LIV-ing it up on South Beach
If you’ve checked out the club scene in South Beach sometime during the past three years, odds are fantastically high that, at some point, you’ve been inside LIV. Situated just off the marble-floored lobby of the Fontainebleau Resort, LIV — the Roman numerals for “54,” representing the year 1954, when the iconic Miami Beach hotel opened — hasn’t stopped cranking since its first night of business in 2008. The 18,000-square-foot, 52-table club easily rivals the scope, ethos and revenue of any Las Vegas venture — it ranked seventh on the 2011 Nightclub & Bar Top 100, the highest-ranking non-Vegas venue — and has been dubbed the second best club in the world by Reuters, an international multimedia news agency.
With nightclub mastermind David Grutman at the helm, LIV, situated in the Fontainbleau Resort, stays fresh by hosting celebrity clientele, constantly renovating and focusing on new trends.
The $19 million club’s name is prolific among the masses because the revelry inside often makes the gossip magazines (such as when Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, held court with the NBA Championship trophy following his team’s 2011 victory and ordered a $90,000 bottle of Ace of Spades Champagne, or when movie stars, such as George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio and Sean Penn, show up), but the nightlife industry pays attention because of the money the club generates. LIV is on track to gross upward of $35 million this year, an increase of more than 20% from 2010.
The man behind the club is David Grutman, a partner in Miami Marketing Group, which operates the venue. Grutman steadily rose through the ranks of nightlife, starting as a bartender, then running the marketing efforts for South Beach’s Tantra, before branching out on his own for a Miami Beach New Year’s Eve party that he eventually oversold by 3,000 tickets. “It was a total disaster when 11 p.m. rolled around,” he admits with a chuckle.
However, the fact that it emptied out every other club in town drew the attention of Opium Group’s Roman Jones, who tapped Grutman to run Prive — now closed — before the two launched Mansion together.
During that time, Grutman partnered up with Ryan Schinman (who owns Platinum Rye, a global marketing firm) and Brian Gordon (who then was running the New York office of BNC PR before it became marketing communications firm PMK*BNC) to launch Miami Marketing Group in 2007 and open LIV in 2008. Here, the now 37-year-old nightlife mogul explains how he keeps LIV fresh, details his expansion plans to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic and opens up about his infamous no-play list for the world-class DJs who grace LIV’s turntables:
NCB: How did LIV come to be?
Grutman: Jeff Soffer, who owns Fontainebleau Resorts, called [the Miami Marketing Group] in 2007. He was going to bring Pure Nightclub in from Vegas and open it as an offshoot down here [in Miami]. Every club person wanted to have this space. Jeff wanted to partner with Miami Marketing Group because he saw value in how well we handled special events. It was to be an event-focused space with programming and energy and service on par with the Vegas experience. [Instead of introducing Pure to Miami, the group decided on a different direction.] So we took over, called it LIV and off we went.
David Grutman, partner in Miami Marketing Group, keeps the South Beach club scene thriving with LIV. Photo courtesy of Seth Browarnik/WorldRedEye.com. Cryo system by Kryogenifex.
NCB: How was that idea received?
Grutman: Everyone kept saying LIV was going to fail. It’s on 44th Street, which everyone said was too far north since, at that time, the center of the universe for Miami was 2nd and Ocean or Collins. We launched with the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, after convincing them to move the affair to Miami for the grand re-opening of the Fontainebleau in 2008. The masses followed.
NCB: After LIV was well underway, you opened Arkadia.
Grutman: Arkadia came when the hotel thought they had too many restaurants, so they did away with Blade, a sushi eatery. They wanted a cool lounge to give the clientele an alternative from LIV. It’s 6,000 square feet with 27 tables, and it’s open weekends, but also runs opposite LIV during the week. It’s only been open for a year, but we’re looking at upward of $10 million in gross revenue.
NCB: What do you think makes these spots so successful?
Grutman: We tuned into the edge of what’s hot. For example, Sunday nights at LIV is a hip-hop party and Lil Wayne performs every week. Jay-Z and Diddy have come regularly. That’s what the energy is like. You never know what’s going to happen. We have everyone wanting to identify with us. From clients who spend $100,000 to a celeb who wants to be relevant to the average tourist — they’re all in there. As a result, people really take our brand and run with it.
NCB: What do you mean?
Grutman: LIV is a culture for many people. They live and breathe it. One of my best bottle customers got a LIV tattoo. All our big DJs — Tiësto, Erick Morillo, Rony Seikaly — they tweeted a picture of the tat because they couldn’t believe it either.
NCB: Speaking of bottles, your venues typically command higher table prices than most other places. Sometimes you’re
getting $25,000 per booth.
Grutman: Inhibitions go down and people rage in Miami, so they’re willing to spend more. The 5 a.m. liquor license helps. The feeling of being on vacation here is amplified, which also contributes to them getting wild. It’s hot and it’s tropical, meaning women are scantily dressed. It all mixes to create a certain amazing energy that Miami always exudes.
NCB: It’s in its third year now; how do you keep LIV fresh?
Grutman: It’s the little stuff. Come in and you’ll get a pair of shades with ‘I Love LIV.’ Or you’ll get electric glow sticks that display eight different colors. Or we give out inflatables for people to play with. We have dancers with fire and some on stilts. We even have a LIV robot. He’s got cryogenic guns for hands and walks around spraying the crowd. They eat all of it up.
NCB: Anything physically done to refresh the room itself?
Grutman: We’re adding a new room to the upper right portion of the venue to put in a new bar and lounge area with some more tables. We’re also looking into a holographics company to break into that area with our new LED screen. And we’re looking at installing a new cryo system that isn’t even legal yet in Miami.
Grutman’s plans involve international expansion projects, including opening Oro at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic this November.
NCB: Are you planning to expand in Miami?
Grutman: We have LIV at Sun Life Stadium. Steve Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins, came to us last year wanting to create excitement at the stadium. We took 17 skyboxes and transformed them into a mini club. Four rows of seats below became 200 couches and bucket seats. It’s truly changed the way people enjoy the NFL. People who would never go to a football game now come. Each table, which can be anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000, comes with tickets and bottles.
NCB: What are your international expansion plans?
Grutman: We’re opening Oro at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Punta Cana in the [Dominican Republic] in November. The space is amazing, all designed by Francois Frossard. Stephen Lieberman did the lighting and Function One did the sound. It’s 12,000 square feet, all indoor on the casino level.
NCB: You get offers all the time for expansion. Why did you take this deal with Hard Rock Punta Cana?
Grutman: It’s an emerging market. When you have an opportunity in a market that’s coming around, it’s a no-brainer. It’s not too far for Americans, people love the [Dominican Republic] and it’s something different. To go in first means we can take over the country. There are some clubs there, but they’re more podunk than not. There are a lot of celebrities and a lot of Europeans with money going there, so we’ll have plenty of people to connect with. If it hits, it’ll have a lot longer shelf life than average.
NCB: What’s the biggest obstacle to international expansion?
Grutman: Tax laws and the work force. A lot of third-world countries have the work ethic of, ‘Why do it today when we can do it tomorrow?’ We’ve had to fight against that mentality. And you need to train a whole new staff to a level of service your clients are accustomed to. The little things we take for granted are completely new or overlooked concepts there, such as the sequence of service, the way to hold and pour a Champagne bottle and so on. The list is endless.
NCB: What’s the hardest part of club ownership inside a hotel resort?
Grutman: Choosing your partner. We’ve always gone with like-minded hotel groups: Fontainebleau, Hard Rock, etc. Places that understand nightlife and the experience associated with it. We wouldn’t work in some stuffy Ritz-Carlton that doesn’t want to have rock stars running around their lobby. Hard Rock was built for this, as was Fontainebleau.
NCB: Are you eyeing any other opportunities and markets?
Grutman: We’re looking to do LIV in Rio de Janeiro. We’re trying to get that off the ground before the World Cup arrives there next year.
NCB: You just want to be in places that are warm, don’t you?
Grutman: [Laughs] I don’t want to be cold.
NCB: Then why not Las Vegas?
Grutman: We’ve had a lot of opportunities to jump to Vegas, but the right opportunity hasn’t presented itself yet. We have a lot of great strategic partnerships with people who help us throughout the year, so we don’t need to go out there and suddenly become their competition. For right now, we’re good. We’re doing Vegas numbers on the ocean, so why go live in the desert?
NCB: Lastly, anything you would’ve done differently over the years, knowing what you know now?
Grutman: Not hired a certain few DJs. [Laughs] We’re famous for pulling DJs. Just like “The Gong Show,” we’ll yank a DJ if we think he’s not a right fit. I have a do-not-play list.
NCB: What’s on there?
Grutman: G6 and Katy Perry and a bunch of others. I end up fist pumping to Katy Perry, and then people see me and I get all embarrassed. If a DJ plays a track on the list, I will literally run up there like a full barbarian animal and grab him off. It’s gotten to the point where all of the DJs talk about the list on Twitter now. NCB