Friday, May 14, 2010

First Post 2010, Take 2: The Big Apple Disco Days

Back in late 2009 on the website, I had noted their listing of disco clubs of the 1970s and early 1980. Missing though was my old disco hangout, a Cleveland area disco known as The Big Apple” (nothing to do with NYC other than the obvious reference). So I joined the site and listed The Big Apple on the chance that other folks who used to frequent the place might comment as well.
Well now I’m stunned (in a happy way) with the responses, including the former club owner (Les Bortel, now known as Lee Bortel) and the drummer (Billy Smith) who used to drum to the music (which really added something to the experience).

Link to DiscoMusic.Com listing for "The Big Apple".

This of course takes me back to my days when I frequented The Big Apple (1977-1979) as a fresh-faced 18 year old (you had to be 18 to get into the club which dovetailed with the then State of Ohio drinking age (18 for products containing 3.2 percent alcohol or less). Oh the memories from those days. From my first visit shortly after turning 18 with a group of friends (first Night Out with The Guys) to my 1979 visit right after graduating from USMC Boot Camp (which was my last visit), that disco holds special memories. During the Fall of 1977 and Spring of 1978, The Big Apple would become a near-weekly ritual for our group. We’d go to socialize, drink a little…OK…more than a little in some cases and, of course, to meet girls.
And that's where sometimes things got a little tricky. OK so there were plenty of lovely young ladies there. But being only 18 and a new 18 at that meant that most of the ladies were a few years your senior and probably not that interested in a guy fresh out of high school. They were mostly either there with their friends or looking for a guy a few years older, and old enough to buy highball drinks. But I did manage to hold my own there, meet some nice girls and overall had a great time. But us 18 year olds found ourselves a little overmatched at first.
(I will admit I did much better back in the "minor leagues" at Skateland (more on this concept later) with the girls, most of whom were younger than me. Unfortunately none of those younger girls were allowed in The Big Apple, except on the occasional teen night (where a young guy like me had a better chance), but I never got there for teen nights (I didn't know they existed at first)).

Also at The Big Apple, the owner (Lee Bortel) wanted patrons who showed class. So you had to dress up which meant no blue jeans, t-shirts or football jerseys (there went my old high school wardrobe). Most guys wore the silk shirts & nice pants of the day (polyester pants of course). A few dressed up in suit & tie (in retrospect I wish I had). So you had to look decent, well-groomed and all. Of course a lot of the guys got roaring drunk, thereby losing that well-groomed look late into the night.
(UPDATE, 14 May 2010: Twenty years later in 1999 during my Single Again days, I briefly frequented the clubs over at Universal Citywalk in Orlando, FL, in suit & tie of course. At first as a single, then later with my then-girlfriend (now wife) Kyrsten.
Of coruse I drew some comparisons with my days at The Big Apple, especially how the ladies outfits had changed over the years. Oh boy had they changed, some leaving little to the imagination (backless outfits, tight black pants, etc). I did wonder though what if some of these "scantily dressed" ladies traveled back thru time and tried to get into The Big Apple with these outfits on. I'm imagining that the bouncers at the door probably would deny them entrance as their outfits were too revealing. I could be wrong though, Lee Bortel could probably better address this).
Presumably, they would easily get into at Nite Moves, another Cleveland disco. I have more info on this a little later on.
I also compared the clubs at Citywalk with The Big Apple, notably thegroove. OK so thegroove benefited from a 20 year technology gap in club special effects but still in my mind The Big Apple compared quite favorably. But I'm quite biased on this.

Since I was 18, I was in-between two worlds when it came to night life. The “minor leagues” represented by my time at Skateland in Johnstown PA (I commuted a lot between Cleveland and Ebensburg, PA in those days) and the “major leagues” represented by The Big Apple. Obviously the crowds were quite different, the younger crowd at Skateland (Skateland Story on this link) and the adult crowd at The Big Apple.
Now we did see some wild times at The Big Apple, including the inevitable make-out sessions in a dark corner. But that was pretty much limited to kissing your girlfriend. Nothing at all like the "wild times" witnessd at another Cleveland area club known as Nite Moves where outright sexual behavior went on. Lee kept that from happening at The Big Apple for the most part. I never knew of any outright sex or cocaine use going on, though I'm sure some addle-headed patrons gave it a try.
For further info on the long-defunct Nite Moves, check these information links by Erin O'Brien:.

Erin O'Brien's Blog on Nite Moves

Goodbye Sister Disco, Nite Moves article by Erin O'Brien

One note, I was the only one of our group who took the additional step of learning how to dance disco. It made it a lot easier to get a girl out on the dance floor if you knew your steps as well.
From here on in, I’ll just list some of my most vivid Big Apple memories instead of a long boring history of my days at the club. And I’ll keep it as factual as I can remember and not embellish them with BS. Like for example “I walked into The Big Apple one Friday night and came out with a girl on each arm, and 3 or 4 to spare (as a Cleveland area musician put it in one of his songs).

First Night And Beginner’s Luck: My first night at The Big Apple with my friends..and guess who is the only one to score a date with a girl there. None other than yours truly. OK so it was only that night, I never saw the girl again and all that but still. And I found out how irritating it was to have drunk friends of yours constantly saying, “c’mon Brad, friends share & share alike”

The Billards Room and winning those drinks: Now for the 18-20 y/o girls it was relatively easy for them to get a “highball” drink. All they had to do was charm some older guy out of it. This was before there were stiff penalties for such.
My tactic, win a drink at a game of pool from a older patron. At home I practiced a lot on our pool table so I became a pretty decent shot. Decent enough to win a lot of pool contests in the Big Apple’s billards room and win my fair share of drinks.

NY, You Got Me Dancing by Andrea True Connection: This song was a favorite at The Big Apple for obvious reasons. What I didn’t know at the time was who sang the song, I was surprised to find out it was Andrea True as I remembered her 1976 smash hit “More More More”. Come to find out later (on Sirius radio 70s channel) that “NY, You Got Me Dancing” itself charted in late 1976 (#23 I believe), but I never heard it played on the Cleveland or Pittsburgh pop radio station.
I remember how the DJ's would hit the strobe lights when a certain instrumental refrain of the song played. Made for quite the dancing experience.
Update note: In 2003, my wife Kyrsten and I took a young couple, Carri-Anne and her boyfriend Robert, both 18, (I'd known Carri-Anne since she was 9, the daughter of a military buddy) to Universal Citywalk. On the way over, I said to the couple, "hey give this a listen, this is what I used to rock out too when I was your age". I popped in the Andrea True Connection CD and played NY, You Got Me Dancing for them. Their reaction, "you really partied to that?".

Dance Practice: Some nights I went to The Big Apple to simply practice my dance steps and routines. Now I didn’t want to look like a dork out there by dancing by myself so if I didn’t have a partner at the time, I’d sort of “blend it” with some group of girls who were out there on the floor dancing, pretending I was with them. This worked quite well and I actually met a few ladies this way.

The Visitor From Out Of Town: That was the role I played on one Big Apple visit in late 1978 when I commuted back to Ohio from PA. Met a whole new set of people outside in line. They then invited me to their table (in exchange for what I called the price of admission, one pitcher of beer). This turned into one of the best nights I ever had at The Big Apple.

That Waitress, Who Was She: During that "Visitor from Out Of Town" visit, I distinctly remember this waitress with short blonde hair, who waited on our table. Especially because she kept giving my arm a squeeze every time she waited on us. Now I'm really not sure if she was interested in me, or just doing the flirtatious gesture as a way of getting the dollars to flow but anyway she was quite nice. I never did find out who she was. (Note to Lee Bortel, if you remember her by chance, I'll say she deserved a big raise and big tip).

My last visit after USMC Boot Camp, July 1979: Right after I graduated from USMC Boot Camp, I paid what turned out to be my final visit to The Big Apple. I had wanted to bring my new girlfriend Cheryl but she, being under 18 could not get in. And her parents at the time weren't too keen on her, age 15 dating a 19 year old (yes, I know kinda young but Cheryl was a blonde knockout. They would be far more accepting of us later when Cheryl turned 16).
So I ended up going just for old times sake. Got some nice compliments and thank yous about my being in the service from other folks there and it was nice to see the place again after the hell of USMC Boot Camp. But it just wasn’t as much fun without Cheryl being there with me. Of course I spent the rest of my 10-day leave glued to Cheryl whenever possible.

The Big Apple is long since gone (though the building may still exist) as it went thru several transformations, last I knew it was a country-western place called the Boot-Scootin Saloon but the memories remain of a very special and fun place during the days of youth (late teens, 20s) for my age group.


Erin O'Brien said...

Oh how I remember that 3.2 beer! Thanks for a great post and the shout-outs to my stuff, Hank.

Trust The Road said...

Great stories. I remember the waitress with the short blonde hair. She had a smile as beautiful as the morning sunrise. She was always the nicest person and was wonderful to be near. Her name was Kim if I am remembering correctly after all these years. I spent many nights there on the bar-back staff, and later as a bouncer.