The hottest spot north of Havana will soon shine again, but this time in Miami. La Copa, LLC, a Hempstead, N.Y.-based development group headed by John Cestare and Paul Curry, has obtained the licensing rights to the Copacabana name for all markets except New York City. La Copa will open a lavish 10,000-square-foot rendition of the Latin nightclub in Miami’s South Beach in May 2010, with a Las Vegas location opening later that year. The owners of the Copacabana, who also own nightclub Columbus 72, will re-open a Manhattan location next year, as well.
Cestare, whose nightlife credits include involvement with Coyote Ugly, Polyesthers and Porky’s, says evenings at the Copa will begin as a supperclub, complete with full-service dining and a floor show, after which the space will morph into a nightclub/disco, featuring a DJ or live music. “We’re really tapping into the roots of the Copacabana concept as a 1940s supperclub — we’ll even have the Copa Girls during the dinner show — and then fast-forward into the later years, when it was famous as a disco,” says Cestare. He’s also planning to extend the brand into lifestyle items ranging from clothing to cigars to private label rum.
The original Copa reigned as the Latin nightlife hotspot in Manhattan from its opening in 1940 until it closed in 2007. Simply known as the Copa, it made headlines for everything from its Havana-inspired décor to banning Harry Belafonte — due to the owners’ “no blacks” policy — to then allowing Belafonte to headline in the 1950s. Sam Cooke and Sammy Davis Jr. had notable performance runs there, as did Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis. The Copa was also noted for its mob connections.
Occupying three different locations during its lifetime, the Copa became a disco in the 1970s and inspired the famous Barry Manilow song “Copacabana” in 1978. It closed three years ago to allow extension of the number 7 subway line on Manhattan’s West Side.
As in its heyday, Latin-infused décor, cocktails and cuisine will be the new Copa’s calling card, and Cestare is intent on leveraging the highly recognized Copacabana brand. La Copa LLC will likely own the first few locations, and Cestare has his sights set on licensing the brand to other operators to grow the Latin concept. Private investors are already involved in the Miami and Vegas deals, and interest from celebrities, especially Latin celebs, is running high, he reports. “Everyone has fond memories of the Copa and there’s so much excitement about bringing it back,” he says.