Last Sunday at 1 a.m. in the heart of the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino's party district, Gryphon doorman Julian Watterlot stalked around the megaclub's roughly ten-by-six-foot admission checkpoint. Twenty-five people -- men and women in blue jeans; pressed, long-sleeved, button-down shirts; and tight-fitting tanks -- were gathered on the perimeter of the blocked-off entrance, waiting for attention.
By then, 1,400 people had trooped through the door. Though it's only a few months old, the place gets 1,800 to 1,900 on weekend nights.
At 1:15 a.m., the expectant crowd had swollen to 50 people. It was all business behind the black leather ropes, where 27-year-old, handsome, and slim Watterlot, who's from Paris, set the fashion trend with his own outfit: black pants topped by black blazer over a T-shirt with skeletal wings protruding from what appears to be a human organ. The pointy black shoes were Gucci snakeskin. The accessories to his look: a tattoo creeping up the base of his neck, an elephant-hair bracelet, an Audemars Piguet watch, and a sweep of light brown, Jude Law-inspired hair that sticks up off his head.
As the hoi polloi clamored, Watterlot, who's in charge of entry to the main club, consulted with the three VIP hosts about who would get in, when, and at what price.
Those seem like some absurdly serious questions to be asking out on "Four Forty One." But somehow, owner Michael Ault's Gryphon-Pangaea complex is drawing celebrities like Alicia Keys and New Found Glory along with an upper-crust crowd, even though it's essentially in a shopping mall, at a casino, on a Seminole Indian reservation, in West Broward.
What's odd is how all of those factors set the evening's events further from reality. It's clubland, and considering that Gryphon has a 24-hour liquor license, if the owners chose to shake your body around the clock with DJs like Saturday-night residents nextgeneration, the party, theoretically, would never stop.
In fact, the success or failure of this pricey Broward County nightlife experiment likely has to do with those who, like Watterlot, understand what constitutes a good party. A decade of South Florida clubbing and love of fashion make this Prada freak who claims "I met my wife at Space at 10 a.m." the go-to man for filtering the crowd that enters the $4 million club complex.
"What," I asked Julian, "do you think of people who dislike door policies?"
"Fuck them," he replied matter-of-factly with a deep voice through a thick accent.
Cold, isn't he?
At 2 a.m., Julian and I sat down amid 70 people inside Gryphon's VIP lounge, which is separated from the main club by a hedge-lined wall that fades from blue to green. Nine trapezoidal openings permit glances in and out; seeing and being seen, after all, being the purpose of subjecting oneself to the Julian filter.
He crushed a box of Marlboro Reds while he lit up his last. "I was a bad guy. I dropped out of school when I was 13 years old," he said. "I had another idea. I loved cars. I still buy and sell cars. I started making money when I was 16; then I got in trouble."
Julian, who moved to the States when he was 18, has worked in bars and clubs all over South Florida. He ran through a list of names that might bring up old memories in locals' minds like the Knitting Factory, Stereo, Jimmy G's, and Velvet Lounge. "I started as a busboy; then I became a bartender. I was manager at Velvet Lounge, then at Stereo; then I went back to the door because the door is the best. You know exactly who's coming in. You make the party because you choose the people. If it's a bad crowd, it's your fault."
His take on Pangaea and Gryphon is: "We're trying to get the best of Broward, like Velvet Lounge used to be. We have professionals, car dealers, drug dealers," he said like it's a stock phrase he likes to run off.
It's not always fun at the door. Julian recalled working Memorial Day Weekend 2001 in downtown Fort Lauderdale. "We had a huge fight," he says. "We had to shut down. There was shooting all over the place."
"Did you stay after that?"
I first met Julian a couple of months ago -- soon after he'd started work at Gryphon when it opened in December -- at Mama Mia's MIA Monday nights in Hollywood. The restaurant and nightclub's friendly owner, Joey Franco, introduced me to South Florida's standout doorman, then started busting his balls: "I was telling Courtney that you're the asshole French guy that everybody hates. He's the guy that, when there's a crowd out front, don't let you in. I met him and said, 'You're the asshole who didn't let me in five years ago at Liquid. '"
All the while, Julian stood by the rope taking Joey's talk in good humor.
"He knows it all," Franco continued. "It's amazing. How many times have I told him not to let them in with flip-flops?'
"He's like, 'No, you don't understand. Flip-flops are in style.'
"I'm like, 'Julian, you're killing me.'
"He's worked with all the clubs over the years. One time, some guys come walking up in shorts. I said, 'Don't let them in.'
"Julian said, 'That's the owner of the Marlins. '"
Taking the side of the partier at the door, I searched for an empathetic emotion in the unflappable but easily amused doorman. I asked, "Julian, have you ever been rejected?"
"Not that I know of," he replied.
"So," I conjectured, "the feeling of rejection is something that you don't understand? You don't know what you're doing to people?"
"I make sure I'm not gonna get rejected wherever I go," he proclaimed.
"You've just got to be sure of yourself."
Aha. Or maybe it's style, connections, and a little cash to throw around.
I asked Julian how much he makes.
"No comment." His only further answer was, "I worked six months at Art Bar. Before that, I was retired for a year."
"You made enough to retire for a year?"
Julian nodded and smiled.
"Hmm. Do people try to pay you off?"
"People try to pay me off all night. It doesn't really work. Take care of me without asking anything. Take care of me because you had a good time."
"So," I asked him, "what's never gonna get past the door?"
"Sneakers, baggy pants, assholes, T-shirts."
"But," I pointed out, "you're wearing a T-shirt."
"I'm the door guy," he explained.
He put his thumbs together and extended his pinkies out around an invisible waistline and said, "Anyone who can't fit in here."
Elitist though that sounded, a glance at the crowd revealed that it's not strict policy.
"What are the best lines you've gotten at the door?" I asked him.
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"Shit, I don't remember... 'I'm Julian's brother,'" he said.
"What do you do if you know you're not going to let someone in?"
"Say, 'I'll be right back. '"
He summarizes, "I talk to people first to see how they act. I love attitude. They've got to have personality."