There’s Tony Manero with his classic swagger walking down 86th Street in Bensonhurst.
There’s Tony Manero in the shadows of the elevated subway, the 20th Avenue stop just over his head.
There’s Tony Manero swinging a can of Carnival paint in his left hand.
Such are the opening credits of the 1977 movie classic Saturday Night Fever, known far and wide as the iconic disco classic.
John Travolta, who played the working class disco dance champion, was definitive Brooklyn at the time. The actor hit small screen stardom as Vinnie Barbarino in Welcome Back, Kotter, which aired from 1975-1979. All this from a kid born in Englewood, New Jersey.
Re-watching Saturday Night Fever years later was somewhat of a revelation. Etched in memory were dance contests and the leisure suits, but it’s also a serious drama that addresses the angry-young-man violence of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn — and the working-class Italian-American tough guy.
The film is based on British writer and rock journalist Nik Cohn’s Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night, an article published by New York Magazine in 1976.
All that said, there’s one mysterious action which takes place before the opening credits of the film finish.
There’s Tony Manero eating a double-decker slice of pizza.
Oh, he’s still swaggering. He’s swinging that can of Carnival paint in his right hand while hungrily devouring two greasy slices — one on top of the other. That classic piece of wax paper cradles his 86th Street on-the-go victuals, the only barrier between the greasy pizza and Manero’s firm grip.
The film functions, not only as a tough drama with those classic disco moves, but a “realistic” exploration of the Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge neighborhoods. Of course, 2001 Odyssey, the discothèque with the famous illuminated floor, was the flashy center of it all. Once located at 802 64th Street (at 8th Avenue) in Bay Ridge, the building was demolished long ago.
But Lenny’s Pizza — the shop Manero stopped by to get his double-decker slice — is alive and kicking. Located at 1969 86th Street between Bay 23rd Street and 20th Avenue, the joint still has the same signage from the 1970s.
In 2017, you can stroll down 86th Street and catch many a neighbor eating a slice. But no one, but no one, was munching double-decker style.
“Neh, that’s not a Brooklyn tradition,” said the pizza guy behind the counter. The three other counter guys quickly agreed, each smirking when I asked what seemed to be a common question.
“People come in who like the movie and eat it double-decker here,” he added. “But they’re just imitating the movie.”
I quickly became one of those fans. I sat myself down in the back, piled two high, and started to eat.
It was admittedly an awkward feat. And the truth is — Lenny’s doesn’t serve the most delectable slice. The plain slice is a bit on the extra-greasy side with a crust that could be crunchier.
I got about a third through and called it a lunch.
That’s not really the point, is it? Tony Manero’s meal was merely a momentary stop off, a daily ritual, an efficient attempt of eating while on the run. And a fascinating one at that.
But it’s Manero’s invention alone, as opposed to an eating style steeped in Southern Brooklyn tradition.
In 2017, 86th Street is no longer as gritty as 1977. After all, there’s a Starbucks right next door.
And while Bensonhurst neighbors complain that the neighborhood ain’t what it used to be, one doesn’t have to squint too hard to imagine a double-decker feast.
After all, the best myths are never forgotten.