Who says you can’t find love in the club?
For every wannabe matchmaker who says you can’t meet “The One” in a nightclub or bar, there are several Long Island couples whose lives say otherwise.
Take the Amicos of West Islip, who met at Club Uforia in Farmingdale on Memorial Day weekend 1993.
“Ironically, the night I met my husband, my friend and I had ‘sworn off guys for a while’ after being burned, and went just to have fun and dance — and boom!” says Gayle Amico, 46, a business owner originally from East Meadow.
She says by mid-June, she and Kirk were “exclusive and inseparable.” They’ve been married since 1994.
Like virtually every big nightclub on Long Island, the spot on Route 110 where the Amicos met went through a series of name changes. Club kids of the early 1990s may know it best as Spize II. The club eventually became the Crazy Donkey before its current identity as Italian restaurant Trento.
While the Amicos’ meeting may have been ironic, she admits it wasn’t pure karma: As Gayle’s friend bummed a cigarette off an acquaintance she had spotted at the club, Gayle struck up conversation with his friend, Kirk. Today, as dating apps like Bumble and Tindr reign supreme over the dating scene, it’s easy to forget that before even Match.com, figuring out what to say — in person — to a complete stranger who got your attention was often what it took to get a date.
Another difference in the club scene (and therefore, the dating scene) a quarter century ago: You could get in even if you weren’t 21.
“I was underage at the time, so I would just go where I could get in,” Gayle says of Spize II. It’s not an admission of guilt. At the time, several LI clubs let in the under-21 crowd; they just weren’t given the wristbands or stamps that signified them as old enough to drink.
There’s one nightclub in particular that set the scene for more than one now long-married couple. For the Rodriguezes of Melville and the Oliveiras, native LIers who now live in Florida, there may just be something about Malibu in Lido Beach, an LI hot spot from the ‘80s through mid-90s.
Alicia Oliveira says while she frequented several clubs on LI and in NYC, Malibu was her favorite because they “played the best alternative music.”
“My college roommate and I always went out with the hopes of meeting someone new,” says Oliveira, now 49 and a teacher. “We were the types of girls that dressed in black, short dresses and wore the highest heels and would dance until 4 a.m.” Big hair topped off her look, “frosted, fake-blonde and long,” she says. And forget about flat irons — mousse and hair spray were key. (“How do you think we got it so big?”)
Once she had the look down, meeting a potential partner at the club in the ‘90s went something like this: “If a guy was attracted to you, they danced next to you and offered to buy you a drink. It wasn’t all grinding like it is today,” Oliveira says. “We didn’t have cell phones or social media. If a guy liked you, at the end of the night he asked for your phone number and you waited until he called. We had to take their word for who they were because we couldn’t go home and creep on them on Instagram or Twitter. I can’t tell you how many times guys would lie about their jobs or their age.”
She met her husband, Augustine, during her first-ever visit to Malibu in June 1991. Like for the Amicos, there was a bit of irony involved. Oliveira calls their meeting “pure accident.”
“We weren’t going to that club,” she says. “We went somewhere else first and it was lame. My roommate suggested we leave and go to Malibu.”
Accident, fate, or something else — what Augustine doesn’t call it is love at first sight.
“She was talking to my cousin,” he says. “We all hung out and danced, and she and my cousin exchanged numbers.”
But after a couple of dates with Alicia, the cousin “kept telling me he thought we would get along really well,” he says. They became friends, then started dating about a month later.
Alicia and Augustine had at least two things in common: Malibu was one of his favorite nightclubs, too, and dressing for the occasion was also a priority. For him, the look consisted of a leather jacket, jeans, concert T-shirts and combat boots.
She says it was during one of their future visits to the club that she realized he was her future.
“We both loved The Smiths. One night we were dancing at Malibu and [the Smiths song] ‘How Soon Is Now?’ came on. We started to slow dance and when the song was over, we kept on slow dancing. Every time we went out, we requested that song. We even made it one of our two first dances at our wedding.”
It was also at Malibu that Diane Dellacroce-Rodriguez, now 58 and a retail merchandiser and restaurant administrator, also met her husband, Ivan. It was November 1981, the Saturday night of Thanksgiving weekend.
“I was on the side of the dance floor and I spotted him dancing on the crowded dance floor to new wave by himself. I said to my girlfriend ‘He’s my type. I’m going to dance with him. See you later.’ We danced the entire night and didn’t talk to each other until 3 a.m. when they turned on the lights.”
They arranged to meet again two days later at SPIT in Levittown (aka Uncle Sam’s, Yucatan Liquor Stand, Lollipop), and the rest is history.
Ivan, now 56 and a chef at EatBetterMeals.com, remembers that at the time he wasn’t “looking to meet anyone,” and was “just partying with the boys.”
“This cute girl was trying to dance with me, so I just went with it,” he says.
It was one and done for Jenifer DaCunha, now 36, who met her husband, Louis, at the now-defunct Coco's Water Cafe in Huntington.
“I never dated anyone else I met at a club,” DaCunha says. “My husband is the only one whose number I got… Well, in the end he took mine.”
So did she immediately know he was The One? Maybe. The Manorville mom says she was “a shy person” at the time but knew she couldn’t leave without asking for Louis’ number.
“It was totally out of my comfort zone… so maybe subconsciously I knew,” DaCunha says with a laugh.
That’s how it was done. People got each other’s numbers, often scrawled on napkins, discarded flyers or the palm of a hand if necessary, and let’s not forget — they were often landline numbers as cell phones weren’t commonplace yet.
It was a scoop from Newsday that helped Gregory Noone, a meet his soulmate in the club on July 22, 1993.
Noone, now 57 and a nonprofit manager originally from Freeport, and a friend had time to kill before heading to a movie at Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington. He'd read in Newsday that nearby gay club The Playground had a new themed night featuring goth and industrial DJs, and decided to check it out before the movie.
“The second I saw the bartender, it was like in the movies,” Noone said. “Time slowed down, the noise seemed to fade into the background, and I saw this guy with the most beautiful blue eyes I've ever seen. We flirted back and forth — I promised to come back after the movie even though I had to work upstate the next day.”
The bartender, James Gale, now 55 and a credit union assistant branch manager originally from Farmingville, remembers that meeting someone in a nightclub when he was single involved “simply being in the right place at the right time,” but that as a bartender he would wonder, “Is he interested in me for me, or for what I do?”
Gale said their first date told him Noone was The One, and they got hitched 13 years later, on May 19, 2006, in Toronto. (At the time, Massachusetts was the only U.S. state to have legalized same-sex marriage.)
The couple, who now live in Ronkonkoma, always celebrated July 25 (their first date) as their anniversary for romantic reasons, but also because, Noone says, “marriage equality wasn’t even a ‘thing’ back then.” He says when gay marriage was legalized nationwide in 2015, he and Gale “cried and celebrated along with everyone else,” and now celebrate their anniversary twice a year -- on July 25 and May 19.
Rosie Graci, a now 71-year-old Rockaway Beach native, remembers when she walked into The Silver Lining in New Hyde Park back on Nov. 19, 1990 and thought “how cute is that bartender,” but admits she “waited for only her to get my drink.”
That bartender was Annie Scarpa, a now-76-year-old from Manhasset, and she remembers well when Graci approached, “She ordered a drink and gave me a big smile… She was just adorable. I thought ‘Wow, how do I get to know her?’ as I made it a practice not to date customers.”
The two made a brunch date for the next day and, as Scarpa says “the rest is history.”
The two had a commitment ceremony in 1991, then Annie “proposed marriage the minute it became legal [in New York state in June 2011].” They got married in 2013 at Leonard’s in Great Neck after 23 years together.
SOCIAL MEDIA DOUBTS
There’s more than one commonality between the DeBenedettos of Hampton Bays and the Schottes, former LIers who've relocated to Minnesota, when it comes to their stories of finding love in the club. First, both couples met at the historic Canoe Place Inn (CPI) in Hampton Bays. Second, both wives are glad it happened before social media took over the dating scene.
“Call me old fashioned, but I feel sorry for young adults today with the social media being so powerful in all our lives,” says Tara Schotte, now 51 and a financial counselor. “[Back then] you had to go out to meet anyone, but that was the fun of it.”
A native Minnesotan, Schotte came to Long Island’s East End to work as a nanny and remembers that while she wasn’t necessarily shy or introverted, it was by going out and socializing that she not only ended up meeting her husband, but also how she made friends in a new place.
But don’t get it twisted: Schotte was hitting clubs like CPI in hopes of meeting a lifelong partner.
“My whole reasoning for answering an ad to become a nanny out East was to meet ‘Mr. Right,’” she says. “I’m happy to say I accomplished my goal!”
Janet DeBenedetto, now a 53-year-old title insurance agency owner and nutritional mentor, was still a teenager focused on having fun with friends when she met her husband, Joe, at CPI in 1985. There he was, in his typical nightclub uniform of “parachute pants and Capezio shoes” when he met Janet, the sister-in-law of one of his friends. They “clicked immediately,” she says. “We danced the whole night.”
Like his future wife, Joe, now a 55-year-old retired LIRR conductor, wasn’t exactly hitting the clubs in search of love.
“I don’t know if I thought about meeting someone special at that exact time, but I liked meeting the ladies to date,” he says.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the club where the DaCunhas met.