Undercurrents | New Times Broward-Palm Beach


The night air was crisp as Undercurrents loitered in the Pine Lake Plaza parking lot listening to trumpeters play "Greensleeves." Ensconced in a crowd of sartorially splendid gentlemen and surgically enhanced ladies, we felt the electricity in the air. The beautiful people hugged and kiss-kissed as if this were South Beach rather than a Cooper City strip mall. But forgive them their pretense, oh Lord, for the opening of Gryphon was nigh, and West Broward was wild with anticipation.

For all you serfs who missed the media barrage, Gryphon is Broward County's newest place to see, be seen, and be seen being seen -- a nightclub, in other words. Under ordinary circumstances we prefer bars to nightclubs; we hold in especially high esteem establishments where the beer is cheap and there's a hint of danger in the air.

But these were extraordinary circumstances. No less than the future of nightclubbing in Broward County was at stake March 21. (Full disclosure: New Times cosponsored a second opening party March 22.) For you see, Gryphon is breaking ground in three ways: It's a nightclub in the county's western wasteland; it has an over-the-top theme; and it pushes the boundaries of acceptable spelling -- it's griffin in most dictionaries, though we did find gryphon as a third alternative in Webster's II New College Dictionary.

We shuffled in the door about 8 p.m. and elbowed our way through the 30-ish crowd of west-landers to the Pub Room, an "eclectic combination of antique English chandeliers, 600-year-old beams and state-of-the-art dance floor lighting," according to Gryphon's grand-opening announcement. After a few complimentary cocktails, however, the place started to look like the Haunted Mansion at Disney World. So we weaved over to the Medieval Room, a roped-off enclave that required a little smooth talking to penetrate. Once inside we marveled at the pikes, halberds, and war hammers on the wall while warming ourselves by the gas fireplace.

Reeling from metaphorical whiplash, we settled in the Library, where the atmosphere is that of "... attending an exclusive, yet relaxed, party at a wealthy friend's fabulous mansion," the announcement boasts. Snarky bastards that we are, Undercurrents couldn't help but notice the mahogany bookshelves surrounding the marble fireplace held a fabulous assortment of Reader's Digest condensed books.

Young wenches trussed in tight corsets kept the food and drink coming, however, eventually warming Undercurrents' cold heart while fouling our liver. In deference to journalistic duty, we reluctantly interviewed Gryphon co-owner Daniel Schmier, who spun a story about young, chic denizens of the 'burbs being starved for a hip place to hang out. Or something like that. It's hard to read my notes. But if one is a suburbanite, doesn't one want to escape soul-deadening conformity when heading out for the evening? (For more on Gryphon, see "Foodstuff," page 48.)

That the Boca Raton News is hemorrhaging employees is not news. Layoffs at the paper have been reported elsewhere. At last count 22 heads had been lopped. What hasn't been made clear is that the daily actually died a journalistic death long ago.

Kate McClare, who left her job at the News a year ago after 15 years as a reporter and editor, says the place used to used to be known as a small, scrappy paper fighting hard against the big guys to the north and south. "We sent people to Haiti regularly to file stories back when Baby Doc Duvalier was in office," she says. "We wrote about ticket fixing in Delray by cops, the windfall in retirement pay for Palm Beach County employees, some good stuff."

McClare is now editor of Where Miami magazine. She left the News after the paper was sold twice and new management dumbed down the content.

Knight-Ridder, the same folks who publish The Herald, owned the News back when McClare started. Good reporters were willing to work there for low pay, she says, because they had the chance of moving to a larger paper.

But the media giant "sucked it dry and dumped it on the open market," she contends. And that was the beginning of the end. A group called Community Newspaper Holdings bought the News from Knight-Ridder in 1997, then sold it to a company named BRN Media Group in 1999.

Circulation at the News is at about 14,000 Monday through Saturday, down from 17,000 in 1996, according to The Palm Beach Post. Sunday circulation stands at about 14,800, down from 19,000 in 1996.

McClare describes BRN management as "totally clueless." For example, BRN vice president Jeff Perlman is known to folks just up I-95 in Delray Beach, which the News regularly covers, as City Commissioner Jeff Perlman. (News publisher Michael Martin did not return calls for this column; Perlman returned one phone message when Undercurrents was out on assignment, then skipped three follow-up calls seeking comment.) Perlman's dual role reeks of conflict of interest.

When last we talked to Gustavo Woltmann, he had ticked off 61 countries toward his goal of becoming the youngest person to visit all the world's nations and territories -- for which he hopes to earn an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records. Woltmann, a Brazilian born to German-Danish parents, makes for good copy, which might be why The Herald wrote about him on March 2, a day after New Times published a story on his travels.

The coverage was an opportunity for the affable 26-year-old, and he seized it. Hoping someone would offer sponsorship, he faxed out the articles and a letter of introduction. Only one cruise line responded. Fort Lauderdale-based day-tripper Discovery Cruise Line faxed its PR firm, which faxed the media. News flash: Photogenic blond guy takes free cruise!

When Woltmann returned Tuesday night from his daylong Bahamas jaunt, he looked tired but cheery, sporting a bright yellow Discovery T-shirt that matched the banner being unfurled behind him in Port Everglades' Terminal Four.

Or it would've matched. But when only New Times showed up for the so-called media event, Discovery's Ludmilla Vetelken told the banner raisers not to bother. Woltmann just smiled politely. He actually spent only two hours in the Bahamas and never even made it out of the port terminal. He was too busy giving interviews, he says.

Woltmann graciously thanked Vetelken for the trip (which retails for about $129) and said goodnight, adding that he'd see her again Thursday for yet another "media event."

The night air was cool. Woltmann paused to admire an impossibly massive Princess cruise ship glittering behind him, then let out a sigh. Although he saw little of his 62nd country, his mission was accomplished. "I got my passport stamped," he said contentedly, "and that's the really important thing."