Miami: Then & Now
By Tom Austin (Nightlife); by sondra schneider (neighborhoods); by brett sokol (culture)
The last 10 years have hardly been quiet for anyone, but in Miami, they’ve been a tumultuous roller coaster of activity. Already an international hot spot a decade ago, South Beach continued its reign as ground zero for the Beautiful People, helped along by world-renowned art fairs, opulent new hotels and soaring condo towers. But other neighborhoods also began to evolve, from Wynwood—hipster central for the culture crowd—to downtown, whose rebirth was signaled by a chorus of construction cranes. Through it all, the innovators, boldfacers and visionaries kept up their mission to make this city one of the country’s most startling and alluring metropolises.
On South Beach, where the citizens have only the dimmest memory of what happened last night, 10 years is an eternity, a long night out on the space-time continuum of degeneracy. Nightlife never really changes—in any epoch, people drink too much and try to get laid—but everyone always thinks the real party happened last week, last year or last decade.
Parties are about the power of myth: The best are exercises in aspiration and hope, gatherings where all the other guests are much higher up the social food chain. In 2000, I wrote the “Babylon” nightlife column for Ocean Drive, and was on the list in a big way—surrounded every night by beauty, money, fame and sex, none of which I possessed.
The first day of 2000 brought an international sigh of relief: Countless scaredy-cats, conspiracy- theory nutcases and plain old Regular Joes were expecting computers to spin out of whack and bring on the Rapture. Curiously, New Year’s Eve on South Beach that year was imminently civilized—go figure—and ushered in a certain je ne sais quoi. While it wasn’t, say, prewar Berlin with Sally Bowles, it was kind of fun anyway.
That year, and for some time to come, was the era of Tantra, Touch, Red Square, the Astor, the Delano, Joia, Bar Room, Liquid redux and a series of louche drunken joints where it was actually easy to get in, not that it was always that easy to leave at last call. Later on, downtown emerged as the Dodge City of nightlife, while locals rode out the lounge aesthetic at Casa Tua and embraced the Grand Hotel period: the Shore Club, The Setai, the Gansevoort South, the Fontainebleau and now the W South Beach, the coolest—and richest—kid in class until, perhaps, Soho Beach House Miami opens this fall.
On New Year’s Eve 1999, Madonna, Rupert Everett and Gwyneth Paltrow (the alpha cougar no longer talks to either party chum) were out and about. Up the strip and down the fame pole, strange bedfellows Melissa Joan Hart of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Perry Farrell of Jane’s Addiction threw a shindig at The Shelborne. As the year unfolded, Crobar went head to head with other lumbering megaclubs—Bacchanalia, Xcape, etc.—and snagged the wayward, from Lenny Kravitz to Vanilla Ice.
Meanwhile, Celia Cruz and Albita—one sadly gone, one in fame remission—showed at The Raleigh, going on to gloss aftermath at the departed Goddess. Level, now Mansion, hosted a party for Bulgari with go-go boys and female impersonators, the road warrior of drag, Elaine Lancaster, still hanging in, bless her glamorama heart. Bolero, also gone, lured in Omar Martinez, while Erinn Cosby, daughter of Bill, had a pajama-theme party at B.E.D.
photographs by seth browarnik (miami) manny hernandez (miami, mendes); seth browarnik/red eye production (jackson); Dacra (moore building)
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