In an homage to her father’s 1970s LA hotspot, Liberty Ross is bringing roller skating to New York City. Ross discusses the story behind Flipper’s, her partnership with Saks Fifth Avenue, and more.
It was the golden age of Los Angeles’ roller skating culture, and Liberty Ross’s father, Ian Ross, had fallen in love with it. Liberty recalls that Ian, a British radio producer newly transported to the California sunshine, locked into the new community quickly upon his arrival.
For three years beginning in 1979, Ross — who was nicknamed “Flipper” because he walked with a limp — created an outlet of his own under the name Flipper’s Roller Disco Boogie Lounge.
Located on the corner of La Cienega and Santa Monica boulevards, it took off as a cultural hotspot. It was an institution with two personalities, known both for its family-friendly day events and its wild evening get-togethers. Everyone from Prince and The Go-Go’s to Jane Fonda and Arnold Schwarzenegger could be found in attendance on a given night.
And above all, it was built on the premise of inclusivity. It was a place where people came to indulge with one another and be present in performance, art, and conversation.
Now, Liberty Ross is hoping to bring her father’s original vision back to life, this time in one of the most iconic venues in Manhattan.
From the heart of Hollywood, to the heart of NYC, Flipper’s World rink is the latest addition in the redevelopment of Rockefeller Center’s campus-wide recreation. Designed by Bureau Betak and developed in partnership with Tishman Speyer, Flipper’s is now open to the public through October. It’s the first time since 1940 that the Rockefeller Center rink will feature roller skating in its warmer months.
The pop-up offers the vintage vibes that made the original Flipper’s so memorable. Its floors are made of tile with mirrored walls and features the hot-pink-and-white logo in the center. Decorating the walls of the changing area, there are photos of the stars and staples who graced the storied wood floors of the original rink.
The revived Flipper’s will carry the same kind of inclusive, iconic energy it once held captive in the late ’70s. Ross plans to open a London flagship for Flipper’s later this year. As she says, “We’re only getting started.”
NATE LOUIS: You were probably fairly young when the original Flipper’s was around but what are your memories of how its legacy has lived on in your family?
LIBERTY ROSS: [When my dad] was 17, he had a car crash and nearly lost his leg completely. Luckily they managed to save it but he’s walked with a limp ever since and his friends nicknamed him “Flipper.” As a result of that, he’s never been able to roller skate but he’s always been so intoxicated by the culture around it. The music, the fashion, the entire community— it really inspired him.
I really believe the same as my dad. Roller skating is the great equalizer. It’s all about joy and family. Flipper’s is family and it means a lot to my family and to my dad. A lot of the skaters here in New York City, they all went to Flipper’s in Hollywood. It’s fun to bring back and be able to hear old stories and just sort of keep adding to our extended family.
NL: What made you want to relaunch a New York version? What are you most excited for as you bring this space to life?
LR: I was super excited to hear that Rockfeller Center was wanting to do more for actual New Yorkers and less skewed towards tourism. I’d read about Rough Trade Records moving here and it’s originally from Ladbroke Grove— the same street I was born on in West London and we’ve always loved Rough Trade. We’re music people so when I came to check [Rough Trade] out, they were putting really cool, different places around here and I’d always wondered why they didn’t flip the Ice to [wood] when they have the most iconic rink in the world.
So I decided to call ’em up and just be like, ‘Hey, I’m Flipper’s daughter’ and I was working on my book at the time, which tells the story of all these images you see when you come to Rockefeller Center from [the original] Flipper’s. Every image on these walls tells a story. I made a huge collage to pay homage to this idea of family, mixed with new skater families and all these old posters of the The Go-Go’s and Prince doing his Dirty Mind tour set.
I said “Hey would you guys be up for putting a roller rink in?” And honestly they’ve been a dream partner. It was an instant ‘Yes.’ And we’ve just been rolling so smoothly ever since. I’m super grateful because what they have given the roller skating community is just such a gift. We’ve lost so many rinks across America, especially over the past couple of years. So it’s meaningful to my family and to our extended roller skating family to have space for skaters.
NL: You’re kicking off the launch with an outstanding lineup of performers, including your partner in this venture, Usher. How did you team up with him?
LR: Usher, I was actually introduced to through a mutual friend of ours about a year ago and we both realized that we share the same dream. He’s obviously a huge skater and I invited him over to our house. I had recently turned our garage into a mini Flipper’s because when all the rinks started shutting down, especially for COVID, we needed somewhere to escape.
For my husband’s [Jimmy Iovine] birthday, I did that, and [Usher] came to see it and he was so inspired. He’s like, “Wow I’ve been trying to do this. Skating is everything.”
We both share this same passion and now we’re partners and we just want to spread the word and positive energy.
NL: You touched on it briefly with Prince and The Go-Go’s — music has always been an integral part of Flipper’s and roller skating culture as a whole. How will it continue to play a role in the new Flipper’s World?
LR: Music is the jet fuel to skaters and it’s super diverse. If you look at my book, you’ll see all kinds of different bands that played at Flipper’s — from punk to disco to new wave — it was all happening there. So we’re gonna do the same here. We’ll have different music every night of the week. There’ll be something for everyone here.
NL: You will also be dropping some merch. Can you give us a sense of what we might expect from the line that will debut later this month – and some potential collaborations down the line?
LR: We’ve got incredible collabs coming out that I’m not allowed to talk about yet. We’ve got our OG Flipper’s T-Shirts that my parents had from the ‘70s, and we’ve brought it all back. We have the original roller skate, which is Royal Blue Suede with Red laces and wheels.
It’s just the beginning! We have a lot lined up.
NL: You’ve teamed up with Saks Fifth Avenue around the common cause of mental health awareness. How did you make this connection? Why is this a cause that you hold so dearly?
LR: I made up a little mantra, “Less Scroll, More Roll” mainly because I’m a mom and I really see the impact of all of the scrolling [online] and I think particularly coming out of a pandemic where we were all so isolated, a lot of people feel so lonely and depression is high so it’s been such a concern for me. And what I love about roller skating is that it forces you to be present in your body. It’s a complete freedom. In seconds you can forget about all the worries. It’s just something that’s inevitable when you strap on the wheels.
I partnered with Saks, which I’m super proud of, and for every single pair of roller skates that we rent for the next six months, we donate $1 from the skates to the Saks Foundation, which is all rooted in mental health initiatives.
And every Flipper’s that we open, because I’m opening one in London in a few months time as well, we’ll partner with a charity there. That one’s going to be Girls Talk, which is all about mental health.
It’s all about giving back. When you roll with us, just know that you are contributing to something really important in the world today.
Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace @ Rock Center is open April – October 2022. For tickets and more information, visit here.