The Ice Palace Cherry Grove Est. 1970
The Cherry Grove hotel complex was built in 1957 after a fire. The restaurant/ club was always part of the plan.
The properties all were owned by Jimmy Merry including the Sea Shack, however the Cherry Grove hotel had many lives, but the one that stuck is the Ice Palace. First as the Batcave, then the Tiffany Room restaurant. Hosted and managed by Jimmie Daniels. Jimmie was a black gay singer playing on the NY cabaret circuit. Created by owner Jimmy Merry in 1965 he hired singer Jimmie Daniels to be the front person, and to bring an air of sophistication. Designed by Arthur Brill. A formal place painted dark green with Tiffany lamps hanging over each table. It never caught on and was dropped several seasons later. Singer Jimmie Daniels would move onto the Pines at John Whytes Yacht Club.
1969. Local Realtor Ted Drach and Howard “Tiger” Curtis, Paul Bonin purchase the Hotel club and Sea Shack from Jimmy Merry.
In the summer of 1969 Michael Fesco a Broadway chorus boy between gigs found himself managing what was being referred to as the Boom Boom room in Cherry Grove. He turned up for the interview in a black mohair suit and tie., and within a month found himself running the whole complex. This included the hotel itself, the Sea Shack restaurant, and hotel bar. He immediately saw the potential in what he thought was the ugliest club he had ever seen. The club could fit 1,000 people easy, and so he set out to create Fire Islands first Disco at a time when gay liberation was exploding on the streets of Manhattan. After going to a club called “Sanctuary”, and experiencing the merging trend of a DJ and the crowds dynamic conversation that was beginning to happen he felt he had to bring that to Fire Island.
After reading a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald called ” The Ice Palace” he thought the name was perfect for the then Boom Boom room, which during season could get very hot.
Creating the new design Fesco armed with a staple gun he covered the walls with a rolls of discount industrial tinfoil purchased on Canal Street, and in keeping with the latest trends the antique jukebox was replaced with a sound system and DJ who could establish a mood with a sweaty blend of dance music. The equipment was rented for the summer as this was all unfamiliar territory. The new Ice Palace Disco opened on May 30th 1970 with a line outside that ran all the way to the beach with 18,000 attending. Charging $5.00 admission his rent for the season was assured.
Michael Fesco 1970.
There was a corral that you had to pass through in order to get to the dance floor. Here is where the counting of heads would begin one girl, three boys, and again as if you were dancing man to man you could get arrested. As the decade changed a looser environment began to happen on Saturday nights. Over one thousand patrons would arrive, many from the nearby Pines as word was out that the Ice Palace was the place to dance. Checkpoints, and counting heads were thrown by the wayside as men would dance with men to the new Disco beat that was beginning to emerge. Fesco took inspiration from an earlier trip to England where the gay locals had reinvented high tea with bloody Mary’s. He imported the custom with a twist; he rented the largest tea service he could find along with bone china cups and saucers. He then enrolled a bevy of Cherry Grove’s famous Drag Queens to pour out. They would arrive in ornate ball gowns with entourages in tow. Sunday Tea became a must do as the club was invaded by boatloads of daytrippers. At 4pm the population of the Ice Palace swelled to thousands. He soon would bring this concept and more back to NYC where he would open the members only Flamingo, Sunday nights at Studio 54, and 20/20. He now runs the highly successful “Sea Tea” New York’s only Gay Sailing Tea Dance which debuted in 1997.
The Ice Palace’s main competition was the nearby Sandpiper in the Pines. Owned by Ron Malcolm and Gene Smith they had converted the former seafood restaurant only to a trendy disco and upscale restaurant catering to the mixed sophisticated clientele. Dancing would begin at 11:30 as tables were pushed away and end at 2 am. The fact that the Sandpiper was mainly a restaurant and secondly a Disco with a lack of DJ setup made the Ice Palace a more favorably place to dance, however the upwardly mobile gay population of the Pines were feeling the class divide between the Grove vs Pines.
The advent of a live DJ was the draw at the Ice Palace. Saturday night became the night that all came. Including the boys of the Pines. As the pulsating disco beat was thrown down by top DJs like Roy Thode the body heat would create a fog of Anil nitrate and the drug of the moment.
Throughout the decades the ownership has changed. From the Snoop sisters, to a Bulova heir, a Budweiser distributer from Clare Rose, to a Veterinarian.
The men of the Pines made the trek to the Ice Palace every Saturday night as it was the place to get down with the latest in Disco music with DJs from the New York scene, and to experiment with drugs to heighten the dance experience until dawn. However as the 80’s arrived so did AIDS . As they watched many of their friends pass the Pines was creating their own nightclub called “The Pavilion.”
Fashion Shows were also a featured event.
Johny Pool hosts… 1967.
The pool bar managed by Johny Pool turned into a major part of the Ice Palace. There with many blenders going he would create all kinds of signature drinks.
Johny was a veteran having started at the Sea Shack, and worked his way up. He and his blended creations soon became synonymous with the Ice Palace. Arriving in 1963 with friend Charity Charles he found a home. He settled into his house “No Strings”. There he met Jimmy Merry who owned the Sea Shack. He got his first job as a pool boy at the Tiffany Room. With no working bar at the pool he would have to take an order then run the way around to the Sea Shack and back. Great exercize , but by the time he got back the ice was melting. There had to be a better way, and Johny figured it out. Taking an old dresser he created a makeshift bar area at the pool. At the end of the 1966 season those left would gather with what was left in liquor and a random blender found. There Johny began creating his signature drinks. The next season a tent pool bar was made and the Blender drink sensation was born. Peach Flip, and more became the drinks to have…
There he managed the beginning of what would become the in spot in Cherry Grove.
Owner Jimmy Merry expanded on the Ice Palace name by opening in New York City. It was located at 57 West 57th Street (and 6th Ave.), and was downstairs one flight at this location. It was perhaps most well known for its “Tea Dances” every Sunday afternoon. Long lines of people would often be seen in every season forming queues on W. 57th St. moving East towards 5th Ave. waiting to gain entry into the fabled nightspot. Opened in 1977-1985.
Owner Jimmy Merry with Calvin Klein and Don Armenti.
As the 80’s and 90’s arrived business on Fire Island only got bigger, and so did the shows…
The Pool show was always a part of the entertainment complex.
Noted performers like Divine, Grace Jones, France Joli, and others performed at the Ice Palace throughout the 80’s and 90’s.
And about the shows…her name was Bella.
In the 90’s there was a phenomenon going on in Cherry Grove. Her name was Bella, and weekly she would give Bella’s Dish on what was going on in the community, with a twist. Whether you were in the Grove or the Pines, her show was the place to be….
Bella’s first visit to F.I. was in 1967 for the Miss F.I. contest. In 1972 she was invited out to Cherry Grove by Community house entertainer Dick Addison after he saw her in N.J. to perform. She fell in love then and there with F.I. Her 30 years of performing her weekly shows at the Ice Palace are part of Cherry Grove history, and Pines…
1991. Cherry Grove’s Bella, and John Whyte. In our conversation last summer we asked Bella about her relationship with JW. At this point John had embraced the Invasion as part of Pines history. John was always good to her. He would ask about bringing her show to the Pines, but Bella’s roots remained in the Grove, and it was there she felt more at home.
Bella was the facebook of the Island. She would dish about all the comings and goings in Cherry Grove.
And of course the annual Miss Fire Island contest that takes place around the Pool at the Ice Palace. Established in 1965 this event still draws huge crowds.
The millennium arrived, and so did Daniel Nardicio…
and with that the Underwear Party that would take over the Friday night.
He also brought back legitimate entertainment of a high caliber with performers like Liza Minnelli and Alan Cummings, Sandra Bernhard, Margaret Chow, Chita Rivera, and Carol Channing and Justin Vivian Bond.