Nicola Siervo: The After-Dark Duke
By Bill Williams
Photographs by Lyall Aston
“South Beach was a different place during the Bang era,” Siervo recalls. “There was no bottle service or limos then. Now, there’s more money, and the hookers and gold-diggers are here too. The promotion and public relations machine in this business never stops. South Beach began in the time before Twitter and all the paparazzi. We’re all exposed now, which can be bad if you’re married or have something to hide in a club, though Twitter and Facebook are good for marketing.”
True, it’s not about handing out flyers anymore, or calling key groovy people, or snagging whatever dissipated actors might be in town for a drink and PR moment at your club. Now, celebrities are paid for appearances and cellphone cameras are everywhere. On certain levels, the new era has brought some positive changes: Art Basel Miami Beach, along with a rise in the general intelligence level of the city, has inspired some tremendous evenings.
In With the New
For someone who came out of the rough-and-tumble of circa-1992 Bang, last year’s Aby Rosen dinner at the W South Beach during Art Basel was a revelation—a seated, downright civilized affair that symbolized how far the city has come. Siervo was in his element, bouncing around the room as Rosen, co-owner of the W South Beach, happily took in the scene. Rosen is a certifiable big deal: An internationally recognized art collector, he owns two modernist landmarks in Manhattan, the Seagram Building and Lever House. The latter property has major pieces by Jeff Koons and Tom Sachs; W South Beach houses works by Damien Hirst, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol. Cohosted with Samantha Boardman, the dinner entailed Jane Holzer, former Warhol superstar and noted Palm Beach art collector, along with Calvin Klein, Tory Burch and an old-school South Beach dose of unlikely fame in the form of art world luminary Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez. Afterward at Wall, Rosen’s “everyone” list grew to include Vito Schnabel, Stavros Niarchos, Susan Sarandon, Sean Penn and—who else?— Naomi Campbell. For Siervo, it’s still a defining moment. “That was such an amazing party. Who knew that we would get to a point where a night on South Beach would be so smart, all about art and culture?”
For everything that has been gained on South Beach, there has been a commensurate loss: Each passing year inspires more where-have-all-the- good-times-gone moments, a sense that a certain je ne sais quoi has left the joint forever. Siervo is part of the new era, but he’s also a walking, talking figurehead of Old South Beach, a symbol of past pleasures taken in youth. Bang, in the heart of the fray on Washington Avenue, was the little Italian restaurant that could. From the beginning, Siervo was on the job. “Claudia Schiffer danced on the tables, and we had great Sunday night parties with people like Sylvester Stallone and Mickey Rourke. Bang was such a crazy place, and I went out to all the other clubs too: Le Bain, Rebar, Warsaw, The Spot, Miami Velvet, after-hours at Niva and Union Bar.”
Sandee Saunders is a South Beach survivor who dates back to the Bang epoch of Siervo. Back in the day, she worked at Debbie Ohanian’s Meet Me in Miami boutique, and now has The Sandee Saunders Project, a high-end showroom and wardrobe-consulting firm that reps international emerging designers and coordinates personalized trunk shows. To Saunders, Bang was the bomb: “My mother raised me to be a lady, but at Bang, I danced on the tables like everyone else. That place was an Italian soap opera, but he had such good energy. Once you walked in, and he kissed you on each cheek, it was all good. And it’s the same at Wall. Now I’m a single mom, with my son’s schedule on my iPhone, but I once danced on tables at Bang.”
South Beach by Way of Salerno
As with most nightlife professionals, Siervo started out as a devoted amateur. He was raised in the village of Sant’Arsenio in the countryside south of Salerno. “It was a very simple, traditional life, but with a lot of value—family, daily life, food—in everything, values I still put to use here. But even as a kid, I liked to throw parties, and I was a DJ, too, playing Italian pop music,” he says.
Location courtesy of the W South Beach