Stayin’ Alive: 20 years of Neighborhood Disco

Posted on Wednesday, January 31, 2018 by Melissa Howison


There are an untold number of adaptations of the maxim “Behind every successful…is a …” Some serious, some funny, some empowering, some truthful. In February, the Village Learning Place staff prefers a thankful version: “Behind every successful event is a devoted group of volunteers and contributors.”

It has always been true of the Spaghetti Disco, but never more so than this year, when the beloved neighborhood tradition is not only “Stayin’ Alive,” but thriving in its 20th year.

Costumes are encouraged, the more shimmer, the better

The 20th anniversary presents some changes to the famous spaghetti-dinner-with-a-twist. The biggest difference participants from years past will notice is the new venue: Peabody Heights Brewery, located at 401 E. 30th Street.

The new home at the brewery brings exciting opportunities. Peabody Heights’ many taps make for awesome beverage options, all of which pair perfectly with this year’s commemorative Disco pint glass (for sale online with tickets through February 16). This new location will also give neighbors new to the brewhouse a peek into the popular Charles Village hangout.

When Rebecca Bruce and Halle Van der Gaag first imagined the Disco, their vision centered around an appreciation for shared community spaces. With the help of their husbands, Chris Bruce and Andy Thomas, Rebecca and Halle organized the first Spaghetti Disco to raise money for playground equipment at nearby schools. In doing so, they created a legacy the Village Learning Place is honored to uphold.

Andy’s culinary background helped shape the quirky theme of the Spaghetti Disco, and his former role as a chef at Gertrude’s restaurant, as well as his relationship with owner John Shields, has helped keep it intact. Gertrude’s donates spaghetti and sauce for the event every year.

“Community is the most important part of a sense of place,” said Shields, who was born near Charles Village and has family roots in the neighborhood. “The amazing work and outreach that the VLP has accomplished, and its vital place in the community keeps me dedicated to supporting the organization itself, and of course, the Spaghetti Disco.”

Despite a few changes, the key aspects of the Spaghetti Disco remain. Much like in its inaugural year, the volunteers drive the event, disco music plays late into the night, proceeds help the VLP maintain an enriching community center, and of course the food never fails to impress.

“[The cooks] put a lot of effort into it, which makes the food very excellent. The spaghetti and the salad, the garlic bread, oh my god, it’s really good,” said Troy Mack, a former Charles Village resident who volunteers every year at the Disco. The kitchen is staffed entirely by volunteers, led by organizer and volunteer Rich Walther.

Volunteers make sure nobody leaves without a full belly of spaghetti

The food is only one of many reasons that Mack sees familiar faces each year. “There are quite a few people that come on a regular basis, and I have been seeing them for 10 years,” he said. “They never miss a beat, which is exciting.” Mack added that the Spaghetti Disco draws new people every year, especially new residents to the area.

In addition to volunteers, the success of the Spaghetti Disco relies on the generosity of a few exemplary community partners, including Gertrude’s at the BMA and Eddie’s Market. All the food and beverages are donated. Gertrude’s and Eddie’s Market have been supporters since the Spaghetti Disco’s inception, and donate every year.

Owner Jerry Gordon is matter-of-fact about his charitable contributions and the historic importance of Eddie’s Market, which opened in 1962, to Charles Village. “We feel that the VLP is also an integral part, and why wouldn’t we help you? We want you to succeed.”

The 32nd Street Farmer’s Market is also a longtime benefactor of the VLP and has donated to the Spaghetti Disco consistently for years. Marc Rey, the president, sees overlapping goals between the missions of both organizations.

“We believe the Village Learning Place is very worthwhile because it offers our neighbors the opportunity to grow and have programs,” Rey said. “It really serves our neighborhood, and that’s part of the purpose of the market.”

Other local contributors include Union Memorial Hospital, Peabody Heights Brewery, Wine Source, Carma’s Café, Ledo’s Pizza, Brewer’s Art, Insomnia Cookies, Eddie’s Gourmet Liquors, Safeway, Giant, and more.

According to Mack, “we’ve never had a bad year,” and the 20th anniversary promises no different. Come celebrate the Spaghetti Disco volunteers and the philanthropic spirit of our neighborhood friends with a night of bell-bottoms, disco dancing, and of course spaghetti. Tickets include dinner, and are on sale here and at the circulation desk of the VLP Library.

Get ready to dance all night long