There's nothing uncommon about seeing a line of men drooling over cute girls at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood. Anyone who's ever been there knows the place is hookup central — where guys dressed in Ed Hardy shirts flirt zealously with girls wearing almost nothing. That's what happens when you pack a few thousand 20- to 40-year-olds into one space, feed them alcohol, and say go.
But on this occasion, the two girls drawing stares from male passersby are wearing roller skates. They're dressed in erotic onesies and knee-high socks (à la the '80s) and prancing in front of the Gryphon nightclub doing crossover moves and spins to capture everyone's attention. There's also a woman standing near the door dressed like Madonna from her 1985 film Desperately Seeking Susan. The theme of the night is "We Love the '80s," and the club is luring plenty of patrons inside thanks to the smartly fashioned eye candy outside.
A woman, walking with her girlfriend past the typically packed Pangaea nightclub next door. "Lately, I've really liked this place a lot better than [Pangaea]," she says as they head inside Gryphon. It's a sign that something's working right at Gryphon. The new party series has a lot to do with it.
Eight weeks ago, the folks at Gryphon embarked on an aggressive campaign to get more creativity and eclecticism into their Friday-night affairs. They're labeling the weekly party Le Freak C'est Chic, a sort of Cirque du Soleil of nightlife, where anything goes and where patrons can expect to be surprised each time they arrive.
They've had everything from a Brazilian capoeira performance, a pimps-and-hos party with Dennis Rodman, and an election-themed event in which all the girls in the club dressed up like the presidential candidates but looked a heck of a lot prettier than Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin.
Bengy Cid, whose Zhantra Entertainment is the main creative force behind the Le Freak parties, has been involved in South Florida's club scene for more than a decade. She got started as a dancer — much like the girls who work for her currently. Now that she runs her own company, she prides herself on giving partygoers everything they could imagine.
"I don't think Vegas or even New York offers what we do, oddly enough," Cid says. "They just get really pretty girls, put them in short outfits, and say 'dance.' That works for some people, but I always want to offer people a lot more than just that."
Her productions are high-end affairs, with multiple wardrobe changes, props, and dance steps that align almost perfectly with the music. One could easily feel as if he were in Ibiza or São Paulo when he hits Gryphon on a Friday night, and there's no other venue in South Florida that gives off that vibe.
Does Cid think she brings more respectability to the profession now that she runs her own entertainment company?
"Absolutely," she says. "People have gained more respect for what we bring to the table. Folks look at the dancers as art rather than just a piece of ass, which was the case a decade ago on South Beach."
As a person who isn't much of a clubgoer, I've been impressed with the way Gryphon manages to outdo itself from week to week. I'm not into the South Beach scene, the Riverwalk scene, or any other scene where style outweighs substance. So I didn't anticipate really enjoying myself at the Le Freak parties. But they're a hell of a lot of fun.
On most Fridays, DJ Roland is behind the decks working as the puppet master, and the surging house beats he pumps out keep the room on edge. Roland has DJ'd all over the world, and he says his current gig at Gryphon is one of the best he's ever had.
"The guys here, they really care about making sure everyone enjoys the parties," he says during a recent Friday-night set. "You can see the growth in this room since [Le Freak] started."
Jamison LaGuardia, Gryphon event director, says Le Freak's off-the-wall theme and rotating party has helped Friday nights compete with the typically much busier Saturday nights in terms of attendance.
"There are times here on a Friday night at 12:30 when it's as packed inside the club as it is on Saturday nights," he says. "People are reacting to it well, and that's what we need."
Attitude may be what makes Le Freak the best new party in South Florida.
"We're always doing something that people wouldn't anticipate," LaGuardia says. "We don't just open the doors and expect people to show up. We're trying to give people a strong reason to come. Every Friday night is a brand-new experience."