Miami Beach may be best known as one the world's most lavish and sexy playgrounds, a place where, for the right price, almost anyone has a shot at spotting someone rich, famous — or both — sipping $100,000 bottles of champagne and dancing in VIP lounges with other movie stars, basketball players and hip-hoppers.
To some degree, celebrities are a club owner’s best advertisement. The recipe is simple.
The more famous the better.
It’s no secret that Miami Beach’s clubs have welcomed even the youngest of Hollywood’s A-List stars, even from the golden era of the 1950s, when a 17-year-old ingénue named Elizabeth Taylor graced the cocktail bars of some of the beach’s first iconic hotels.
So when teenage heartthrob Justin Bieber was arrested on DUI and resisting arrest charges in Miami Beach on Thursday morning, hardly an eyebrow was raised in South Florida, even though reporters across the country began asking questions about how the 19-year-old pop star was able to toss dollar bills around a strip joint and hang out at some of South Beach’s most exclusive nightclubs.
It’s legal because he allegedly wasn’t drinking anything harder than Red Bull — and his 38-year-old father was chaperoning him.
Bieber joins a long list of teenage stars who’ve made the Magic City their home-away-from-home party destination, endlessly soaking in the beach’s wild nights until the wee hours of the morning. From Lindsay Lohan and Paris Hilton to Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears, plenty of young celebs have made the rounds of South Beach clubs and have been photographed doing so.
“The news isn’t that Bieber got into a club, the news would have been if he didn’t get in,’’ said one fixture of Miami Beach’s club scene.
Unlike many other jurisdictions, it is not against the law in Florida for someone under 21 to be inside a club that serves alcohol. And even though Miami Beach has an ordinance prohibiting anyone under 21 to be in its clubs, most celebrities take advantage of the local law’s loopholes, as Bieber apparently did this week.
Someone under 21 is permitted, for example, to be inside a Miami Beach nightclub if they are in the company of a parent, or if they are employed by the club. Still, the exemptions do not allow Bieber — or anyone under 21 — to drink alcohol, even if they are in the club legally, said Miami Beach Police Chief Raymond Martinez.
“We have no evidence of him drinking inside the club,’’ Martinez said, adding that because Bieber was accompanied by his father, and was scheduled to perform at SET, one of the clubs, there’s no evidence that he violated any state law or the city’s ordinance.
Bieber, considered one of the world’s richest pop stars, was arrested shortly after 4 a.m. Thursday on Pine Tree Drive as he was racing his rented yellow Lamborghini northbound about 55 to 60 miles per hour, police said. The other driver, R&B artist Khalil Sharieff, 19, sped next to him in a red Ferrari.
Police heard the peeling cars and pulled them over near 41st Street. Bieber initially refused to get out of his car, and upon doing so was flushed, in a stupor, smelled of alcohol and was incoherent, the police report said. He kept fumbling his hands in his pockets before police finally placed him in handcuffs. He was booked at Miami Beach police headquarters, transported to Miami-Dade County jail and eventually posted bail about 2:30 p.m. Thursday. He faces charges of DUI, resisting arrest, drag racing and driving without a valid license. Sharieff was also charged with DUI and released after posting bail.
Police said that Bieber failed a field sobriety test and admitted he had taken anti-depressants, smoked marijuana all day and had had a few beers.
In Florida, the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, regulates the licenses of businesses that serve alcohol. For the most part, Martinez said, the clubs, bars and restaurants are responsible for ensuring that they don’t serve anyone under 21. If they do so, the club, the club owner and the bartenders are considered to have broken the law.
“It’s their responsibility to screen who comes into their clubs,’’ Martinez said. “If a 16-year-old comes up to bar and orders a drink, it’s on them to card that person and make sure she is 21.’’
They don’t get off the hook, either, if someone else is able to purchase a drink for someone under age.
David Wallack, owner of Mango’s, a South Beach restaurant/nightclub, said that bar owners and their employees have to be vigilant.
“We card everybody,’’ Wallack said. “And it’s everybody, even if it’s a celebrity.’’
Bieber hasn’t always had an open door to Miami Beach clubs.
Last June, after the Miami Heat won the NBA title, Bieber was denied entry to Club Story, where the team and other celebrities held a victory bash. Media reports said that Bieber, a fan of the team who sometimes is seen sitting courtside, asked to come to the celebration, but the club’s management and the Heat told them he was too young.
Wallack, who has been in business for 23 years, said his club, which has an outdoor café that serves dinner and then transforms into a nightclub at 10 p.m., doesn’t cater to the same clientele as some of the other South Beach clubs that depend on celebrities to attract customers. The formula involves a bit of social engineering on the part of club owners, who use famous faces to lure regular customers who, in turn, tell others they saw celebrities, attracting even more customers. Sometimes, the clubs will invite celebrities they know are in town.
“What other clubs do is probably a world different than the way I look at it. In an ultra nightclub, celebrity is everything, because it’s all about glamour and rightfully so,’’ Wallack said. “It’s the reason people go there.’’
Miami Herald Correspondent Lesley Abravanel contributed to this report.