncer with two other bouncers and then Ed the owner filtered out. ‘ Kid, I just called the cops. I do NOT want him back in here, do you hear me? Just keep him out till the police come.’ With that Ed began shooing inside the group of customers who had come outside to see what was going on. I turned to Dutch with this shit eating look on my face. ‘ You gotta cover my ass here man. This guy said he was gonna go get his gun.’ Dutch gave me a ‘ Don’t look at me look’ and disappeared inside with the two other bouncers. I was alone. Even Sally’s friend left, saying he was going to call Sally’s father. His father? What in the hell was going on here I thought to myself.
A part of me wanted to just scamper to my car and leave. Before I could decide what to do Sally was approaching from around the corner. I backed up to the spot I had by the parked car and continued to lean on it. He was getting close to the front door when I just blurted out ‘ Sally, scuse me, but Ed the owner said if I let you in I lose my job, but no way can I stop you man. I got a wife with two kids and need this job. ‘ I just waved my arms like one does when showing disgust. Sally, with his duck tail 50s haircut, greased back with a few strands hanging over his eyes, stopped his movement to the door. ‘ He said that, Ed?’ He apparently knew the owner well. ‘ Why the fuck is he gonna blame you for what those grease balls did to me?’ Then, just like that he came closer and joined me in leaning against the car. ‘ You’re not gonna lose your job man. I’ll just wait here for those assholes to come out.’ Suddenly, like out of a gangster movie three police cars come thundering over to the corner. Sally and I were startled as out of one of the cop cars comes what must have been a Captain, replete with the fruit salad on his vest. ‘ Where is he… Sally come over here.’ He approached Sally, put his arm around him like a coach does to his favorite player, and they walked off together. By now Ed the owner and Dutch and the bouncers reappeared. I sorted out a policeman and asked him what in the hell was going on. ‘ That’s Sally Smith. His old man is Joe Colombo’s Capo. He’s gotta be careful. He’s on parole.’ What was he in jail for I asked. ‘ Vehicular homicide. He ran over his girlfriend and killed her. His old man must have paid off a judge to finally get him out.’
Ed the owner came over to me, along with Dutch, to tell me what a great job I did in keeping Sally Smith out of the place until the cops came. The next weekend I went back to driving my cab.
Port Orange, Florida
386 760 0231