20 Year Retrospective: Nightlife
by tom austin
Miami—in particular South Beach—is made for nightlife: Warm, sensual evenings, a pervasive aura of tropical abandonment, and an abundance of sex, money, beauty, and fame compose a blueprint for a great night out.
In 1993, South Beach was still fresh, new, and emergent, and the scene focused on places like The Strand, The Spot, and Bang, the first restaurant-club on South Beach—a raucous joint masterminded by Nicola Siervo and frequented by the fashion glitterati that migrated here for the good light and cheap, funky locations. Vogue hosted a party for the early South Beach elite at the Raleigh with Claudia Schiffer, and Thierry Mugler’s renowned New Year’s parties at the Century attracted the elite. Bruce Weber was everywhere, as was Debbie Ohanian, of the clothing line Meet Me in Miami and the chic Starfish restaurant. Patricia Field, founder of the House of Field and the fashion figure responsible for the clothes in the Sex and the City television series and subsequent movies, would make the scene with Barbara Hulanicki, cofounder of Biba, the legendary circa- 1960s Swinging London boutique. Hulanicki designed most of the early Chris Blackwell properties, hotels like The Marlin; all of us nocturnal creatures back then would fight our way up to the roof of this club for Blackwell’s famed parties with guests like Madonna and Bono.
The new media circus—Twitter, invasive camera phones, amateur paparazzi, and all the rest—has invaded modern Miami nightlife; in the ’90s, the scene was more edgy, raw, and discreet. South Beach had some fancy clubs—Les Bains on Washington Avenue was terminally Eurochic— but most clubs then weren’t about bottle service, limos, money, and hired party girls. It was a bohemian and creative time; rents were cheap, and artists such as Kenny Scharf, Antoni Miralda, Roberto Juarez, and Nam June Paik kept studios on South Beach. José Parlá would create nightclub installations, as did the Bone Boyz, Tomata du Plenty, Don Shearer, and the famed drag queen Varla, aka Craig Coleman. Michael Tilson Thomas of the New World Symphony, who knows something about techno, used to host parties at Cameo. It was a more musically ecumenical time, too: There was techno and straight-ahead dance music at Warsaw, grunge at Rebar, rock at The Spot, and live bands at places like Stephen Talkhouse.
Now, South Beach has hit the big time. Hiphop, the true world culture, is a club music staple. Ultra and Winter Music Conference have given South Beach international stature as a music capital. In an era in which Lincoln Road has Gap stores, nightlife has also gone corporate. Siervo is now part of the KNR Group, which has the Living Room Lounge and Wall at The W South Beach. LIV at the Fontainebleau is the highest-grossing club in America outside of Las Vegas.
And in an alliance of superpowers, LIV owner David Grutman joined Siervo and others to create the new mega-size Story Nightclub in the space that was once Amnesia and Privé. The Opium Group, which runs the clubs Set and Mansion, just keeps growing. Nightlife is an actual industry here—a serious and immensely profitable business, and the future of South Beach is all about the art of the big.
From the beginning, South Beach nightlife was a semiotic message that symbolized many things at once—freedom, abandonment, outlaw creativity. The relentless media attention focused on South Beach has, in turn, inspired ever more self-consciously outrageous behavior among its denizens—an eternal feedback loop of revelry that screams, “We’re having more fun than you.”
photography by MANNY HERNANDEZ (DORFF, MOSS, BARBARELLA, MILON)