Miami is a tourist based economy; vacationing tourists seeking some days in the sun are quick to party hardy at night. Miami ranks 44th in population of USA cities at around 400,000 people, way below metropolis' like Fresno, Tucson and Virginia Beach yet it has three of the highest grossing nightclubs in the land according to Nightclub & Bar. LIV ranks 5th, Mango's Tropical Cafe ranks 14th and The Clevelander ranks 22nd.
Las Vegas, another tourist based economy, has a population around 600,000 ranking it 31st in population. Vegas has 13 places in the top 25. The clientele who frequently visit these megaclubs are mostly transient with national images and brands driving patrons to the party. They are invariably located in large hotels with built in clientele. This is big business and it's hard to imagine a small place owned by an owner, rather than a huge corporation surviving against the big boys. However, Erik Yehezkel is about to open Delancey in a small hotel, The Townhouse, in Miami just in time for Art Basel. He will fill his small place with locals and in the know travelers. We caught up with him about being a David in a world of Goliaths.
Nightclub & Bar (NCB): What type of vibe is Delancey seeking?
Erik Yehezkel: It's a free spirits dive bar feel with a sophisticated twist. So everyone is comfortable. Obviously guys like us can understand how great a true dive bar is but I feel like there is a learning curve for people in Miami that haven't found that true hidden spot with the right vibe. I think Delancey's is the perfect combination of dive bar meets upscale lounge.
NCB: You’re in the Townhouse, what are the advantages and disadvantages of being in a hotel?
Yehezkel: There are definitely some advantages and disadvantages of being associated with a hotel. I think a major disadvantage is not being able to be as edgy and ahead of the curve as you want. If the bar doesn't fit the hotel concept you can jeopardize the quality of clientele. Also noise is always a tough issue with hotels. You have to make sure no one is screaming outside of the bar when they leave. The biggest disadvantage is if the hotel’s clientele shifts because you can lose that upscale hotel appeal for people to associate you with. Once that happens you have hotel guests that you would never want inside trying to get in and if you reject them the hotel starts getting bad reviews. It’s a double edged sword.
Advantages really rely on how well you market your bar to the hotel guests. If you make it appealing right there and then you can guarantee at least 30-40 people walking through the door just for a drink. Also if the hotel has the right PR and F&B program you can feed off of each other and create synergy between all the brands. That can turn you into a monster, The Standard meat packing for example.
NCB: Opening in Miami can be problematical. Tell us about your construction and regulatory experience.
Yehezkel: In regards to the construction restrictions, it’s definitely difficult because there are all these rules and regulations. For instance we can't renovate the hotel for any amount higher than 50% of the hotels value within the entire time we own it, including the bar downstairs. Besides that even changing signs has to go through a bunch of different boards and votes. It’s all about relationships at the end of the day. If you can get the city on your side everything is smooth. That's why the majority of big brands that come to Miami fail. They think money solves all their issues but in Miami it’s all about relationships. Luckily, I'm a local and I've been around to understand that one hand cleans the other.
NCB: You’re cool, the space is cool, the crowd is cool - how do you market it? How do you position it to make money?
Yehezkel: I think Miami is its own animal and no one really has the blue print on how to make it here. Big brands come and go all the time spending millions but forgetting that locals really run the show. I think for this kind of place having a great PR company pushing the brand nationally to media and creating a positive image in people’s minds that haven't been to the space. Locals involved and encouraging word of mouth marketing where they know there is substance in terms of quality drinks and intelligent music is imperative. That kind of recipe creates brands that last decades like Purdy or Teds. In terms of making money my goal is to make sure I keep the integrity of the space and not sell out to make budget. I know if I can get in the market I can reach certain numbers.
NCB: What is the music programming?
Yehezkel: I want to make it a place DJs feel free to play the music they love. When the DJs are happy it translates to the vibe; obviously with some parameters. We have more of an eclectic vibe with an indie twist - keeping it soul, funk, rock, disco, indie electro and deep house. I don't want to brand specific nights, it more about consistency.
NCB: Who are the art and fashion influencers in Miami and what kind of parties or concepts will you employ to tap into that scene?
Yehezkel: I'm pretty tapped into Soho House out here and at first I thought I would go with a membership lounge and then I realized that would be to shi shi. I want to create a permanent guest list where you become a local and we have your information on file (i.e. what you like to drink and where you like to sit). With being on the guest list, we work on a few key liquors and have them discounted so even the artsy kid from downtown that wants to wonder towards the beach from time to time can have a drink and afford it. Also, I'm working on a few strategic partners that tap into different demographics.
NCB: You are small, 80-100 people. What’s good about that and what’s bad?
Yehezkel: What's good about a spot that small is 1) There are none in Miami. 2) I can curate the crowd to how I want it to look. I envision creating a brand that's notoriety outgrows the actual space. A spot you hear stories about and then when you get in you can't believe how small it actually is.
The hard part can be two things as well. 1) If it does become popular you are put in the position where you will offend a lot of people and become a pariah amongst peers for not letting people in. 2) Being able to generate enough money to stay afloat during off season since you don't have the big spenders from out of town and you can't guarantee you will busy consistently busy. Miami is notorious for business being shut.