Tattooes, Harleys and Good Manners: The Local Parties with the Hells Angels

.Rachel Citron

Sunday afternoon the Third Street Crew of the New York City Hells Angels transformed Jamaica, Queens into a scene straight out of a post-apocalyptic motorcycle movie. Roaring in on low-slung chrome-plated Harleys, roughly 500 tattooed riders seemed right at home in the desolate industrial terrain that hosted the 13th annual St. Patrick’s Day Bash.

All the ingredients were in place for a great time: corned beef, cabbage, a comely brunette serving $4 drinks, a rock and roll band and not a police car in sight. But Angels run a tight ship and there were no orgiastic drunken brawls observed by The Local. In fact, when a female reporter dropped her fountain pen, three muscular bikers scrambled to retrieve it. Perfect gents for at least one moment in time.

By 2 p.m. U.S. military veterans and iron workers on hogs were still arriving in a steady stream to the Portuguese recreational club on Liberty Avenue near 148th Street, greeting fellow wheelers with brotherly hugs and man-talk. They paid $20 a piece for admission to the club, lining up for the hearty catered lunch and taking in music by Hugh Pool and Buddy Cage from New Riders of the Purple Sage.

It was hard to hear and maneuver amid the crush of hulking alpha males in leather and denim, but it was clear that union members with their own motorcycle clubs vastly outnumbered the Angels at the event. These included bikers belonging to Locals 46 and 580 of the New York Iron Workers (currently working on the new World Trade Center) and to the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, New York City Council District. “We ride with our own clubs but we have respect for the Angels,” said the carpenters’ motorcycle club president Joe Urbano.

Of course, any public event with the cultural cache of the Hells Angels is going to have a merchandising component behind it. Angels clothing, including some items for women, was for sale along with copies of the club’s 2012 calendar (you’ll have to decide for yourself how it stacks up against the Fire Department’s calendar).

Kathie Gimino of Staten Island hawked black t-shirts and assorted “badass embroidery.”

“But I don’t do Angel patches — that would upset the Angels,” she added hastily, alluding to the club’s registered Death Head logo — a winged skull wearing a motorcycle helmet that appears on patches of club members — that has been the subject of club lawsuits against retailers, designers and film studios that have used the emblem.

On stage Billy Leroy, who only two nights before had thrown a goodbye bash for his now defunct Billy’s Antiques and Props, briefly welcomed the revelers.

“It’s something we look forward to all year,” said Mr. Leroy’s wife Lorraine Leckie, a singer who was sporting goth duds and leggings with skull designs. “We love coming because it’s the only time in the year that the public can get a chance to mingle with the Angels.”

Not surprisingly, there was only a smattering of biker babes at the Queens event, among them two women from Suffolk County, who only gave their first names and praised the Long Island Hells Angels for providing a feeling of protection. “Hell yes, they make me feel safe in the neighborhood,” said April, a woman in her 30s. Her friend Michelle wore a “bad girl” t-shirt and described herself as single and a “big supporter” of the local “81” club, numbers that correspond to H and A in the alphabet.

New York City Angel Brendon Manning, a vivid presence with his flowing blond hair and glittering rings, stood outside as guests came and left. He declined to answer questions on how many members his Third Street club has and what his status is these days (he was once president).

“We generally don’t like articles about us,” he said. “We’ve had reporters at events in the past, and they got things wrong.”

Even so, Mr. Manning agreed to be photographed proudly posing in his duds. But other prominent Angels in the chapter declined to have their pictures taken or even to reveal their last names. “It might bring us grief,” said a vice president of the club. Nevertheless, the New York City chapter on East Third Street is no stranger to publicity. Since the 1990s it has won over $800,000 from two lawsuits after the Police Department raided their clubhouse. In 2007, a woman was found lying outside the clubhouse, severely beaten and unable to remember what happened to her. One Angel was arrested and then released.

Still, many attendees said that they were the victim of stereotypes. “People have misconceptions — they seem to think we’re unemployed. But how do you think we pay for our motorcycles?” said electrician John Cartier, a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers who founded the American Brotherhoood Motorcycle Club after his younger brother, James, died on 9/11 at the World Trade Center. “I have four motorcycles and they’re so expensive to maintain.”