BROOKLYN, N.Y., SEPT. 22–Not far from the East River and just off the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway is the mixed-use retail and residential Brooklyn neighborhood known as Williamsburg. In the past decade or so, this section of New York City has become somewhat of a hipster haven, and since 2004 has been home to the annual Indian Larry Grease Monkey Block Party.
Indian Larry’s last shop was in the warehouse district in Williamsburg, where he, Paul Cox and the staff held the first annual Indian Larry Block Party just months before Larry’s untimely death in 2004. In 2009, Bobby and Elisa Seeger, who now own and operate Indian Larry Motorcycles, moved the shop to a new location a mile south on Union Avenue where they’ve continued to hold the block parties every year. And every year I try to get there early, but the New York City traffic, as always, seems to conspire against me, exacerbated by the crowds flocking to the annual Feast of San Gennaro in the Little Italy neighborhood of Manhattan. When I arrived at Indian Larry Motorcycles in the early afternoon, the party was already in full swing.
The street in front of the shop had been barricaded at both ends, and was already packed with bikes and a few hot rods displayed by the Rumblers Car Club. In fact, the streets all around the shop were lined with bikes, as well. Motorcycle-only parking was in force, and I don’t think a single parking ticket was given that day. A stage had been set up at one end of the block, and the Urban Street Gypsies, the first of seven bands scheduled, had just started playing. People lined up for the grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, while others checked out the vendors onsite. Diva Dawn had set up her Metal di Muse booth featuring funky jewelry, Leatherpatch.com displayed their beautifully designed and painted New York-made leather patches, and some local pinstripers exhibited their works. Philabundance, an organization fighting hunger in Pennsylvania’s Delaware Valley, was selling raffle tickets for the Hunger Strike Bike, a beautiful little bobber created by Johnny Mac’s Chopper House in Levittown, Pennsylvania.
Staff from Genuine Motorworks, a retail store opened three years ago by Elisa Seeger that features American-made men’s and women’s apparel and accessories, had set up a tent. And out of Indian Larry Motorcycles’ big rig the crew was selling T-shirts and a limited edition of 50 screen prints commemorating nine years of Indian Larry Motorcycles. Also on display were several Indian Larry Motorcycles custom bikes, including a new build, the White Devil, revealed just that morning.
A constant stream of people flowed in and out of the shop, where the new showroom featured some Indian Larry customs. In the shop itself, several tattoo artists from Immortal Ink were laying down the famous Indian Larry question mark on his admirers. The tattoos were being done for free, so for much of the day people were lined up waiting to memorialize their favorite builder.
Back outside the second band, Rockets Red Glare, was finishing up its set, and event emcee Little Jimmy took the stage to introduce the next act. Little Jimmy, who I recognized from Coney Island’s annual Tattoo and Motorcycle Contest, bills himself as the world’s smallest emcee, and what he lacks in stature he more than makes up for in personality and presence. With the proper intro by Little Jimmy, the New York Variety All-Stars took the stage. Those of you familiar with the Coney Island Sideshows at the Seashore recognized emcee The Great Cardone and artists Adam RealMan and Kryssy Kocktail. The talented trio performed various sideshow acts that included sword and balloon swallowing (but not at the same time), razor eating, and various magic acts concluding with the grand finale of the Arc of Mystery. One could look at this act as a tribute to Indian Larry who, with his wife Bambi, had been a part of the Coney Island sideshows scene.
Live music resumed with the Supertones taking the stage, at which point we wandered over to watch two artists who had set up shop in the middle of the block. One was Chris Callen from Cycle Source Magazine, and the other was Seth Leibowitz, who had painted a stunning portrait of the Seegers’ children, Aidan and Sienna. He’d presented the painting in private to Bobby and Elisa that morning as a surprise, which was even more touching because 7-year-old Aidan had been taken from the family in April. Aidan had been diagnosed with adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD), a rare disease that took his life. Elisa has been fighting to require that testing of newborns include ALD screening, so that no other families lose their children to this disease. A volunteer walked through the crowd asking people to sign a petition to bolster Elisa’s efforts.
And the crowd was nonstop, with all sorts of people walking, riding, eating, listening to music and visiting other shops and cafes in this vibrant neighborhood. All were welcome; nearby residents strolled by with their children, motorcycle clubs showed up en masse and people came from all over the country—actually, all over the world—to honor the legend of Indian Larry. In fact, I met two men from Norway, Erlend Engebretsen from Tofte and Tony Gagermo from Drammen, who were flying colors with the words “Tribute MC In Memory of Indian Larry” with a bottom rocker that read “1949—Norway—2004.” Erlend and Tony were two of 13 current members of a club that was formed to honor Indian Larry. Erlend told me that none of the club members had ever met Indian Larry, but Erlend saw him and his bikes in magazines and, as he says, “was blown away by his style and personality.” He asked Bobby and Elisa for permission for the club to wear the question mark on their colors, and the tribute motorcycle club was formed in 2006. This is the fourth year they’ve come to New York, and their visits are always timed to coincide with the block party. They have spent a lot of time with Bobby and Elisa, as well as Larry’s family and associates, which is very important to the club. They’ve all gotten to be good friends, and the guys in the club look forward to each year’s visit.
For the first time this year, the block party included a no-invitation ride-in bike contest. The entries were mixed in with the other bikes on the block, and there were so many outstanding examples of creativity in general that it was sometimes difficult to tell the entrants from those just riding in for the party. The shop’s staff hand fabricated the one-of-a-kind trophies, awarded to the top bikes in three classes. Best Vintage was won by Robert Preven of Rego Park (Queens), New York, for his red ’48 Indian Chief. Best custom was awarded to George Stinsman of Chaos Cycle in Mastic (Long Island), New York for his “blue 65” bobber that featured various shades of blue metal flake paint and incredible engraving work done by Otto Carver Engraver out of Abilene, Texas. Best Paint was taken by John Marcella of Johnny Mac’s Chopper House for his Wizard Bike, a Pro Street painted by Franny that looked like it incorporated every shade in the color palette.
Raffle winners were announced, and the prizes included $500 gift cards for Genuine Motorworks, Indian Larry Motorcycles and Vanson Leathers, as well as helmets and bolt-on parts from Biltwell. Bands continued to play, with crowd favorites B.B.Q Bob and the Spare Ribs, Sea Monster, and Wrench performing until about 8:00 when the headliner act, Judas Priestess, took the stage. Judas Priestess is an all-female tribute band to the metal gods, and they kicked ass long after the official end of the party. The forecasted rain began falling around 10:00 p.m., and the party carried on inside with Militia singing a capella in the garage after their set.
This year’s party proved to be the biggest yet, with an estimated 8,500 people in attendance. The Indian Larry Motorcycles crew promises that next year’s 10th annual Grease Monkey Block Party will be even bigger and better, so mark your calendar for September 21, and keep an eye on www.indianlarry.com for more details as the date draws near.