Music & Nightlife

Reflections from Miami Beach nightlife pioneers

By Lesley Abravanel

Jimmy Fallon at the Raleigh Hotel during a party for the MTV Video Music Awards
Jimmy Fallon at the Raleigh Hotel during a party for the MTV Video Music Awards

As Miami Beach turns 100, it’s time to reminisce about the last couple of decades, when the town was restored to the Rat Pack luster of the ’60s with a new set of actors.

There are too many celebrity encounters to recount here, but one of the best was a night at Joia, where Madonna and her entourage were at one table and a fresh off the block and fresh off Selena Jennifer Lopez at another. Let’s just say the two didn’t mingle.

Then there was that time in the Raleigh Hotel penthouse during the MTV Video Music Awards when Christina Aguilera made out with Paris Hilton and Jimmy Fallon hung out with some guy from Jet till 5 a.m.

And then that time when Al Malnik threw Michael Jackson a disco-themed birthday party at The Forge. And … and … and …

What follows is a misty trip down memory lane by some of South Beach’s pioneers, players and stars in their own rights.


Proprietor, Liquid nightclub

“The best party I ever went to in Miami had to be the millennium [New Year’s Eve]. We started off the evening crossing the bay from Madonna’s house by boat. We landed in Monty’s and had a car pick us up. So much talk of traffic and not being able to drive because of the Y2K crash so we made it easier on ourselves. From there, Donatella Versace had a party at her house. Our group was Madonna, Guy Ritchie, Gwenyth Paltrow and Guy Oseary plus myself and Dennis Schaller, my boyfriend at the time and father of my son. We all partied at the Versace mansion with a beautiful sit- down dinner and out of nowhere Jennifer Lopez shows up. She had just been arrested with Puffy (Diddy) in New York on a weapons charge and came to Miami to escape the press. After the dinner we all decided to walk to BarRoom, where we took over the upstairs of the club. Besides our group and the Versaces, the Estefans attended the party plus Ricky Martin and Roy and Lea Black. Roy was representing Chris (Paciello) at the time. Tracy Young was spinning while Madonna played the bongos. At around 2 a.m., Miami Beach police come upstairs and we all thought we were being raided due to Chris’s recent arrest. We all looked at Roy like, ‘What is going on?’ It was [music mogul] Tommy Mottola with uniformed police doing security for him and then girlfriend [and eventual wife] Thalia. I remember everyone’s sigh of relief and we partied on until at least 5 a.m.”


Le Loft, The Whiskey Bar, Chaos, Ready Bar, Nikki Beach, Ricochet, It Lounge

“The first time I met Michael Douglas he walked into The Forge to meet me, and when I went to shake his hand, I spilled a glass of red wine all over his white pants. He looked at me and said ‘You’re lucky you came highly recommended.’ [Hollywood talent agent] Shep Gordon had told him to meet up with me. And we became fast friends from that night on.”


Hotel Astor, Quattro, Mokai, WALL

“For me it was actually my birthday in 1997. I hosted a ’70s private-themed party at the Astor Hotel. Nicola Siervo assisted me in the planning. I had Cameron Diaz partying dressed as Blondie. James Woods, Oliver Stone and Dennis Quaid. Short of Al Pacino I had the entire cast of Any Given Sunday attending. DJ Mark Leventhal played a mean ’70s vintage set. The pool was covered with a plexi cover to serve as a dance floor. The floor was packed with all of our friends in full costume boogying on a Tuesday night. The party kept going strong [think Winter Music Conference volume on a Tuesday] until the Miami Beach Police Department showed up and if it wasn’t for Cameron Diaz helping schmooze it over they would have shut it down right then and there. They let us slide another 30 or 45 minutes until 12:30 a.m. It was a glorious February night, and the party was the best birthday I could ever wish for. “


Former Queen of the Night columnist, PR pro

“Sly Stallone’s house party in the mid-1990s when he was living in a sprawling mansion in Coconut Grove. The house itself was open — we weren’t just confined to the grounds — and Sly was such a gracious host, introducing us to his mother and showing us his Francis Bacons in his kitchen!”


Artist, South Beach personality

“A funny story was late one night at Club Hell, Efrain [artist Conte] was at the bar and I was mischievously under the influence. So I got this notion to prank [Ocean Drive co-founder] Jason Binn. I told him that Efrain was Raul Julia. Jason still hasn’t forgiven me, I don’t know what he said to Efrain, but I’m sure it was classic!”


Drag Queen

“With nearly two decades of decadence and celebrities in and out of nightclubs on Miami Beach I can write a book, but, I’d have to say probably the most surreal evening was hanging out with Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake when they were a couple in the hip-hop room (called the Boiler Room) at Level. With everyone taking pictures and trying to climb over the rope it became unbearable, so I suggested the three of us retreat to my private dressing room as refuge. I’ll never forget when we stood up to walk out of the room, the entire room flowed like a wave moving with the ocean. Until we got to the back of the house and once we were behind the closed locked door in my dressing room, we sat down and all three just laughed about how fun yet weird it all really is. I asked them, “Is it like that everywhere y’all go?” and Justin said it was worse. They were both so sweet and somewhat innocent then. She liked beer out of the bottle and cigarettes; he and I drank champagne.


Bash, Shadow Lounge, Liquid, Bar Room, Level, State, Shine at the Shelborne, The Fifth, Karu &Y

“My favorite was Attorney General Janet Reno dancing with glow sticks backstage at Level. [Editor’s note: This took place in July 2002 during Reno’s gubernatorial race against Jeb Bush. Janet Reno’s Dance Party at Level was a fundraising riff on a Saturday Night Live skit about her.”


Music publicist, minority owner Stephen Talkhouse

“Woody’s (named for Ron Wood, not me) opened at the end of 1987 and closed in 1989 and was a shooting star in the South Beach entertainment firmament. Stephen Talkhouse ran longer, from ’92 to ’97. Asking me to recount my favorite celeb moment is like asking me who my favorite child is. There are so many you could write a number of columns just on my adventures.

One thing that stands out at the Talkhouse was a New Year’s Eve where the Mavericks performed. Martina McBride was in town for the Orange Bowl Parade and Trisha Yearwood was still married to Mavericks bass player Bobby Reynolds. Both women showed up and sang backup the whole night for Mavericks lead singer Raul Malo as the band just mesmerized the place with a great performance. Another time Bob Marley’s mom, Cedella Booker, joined Taj Mahal on stage for a wonderful duet. And the list goes on and on and on! Buddy Guy playing to the crowd from the men’s room; Ray Charles brings his whole orchestra and Raelettes to Woody’s.”


Celebrity photographer

“I loved seeing, along with 100,000 people, Pavarotti perform on the beach on Miami Beach and at the after party when he didn’t want to eat what they had so he ordered pasta. I also loved running into Gianni Versace at News Cafe frequently when he would come and buy a newspaper and magazines.”


Liquid, Risk, Anatomy

“My favorite moments? Cher’s performance at Liquid during the 1998 Super Bowl. Madonna hosting Liquid’s two-year anniversary with her Ray of Light release party in 1997. Bette Midler performing at Bar Room in the ’90s. Donatella Versace’s birthday party at the Versace Mansion in 1997 with Madonna, Whitney Houston and Bobby Brown. Gwyneth Paltrow and Madonna partying at the last party at Bar Room.”


Rumi. Ricochet. Soirée party at the Raleigh Hotel. Magic Garden at the Albion Hotel

“I found myself nestled between a drag queen, a supermodel and famed retired basketball legend turned lady-killer Wilt Chamberlain in a dark seedy underground club in 1993. The music was loud and pulsing through my body and you had to lean in to hear the person next to you. I remember looking around and asking myself where am I and how did I end up at this table with this group. We had arrived! South Beach was officially a playground for many to escape to be free.”


Drag Queen

“I have one major celeb nightlife moment that I will never forget: New Year’s Eve 1998-99 at Liquid Nightclub. Myself and another drag performer, Leslie Quick, got a chance to hang out and dance with Madonna in the VIP lounge. The only people around us were the DJ and her bodyguard. Wow! It was so surreal.”


Drag Queen

“Maybe 15 years ago when the movie The Birdcage was all the rage and it was “in” to have a drag queen perform at your party the way that you would have an ice sculpture or crudités. I booked myself and [fellow drag queens] Damien Devine and Daisy Deadpetals to perform at the 21st birthday of the son of racecar driver Emerson Fittipaldi. Before going on, I went to hide in the kitchen to go over the lines of the song I was going to lip-synch, and who else was hiding in the kitchen with me but George Harrison of the Beatles! I thought to myself, ‘What can we talk about? What can I say to him? I’m sure he’s sick about talking about the Beatles,’ and I know that he was sued by the Shirelles for that song My Sweet Lord. Was it Bangladesh or no nukes ? So I looked around the room and both our eyes settled on the cake and I said, ‘I wonder what kind of cake it is?’ He said in his Beatles accent, ‘I love wedding cake, I love white cake, I love all kinds of cake!’ So one of my best memories of Miami Beach was hiding in a kitchen in full drag in a gazillionaire’s home with one of the Beatles talking about our mutual love of cake and all of the different cake varieties. And that was just a day at the office for me back in the ’90s.”


Senior VP Communications, Opium Group

“In 2007, Britney Spears emerged fresh off her head-shaving, umbrella-beating period with a concert at Mansion. It was quite unprecedented as she had always played arenas, but this was a comeback tour of sorts. No one knew what to expect — and it ended up being a pretty decent show. What was remarkable to me was that this was at the advent of the media and paparazzi frenzy which now dominates the press with sites like TMZ. Before that time, there were just one or two magazines covering celebrity — now there were 10, and dozens of websites and paparazzi pages — and Miami was in the center of it all.”

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