By Thom Smith
An estimated 5,000 revelers welcomed the new year at the Boca Raton Resort and Club, but hotel management was focused primarily on just one.
Only a couple of hours after Vitaly Zdorovetskiy checked in with a woman believed to be his girlfriend, fashion model Bri Teresi, hotel management and two police officers escorted him off the premises. The run-in wasn’t his first with Boca cops, and the hotel didn’t want to be involved in another with YouTube’s self-billed “Natural Born Prankster.”
Now based in Hollywood, Calif., where he’s working on movie and other entertainment deals, Zdorovetskiy, then 7, and his family arrived in the United States from Russia in 1999, settling first in Lake Worth. He spent two years at Park Vista High School west of Boynton Beach, where he was known as a class clown, and ultimately graduated from Boca High.
He worked as a garbage collector, street-side sign spinner and busboy before landing a part in a porn film. He also began using a camera given to him by his grandmother to shoot “prank videos,” which have made him an internet sensation.
Inspired by a cannibal attack of a homeless man in 2012, he dressed as a zombie to scare unsuspecting bystanders. Miami Zombie Attack Prank attracted 30 million YouTube views.
He was arrested in 2016 for climbing the Hollywood sign and again three weeks later for streaking at the NBA Finals — “LeBron 4 President” scrawled on his back, “Trump Sucks” on his chest.
Zdorovetskiy was known to Boca Raton police as early as 2012, when he staged the “Russian Hitman Prank.” In downtown Boca, he posed as a Russian in black suit and fedora, dark glasses and gloves, placing a briefcase at the feet of individuals, saying, “Your life, your choice … 60 seconds,” then leaving. Meanwhile, an accomplice positioned nearby recorded the responses. Most people hurriedly left, but one hurled the briefcase across the street.
Another chased Zdorovetskiy and attacked him. Police arrived — with the bomb squad — and Zdorovetskiy was charged with three felonies. The case went to pretrial intervention.
Now reportedly worth nearly $2 million and living in Hollywood, he returned to Boca during the holidays. He claimed he was there strictly to enjoy the festivities, but Boca police had been informed that a video crew was stationed nearby and that Zdorovetskiy had something in mind. That was all management needed to remove him.
“The safety and security of our guests, club and team members is our No. 1 priority,” management said in a written statement. “The club welcomed approximately 5,000 guests and members on New Year’s Eve to celebrate the holiday.”
Given the heightened security measures in place globally on New Year’s Eve, a guest who was known to local police for previous pranks that threatened public safety was escorted from the property after online posts were discovered about a potential New Year’s Eve prank.
Indeed, Zdorovetskiy is known for his stunts. Soccer fans watching the TV broadcast of the World Cup final between Germany and Argentina in 2014 were puzzled when action suddenly was interrupted by a still photo of Rio’s iconic Christ the Redeemer statue. They didn’t see Zdorovetskiy, in white sneakers, blue stockings, colorful shorts and “Natural Born Prankster” felt-tipped on his abdomen, streaking onto the field and attempting to kiss a German player before being tackled by security guards and police. Among those recording the incident on their mobile phones was LeBron James.
Within an hour of his check-in, the resort began actions to remove Zdorovetskiy from the premises. He hung up on management when they first called his room, then slammed the door on a staffer who came to the room. Two members of management returned with two Boca Raton police officers, forced their way in (Zdorovetskiy later claimed Teresi was naked on the bed) and informed him that he was being expelled because of reports — online and from police — of a possible prank.
Throughout the process, Zdorovetskiy kept his cellphone camera running. “I feel sorry for what’s going to happen to your hotel,” he told them. “You dug your own grave. … In one hour this is gonna be on YouTube.”
As the couple was escorted through the lobby, Zdorovetskiy stopped to chat with groups of young hotel guests who instantly recognized him. He later superimposed the resort’s phone number on the video that ran on YouTube and urged viewers to call and complain. “Destroy them for me,” he concluded.
Speaking of “bad boys” — with at least some redeeming social value — John McEnroe returns to the Delray Beach Open tennis tournament (Feb. 16-25) for the first time in five years. In the opening three-day ATP Champions Tour event, Johnny Mac will captain the U.S. team of Mardy Fish and Jan-Michael Gambill, both former Delray champions, against an international team of Fernando Gonzalez, Greg Rusedski and Jesse Levine.
A week of ATP World Tour action follows (Feb. 19-25), with Jack Sock hoping to defend his title against four previous singles winners. Also in the lineup: doubles twins Bob and Mike Bryan and Kevin Anderson, a 2017 U.S. Open finalist. He won’t even need a hotel: The South African recently moved to Gulf Stream.
For information, go to www.yellowtennisball.com.
I last wrote about Brittany Bowe four years ago when she competed as a speed skater at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The U.S. team performed poorly, failing to win a single medal, but Bowe stuck with it and when her competition begins Feb. 12 in Pyeongchang, South Korea, she hopes to turn the tables.
A gifted athlete, Bowe played a record-setting four years of basketball at Florida Atlantic University, graduating in 2010. She also competed in inline rollerskating, which led to the ice and national titles but no Olympic hardware.
Rededicating herself after Sochi, she set a world record and won six medals in six events at the 2015 and 2016 world championships. But during a training session in the summer of 2016, she collided with a teammate and suffered a concussion. An anticipated short recovery lingered for months, forcing her out of the 2017 nationals.
The recovery has been slow but promising, as she qualified first or second for her three sprints, the 500, 1,000 and 1,500 meters, at Milwaukee in January. In Korea, the times will really tell.
What goes around comes around.
After finishing college at Florida International University in Miami in the early ’80s, Mark Militello set out to find a suitable kitchen. He met up with restaurateur Dennis Max, a Californian who was just dipping his toes in South Florida waters, and signed on at Cafe Maxx in Pompano Beach.
A few years later, Max was pairing up with another restaurateur, Burt Rapoport, to open new restaurants and Militello was transforming a Max restaurant in North Miami Beach into Mark’s Place. That led to the formation of the “Mango Gang,” a group of five chefs who revolutionized South Florida dining with Floribbean cuisine, a celebration of Latin, Caribbean, Asian, African and American flavors and techniques. Militello’s efforts led to a James Beard Award as the best chef in the Southeast.
While Militello was opening restaurants in Fort Lauderdale, Miami Beach and Boca Raton, Max and Rapoport paired for several ventures. In 1989 the first Prezzo, in a small Boca Raton shopping center just east of the turnpike interchange, introduced wood-burning pizza ovens to South Florida. A decade later, they sold the three Prezzos and its concept to a speculator who later abandoned it.
Restaurant people are close-knit. Militello stayed in touch. He even consulted with Rapoport on his Deck 84 project in Delray Beach before heading to Long Island for a stretch and then returning to Josie’s in Boynton Beach to mentor owner Steve Setticasi’s son and chef, Sebastiano.
“He’s doing well,” Militello said of his protege. “I spent two years with him. I hope he learned something, picked up a trick or two.”
But the phone call signaled time to move on.
It was from Rapoport. He and Max were reviving Prezzo; would Militello run the kitchen — much like the old Prezzo, even the pizza oven, but with modern twists, such as the mozzarella bar?
“The response has been overwhelming,” Militello said. “It’s been almost too much really. It’s been at the point where you can’t even step back. You’ve just got to do it.”
Down the road … who knows? Prezzo, on Military Trail north of Yamato in Boca, should keep him busy for a while. At 61, Militello has done just about everything.
“I have one goal left and that is to open a really small fish act,” he confessed. “It’s the only thing I haven’t done. Nothing but fish. I want it to be very small and very hands-on. And I don’t care what the market wants. I just want to do what I want.”
Cannoli Kitchen. Biergarten Boca Raton, Trattoria Romano, La Nouvelle Maison.
Arturo Gismondi has certainly made his mark on Boca’s restaurant scene. However, his latest project had city code enforcers seeing not red, but sea-foam green. For a city with a color code that leans heavily on the legacy of its original developer, Addison Mizner, Luff’s Fish House was just too Key West.
Luff's Fish House restaurant, located in a historic bungalow, was cited by Boca Raton for its Key West color scheme.
The bungalow at 390 E. Palmetto Park Road was built in the Roaring Twenties by city pioneers Ted and Harriet Luff. Over the years it had served as residence and home to jewelry, antiques and dress shops, but as high-rises sprang up on every side, its future looked dim.
The Boca Raton Historical Society proposed moving it, but those plans never received much support. Demolition seemed likely until Gismondi stepped forward and the City Council jumped at his proposal to develop a Key West-style fish house. Everything went swimmingly until the exterior wall was painted.
After initially agreeing to paint the wall reddish brown, an approved color in the city code, Gismondi changed his mind and painted it a Key West-ish sea-foam green. He opened the restaurant Dec. 27.
A day later, Gismondi’s request for an exception was ruled a “substantial violation” by special magistrate Harry Hipler: Paint the wall reddish brown by Jan. 5 or face a fine of $1,000 a day.
The wall is now reddish brown, but a restaurant employee said Gismondi still plans to appeal.
On the subject of restaurants, Delray has one new spot and one on the way. The latest Italianate eatery to occupy the house at 9 SE Seventh Ave. is Osteria Salina, which follows in the footsteps of Trattoria D’Angelo and Cena.
Timothy and Cinzia Gaglio first spread their culinary wings in New York, then in Florida with Coho Grille and Trattoria Coco Lezzone in Boca Raton and Polo Grille in Palm Beach.
Osteria Salina is named for a dormant volcanic island off the coast of Sicily, not far from the toe of Italy’s boot. It offers traditional Sicilian dishes with a generous helping of seafood from the waters surrounding the Mediterranean islands west of Sicily.
Smoke BBQ is gone from Atlantic Avenue, but it’ll be replaced this spring or early summer by another with Southern roots. Tin Roof out of Nashville will offer a Southern menu and — surprise, surprise! — live music at the 6,500-square-foot indoor-outdoor site. The company already has 15 Tin Roofs around the nation, including one in Orlando, and each offers a wide range of music — country, pop, rock — whatever the local scene has to offer.
Finally, Lake Worth, a town that was born for craft beer, has a craft brewery. Mathews Brewing Company opened in January in the city’s Artisanal Industrial District on H Street just west of Dixie, offering such typical local brewery features as brewhouse, taproom and a patio with a stage for live music, plus a less common service — a cask ale program.
Homebrewer Dave Mathews, who sold his engineering business to brew full-time, offers cask ales. Known as “real ale” back in England, cask ales are unfiltered and unpasteurized and drawn at a warmer 50 degrees by hand pump.
By eliminating the carbonation, Mathews says, the beer is served as it was for centuries and allows the malt and hops flavoring to shine.
Mathews chose Lake Worth over West Palm Beach because of its “funky, cool vibe” and business-friendly atmosphere. He doesn’t serve food, but he has arrangements with the growing force of food trucks and menus from restaurants that deliver.
Thom Smith is a freelance writer who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.