Miami at Night

Leif Parsons

Come sunset, the city's beaches are deserted for banquettes and bottle service. Buzz Bissinger spends a night at club E11even.

Dear Editor in Chief,

Since we have never met and this is my debut for departures, a good first impression is essential. I want to thank you for the assignment, to capture the more risqué elements of the nightlife scene in Miami. But I might as well just come out and say it: Things did not go exactly as planned. Hence the e-mail. Although I like to think that my middle name is Dili­gence, there was a definite time-management issue­. I haven’t pulled two all-nighters in a row in my life. At my age—59—I figured my only possibility of that would be the result of something flatulent, so once again, thank you.

The problem is, the sleep deprivation got me confused. I am not used to being up at 2 a.m., which is when clubs in Miami strut and swagger. Waking up at 2:45 in the afternoon was disorienting.

Drinking copious amounts of Grey Goose most likely did not help, although I did discover that Red Bull as a chaser doesn’t simply make you drunk but wide-awake and drunk, a combination with strengths and weaknesses. I did interview people during my primary research phase, although I am not sure if the masseuse in black leather boots who does a fine and sensitive job around the ears necessarily qualifies. I enlisted the help of Mateo and his beautiful wife, Mariana, for extra research. Mateo was particularly helpful in pointing out telltale signs of butt implants, so you know he is a true Miamian.

I took notes at various clubs. But the later it got, the more indecipherable they became, a word here and a word there until the void. As a way of memorializing, I also took pictures with my phone. But because I have trouble seeing up close, most came out dark and blurry as if hallucinating Sasquatch, although I think I actually was.

I also admit to becoming preoccupied by one club in particular called E11EVEN, which opened in February and is the new hot thing and somewhat indescribable, at least in a classy magazine like this one.

Let’s just say it required more extensive research than I originally thought. In hindsight, I probably did cross a line when I asked for a job.

I sense you may have doubts about me already.

Anyway, the club scene in Miami is booming and ever-mutating­, more theatrics, more spectacle, more titillation, more bigfoot DJs, more sound and light to feed the photographic and video mania of patrons with their smartphones. Sex is embedded into the molecules of the humidity in Miami. I am surprised there is not an emergency airlift of condoms every night by the French. Everybody wants something somebody has, and it makes the club scene combustible, thousands of sparks with the possibility of ignition.

“When you go to a nightclub, it’s like Disneyland for adults,” says Eric DaSilva, who has worked in the city’s nightclub industry for more than a decade. DaSilva is the president of Luxemode, a Miami-based company that provides VIP concierge service for high-end customers. He works directly with the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, where I found sumptuous relief after the arduous work of drinking and smoking and dancing. DaSilva’s clients don’t want to wait in line. They enjoy such amenities as a personal greeting at the door and their favorite bottle of choice waiting for them at a see-and-be-seen table in the VIP section. They also often want discretion, and DaSilva knows all the side entrances and exits.

“When you walk into a club, it’s supposed to be perfect,” he says. “The beautiful waitresses. The lighting stimulates your senses. The sound is so loud, and the alcohol and liquor blend it all together.”

Who says the American dream is dead?

The club scene in Miami has always evolved in phases. In the 1950s there was Frank Sinatra at the Copa City and Sammy Davis Jr. at the Beachcomber breaking the color line. In the ’60s Jackie Gleason broadcast his variety show from Miami Beach. But the hotel palaces of Miami Beach began to crumble, and the southernmost neighborhood of South Beach became the dilapidated repository of elderly pensioners and Cuban refugees from the Mariel boatlift.

Until the Art Deco pricelessness of South Beach was discovered and restored. The club scene began to thrive in the ’80s, culminating in Club Nu, with its celebrities and drugs and sex before it closed in 1990.

That was the year former male model Eric Milon came to the city. Milon, who had lived in Europe and New York, opened The Strand restaurant in South Beach. It attracted a huge bar scene and was open an unheard-of seven days a week. Milon envisioned a club scene along the lines of Studio 54 and The Palladium in New York. With his brother Francis and Roman Jones (father Mick founded the rock band Foreigner), they formed the Opium Group and in 2001 opened the Opium Garden. It became the South Beach rage, the kind of place where Prince might run into P. Diddy.

The Opium Group ultimately opened Mansion in 2004. It was a turning point in the club scene. It had its ample share of the so-called “general admission” crowd. But it also took aim at the “model and bottle” crowd, not simply rich but determined to play the role of Croesus. The trend of bottle service came into serious play, with tables in a VIP section with hefty minimums. The going price for a 750-milliliter bottle of Dom Pérignon today is around $950.

Milon, born in France and still model handsome, is modest about the success; he has four clubs operating in Miami right now. “I don’t know. You have to have a magic touch or something.”

The Opium Group pretty much had a stranglehold on Miami nightlife until 2008, when MMG Nightlife opened LIV in the $1 billion restoration of the Fontainebleau Miami Beach hotel. The club cognoscenti said everyone thought it would never work because of its location, on Collins Avenue, roughly 20 blocks to the north of the South Beach vortex. They were wrong, despite the inscrutability of the name (it is pronounced “live” and stands for the roman numeral 54, the year in which the original Fontainebleau opened). It raised the club scene to another level—18,000 square feet of almost­ futuristic lavishness, more DJ-centric, more geared to the A-list­ and phenomenally successful. It ranked fifth earlier this year in the Nightclub & Bar Top 100, with estimated revenues of $40 million to $45 million. (Ten Miami nightclubs made the list, only two less than New York despite Miami’s having roughly a third the metropolitan population. Las Vegas was the leader with 24.)

In recent years there has been a trend toward smaller, more exclusive clubs where you may need a litigator to get through the golden ropes—The Wall at the W South Beach, Mynt, the Opium Group’s SET and Mokai. Everybody is after the high-ender; the clubs are enormously competitive with one another for the bragging rights of outrageous spending. There are the bottle wars, in which somebody spends $150,000 on Champagne to outdo the guy who just spent $75,000. There are the British guys who spent $100,000 to meet rapper Rick Ross in his studio and then entertain him as a special guest at Cameo, where they bought all six VIP tables behind the DJ booth. There is the sybarite who spent upwards of $350,000 on the club circuit in one week.

There is also the celebrity arms race, LIV claiming Leonardo DiCaprio, Miley Cyrus and the Miami Heat, who reportedly purchased a 15-liter bottle of Ace of Spades for $75,000 there after winning the NBA championship in 2012; Mynt ballyhooing Sean Penn, Cameron Diaz and Jamie Foxx; Mansion, Nicki Minaj and Paris Hilton; and Mickey Rourke pretty much anywhere.

I want you to know that I personally checked out Mansion, 40,000 square feet of sweat and strobe and incredible sound system and sexual hope, nearly packed to its 1,500-person capacity even though a summer night in Miami is hardly peak season. The crowd was young, a little bit touristy, but the VIP section was exclusive and well guarded by a battalion of the sort of unsmiling men who probably never like their Christmas presents. And the service was impeccable. The vibe had its share of kink.

Whenever Champagne was ordered, a noxious horn sounded as if the Titanic had reemerged, followed by a procession of servers in strapless outfits slicing through the crowd with sparklers to present it. A performer in white thigh-high platform boots slithered high above on a chain like forbidden fruit. Two others in very skimpy costumes had a sphinxlike thing going on raised platforms on either side of the DJ booth. One wore a green visor down her face, which for some inexplicable reason reminded me of Russell Crowe in Gladiator had there been a moment in the film in which he danced in pasties for the very sexually confused Commodus.

I spent a little time at sister club SET, small with a capacity of 500. It is far more exclusive than Mansion and leans toward an older crowd. It, too, had performers twirling from the ceiling. I found myself transfixed by four women in stillness in front of the DJ booth, with folded legs and white stockings, a little bit vamp, a little bit tramp, a little bit vixen, all very Weimar Republic. I went to LIV, crowded and gorgeous and reeking of not-making-the-cut, would-be patrons telling the employee on the rope convoluted stories of clout before being slapped down like roadkill.

Then comes E11EVEN.

Yes, seven hours was probably excessive….

Some say that E11EVEN, after the initial shock of the new, will fizzle out. Some say that the cost of the club, $40 million including adjacent land for future development, makes the nut prohibitive. Some say the location, on NE 11th Street in downtown Miami, will never work, just like the location of LIV would never work. For many clubs their best day is the first day, or, as The Opium Group’s Justin Levine put it, “the grand opening followed 90 days later by the grand closing.”

“We had so many naysayers,” Roland Katavic, a nightclub consultant to E11EVEN told me well before a sizable dent had been made in the magnum of Grey Goose and I asked for a job.

Twice. Actually three times.

He says the club has doubled projections. “We raised the bar on an entire industry,” he proudly says, successfully creating what he describes as a “hybrid between Studio 54 and a gentleman’s club.”

“It’s a f------ strip club,” counters Levine.

“So you see some t------ onstage. It’s not the worst thing that happens,” counters Katavic.

Your honor, there are no further questions.

The founder and creative force behind E11EVEN, seasoned nightclub impresario Dennis DeGori, quietly bristles at a single categorization. He related the story of a patron from Canada who after spending an hour at the club turned to him and asked, “What exactly is this place?”

“It’s exactly what you think it is,” DeGori rhetorically answered. “I don’t know what it is.”

I think he does.

E11EVEN does have elements of the quintessential modern nightclub, with music pounding through a state-of-the-art, multimillion-dollar sound and light system, 600 square feet of LED lights and a total space of 20,000 square feet on three levels. It does have the combined elements of Kinky Boots and Cirque du Soleil, with pole dancing eminently more challenging than any event at the Summer Olympics­. It does cater to the rich and upscale, with one of its bars stocked with 30 options of Champagne costing as much as $9,000. Patrons have been known to spend as much as $70,000 in a single night. Boxing champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. reportedly dropped $100,000 in dollar bills to be scooped up by lucky performers.

No offense, Floyd, but I dropped $300 at the ATM until I maxed out.

There are strippers who give lap dances and entertain patrons in “conversation” rooms that range from $500 to $15,000 or more, depending on quantity and length of stay. On a busy night, more than 200 performers cycle through in endless waves of reinforcement.

For those who want discretion, there is a side entrance covered in mesh-like material so you can pull in your car in private and enter directly into a second-floor conversation room, where men and women come and go, definitely not talking of Michelangelo.

I did see a crowd of all ages, none of whom wore dirty raincoats. I did see a lot of couples. I did see a performer giving a lap dance to another woman, which only reinforced my philosophy that females have much more varied interests than males. I noticed that those who work there do not foist themselves upon you. But by 4 a.m.—or maybe it was 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. or 7 a.m.—I am not sure what the hell I noticed or what I did.

At least that’s my story, and I am sticking to it.

Your faithful servant,

Buzz Bissinger