1970s’ venue Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace reborn in West London

1970s’ venue Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace reborn in West London

1970s’ venue Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace reborn in West London

93ft designed a space to bring an LA venue dubbed “Studio 54 on wheels” to a new generation of skating community.

Prince, Robin Williams, Nile Rodgers, Cher, Arnold Schwarzenegger, David Bowie. These are some of the faces you might have found in the nightlife hotspot of late 1970s Los Angeles known as Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace. Now, in archive photography blown-up on the walls, these same faces look down on visitors to the new Flipper’s, as it bids to revive its West Hollywood heyday in the west London of the present.

Flipper’s was founded in 1979 by Ian “Flipper” Ross, after the British radio producer emigrated to Los Angeles with his family. Although unable to skate himself – his Flipper moniker coming from a foot injury sustained in a car crash – he became enamoured with its specific subculture. Soundtracked by the satisfying drawl of wheels on wood, and loud, loud music, Flipper’s became known for hedonism and fun, often dubbed Studio 54 on wheels, before it was forced to close in 1981.

Image Henry Woide.

Behind its reinvention is the founder’s daughter, Liberty Ross, best-known as a model of the 1990s and 2000s. A pop-up opened this summer at the Rockefeller Center in New York, but Exhibition London in White City is to be its permanent flagship.

Conceived by people behind Printworks

The site is hired to Flipper’s by Spaces & Stories, Broadwick Live’s full-service event space provider, the company also behind Printworks and Magazine London. As Flipper’s it becomes a multi-use venue with a 250-capacity roller rink – which doubles as a gig space – at its heart. While this is “where the magic happens”, Hubbard says, there is also the Hot Dogs and Caviar diner and a palm-tree dotted hireable mezzanine called the Lizard Lounge, both named after the original Flipper’s, and a retail space selling its distinctive blue suede skates and a new range of apparel.

Image Henry Woide

The interior design was led by Tim Hubbard, founder of Sheffield-based design practice 93ft which also worked on the earlier renovation of the building as an events and private-hire space, after an initial feasibility study and concept for Exhibition London by Nissen Richards Studio.

London-based studio Commission was responsible for refreshing the Flipper’s brand. With the resulting “incredible new take” on its heritage along with the strength of Flipper’s legacy, Hubbard says, “it was very easy for us to start plugging all the relevant pieces of the jigsaw together”.

Image Henry Woide

The overall brief was “to make it really inclusive”, Hubbard says. “Ultimately Flipper’s is a movement, and the venue is the space for that community”.

He describes a “high/low concept” of contrasting elements at the core of a largely black and white design, saying “It could be [anything] from punk to meditation – that’s what Flipper’s was back in the day: this melting pot of people and cultures.”

Image Henry Woide

Archive photography from the original venue is a key element, incorporated into the interiors across its walls, upholstery and in immersive digital content from Nvisible and Commission.

Meanwhile material choices were shaped by the fact that as a skate and gig venue, it will have to “take a bit of a beating”, combined with Ross’ insistence on it being somewhere “where people could be who they wanted to be and do what they wanted to do”, Hubbard explains. He compares this to Ian Ross’ original “build it like you’re broke” mindset, that made Flipper’s “this real late-Seventies, early-Eighties grungy venue”.

As such, the downstairs retains its concrete floors while new interior materials include steel work, mesh cages for areas such as the bar and bar back, hard-wearing Hexagrip flooring and plywood stained black. 93ft designed and made all the furniture using their own workshops. Hubbard says the pared-back palette worked well with the pink and orange neon of the lighting, adding that Flipper’s high-quality production experience meant that they brought in “world-class” specialists for areas such as sound and lighting.

Other details such as mirrored panels on the rink barrier serve to amplify the atmosphere by reflecting the lights, content on digital screens and skater’s movements back into the space: “It really does feel quite futuristic, and allows this three-dimensional content to bounce around”, Hubbard says.

A large pivot door opens up the retail space

93ft also built a nine-meter-long ramp visible behind the mesh bar by which the skates “find their own way back” to the skate hire, Hubbard explains, while also helping to cut down on queues.

For the rink, a thin “floating timber” flooring system was devised to comply with the landlord’s requirement that it not be bonded to the concrete slab, while avoiding steps between levels for its uses as a gig venue. The rink floor itself was provided by Danish specialists Junkers, and the distinctive black finish, achieved using stained beech, was a design element Ross insisted on.

From the launch event. Image Melissa Gardner

Flipper’s opens in a difficult nightlife climate, with a reported near-third of venues closing in the UK since the pandemic. Kevin Wall, a Flipper’s co-founder comments that Broadwick Live was picked for its “track record managing and operating, curating and delivering authentic music-led cultural destinations and events”, which, as Broadwick Live CEO Simon Tracey comments, is part of a mission “to preserve and reimagine disused industrial spaces and unexpected corners of our cities into new centres of cultural gravity with a global resonance, and a lasting local impact.”

For this venue, the building’s heritage as a Grade II-listed power station dating to 1899 adds to the overall experience, Hubbard explains. He adds that despite the need for “breakneck speed” of the client’s timeline, with 93ft only starting work on the project in March of 2023, the resulting “quality of the environment makes the Flipper’s experience like no other”.

Image Henry Woide

“You can’t help but be overwhelmed” he says. “When you’ve got brilliant digital content, brilliant brand, great sound, great music, great lighting, great interiors, good drinks, great service, an amazing experience of a fantastic rink. And then you see all those people, that community coming together in that space. It’s a real energy”.

Coinciding with the release of a teaser video by Flipper’s and Dr. Dre, the venue opened on 11 November after a launch event with guests such as Mary J. Blige and Usher – an avid skater himself – and performances from Central Cee, Kaytranda and General Levy.

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