The retro party on wheels otherwise known as Down & Derby was born in Pittsburgh, but it lives in Las Vegas. Described by West Coast founder Richard Alexander as “a throw-back to your fourth-grade birthday party with drinks, roller skates and good music,” the monthly Thursday night party now reaches seven cities, coast to coast, and will soon expand to three more.
Imitators (such as the cowboyed-up Boot, Scoot N Boogie at Revolver and, more directly, Roller Boogie at Crown) have come—and, judging from weak attendance, may soon go—but the city’s undisputed favorite night of booze-infused retro roller fun is still going strong. The party encourages “short shorts, spandex, gold chains and tube socks” for the guys, while ladies are encouraged to “seal the deal” with striped shorts and “thighs of steel.” The result? A carefree night of “skating, drinking, dancing and making out on eight wheels.”
Alexander (full disclosure: He used to work for Vegas Seven sister company Spy On Vegas) says home is where Down & Derby’s heart is.
“The people of Las Vegas, as crazy as it sounds, they made Down & Derby what it is,” he says.
The 26-year-old former Abercrombie & Fitch model tells Vegas Seven about the evolution of Down & Derby, and life in the round.
Where did the first D&D go down?
The first one ever was on May 20, 2006, at Belvederes in Pittsburgh. The first one in Las Vegas was at Beauty Bar in February 2009. It was a couples’ skate kickoff [on] the 13th of February—it was the ultimate date night.
How did D&D make its way to the West Coast?
I met Vince [Masi, the founder], and he was like, “You know I’m doing this roller skating party,” and I was like, “I would love to help out,”—but I didn’t have the money to be like, “Oh, I’ll buy 50 percent of it.” … So I saved up a load of money in my sock drawer. … Three months in, we started getting offers from other cities— St. Louis, L.A., Pomona. We started doing L.A. in May 2009. Today I do Down & Derby in San Francisco, L.A., Pomona, Las Vegas. Vince does St. Louis, Pittsburgh, New York.
How do the D&Ds vary, city to city?
Each city is different. In L.A., we bring in a little more progressive talent that wouldn’t necessarily work in Las Vegas, like Wes Miles, the lead singer of Ra Ra Riot.
San Fran is a lot of hardcore jam skaters—it’s still a party, but it’s almost a skills competition. And Pittsburgh is grimy. It’s in a grimy bar, grimy downtown style—just sweaty dance party with roller skates and PBR spilled everywhere.
Why did a retro hipster party move to a major casino?
Mike Fuller and Jon Gray from the Palms all been to the party. … They were obviously doing some kind of recon work; I don’t think these guys were there to hang out. … [Then] I got a phone call from Mike Fuller and Jimmy Aston—this is back when Fuller was still at N9NE Group [which runs nightlife at the Palms]; he’s at Angel Management Group now. He was like, “We would love to do it here.” I actually avoided him for a while, and then I finally was, like, screw it, let’s do it.
Why did you hold off?
The party wasn’t ready. … I wanted the party to actually be legitimately good before I was going to [move it into] a nightclub, so I let it grow to the point where … we were hitting 600 people and there was no room to even skate. When people were coming up to me and asking me, “Where do we skate at?” that’s when I knew it was time to move to a bigger venue.
Did you get any push-back from the downtown crowd when it moved to the Palms? A lot of the people who came to the one downtown come to the one at Rain. There might be some people who just refuse nightclubs altogether … but I can’t help that.
Is it more expensive now that it’s in a casino?
Vegas is just known for raping people when it comes to pricing. … but it’s always cheap to get in, no matter where we’ve been. … We’ve kept the really cheap door, and there’s $5 beers and $5 shots, which is very comparable to downtown, … and there’s no dress code, ever. I guess those concepts are very fresh for people in Las Vegas, because that’s all this city is about—dress code, drink prices and cover.
The combination of booze, roller skates and stairs doesn’t sound all that safe. Aren’t you afraid of being sued?
We have a very strict insurance policy. That’s our biggest cost, the insurance—$500-plus, per city, and we do seven cities a month, so it gets expensive. … You cannot come into the club without signing the waiver, even if you’re not skating … because if somebody was to run into you, you could sue. [The insurance] covers all aspects, from drinking to skating: From skating, to getting hit by skates, to a wheel falling off, to your shoelace breaking and you falling over.
Has anyone been seriously hurt?
No, knock on wood. The worst so far has been a sprained wrist.
Any close calls?
The most dangerous place we ever had it was Coachella. We built this enormous, 5,000-square-foot wooden rink. It was the afterparty, so everybody was already effed-up on drugs and booze, and then they had this skating party from 1 to 4 a.m. The center of the skate floor was a dance party—the whole center was these kids sweating and probably on Ecstasy, dancing, and the whole outside was these kids flying, going as fast as they can on these skates, and they were just having a good time.
At what point did you realize D&D had arrived?
We did Girls Next Door in October—it was a private party for Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion. I know it’s a stupid show—Girls Next Door, whoop-de-doo—but it’s a pretty good stage for a party that just started at Beauty Bar in Las Vegas, you know? I thought so anyway. … Back in the day [Hefner] did a roller disco, and they wanted to try it again. They brought back some of the old Playboy Bunnies, like Barbi [Benton]—whatever her name is, the famous one. That was pretty cool.
Boot, Scoot N Boogie and Roller Boogie are suspiciously similar parties. Is imitation the highest form of flattery, or frustration?
I wasn’t really worried too much about Boot, Scoot N Boogie because … it’s way out in Santa Fe Station, and they have their own crowd built-in out there. It was cool that people were trying to do another skating party … but then the Crown room, they popped up right across the street [at the Rio], and they were saying they were the originals, and they had more experience doing these, and I just thought that was kind of, you know, very weird and not cool.
It’s not like you have a bar, and you’re just playing Top 40 music; it’s a roller-skating event. They took a very unique idea across the street, and they copycatted a little bit, and I don’t think that’s cool of anybody—I don’t care if it’s roller skating, my party, or any party.
Roller Boogie organizer Frankie Anobile has said he and DJ R.O.B. have been doing Roller Boogie, or roller boogies of some sort, since the ’80s, and that they threw similar weekly events for about two years in the ’90s that combined the love of booze and roller skating.What do you say to that?
Well, if they were doing it years and years ago, I never heard of it—maybe I’m too young. But when I [started doing Down & Derby], nobody was like, “Oh, that’s the idea that so-and-so had!” … The only thing I heard was, “Oh, it’s like Crystal Palace but with alcohol.” So I would say Crystal Palace probably has more respect on a lower disco front than what [Anobile and R.O.B.] are claiming.
So are you saying you were the first?
I would never say that, even if I was the first. … Neither did I invent the roller skate, nor did I invent the roller-disco revival party.
Regardless of who created the concept, D&D is the biggest one in town, and has the most dedicated following. Of all your regulars, who do you consider the guy to watch?
LeVar Maxwell—he’s the one who always wears the Afro. He does backflips and front-flips and 360s and crazy stuff like that. … He actually did this move where he put a rope around his neck, and a rope around another person’s neck, and he spins in a circle with this girl on skates spinning around his neck. It was scary, I’m not going to lie. I was, like, Oh, shiiiiiit.
His real job is in construction … but he moonlights as a jam skater. He wears the Afro, and a half-buttoned shirt and his skate pants … [but] if you saw him on the street, you’d never know it was him.