The Islanders Club Est. 1968
It started with bus number 13 stopped at a storeroom on 322 East 34th Street between 1st and 2nd NYC . The chartered bus stocked up with alcohol, wine, soda, and mixes. The crew waited on board. they were dressed in uniforms consisting of tight white pants with white sailor belts and beautifully pressed orange or blue polo shirts. These were the colors of the logo of the Islanders Club. The Islanders Club was a luxury bus ride from Manhattan to the Sayville Ferry. Created by Blue Flettrich. It was his dream to create a special and exclusive means of travel for gay customers who did not want to be subjected to the general populations prejudices at the time during the ride from NYC to the ferry terminal in Sayville. The years between 1970-80 AIDS was a terrifying epidemic and was not being discussed openly. The gay population had to be discreet about where they socialized. They would party in Mafia run bars in the city where they could go unnoticed. In addition the ride on the LIRR was horrible with no air conditioning, no seating, and trains always running late. Once you arrived at Sayville you were taunted and ridiculed. In later years this was all just a distant memory, however it was real then.
Blue Flettrich & Sandy Paul Money below.
Blue believed that gay people should be proud of who they are, and that they belong in first class accommodations. So he commissioned a bus line, made a schedule, and his vision came to life. You needed to be a club to charter a bus, so he created the Islanders Club. There was a vast schedule with 35 pick-up points in Manhattan. Eight buses at once would be running during rush hour. They would start in Chelsea, which was just starting to become a relevant neighborhood. They would travel down to the Village, across the West Village, into the East Village, and then up 3rd Ave through Gramercy Park neighborhood to the meet at the Islanders Club office. They would then meet all buses and travel out together in tandem.
For awhile they even ran from Brooklyn Heights, however they discontinued due to poor ridership.
Stuart the crew captain would get on the microphone once you were aboard to make an announcement “Good evening ladies and gentlemen my name is Stuart, and I would like to welcome you to the Islanders Club Bus Service where you can get to Cherry Grove or the Pines. I’d like to inform you that the first four rows are for non smoking guests. LOL. Once we clear the midtown tunnel, our bartender Manny Frier will be pleased to make your cocktails. . Steve and Michael will be starting from the front of the bus with cocktails and snacks. I’ll be starting from the rear to collect fares. To use the service you had to be a Islanders member or guest of a member. Shows at the Pavilion, Monster, and Ice Palace were announced.
On Fridays, five or six buses would be dispatched during the day to different gay areas. There was a crew of four on each bus: one of them collected the money , one fixed the drinks, and two were servers. At times Elite and Ford models would recruit the bus crew. The Pines & the Grove promoted the club as Camaraderie with cocktails. When a event was happening the bus would join in with décor and special cocktails. Printed schedules were left in the Pines & Grove, and seats were made by reservations at the Botel. Sleek looking people dressed in designer clothes waiting on corners in 1974 were their audience. It as describes as a classy airline on the ground. Between 1974 and 1995, the bus had 41 passengers. The only problem was the joint enjoyment of music. Sandy Paul Money part of Blues entourage remembers ” mostly men , we always served drinks, and a backed up LIE.”
The club expanded to include a reverse commute from Fire Island to NYC for Broadway shows. Because of major connections as many Broadway producers, directors were staying out on Fire Island Blue was able to get whole orchestra seats for many shows. From Bonds International Club to the River Club Islanders would fill them all with their after Broadway parties. Blue developed portable liquor cabinets stored in the bus, with two doors to hold the mixes and soda. The bar had straps tied to the railings on the stairs to secure it from falling, and the shelves folded out. All passengers saw drinks coming down the aisle , carried by gorgeous gay men in tight white pants.
All new employees would meet at 34th St and take a practice trip all the way to Sayville. He taught the crew how to hold drinks. For practice they would use food coloring in water not to waste the booze. The other hand held the overhead rack, napkins, and snacks. Blue Flettrich was also instrumental in organizing the first gay cruise. . In the late 60’s , they had exclusively gay cruises on the MV Renaissance, Stella Solaris, Atlantic from Home Lines, and Haileys Comet Cruise. There was an Islanders newsletter. In 1975 an article was written in the NY Times about the cruises. It was the first time the word gay was used as a synonym for homosexual, and the last time until a decade later.
At the end of the article was an address to send for more information about the cruises. Blue received 10,000 responses.
Copy courtesy of Dusty Grant FI Tide.