Spotlight: The Pink
Whether people remember that one time they visited that weird dive bar in Buffalo—once called the Pink Flamingo, current name 223 Allen, still universally called the Pink—the bar has been a refuge for freaks, geeks, music fanatics, and the like for just under four decades. As you walk through the wooden door of the railroad-style purple house adorned with neon-green-painted flames, the putrid but pleasantly familiar stench of beer, sweat, tears, blood, and most likely a few other bodily fluids fills your nostrils. The red-lit sheen over the bar illuminates all its inhabitants with a devilish glow. It’s a haven for those looking to be immersed in stimulating conversation about music and culture, and it’s where mischief comes to play in the late hours.
At 3am the bar takes on its true identity. It sways and shakes up its temporary but recurrent visitors as the Cramps’ “Goo Goo Muck” reverberates from the speakers with a distinct crackle and pop. Every surface of the bar is covered in stickers advertising local bands, silly sayings, and various caricatures. Memorabilia and famous faces peek out behind the bar—photos of Prince and James Brown, for example. In the DJ booth there’s a kitschy velvet photo of Elvis.
On any given Saturday night you’ll find two blonde women sitting at the middle of the bar sipping mixed drinks, laughing at the top of their lungs, and jamming out to every song the DJ plays. Another staple patron of the bar is a curly-haired pool shark with electric lime green glasses and a free spirit. A few shadowy figures lean up against the door of the DJ booth bobbing their heads as they take in the music and wait to hear what song will play next; sometimes they poke their heads into the booth to praise or chastise the DJ. Close to the end of the bar in the back is an older, slender man giving warm greetings. As you sit down on a fraying, ripped bar stool, he analyzes your astrological sign, telling you about yourself; surprisingly his description is spot-on. On the uneven dance floor, an impromptu dance circle erupts. These are the kind of people who gravitate to this place: eccentric folk with stories to tell and talents to share.
When Mark Supples, at 23 years old, first opened the bar in 1983, it became a safe haven for the gay community and an early home for Goth kids. “I wanted people to think it was a gay bar so the knuckleheads from Brick Bar wouldn’t come in,” Supples says. Other early clientele included bikers, punk rockers, policemen, judges, neighborhood people, retirees, and drug dealers. On the first day the bar opened, it didn’t look much different than the bar does today, Supples says. “Except it was painted much cooler in the front, and the bathrooms were considerably cleaner.”
Another aspect of the bar that’s remained unchanged is the regular DJs offering up a diverse range of music in the compact DJ booth, a nook between the women’s and men’s bathrooms. Most of the DJs avoid spinning mainstream music and instead play an endless catalog of classic genres: garage rock, punk, soul, alternative rock, dream pop, reggae, funk, new wave, and any other genre imaginable.
One of the first DJs to grace the booth was Casino El Camino, who moved to Buffalo from Long Island in 1984 and played bass in the psychobilly Buffalo band the Splat Cats. He now owns a bar similar to the Pink called Casino El Camino in Austin, Texas, where he moved to in 1990 and currently resides. “I was always the guy who threw really good house and dorm parties,” he says. “I would make compilation tapes and stuff, and it just kind of grew out of that.”
In 1985 he asked Supples if he could try his hand at being a DJ and was spinning at the bar until 1990. He played an array of genres, from garage rock to glam to classic punk to rockabilly to hip-hop. One of his favorite songs to play back then was “Wild Thing” by Tone Loc. “If I liked the song, I would play it, but it had to flow,” he says. “It wasn’t like I was going to play ‘Highway Star’ by Deep Purple and then all of a sudden go into Tone Loc. There was sort of an element of a rhythm or a thematic element. Whether other people enjoyed it was another deal.”
Back when Casino manned the DJ booth, all the music he played was on vinyl, so the only way he could play someone’s request was if he had it and if he considered it a worthy pick. “So somebody would come up with like, ‘Hey, what about some Peggy Lee after this?’ and I’d be like, ‘You know what, I could really fuck up things and I like that. It doesn’t really work, but I’ll do it.’ People would come up and be like, ‘I really need to hear “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor,’ and I’d be like ‘Fuck you, go to Brick Bar.’”
A particularly memorable event for Casino was seeing the New York cult-garage band the Raunch Hands play at the bar in the mid-1980s. As for what he thinks makes the bar special, he says its longevity. Also, the time period he spent working there was significant to him personally and for the world of music culturally. “This was before the Goo Goo Dolls had become popular,” he says. “The Bills were doing poorly. Nothing was happening there, which is why I loved it. It was just like everybody had their own thing. It was before Nirvana made alternative popular. That was our social club. It was that and the Continental. The Continental was where you went for live music. The Pink was like the lounge of the ne’er-do-wells.”
Terry Sullivan, a well-known musician who has played in several bands, such as the Jumpers, Celibates, Terry and the Headhunters, the Restless, and Dollywatchers, also served as a DJ early on. Sullivan was one of the founding members of the Jumpers, who played from 1977 to 1979, and opened and toured with renowned acts of CBGB fame, including the Ramones, the B-52s, Patti Smith, Dead Boys, and the Talking Heads. Sullivan joined the ranks of DJs at the bar in 1987, starting out as a substitute for Gary Zoldos, who he knew through music.
“Initially, I stuck to a mixture of ‘Top of the Pops’ format with a twist, but I couldn’t resist throwing curveballs into my set,” Sullivan says.
Occasionally, the artists whose music the DJs played set foot in the bar. Some of these artists included Paul Westerberg, Chris Mars, and Tommy Stinson (the Replacements); Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers); Chris Robinson (The Black Crowes); Randy California (Spirit); Johnny Colt (Lynyrd Skynyrd);, David Johansen and Johnny Thunders (New York Dolls); and Buffalo-born Rick James. Of these artists, Sullivan says he conversed with James, Westerberg, Stinson, Johansen, and Thunders.
“Rick James wandered in one night dressed like a Spanish cowboy,” Sullivan recalls. “He drove up to the front of the building and parked in front with his white Bugatti. Rick seemed to need adoration and definitely got it at the Pink, signing autographs and chatting up his female fans.”
Sullivan also remembers plenty of pranks orchestrated by the bartenders working during his DJ shift. Once one of the bartenders opened the trap door in the floor behind the bar. As one of the other bartenders approached a customer to take a drink order, he disappeared into the floor. “It was a bizarre sight to see from the DJ booth,” Sullivan says. “He fell through and down to the basement without major injuries. It was funny.”
Current bartender Brian Fitzgerald, who has worked at the bar for the last 14 years, says he’s carried on the tradition of pranking. “We have a rubber rat that we sometimes hide in different places around the bar for other bartenders to find,” Fitzgerald says. “Once, on an especially slow day in the wintertime, I tied a fishing line to it and hid it in the pool room. When people would walk through the door, I would pull the string and make people jump to the ceiling.”
Fitzgerald was always drawn to the music played at the bar. “I get to listen to fantastic music played by some of the best DJs in town while I’m at work,” he says. “When those guys get a good groove going, it’s like it’s not work at all. I can’t tell you how many nights I wanted to just jump over the bar and start partying with everyone else.”
Fitzgerald says the bar maintains a steady flow of patrons and its musical identity on the nights without a DJ in the booth, but the nights with DJs are by far the busiest and most exciting. “There’s just something about a person playing to the crowd that cannot be achieved by a jukebox or a playlist,” he says.
Every Saturday night is special, according to Fitzgerald. Whether it’s a celebrity inconspicuously shuffling through the bar, someone making a fool of themselves, or unexpected friendships being made, anything is possible. “I see friendships develop every night I work there, unlikely friends who may have never met each other otherwise. When the DJ is playing those songs and the air is on fire, it’s like a whole other world in there. It’s infectious.”
In the early 1990s, Robby Takac, the bassist for the Buffalo-bred Goo Goo Dolls, also took a turn in the DJ booth. Jim Santella hired him as a college intern at 107.7 WUWU-FM, and later, when his friends Marilyn Rogers and Lee Zimmerman took over the station, he became the overnight DJ. Next he began spinning dance music at gay clubs, such as the now-defunct City Lights and Villa Capri, and then made the transition to playing rock music at the Pink.
“It was our place, a place for misfits. The normal people had the rest of the city, but that place was ours,” Takac says. “You could be a misfit there and it was okay. There were a few of these places scattered around town, but inevitably you would end the night with the rest of the pack at the Pink.”
For years Takac was also doing a show on 103.3 the Fox called “Modern Rock on the Fox.” Here he would get his hands on some of the newest tracks and would mix them in with his personal collection, which meant the patrons were getting to hear the most current music as it was released, along with the classics, offering up a healthy variety of music.
During this era Takac worked alongside Eric Van Rysdam, otherwise known as EVR, and Sullivan, who both had a profound effect on him: “EVR and Terry both have an unbelievable handle on the history of rock music, and I always found myself being educated on something I didn’t know after spending a night listening to them spin,” Takac says.
EVR started out his foray as a DJ at a bar in Fredonia called BJ’s in the mid-1980s, a job he got through his involvement at the college radio station. He had received a degree in communications and radio from the college, but had lost his desire for a career in radio. In October 1990 he became an alternate DJ at the Pink; by 1993 he was a permanent weekend DJ, and he has been there ever since.
“Since I was seven years old I was really into music and records,” EVR says. “I always tried to turn people onto what I thought was great music, and DJing was just a natural extension of that.” EVR generally sticks to a mix of modern independent music, including 1950s and 1960s rock, 1960s soul and ska, 1970s and 1980s punk, as well as new music, so his playlist is constantly changing. He enjoys playing music not well known to the mainstream music fan. He credits Sullivan and Casino El Camino with mentoring him in the craft of DJing.
His favorite recollections of the Pink are remembering back to the times of developing a relationship with Jennifer, the woman he later married and had two kids with. They had known each other previously but had never hung out until they started dating, and the Pink was the ideal venue for them to build upon their budding relationship. His second favorite memorable moment, he says, was witnessing football player Jim Brown wandering into the bar on a quiet Thursday night.
EVR says when the bar opened in the 1980s it was recognized as a one-of-a-kind establishment and an alternative to the nightclub scene, and it is still both. While there are more entertainment options now that Buffalo is going through a renaissance, for those who enjoy a mix of the classics, the obscure, and the unpredictable, the bar remains one of the only options.
“The bar has managed to maintain a consistency while also not remaining stagnant,” EVR says. “I think the folks who enjoy the bar like the fact that they know what they will get when they go there. So many places have chased trends while we stay steady. It’s remarkable that we’ve managed to do this through two different ownerships.”
Molly Brinkworth, the current owner, took over in December 1990. Her grandfather had owned several taverns in Western New York, and her father, Dennis Brinkworth, followed suit. One of the properties her father owned was 223 Allen before Supples acquired it.
“I was born and raised into the life of business and worked every job that came along with it,” Molly Brinkworth says. “[My father] was my partner, mentor, and best friend. I will always admire him and keep him in mind with every decision I make.”
Growing up around bars, Brinkworth picked up a lot of knowledge from her family, and she learned more still after she was given ownership of the bar. She’s passed these lessons onto her two daughters, both of whom also work at the bar, and she expects them to keep the bar’s spirit alive.
“The bar is special to me because it’s something I’ve been able to keep going from and for my family,” Brinkworth says. “For everyone else it’s a place any type of person can walk into and find something they like about it. We may have a rough demeanor but place no judgments and welcome all.”
Of all the current DJs at the bar, she says EVR and Dave G have been the bar’s staples. She’s especially thankful to have EVR since he’s responsible for keeping up the sound system and scheduling the DJ slots. Other than managing the bar’s DJ booth, EVR also plays bass in Buffalo bands the Good and the Jumpers. Sullivan, who reformed the Jumpers in 2016, holds down the vocals.
Fitzgerald agrees that EVR and Dave G are the major players who have shaped the current sound of the bar, while Malik Von Saint provides unpredictable tracks.
“To me, EVR is the musical historian of the Pink,” Fitzgerald says. “This guy knows more about music than anyone I’ve ever met. He always has some story about why the track he is playing is so cool. Dave, on the other hand, is more of the artist-type DJ. He is the guy who knows he’s doing his job when the booties are shaking on the dance floor. Malik is the newcomer who has been shaking things up. I never know what he is going to play.”
DJ Dave G, who also goes by his DJ moniker Dr. Know, has been a music fan and record collector since the age of 15. Since the age of 18, he’s been a regular customer at the Pink. His first time walking into the Pink, he remembers distinctly hearing the Cramps’ song “The Way I Walk,” and in his mind he told himself, “Holy shit, I’m home.”
In 2000 he was asked to fill in as a DJ at the bar one Wednesday night. After that he was asked again to fill in, but no one informed the usual DJ. When the regular DJ showed up and saw Dave G was in his place, he quit, and Dave G has been a permanent DJ there ever since.
Some of Dave’s go-to bands to spin are the Talking Heads, the Velvet Underground, Built to Spill, Iggy Pop, Stooges, Stereolab, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, Oh Sees, and the Clash. However, he can also be heard playing music from the era of the 1950s up until now. Some genres he favors include psychedelic, surf rock, early ska, and tropicalia.
“I want mid-tempo grooves to make people forget their bills, their ex-boyfriend, their shattered dreams, their STDS, work, etc.,” he says. “I throw out odd surprises. You have to. It really depends on the night and the crowd. Sometimes you have to throw a curveball to get it going, but generally my job is to get people drunk and laid.”
One of Dave’s fond memories of being at the Pink was one night after attending Mohawk Place to see the bands the King Brothers, who are a Japanese garage punk band, and the Baseball Furies, a 1990s garage punk band.
“EVR starts a blazing garage ’60s set,” Dave says. “And here we are with these guys who can barely speak any English at all. But we all spoke rock and roll. It didn’t matter. Suddenly you got all these greasy garage rockers and punk freaks dancing. Even I was dancing, and that is rare.”
Some patrons of the bar wonder if the vibe or appearance of the place will ever change. In Dave’s opinion, it should maintain its authenticity.
“I always describe the Old Pink as the bar at the center of the Twilight Zone,” he says. “Buffalo can have its resurgence. That’s great. I am all for it. But the Pink should never change. It should always be a glorious, disgusting, weirdo, shithole dive bar. Don’t put lipstick on the pig. Let it stink.”
There are newcomers who stumble into the bar for the first time and make remarks like “This place is fucking weird” or “This place is gross” or “This bar is fucked,” and every time Dave thinks to himself, “We still have it.”
While most of the DJs at the Pink hail from Western New York, or at least within the United States, there’s one DJ who grew up both in Jericho, in the West Bank, and in Orchard Park. Malik Von Saint was born into a culture where music, especially American music, was forbidden.
“I remember I had a radio alarm clock I used to hide under a pillow to listen to music, and I wished someday to DJ on the radio,” Von Saint says. “It was just an absurd thought as a kid, that meant something to me. Like being an astronaut.” On New Year’s Eve in 2013 he fulfilled this dream, as his set at the Pink was live to air on WBNY 91.3 FM, SUNY Buffalo State’s student-run radio station.
“I remember the countdown, and all of a sudden I had a flashback to that moment when I was a kid wanting to get away and dreaming to be a DJ on the radio,” Von Saint says. “I welled up, for sure. I don’t know how I got to that booth with all the history with me, but I did it. It was my little victory.”
Before DJing at the Pink, Von Saint started his own band booking company, Shaken’ Stylus, which he launched in 2008 and still operates. Through this company, he and DJ Electric Hamburger, otherwise known as Sarah Stokes, played punk vinyl at various bars.
“I remember I used to scour the Pink around 3 a.m. looking for band members to play local shows,” Von Saint says. “It was more like my office.”
Von Saint’s DJ style is a mixture of indie garage rock, classic rock, punk, and new releases that he feels are up-and-coming. Every few months he also hosts David Bowie tribute nights at the bar, which never fail to bring out a huge crowd.
Being more of the newcomer, Von Saint has learned a lot from veteran DJs EVR and Dave G.
“I learned from Dave that you can play stuff that’s obscure but with a great beat and people will love it,” Von Saint says. “Early on that made me realize to go with my instincts rather than uneasiness. I learned the theory of playing certain ways from EVR. How he approaches a song or builds one in cue with a story on virtually every song to back it up.”
Von Saint was surprised during one of his sets when pop singer Miley Cyrus approached him. When Cyrus poked her head in the booth to ask him what song he was playing, he replied, “Johnny Thunders, ‘Born to Lose.’” At the time he had no clue who she was, since he was too focused on DJing. It wasn’t until later when people started mentioning she was at the Pink that he realized he had spoken to her.
Stokes, who has known Von Saint for 14 years, began DJing with him as DJ Electric Hamburger after he delved into her record collection. He complimented her taste in music and suggested she try DJing. Her sets generally consist of punk, oi!, soul, country, rock and roll, and occasionally tracks from local bands as well. She’s always admired the DJs at the Pink and those rare times when they pay attention to their audience.
“One time I walked in when Dave G was spinning,” Stokes says. “I was wearing a T-shirt with the Rezillos’ ‘Destination Venus’ on it, and a few songs later ‘Destination Venus’ came on over the speakers.”
Another person she admires from the establishment is bar manager Matt Mulhern, who has been working at the bar for the last nine years.
“I think Matty the bar manager makes the place special,” Stokes says. “He’s a tough dude and does his job well. And the bartenders who move like they’re on hot coals so they can rock out drinks when they’re four deep. I love that the Pink is a shit show. I never know what I’m going to walk into. I love chatting with the ladies in the Pink bathroom. I’ve met a lot of cool girls in there. It’s like anything goes.”
Nicole Schreiber, otherwise known as her DJ name LJ (which stems from her nickname “Leather Jacket Girl” or “LJG”), has been a devoted booth dweller and patron at the bar who transitioned recently into DJing. Her first stint as a DJ went down at Essex St. Pub for their “Attack of the Vinyl Mondays” hosted by Eric Kendall in early 2017. Then one day Dave G offered her the chance to DJ at 223 Allen. Dave G had not always been this friendly with her, as she recalls the first time she met him: “It was probably only my second or third time at the bar and he jokingly told me to fuck off after I requested music from two of his favorite bands…and I had no idea at the time! Now we’re great friends.”
Schreiber enjoys surprising listeners with her music choices. At times she may go from playing Echo and the Bunnymen to Jeannie C. Riley to Fugees to “Monster Mash.” She favors playing transitions between songs and choosing effective follow-up songs despite their relation chronologically or in genre. She likes to throw show tunes into her set, both for irony and because she genuinely likes them.
One thing she admires about all the DJs at the bar is that they don’t let others pressure them into playing certain types of music. They play what they want, occasionally granting requests from patrons. It’s their show to run.
“The majority of the reason I love the Pink is for the music,” Schreiber says. “I’m the kind of person to walk into a bar and if I don’t like the music, I don’t stay long. I don’t know many bars in Buffalo that rock out the way the Pink does naturally. The staff is incredible, to say the least, and it doesn’t try hard to be what it is: punk rock.”
On Friday, February 23 from 9pm to midnight, the bar will be hosting the DJ event “Blame the DJ” featuring short DJ sets from EVR, Dr. Know, Malik Von Saint, DJ Electric Hamburger, LJ, and maybe even a few other surprise guests. Come celebrate the DJs who have contributed their talents to the bar, leaving their mark, making them a permanent part of this historic Buffalo bar venue. While listening to killer tunes feel free to show your appreciation for the Djs by throwing some cash in the tip jar that will be passed around, otherwise the event is free.