You’ve got a great reason to party today – one of the best! A few weeks ago I was ‘eavesdropping’ on Twitter and read a fascinating conversation between @Csensewatchdog and @RobertPerugini who were reminiscing about Fort Lauderdale. They were talking about a place called Button on the Beach which I’d never heard of. But Google has…
The ‘father of the spring break’ was a man known as Crazy Gregg Newall. He came to Fort Lauderdale in 1953 when he was a student, several years before the spring break craziness started in full swing.
He said that in those days there were just a handful of students that used to come to Fort Lauderdale. There were only a couple of bars (including the Elbo Room of course – that has been there forever). But he enjoyed it so much that he returned the next year, and the next, each time bringing more friends with him who all spread the word.
In 1957 he moved here permanently. And he had lots of memories about spring break. He recalled that once, at the eastern end of Las Olas, he saw a hammerhead shark that had been liberated from Bahia Mar propped up on a park bench wearing a hat.
I’d always thought that the scene is Where the Boys Are with the swimming pool in the bar was a figment of someone’s imagination but Newall recalled that at the Marlin Beach Hotel there was indeed an underground bar with a wall that was the glass side of a swimming pool where water ballets were performed. (Although interestingly, he says that the scenes that were supposedly inside the Elbo Room were filmed on a Hollywood set).
Newall ran the Elbo Room bar for a many years and then, along with some partners, started the Button on the Beach – a bar in the old Holiday Inn at the intersection of Las Olas and A1A. At first he was disappointed that business wasn’t too great during the day – the kids were all working on their tans – so he had the airplane banners announcing free beer for kids from one certain school. Of course, the other schools were outraged. So the next day, he’d do the same for a different school and so on and so on and so on. This made him realize that inter-school contests were a great business idea. They would play the national anthem at the beginning of contests and had all the school songs on tape. All very patriotic and good clean fun.
And the more the kids enjoyed partying in Fort Lauderdale, the more they came back bringing all their friends with them. There seems little doubt that it’s thanks to Crazy Gregg that Fort Lauderdale was put firmly on the map.
It wasn’t long before the wet t-shirt contests began. Then (he said) the girls said that was fine for the boys … so the wet willie contest was introduced where girls would throw buckets of water over the guys standing there in just their boxer shorts. And then…
Along came the banana eating contests which, Crazy Gregg said, were completely innocuous. Couples would peel a banana and then eat it from both ends, face to face.
According to Gregg, it was all good clean fun but eventually the city disagreed. The club’s DJ, John Torregrossa, was arrested for promoting lewd behavior. This was the beginning of the end of spring break. There was a newspaper report in 1984 about the banana eating contests. ‘Inserting the peeled bananas in one another’s short shorts, the couple gyrated and contorted their bodies through a series of suggestive positions. They took turns twisting legs around a partner’s waist, neck or face‘.
Well, I’m sorry Fort Lauderdale, but that was it? Now I know that I’m from England and therefore by definition a bit liberal about these matters but that was all? I was a student in the mid-seventies and it’s a good job that the City of Fort Lauderdale didn’t see what we got up to. Blimey. That was what got the city’s knickers in a collective twist?
Gregg continued to be crazy. But in 2002, his doctors told him that the party was almost over. Just a few weeks before his death in 2003, in front of over 200 of his former employees and longtime friends, Newell was the guest of honor at an “Aloha” party at The Parrot Lounge where Mayor Jim Naugle issued a proclamation declaring October 22 as “Crazy Gregg Day” in Fort Lauderdale.
So, there you have it. That’s your excuse for partying today. Banana anyone?