A New, Brighter Forge
by Victoria Pesce Elliott
When Shareef Malnik closed The Forge abruptly a year ago “for renovations,” many suspected it was code for “the end.” It’s not as if a serious makeover for this stodgy landmark wasn’t necessary. In fact, it was long overdue.
The former Miami Beach blacksmith workshop that had been transformed into a fine-dining establishment in the late ’60s by attorney Alvin Malnik—and which boasted a roster of star customers as long as its 29,000-bottle wine list— needed more than a bit of Botox. Now, after a year of work, the result is bright and sophisticated, modern and extravagant—but still with a good dose of its former grandeur.
“We’ve gone from dark to light, literally,” says Malnik, who took over the museum piece from his father in 1991 after a devastating fire. “I was saddled then with reinventing what people thought of as an old stuffy restaurant.” He did it successfully then, and 19 years later, is now creating another metamorphosis.
As a symbol of the fresh, brighter style, Malnik swears that no flashlights will be required to read the menus in the newly spacious dining room. Gone, too, are the silver cloches, the tuxedoed waiters, the 12-foot-high Victorian fireplace and the dark oil paintings. And yes, the caged Australian finches in the women’s bathroom have flown the coop: A former waiter took them home. Instead, a racy, larger-than-life Helmut Newton nude sprawls across the stall doors, a swimmer made from hand-blown glass bubbles hangs from the ceiling, and bulbs gleam at the makeup stations.
Malnik worked with designer Francois Frossard, but the vision is very much his own: “I wanted it to feel like a house—a very elegant house. But still comfortable and still The Forge.” Replacing the antique-filled former décor are burnished golden-ash walls, low-slung white leather couches, deep basket-like chairs, hand-etched glass tabletops, Murano-glass chandeliers and gold-lamé wallpaper.
The whole space glows. What used to accommodate some 300 people sitting at tightly packed tables in six different rooms now holds 200 in one wide-open, flowing place.
In place of the old bar is a 22-foot-long community table made of polished Indonesian tree trunk. The library, with its bright, stained-glass walls, looks the most like it did, though it too has been whitewashed and is outfitted with Wi-Fi.
The walls of the former Nouveau Room and Dome Room have been knocked out to create a shiny rectangular bar surrounded by 30 seats. “Who wants to sit at a bar and look at a wall?” asks Malnik, referring to the dark oak counter at which patrons used to jockey for a spot.
He’s most proud of the gleaming Enomatic wine system, dispensers that can shoot out by-the-ounce selections from some 80 different bottles. Above them hang sleek flat-screen televisions.
And in addition to specialty cocktails, dessert shots and a collection of 42 microbrewed beers, there is an interactive wine station in the area where the DJ used to play. There you’ll find executive sommelier Gino Santangelo, who has been with The Forge for more than 30 years and has seen the museum-like cellar through some tragic times, including the loss of many vintage bottles after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
“We don’t want to intimidate people,” says Malnik, regarding the new wine program. “Sommeliers came up to people with cups around their necks in tuxedos. The whole concept was flawed.” Instead, he has devised a rather ingenious do-it-yourself approach that even includes a customized iPhone app to keep track of customers’ selections. It also helps with food pairings.
PHOTOS BY Greg Clark; SETH BROWARNIK (KARDASHIAN, STONE, MCCONAUGHEY)
Cover shoot: Behind the scenes with Pitbull for the October 2014 issue of Ocean Drive magazine.