I used to fly to Miami for a couple of days in the sun after a particularly grueling week of New York City hustle and bustle. I'd find myself surrounded by New Yorkers who had a second or seasonal home down South or, like me, were escaping the snow. On a recent trip, I recognized only a few. The emergence of Las Vegas as a viable getaway option had me wondering if Miami was losing status and club tourist dollars; however, Nightclub & Bar’s Top 100 list of the highest-grossing clubs in the United States featured Miami’s LIV at a not-too-shabby No. 5, earning $35-$45 million in revenue in 2011. LIV and LAVO NYC are the only non-Vegas entries in the Top 100’s top 10; Las Vegas venues fill the other eight slots. The list has other Miami success stories, notably Mango's Tropical Cafe at No. 14, the Clevelander at No. 22 and Mansion at No. 26.
LIV in the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach ranks No. 5 on Nightclub & Bar's Top 100 list.
This March's Miami Music Week/Ultra Music Festival had half of the New York City scene scrambling for suntan lotion. I enviously read reports about Madonna introducing DJ Avicii as well as Tiesto and Swedish House Mafia gigs. I wish I had been at the Timbaland performance at the not-even-opened-yet Bamboo nightclub. Bold-face industry names, such as David Guetta, Afrojack, Steve Aoki, Lil Jon and Skrillex, were joined by B-list celebrities, like Paris Hilton and Holly Madison, at soirees around town.
I kept abreast of Miami happenings via Internet articles, Facebook posts and emails from my man John Hood, a Miami-based nightclub promoter and writer whose columns and correspondence can be found in 944, BlackBook, NCB Miami, the SunPost Weekly and The Huffington Post, for starters. I asked Hood about what was going on in South Beach and its surrounding environs, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions.
Nightclub Confidential (NCC): I know you from New York where we found ourselves in the same room a thousand times. Then you made a transition to Miami. Tell me about the culture shock, if any.
John Hood (JH): I’m not only a Miami native, but during my racket-making days I performed here a couple times a year, so the culture shock was tempered some by my familiarity with the city. That’s not to say I expected less, mind you; it’s just that I didn’t expect more than New York. Then again, anyone with even a modicum of common sense wouldn’t expect any city to deliver more than New York, especially ‘80s and ‘90s New York, which I consider its heyday — nightlife- and otherwise.
For me, the early-to-mid ‘90s were also the heyday of South Beach nightlife; at the time it really felt as if everything went and anything was possible. There was a large contingent of New Yorkers down here then (we jokingly referred to this as “The Sixth Borough”), and the combination of ocean and know-how lent a particular charm to the equation. That everyone knew everyone didn’t hurt; neither did the fact that there was no demarcation between scenes. Cool was cool, no matter what a person’s persuasion. And cool was the only criteria for acceptance.
Inevitably, artists and outlaws gave way to models and bottles, ‘til it seemed that every square with an expense account (or daddy’s credit card) was co-opting the VIP room of any given club. Of course, you can’t buy cool, but that didn’t prevent owners and operators (and worse — promoters) from trying to sell it.
Fast-forward a decade and a half, and Miami after dark has exploded, on both sides of the causeways. South Beach is now more like a Disney World of debauchery, and much of the more discerning action takes place on the mainland: Downtown, Brickell, Midtown, Upper East Side and, most uniquely, in Wynwood, which serves as the heart of this city’s teaming art scene. Wynwood, in fact, reminds me much of NYC’s East Village and Lower East Side, while South Beach harkens to once upon another time, when a neighborhood was more than the sum of its property value. It’s the main reason why I recently moved here.
NCC: What works better for an operator in Miami than one in New York?
JH: I’ve got this saying, “In the country of the dumb, the one-idea man is king.” While it may be a bit mean, it does in many ways represent the mean that is Miami. Few folks really think here — at least originally anyway — so having even half of an original idea will put one well ahead of the proverbial pack. Another thing to consider is that no matter how much you wish or hope or pray or threaten, things will rarely get done on time, and it’s no use sweating the lateness. It’s inherent — in the water, in the drinks, in the very air — and as far as I can see, there is no cure. That said, the cat (or the kitten) that does show up and deliver as promised will quickly earn a reputation for reliability. One has to be somewhat careful though that reliability doesn’t provoke the envy and enmity of others.
NCC: With the emergence of Las Vegas, has Miami suffered? With the exception of the Ultra Music Festival, Art Basel and other such citywide promotions, Vegas seems to be winning the tourist getaway-dollar war. Is Miami still a destination for northeastern money?
JH: A lot of Miami ops have gone on to Vegas, most notably The Light Group and The Opium Group, and Sin City’s more an extension than a competitor. From what I can tell, it’s too far away for East Coasters to seriously consider as a place to jaunt to over the weekend. I mean, Miami is aligned with New York — geographically, personally, etc. — and I suspect it will always remain so.
NCC: In New York City, when the economy swings down, nightlife flourishes on some levels. Certainly the hip levels do better. Does this happen in a tourist-based economy?
JH: People want to lose themselves, no matter what the economy, and Miami was built by and for people with the drive to get lost. Sure there will be fluctuations, but the folks who can afford $30 cocktails and thousand-dollar bottles generally aren’t affected — and if they were, they’d unlikely ever admit it.
NCC: What places are thriving for the bottle-service set and the model/bottle crowd?
JH: LIV (and Arkadia) has trumped everyone. LIV, especially. It’s reportedly the most successful nightclub in the world. They’ve got the reputation, the location (Fontainebleau, natch) and the scratch to stay that way, too. I seriously doubt a band or a DJ would say no when LIV comes calling.
The Opium Group, though, is still holding its own, largely because they’ve monopolized South Beach. Mansion, Mokai, Set, Setai, Cameo. There isn’t a place that can’t be made perfect for some kind of occasion.
NCC: How is the job market for barkeeps and waitrons?
JH: A city where the average top shelf bartender makes upward of $100K will never have a problem attracting talent — and it will inevitably have a surplus, too. Fortunately for them, there always seems to be someone hiring somewhere, just as there always seems to be someplace new to go.