Coney Island fund-raiser raises money for Mermaid Parade and sideshows at neighborhood landmark

Coney Island fund-raiser raises money for Mermaid Parade and sideshows at neighborhood landmark
Photo by Steve Solomonson

They set the stage for the summer!

Coney Islanders and performance-art lovers from across the borough partied at the Kitchen 21 eatery on March 24 to raise money for beloved annual neighborhood events arranged by local arts organization Coney Island USA. Partygoers took in burlesque and sideshow performances — including sword swallowing — at the annual fund-raiser, bringing in about $30,000 for the organization’s upcoming events, such as the famed sideshows and the annual Mermaid Parade.

The successful night was a testament to the organization’s triumph over some tough financial times in years past, according to the executive director of Coney Island USA.

“We’re a lot stronger than we have been years previously,” said Jim Fitzsimmons, who lives in Dyker Heights. “I take it as a kind of victory that we’ve made it as far as we have.”

The event featured a performance by jazz musician Brian Newman and his eponymous band, and his burlesque-star wife, Angie Pontani, hosted the variety show featuring sword swallower Fibi Eyewalker, musician Poison Ivory, and burlesque performers Todd Robbins, Edie Nightcrawler, and Gigi Bonbon — who also won the title of “Miss Coney Island.”

Pontani, who lives in Kensington, has attended many of the organization’s fund-raisers in years past, but said this one was particularly special given its new location at Kitchen 21 — located on the Riegelmann Boardwalk at West 21st Street, in the landmarked space formerly occupied by the famed Childs Restaurant — which added some extra excitement for the performers and attendees alike.

“This [event] was really spectacular — it was over-the-top,” she said. “It’s a very historic location, it’s beautiful, and I think that lent a lot to the evening and everybody was really happy to be there. It was a magical night on the Boardwalk.”

The money raised will go towards future entertainment: Coney Island USA will kick off its famous weekly, 45-minute circus sideshows — the last in the country, according to the organization — on March 31 at its headquarters at Surf Avenue and West 12th Street, which adults can see for $10. And the nabe’s beloved Mermaid Parade, which Coney Island USA also puts on, is set for June 16 this year.

Fitzsimmons said other funds raised will go towards the Coney Island Museum — also located at the organization’s headquarters —which features exhibitions about the history of the iconic neighborhood and its role in American popular culture.

Reach reporter Julianne McShane at (718) 260–2523 or by e-mail at jmcshane@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @juliannemcshane.