On the Town with David Grutman
BY BILL KEARNEY
David Grutman at LIV
11 AM: Grutman's Apartment
David Grutman has literally just rolled out of bed when I walk into his Belle Isle condo. The place is decorated with collectible pop-culture figurines— cute Kidrobot monsters, Gumby, Matchbox cars— and otherwise has a broken-in-chic feel to it. It’s a far cry from the Fontainebleau Miami Beach’s LIV nightclub, which he owns and operates.
“How many espresso shots do you want, two or three?” he asks.
“Two, I guess.”
“Have three—you’re spending the day with David Grutman!”
Suddenly he’s on the phone with an assistant. “When I tell you to do something, you do it! What’s wrong with you? I need your help with this dog.” Within minutes we have directions to the Continental Airlines cargo pickup, where Grutman will meet Kona for the first time. She’s a 10-weekold Australian shepherd he’d ordered from a breeder in California after spending the weekend with Fontainebleau owner Jeff Soffer and his Australian shepherd in Aspen. A six-foot-tall blonde in a bikini saunters through the kitchen. “She makes me look cool, right?” he says, then explains that his friend Romain Pavee (VIP director at New York’s Avenue) and his girlfriend, Rox Conso (the said blonde), are visiting.
Soon we’re speeding in Grutman’s Porsche Panamera S, semi-lost in South Hialeah (he assigned me navigation duties). He’s on the phone with Soffer, figuring out how to make nice with Sunny Isles regarding a Swedish House Mafia event during Ultra Music Festival. Grutman, now 37, was 21 when he moved to Miami, and once bartended for Soffer in Aventura Mall. He opens the window and lights a cigarette. “Everyone stops their bad habits for the new year. I start mine.” He’s scheduled a hypnotist to help him quit.
Grutman has a big grin on his face as we pull into the cargo area. “It’s puppy-time soon. It’s gonna be awesome!” Awesome it is; Kona and Grutman frolic in the parking lot as if they’re old buds before she’s placed on my lap for the ride back to the Beach. Grutman’s on the phone again, inviting his ex-wife to meet the puppy. “My ex-wife is awesome,” he says. “Unfortunately I work at the hottest nightclub in the world, so it’s not so great for marriage.” Then it’s another business call, hashing out Pete Tong and deadmau5 appearances during Ultra. “No, I won’t ever do Pauly D, so don’t even bring that up to me.”
2 PM: Miami Marketing Group Office
Grutman’s Miami Marketing Group, of which he is a founding partner, occupies an unassuming second-floor office on Lincoln Road, a few doors east of Quattro. He has a meeting with a promoter who, when Amnesia opened, was the only one to jump ship at LIV and work for the new club. He’s trying to negotiate a return, but Grutman is wary. “I don’t want to send the wrong message by letting them come back.” Club relationships can get catty, but it’s water under the bridge at this point; as of this writing, MMG plans to buy 50 percent of Amnesia, taking over management through Winter Music Conference, then changing the name and reopening it, with a different DJ focus.
6 PM: LIV
There’s the odd sense of being behind the curtain of Oz when you’re in a nightclub with the lights on. The staff, normally gussied up, lounge on banquettes in sweat pants and baseball caps as Grutman conducts a brisk staff meeting. Kona is balled up in the lap of Joe Lahoud, Grutman’s right-hand man. “Security: lots of issues. You guys are being really rough with girls. Your guys are leaving posts. What’s the deal?” They work out a solution. Grutman then rolls out his vision for an upcoming night. “Do an open casting for freaks, for circus performers, for sideshow acts. I want a whole repertoire of freaks. Set up vignettes around the place. For the flyer, do some research on old circus posters and get me a proof tomorrow.”
10 PM: Gotham Steak and LIV
A table of 30 girls in small dresses, enthralled to be ornaments in the machine, occupy center stage for one of Grutman’s famed pre-LIV dinner parties. Though the meal has been massive, Grutman pushes dessert on tonight’s DJ, Denmark’s Morten Breum, as if he’s dining in his own house. Grutman himself declines the sweets. “I’m on a diet, man. Look at me,” he says.
Security rather theatrically parades the 30-girl dinner party down the grand staircase of LIV and into the up-front real estate as DJ Breum brings in a gut-shaking base line. Grutman calls it “dirty Dutch house.” The crowd is in love. A big-name DJ visiting backstage gives Grutman a hug and points to a girl in the crowd. Grutman sends a text and a few minutes later the girl and her friend are delivered to the DJ. Then he’s on a 26-way BBM conversation with his staff: “Get this dancer here, drop the confetti from the ceiling, get this ugly girl off the dance platform….” I ask how he stays focused, motioning to the room, the DJ, the small dresses. “I’m a pro,” he laughs, half serious. There’s something about Grutman that makes it seem like the world is his high school. “I was in the cool clique. I was more of a class clown, a prankster,” he says. Ask his employees what he’s like to work with and you get a pregnant pause. “He has no filter,” is one answer. “It’s making me a stronger person,” says another. Yet some of the girls back here are like LIV cheerleaders, working at Arkadia and spending free time with Grutman at LIV on off nights.
With the dark beats, the confetti wafting like slow-motion snow, the bodies flashing in the darkness, it feels for a moment like LIV is an entire universe, and up here behind the DJ, we’re at the center of it. The crowd below looks up in envy—the economy of desire. We’re the inside of the inside, just the way Grutman wants it.
photographs by Prescott McDonald