G marks the spot

Nevv hope for the local music scene comes in the form of an ex-strip club.

For Garrow, the only other solution — lowering the age of admission from 21 to 18 — is more trouble than it's worth.

"At one point, we talked about holding an 18-and-up show," Garrow says. "The state said yes, and the county said as long as it's OK with the state, it was fine. But the state said we'd have a problem with the city. The city attorney called me and said that, according to the municipal code, unless 90 percent of our revenue is from food, we can't allow anyone under the age of 21. If we decide to do a show that's 18 and up, I can't sell liquor — what's the point? I'd have to cover all the booze, put away all of the liquor signs, put away all the liquor advertising, and open it up as a soda and juice bar. Again, what's the point?"

So it's adults only for the G, even if there aren't any more bare breasts to gawk at. It's not like the club is entirely without vice, and the bands aren't playing Christian pop-rock. There's also Tuesday night's Salvation, the weekly industrial/goth party. And, Garrow says, Thursdays will soon be home to a fetish night, hosted by Josepher of Abusement Park. Garrow is quick to point out that this isn't a return to the old days of boobs and beer.

A leftover sign from the bikini-club days
A leftover sign from the bikini-club days
The G's owner, Gus Carchio
The G's owner, Gus Carchio

"What Josepher has planned could be a step back for us, but the way he'll do it — as a private party — will work fine," Garrow says.

For Garrow and Carchio, that's the important thing right now — putting the club's past behind it and building a new core of regulars.

"We're hoping people will forget what it was," Carchio says. "We want everyone to look at the club's music more than its history."

As for that history: When Gumwrappers opened in 1982, Fort Lauderdale was still known as a spring break town. Back then, bikinis were strictly for the beach — Gumwrappers girls came fully unwrapped. Nudity was legal at dance clubs, and Gumwrappers took advantage of that law while it lasted. By the mid-'80s, however, Gumwrappers found itself the target of a puritanical City Commission. Carchio says politicians had it in for him from the start. He's owned several nude dancing clubs in the past two decades. (Currently, his only other club is Diamond Dolls.) But Gumwrappers was Carchio's first. And though it caused him loads of legal grief over the years, he never considered giving up.

"When the club opened, nudity was legal in Fort Lauderdale, and there were about ten other clubs open in the city," he says. "But then a certain politician ran for commissioner. He ran on the platform that he'd close down all those clubs if he got elected."

That politician was Doug Danziger, Fort Lauderdale's crusading former vice mayor and member of Coral Ridge Ministries. He resigned in 1991 after his name came up on Kathy Willets' list of clients. Willets, wife of former Broward County Sheriff's Office deputy Jeffrey Willets, was arrested that year for prostitution — a scandal that no one wanted to be linked with, especially a Holy Roller like Danziger. But even with him out of office, the City Commission's crackdown on nudity was a done deal.

"After banning full nudity, the city went a step further and disallowed semi-nudity," Carchio says. Gumwrappers adapted again, this time covering up nipples with flesh-colored pasties.

Then came the strangest transformation of all. For six weeks beginning in June 2003, the place became Club Decadence — a South Beach-style dance club with a dress code and doormen.

"It was a cheesy dance club, and it failed miserably," Garrow said. "So we brought the Gumwrappers name back."

Garrow, who had been working as a daytime DJ, took over as general manager. He started thinking about booking bands.

The G's new life as a rock club began on Saturday, January 29, 2005, with a show featuring Trapped by Mormons and Southern Flaw. The night saw a full house, a much bigger crowd than on a regular Saturday night.

That show, and the next eight or so, were put together by Garo Gallo and Yvonne Colón, the promoters behind By the Way Inc. But soon, Garrow took promotions in-house.

"We already knew we'd be obsolete once the club started booking its own shows," Gallo says. "We knew they thought of us as the middle man. So we figured it was better for us to get out before we got kicked out."

But even though By the Way hasn't worked with the G in a year, it still refers bands to it.

"It's a really good place for new bands to get their start," Colón says. "When a band asks where they should book a show, I tell 'em to try [the G]."

And that brings us to the bands.

"A lot of these bands that play there expect something for nothing," Lee says. "And when there's a mediocre turnout, they blame everyone but themselves. Dean and Chrissy have been way too supportive and way too kind to people who are just antisocial. I would say 30 or 40 percent of the bands are not even friendly people."

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