There was a time not so long ago when the nocturnal mobs crowding the bars along Fort Lauderdale's beachfront strip were among the most rambunctious in the country. In those rum and tequila-clouded days, throngs of scantily clad young women vied for the attentions of beer-guzzling fraternity brothers for whom the end of a good night might include a blackout or a great big bar brawl. All that ended a few years ago when the powers that be banished spring break upshore to Daytona Beach and began courting more wholesome visitors.
Or did it?
For a trip down memory lane you need go no farther than Bermuda Triangle, a massive nightclub in the heart of the new, improved strip where the wild spirit of spring break lives on. Bermuda Triangle has all of the elements -- young women in various states of undress and their testosterone-fueled suitors pounding shots of tequila, the overindulgers worshiping porcelain gods and nibbling late-night knuckle sandwiches courtesy of steroid-swollen bouncers.
Skeptics need only consider the stats. Since this time last year more than 400 police calls have originated from Bermuda Triangle, most between the prime slurred-speech hours of midnight and 5 a.m. (Until recently Bermuda Triangle was the only bar on the beach serving alcohol from 2 a.m. until 4 a.m.) In the postmidnight hours, according to the Fort Lauderdale police department, there have been 76 trespassers (i.e., 76 people booted from the club), 104 disturbances, 16 cases of larceny, 1 armed robbery, 9 cases of battery, 1 aggravated assault, 8 narcotics arrests, 1 sexual battery, 1 gun seized, and 3 assaults on police officers. And those are only the incidents that took place after midnight.
What is it about Bermuda Triangle that stirs a pregnant woman to slap a uniformed cop and drunken young men to thrust themselves at bouncers with biceps the size of small children? "You know what alcohol does to people," explained former manager Jeff Drown in a 1996 court deposition. "It makes them big and fearless. They think they can take on the world.... It makes them go and pinch some girl's ass where she goes and complains to a bouncer, and they try and tell him he has to leave. He gets mad and swings. It's the bar business."
Whatever the reason, Bermuda Triangle's patrons, among the most unruly on the beach, keep the bouncers and the off-duty police officers working security outside on their toes. Take a peek at a few of the highlights of a year in the life of Fort Lauderdale's most tumultuous nightspot, courtesy of the police reports filed in the last 12 months:
*September 14, 1997, 12:25 a.m.
"All of a sudden defendant Germano turned his head to the left and attempted to bite me in the upper left thigh area. The defendant's mouth was up against my pants. Fearing an imminent human bite from the defendant, I punched the defendant in the side of the face three or four times. The defendant backed his face away and tried to bite me again."
*September 15, 1997, 1:40 a.m.
"I began processing Gregory. Gregory kept jerking his head around, blowing his nose and spitting as he did so. This caused Gregory's spit and other bodily fluids to go flying through the air."
*October 11, 1997, 3:09 a.m.
"I believed it was necessary to place the defendant Walker on the ground. This was accomplished by leg-sweeping the defendant forward onto his stomach. Defendant Walker still wouldn't comply with cuffing by twisting and pulling.... Defendant apologized later for this behavior, stating, 'the devil' had 'gotten into' him.
*November 15, 1997, 3:30 a.m.
"The defendant jumped on the stage at Bermuda Triangle bar and lifted up her [skirt] as she spread her legs, in front of hundreds of bar patrons. This prompted Buckner, a doorman assigned to the stage, to advise her that she would have to leave the club, as she was causing a disturbance.... The defendant was escorted outside the club, to the rear/west side.... [She] started humping the wall with her body. She continued to thrash around, trying to break away...."
*March 17, 1998, 3:15 a.m.
"The witness told me that the battery was with such force that they were surprised that the victim wasn't knocked unconscious. After approximately two minutes had passed, I was summoned to the rear of the club for another disturbance."
*August 2, 1998, 3:35 a.m.
"The defendant shoved Mrs. Iamoiq's arm as they were in a verbal argument over a pack of gum.... As she was exiting, she was yelling, 'Fuck you, you can't arrest me, you can't do shit to me.' ... I attempted to walk around her, and she placed her hands on my chest. She was becoming more and more violent. I then instructed her to remove her hands from me as I again attempted to walk around her. She then struck me with a closed right fist in the face. The defendant is four months pregnant."
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Bermuda Triangle opened in 1994 as a nightlife anchor for Fort Lauderdale's spiffed-up beachfront, the first nightspot to draw crowds back to the beach since the city began its crackdown on unruly spring break mobs in the late '80s. With its 4 a.m. closing time, Bermuda Triangle attracted the drunken spillover from nearby clubs that closed at 2 a.m. By 1995, according to one former bouncer, the club had acquired a reputation as a wild place with "rough" bouncers -- big men prepared to do whatever it took to maintain some semblance of sanity in a room teeming with men and women out of their minds on alcohol. Another bouncer, a third-degree black belt in karate, said the club was averaging 40 ejections on weekends. Also in that year, three separate bar brawls drew media attention, including one in which Miami Dolphins wide receiver O.J. McDuffie got into a scuffle with a bouncer.
"When it first opened, Bermuda Triangle had its share of trouble," says Tom Mangifesta, a Fort Lauderdale police detective who coordinated the off-duty security details at the bar until a few months ago. (Police officers have long supplemented their incomes by working as uniformed security for private businesses.) "I think once the other big bars started opening, places like Baja [Beach Club] and BeachPlace, the amount of people who went to Bermuda looking for trouble went down." Although the number of incidents reported last year may be alarming, Mangifesta contends the numbers were even higher a few years back.
Vincent Green worked as Bermuda Triangle muscle in 1995, when the club was packing in maybe 1500 people on Saturday nights. "It would only take you a night to work there to see that the bouncers handled themselves very straightforward and aggressive," he said in a 1996 deposition that helped lead to a $375,000 judgment against Bermuda Triangle in a case involving a fist-to-face assault by an overly zealous bouncer. "They certainly weren't, you know, they weren't easy, soft bouncers," he said. "It was definitely known that bouncers would use undue force... to get the situation [under control].... Whether it was every night or once a month, it was definitely an accepted procedure of your job, and any bouncer [who]'s ever worked at Bermuda that denies that is lying."
In fact Bermuda Triangle is fighting more than a half-dozen lawsuits alleging that bouncers bounced patrons a little too hard. With judgments against the club totaling more than $1 million, the club's owners are finding out there's a high price to pay for keeping the spirit of spring break alive in these litigious times.