As Miami’s nightlife nation ushered in 2009, they were served a dose of ultraglamour the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Lucy and Ricky checked in to the Eden Roc. Despite ominous storms on the horizon and newspaper headlines sporting words like “Great Recession” and “government bailout,” ancient hotels and bayside condos underwent billiondollar renovations, emerging like bright beacons summoning the rich and famous. The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show at the new Fontainebleau set a posh and hopeful tone for the season, stretching out a dazzling red carpet of superstars for the whole economically freaked-out world to see. If you build it, they will come.
Thankfully, they came. And more importantly, they keep coming. The wave of superimproved hotels that dominated Miami’s bar scene at the beginning of 2009 was still relevant as it drew to a close, wielding big celebrity-driven events, harsh velvet ropes and huge bar tabs that helped keep the island afloat in tumultuous waters.
Local purveyor of all things cool, Nicola Siervo—the nightlife superhero who brought us Mynt and Mokaï—is riding high at the top of the list (along with Navin Chatani and Jarred Grant) with Wall at W South Beach, a hotel that delivered all that was promised and more. The Fontainebleau and its multitude of awesome bars and acclaimed restaurants stayed strong, scoring big as recently as New Year’s Eve, when the most sought-after ticket in town was Lady Gaga’s 2 AM performance at LIV, courtesy of Miami’s celebrity magnet, Dave Grutman. And Michael Capponi still draws a beautiful, A-list crowd every Sunday at the Mondrian pool, proving that even West Avenue has its charms. All of these are prime examples that luxury is alive and well in Miami Beach, and plenty of customers are still willing to pay the sticker price.
But 2010 is greeting a new nightlife trend, one more in keeping with the current state of affairs. A smattering of secluded, intimate joints has sprung up, catering to a discreet clientele in search of more than a cocktail, a DJ and a boldfaced party companion. The coolest places to see and be seen as Miami kicks off a new decade are smaller venues, off the beaten oceanfront path, reminiscent of the infamous speakeasies of the Prohibition era. These modern-day facsimiles have emerged—or rather submerged—from the glittering mainstream, opening up a whole new kind of nocturnal experience.
The forerunner of the trend is undoubtedly the members-only club at Casa Tua. For more than seven years, Miky Grendene and his beautiful wife, Leticia, have reigned quietly as the owners and hosts of the boutique hotel, Italian restaurant and exclusive second-floor club, all housed in a nondescript, luxuriously appointed Mediterranean villa at 17th Street and James Avenue. With no fanfare and little marketing, this gem’s success is fueled by an impeccable adherence to life’s finer things and A-list celebrity word of mouth that no publicist could buy.
If Casa Tua is the forerunner, Bardot is the frontrunner. This live music venue in Midtown reflects the next generation of nightlife. Inspired by the ’20s-era Berlin cabarets, Bardot showcases a different band every night inside a spacious living room with lots of comfy seating. Lowbrow culture meets high art at this chic spot owned by Amir Ben-Zion, whose tasteful, eclectic collection of art, furniture and personal items are scattered about the space. With a nightly lineup programmed by trendmaker Erica Freshman, Bardot is poised to be a highlight of the season.
There are people who make Miami magical. Debbie Ohanian is one of them. It is no surprise she is ahead of the trend, hosting hush-hush soirées at Private Residence, her new lounge above Barton G. The Restaurant. Debbie bought the historic 1923 property for peanuts in 1993, then she renovated and opened it as Starfish, a stellar spot that boasted the best salsa parties this side of Havana. The second-floor salon boasts a breezy outdoor terrace and faux-leopard-fur walls, with dominos dancing across the DJ booth completing the kitschy ’50s effect.
Concealed inside the recently renovated landmark hotel The Betsy at the north end of Ocean Drive is a basement bar—run by art-meets-nightlife maven Michelle Leshem—known to a select group of locals as B Bar at The Betsy. A 100-person venue only accessible to invited guests, B Bar is one of South Beach’s buried treasures. A thick black reflective French vinyl stretched across the low ceiling combines with acid-washed mirrored walls to trick the eye, transforming what was once the hotel’s tiny storage space into a dark, expansive jewel box perfect for illicit affairs and whispered conversations.
And speaking of conversations, nothing breaks the ice like a bar named The Electric Pickle Co., the latest incarnation of the old Circa 28 space. Barbara Basti, a force behind Miami’s music subculture, brings her popular party Poplife to the Pickle every Saturday night, offering revelers an antidote to the monotony that plagues Miami’s downtown club scene. Also check out Basti’s Wednesdaynight affair at LIV, Dirty Hairy, for a step beyond the mundane.
Upcoming ones to watch are Dave Grutman’s Rabbit’s Foot, a cozy 200-person lounge opening in March in Miami Beach, and Sebastian Puga’s Coco de Ville, an intimate lounge adjacent to STK at Gansevoort South.
Left to right, Dave Grutman (LIV), Michael Capponi (Mondrian), Michelle Leshem (B Bar at The Betsy), Erika Freshman (Bardot), Debbie Ohanian (Private Residence) and Sebastian Puga (Coco de Ville). Photographed at Private Residence, one of the newest small South Beach lounges.