John Travolta served up a slice of nostalgia in Bensonhurst Tuesday when he returned to Lenny’s Pizza, the pizza shop in “Saturday Night Fever,” to have a slice named in his honor.
Travolta’s character Tony Manero ordered two slices stacked on top of each other in the 1977 classic. He returned to Brooklyn more than 40 years later for a celebration hosted by state Sen. Marty Golden in anticipation of Travolta’s new film, “Gotti,” which opens on June 15.
“It’s not often that we have the opportunity to have a big actor who helped turn Brooklyn into a cultural touchstone of the 1970s,” Golden said. “John Travolta did exactly that.”
The crowd of Travolta fans flooding the street chanted, “We want John,” as radio personality Joe Causi played Bee Gees songs from the film. When Travolta took the stage, he thanked John Gotti Jr., the son of the mob boss portrayed by Travolta, for his cooperation in the making of “Gotti,” before taking a bite out of a fresh slice of pizza.
“Brooklyn has been in my DNA since ‘Welcome Back, Kotter.’ I love you all so very much. Thank you for giving me such a foundation for my career,” Travolta said, referring to the hit TV series that gave him his start.
Fans at the event who lived in Bensonhurst and Bay Ridge during the “Saturday Night Fever” era reminisced about the ways the area has changed.
Mike Strantzis, 47, from Bay Ridge, said that Travolta’s return brings back fond memories.
“Believe it or not, there used to be cars up and down this street on the weekends,” he said, gesturing toward 86th Street. “Everybody hanging out, having a good time. That was before everything turned corporate with Starbucks and McDonald’s, before cellphones.”
Porfiria Romeo worked at a clothing store in Bensonhurst when “Saturday Night Fever” was released and now lives on Staten Island. “I miss this neighborhood, I really do. It used to be like Madison Avenue with shoe stores and clothes stores. Now it’s all changed,” she said. “Now that he’s back, I feel like it’s 1977 again. It’s a thrill.”
Some attendees who were born after the movie was released never experienced Travolta’s Brooklyn but are fans nonetheless.
Paul Ingrisano, 30, from Bensonhurst, waited outside the pizzeria with a painting of John Travolta beginning hours before the start of the event. The artist said that he played Travolta’s characters in theater productions of “Saturday Night Fever” and “Grease.”
“I always looked up to him, I always loved him. And this is my chance, if I could give my art to him, it would mean the world to me,” he said.
Since 1977, Bensonhurst has seen an influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe, Latin America and China. Mike Schmidt, 34, a photographer from Brooklyn, said, “It’s crazy how diverse the crowd is, how many different types of people are from Brooklyn, yet when something like this happens it seems like everybody is one, the energy is one.”