Secret Beach Club: La Piaggia
by rebecca kleinman
Like the Saint-Tropez version of Brigadoon, La Piaggia, a secluded beach club wedged between the Murano at Portofino and Apogee high-rises in the South of Fifth neighborhood, truly springs to life on Sundays. At noon, owner Robert Pascal starts creating his seating chart. There are many tedious factors to consider—nationalities that like to canoodle among their ilk, the hungover partiers who just want to hide in a booth away from the sun and scene, the hot and heavy romances, the divorces, the bad blood, the standing reservations such as that of real estate developer Thomas Kramer (a four-top table in the center of it all, amusingly numbered 69) and so on.
Around two o’clock, guests, mostly glamorous locals with a smattering of tourists from luxury hotels with connections, stream in through a wooden gate encased in thick hedges, with a sign stating PRIVATE CLUB MEMBERS ONLY. Though once exclusive to the tony set, its faux private cover was blown by The New York Times last year. Pascal, a social curator long before the term applied beyond art, keeps up the ruse for fear of becoming like other beach clubs.
“Many have tried to imitate us, but they don’t attract our upscale clientele, 90 percent of whom come by word of mouth,” he says. “My club is an oasis, a principality within Miami Beach, much like a mini-Monaco.”
La Piaggia, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in November, was one of the city’s first beach clubs. If Pascal is the coach of its Sunday football-esque extravaganza, then general manager Alex Maufroy is the star quarterback. The French duo—Pascal from the South of France and Maufroy from Paris— operates in sync to the point they’re often mistaken for father and son. In 2008 they partnered in Cozy, an under-the-radar lounge located a few blocks east that specializes in live music.
“After spending the day at La Piaggia, our customers wanted a place to continue the party that had a very different setting,” says Pascal of its intimate, library-like vibe in rich reds and golds. “We originally envisioned it as a place to come for an apéritif before a night out, but then it strangely evolved into a late-night haunt.”
Performing Tuesdays and Fridays into the wee hours, Manolito The Gypsies are a big draw. Maufroy, who detests the pounding bass at South Beach’s nightclubs, says the space is designed for primo acoustics. It’s a miracle revelers still have the energy to dance after a full day of drinking magnums of Pascal’s personally developed brand of dry rosé in the sun.
Perhaps they feed on his boundless drive. At 60 years old, the veteran restaurateur and former personal chef for Frank Sinatra and Nelson Rockefeller still knocked out 25 turkeys on Thanksgiving. He toys with expanding to Saint-Tropez next summer. As he says, “I’ve been in this business 40 years, and you don’t get into it for the money. It’s about the people.”
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