Tell him to go fuck himself!" shouts Eddie Garcia, manager of the strip club on Biscayne Boulevard formerly known as Club Madonna. Garcia is responding to a reporter's question about Frank Pinter, owner of the neighboring Madonna's Restaurant. "Tell him and his little friend to go fuck themselves, alright? I've got no time to talk to you!"
Garcia slams down the phone, refusing to discuss how a simple dispute over a catering bill has riven the two like-named businesses, how a few cases of unconsumed chicken wings and ribs could possibly have led to a civil lawsuit, an alleged death threat, and a police report.
Two minutes later Garcia calls back, apparently having found the time to talk. "Look, man, I didn't mean to hang up on you," he apologizes. "I thought you could be [Pinter]. He's capable of doing something like that. The guy is really something else."
Well, no doubt about that. Eleven years ago Pinter bought an old chowder shack on the bank of the Little River Canal near Biscayne Boulevard and NE 78th Street and opened the Bimini Bar and Grill. The waterfront location proved a good fit for his menu of semiauthentic Caribbean cuisine, ice-cold beer, and ramshackle decor, which matches Pinter's personality. He regularly jumps from the restaurant's patio to swim with the manatees drifting in the fetid water. He's been married seven times. His current wife (the "little friend" to whom Garcia refers) answers to the name Boom-Boom, though her given name is Karina. "I am number seven, so I am like Sunday," Boom-Boom says in a thick Finnish accent, "a day of rest."
The quality of the food has ebbed over the years, and so has the flow of customers. Two years ago Pinter saw an opportunity to reverse the tide when the strip club, known then as the Pussycat, changed its name to Club Madonna, sister of the popular Miami Beach club. "I saw them working on the building and thought it was going to be a real upscale, classy club," Pinter recalls, "and I knew they weren't going to sell food, so I decided to change our name to Madonna Restaurant, to try and steal some of their traffic."
He takes a long drag on a cigarette before breaking into a slow cackle. "It didn't work out too well," he says.
Business is down so much that Pinter rarely bothers to open for lunch. Steady daytime income trickles in from visitors to the nearby Immigration and Naturalization Service offices. He charges those who wish to park in his lot five dollars for the privilege.
In this bleak context it seemed like a godsend when Garcia contacted Pinter this past October. Club Madonna was planning to host a private party for rapper Luther Campbell and needed someone to cater the gig. "I could have gone to anyone I wanted," Garcia recalls, "but I went to him because I wanted to keep it in the neighborhood."
Pinter, who had never done business with Club Madonna, strove to make a good impression. He contends he agreed to lose money on the deal. He prepared three cases of wings, four cases of barbecued ribs, two pounds of rice, two bowls of salad with dressing, and a pound of barbecue sauce, then served it all in eight aluminum trays.
All agree the food bombed with Luke's crowd. The caterer sold no more than 25 dinners at ten dollars per plate. Afterward there were plenty of leftovers, which Garcia insisted on donating to the homeless. Pinter submitted an invoice for $490; $300 covered half the food expense and the rest was for "extra services," including dishing out the chow.
Garcia balked at the bill. "When we made the deal, I said, 'We'll work it out. Whatever. You make the food, alright?' There were no papers signed, it was all done verbally. When the time came ... I lost $600 worth of food."
According to Pinter, Garcia first said he would pay only $140, then decided to pay nothing. The disagreement spawned what Pinter refers to as "the assault."
Pinter says that on November 11, 1998, a Miami police officer stopped by the restaurant for lunch. After the restaurateur relayed his frustration at the supposed stiffing, the officer walked over to Club Madonna. Garcia confirms the officer's visit. "What he heck is [Pinter] doing sending a cop on me?" Garcia asks. "He sends a man to my property who is wearing a gun? I don't care if the man is a police officer, the gun makes it extortion. At least that's how I look at it."
The next day at approximately 10:00 a.m., Pinter was sitting in his parking lot when, he says, a "red Ford pulled up in the middle of the street ... and [Garcia] jumped out screaming and cursing that he owned the police department, walked over across the street, and pushed me. [At] that time I jumped up and said to him to pay me what he owed and to get back in his car. He explained that I would not get my money, I had better shut up, and he would come back and cap my ass."
Garcia, not surprisingly, relays a different story. He denies making a threat and says he offered to pay Pinter a reasonable settlement. He alleges the conflict was escalated by Pinter. "Why send a cop over if I was trying to compromise with him?" Garcia asks. "I offered him $300 to let him be happy and let it go. When I saw him the next day, I was upset because ... he sends a cop on me."
That's not all. After "the assault" Pinter filed a police report describing the incident and visited the State Attorney's Office to explore the possibility of initiating a criminal complaint. Finally he filed a civil suit in April seeking damages to cover the original catering bill, lost work time, and legal costs. Trial is scheduled for July 12.
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"I don't give a damn," Garcia says of the impending legal showdown. "We'll win and then we'll countersue him for our lawyer's fees and the work we'll miss. This whole thing is stupidity. All I did was tell him to fry some food. We'll work it out."
While the legal dispute continues, the disharmony of one Madonna suing another has been muffled. The strip club recently opted for a name change, a decision that had nothing to do with Pinter (or even his little friend). The Madonna moniker has been removed from the marquee and recent radio commercials advertised the location as The Boulevard Club, featuring "women of color." The new name hasn't gone over too well, and another new name is planned: Black Gold.
Is Pinter prepared to again rename his restaurant? "I could," he says. "I could change anytime I want, to Bimini Grill or whatever. But it costs too much to make the change. This is a mom-and-pop store. The only thing I want is to be paid for the food."