“Greenpoint is basically the Checker capital of New York City,” says Mark Briggs, a resident of the neighborhood who rents out the iconic yellow cabs.
He makes a point. If you’ve spent any time in Greenpoint, you’ve probably seen the vintage yellow cabs (made internationally famous by shows and movies like Taxi and Taxi Driver) outside of the Henry Norman and Box House hotels. They sometimes spring into action at the request of guests who prefer the throwback rides to the hotels’ sleeker BMW shuttles. A couple of years ago, Box Street played host to the Checker Car Club of America’s annual convention, attended by about 120 Checker enthusiasts. At the time, experts estimated that just 600 to 1,000 of the vehicles were still running.
Briggs estimated that less than 20 of those are in New York City, and his company, TheCheckerCab, happens to own three of them. “Mostly, all the Checkers from the East Coast have rusted away or became so damaged from being used as a cab,” Briggs said. The 32-year-old grew up in the city and was still fairly young when the last Checker cab went off duty for good in 1999. That might be why he still harbors a fascination with them. Three years ago, he acquired his first Checker, for personal use. “People were so amused and fascinated every time I drove it on the street,” he recalled. “People took pictures and just loved the car– so we decided to start renting it.”
His business has grown to such a degree that he’s adding a photo booth to the back of a 1973 Checker. The car, which was used for the show Friends back when it was owned by a California company, is currently being outfitted with a camera and printer and should be available for baller bat mitzvahs sometime in the fall.
Briggs isn’t the only one who rents out Checkers for weddings and events. (His rates are about $200 for the first hour and $150 for each subsequent one.) Until a couple months ago, another company, Taxi Depot, was based just across the creek, in Long Island City. But Alvaro Gallego, the owner of that company, told us his rent was raised and he had to sell his vintage cabs (he estimates that he once owned 15 to 20 of them) and move to Astoria, Queens. Now he focuses on dressing up vehicles with props such as meters and lights, but he can still contract cars for movies, at a rate of about $150 to $250, depending on the circumstances.
Another company, New York Checker, hires out seven cars– some De Sotos, others Checkers– that were previously used as taxis in cities like New York, Chicago, Dallas, and Baltimore. Since the company was founded in 1983, its cars have appeared in everything from Mad Men to 200 Cigarettes to When Harry Met Sally and will also make an appearance in David Simon’s forthcoming HBO series, The Deuce. That series is also using older models such as the one pictured below, which we spotted on East 7th Street some weeks ago. Dodge cabs became increasingly prevalent in the 1970s, as AMNY noted in a recent timeline of NYC cabs.
Peter Mazzadri, who works at New York Checker, said that keeping the dream alive has its perks: In 2014, he got to drive Lady Gaga when she rolled up to her Roseland show in a flower-festooned Checker. (Mazzadri signed an NDA, so can’t discuss anything that may have happened in the back seat). One of the company’s cars was also used for a New York magazine story about Blur.
By this point you might be asking: sounds great, but do I have to get married or direct a period piece to experience the joy of folding down a Checker’s drop seat? Can’t I just hire one to take me to the beach? It seems there is at least one company that will do that. Back in June, I went to the Antique Automobile Association’s annual spring show at Floyd Bennett Field. Next to an 8-door, 24-foot-long 1973 Checker Aerobus (the boxy stretch limos were once used as airport shuttles) was a Checker cab available for hire via MyCarServiceRide.com. When I called, a dispatcher huffily told me that the rate was $200 for the first hour and declined to say much else about the service. If you spot the cab and tweet a photo of it with the hashtag #YellowCabNYC (as this person did in Greenpoint), you could win a free ride.