Black Cat
Black Cat
Black Cat

South Beach

The Novel

by Brian Antoni

South Beach: The Novel, Brian Antoni’s candy-colored and warmhearted second work of fiction, would make a terrific opera . . . Rich with club scenes and descriptions of off-beat forms of physical congress . . . he means the book to encapsulate the social makeup of a city he clearly loves.” —Henry Alford, New York Times Book Review

  • Imprint Black Cat
  • Page Count 304
  • Publication Date March 01, 2008
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-7043-9
  • Dimensions 5.5" x 8.25"
  • US List Price $14.00

About The Book

Gabriel Tucker is a globe-trotting, trust fund-endowed twenty-nine-year-old who suddenly finds himself penniless and alone in the world, except for an old Miami Beach apartment building named the Venus De Milo Arms, the last thing of value left to him by his now-vanished family. Lacking skills or resources, he heads to Miami Beach to reconstruct his life, finding himself neighbors with an unlikely mix of tenants: an elderly Holocaust survivor, a lip-synching drag queen, a cynical two-bit gossip columnist, and a rebellious young performance artist who will eventually capture his heart.

Within days, Gabriel is thrust into the outrageous world of South Beach, Miami of the nineties: temptations, quick fortunes, mountains of drugs, notorious murders, nonstop sex, and beautiful women (and men) for sale (or rent) are the order of the day. He is a ringside witness to the excesses and intrigues of Italian fashion empires, Cuban refugee supermodels, rapacious German developers, old-fashioned crooked politicians, and a cast of characters that would make Caligula blush. He is witness to a place evolving from God’s Waiting Room to the American Riviera, from slum to brand name.

It is in South Beach, in this most surreal time and place, unlike any other, that Gabriel will eventually discover the long-buried mysteries of his family and find a soul he never imagined he had and a love he never dreamed he deserved.

Tags Literary


South Beach: The Novel, Brian Antoni’s candy-colored and warmhearted second work of fiction, would make a terrific opera . . . Rich with club scenes and descriptions of off-beat forms of physical congress . . . he means the book to encapsulate the social makeup of a city he clearly loves.” —Henry Alford, New York Times Book Review

“Antoni might easily have written a big, dense ‘city novel.’ But there is an undeniable aptness to Antoni’s decision to turn the story into a neon fantasy, for perhaps fantasy best reflects the reality of a place like South Beach. He makes the most of it: All the major characters are beautiful, talented, incredibly lucky, and despite their bad habits, good at heart. Through various reversals and conflicts, they make us care about them as they wend toward a fairy-tale ending.” —South Florida Sun-Sentinel

South Beach: The Novel is one part fairy tale, one part travelogue, and one part X tube porn video mixed with several tabs of Xtasy. Decadence has never seemed so sweet and innocent as it does in Brian Antoni’s lost world of deco and disco in pre-millenial Miami.” —Jay McInerney

“Glamour and sex. Champagne and ecstasy. Finally, a South Beach diet I can stick to.” —Mark Haskell Smith, author of Salty and Delicious

“Forget everything you’ve heard about South Beach, for Brian Antoni, maestro of the strange—and long-time SoBe impresario in his actual life—has come along to set the record straight. Readers who step inside the doors of the fabulous Venus De Milo Arms might be able to check out, as the song goes, but they can never leave. Strap on your crash helmet, Bubbe—this book is one wild and crazy (and all too true) ride.” —Les Standiford, author of Last Train to Paradise

“From the old Jewish retirees and Cuban refugees to Miami’s greedy developers and international super celebs. Wild and scary sex scenes but also tender love and redemption. Brian Antoni is the unofficial mayor of South Beach. This tour of America’s most decadent, nauseatingly hip time and place is hilarious, moving, extremely readable and picture perfect. You might just recognize some boldface names and their bold doings, I did.” —Patrick McMullan, author of S08O’s, Glamour Girls

“Brian Antoni has written a fizzy and fantasy-filled new novel, South Beach. It’s just as wild and edgy and sexy as South Beach itself.” —David Leddick, author of In the Spirit of Miami Beach

“Brian Antoni brilliantly captures that fleeting moment when South Beach was young and wild, where New Yorkers, the international fashion crowd and Miami’s choice specimens of beauty created the cultural combustion that defined America’s newest decadent/sensual destination. Antoni lived among these pioneers, social mavericks, artists, image elitists and real-estate predators who inspire this memorable novel.” —Glenn Albin, Editor in Chief of Ocean Drive Magazine

“In his book, South Beach: The Novel, Brian Antoni perfectly captures the essence of this wild, crazy, surreal, pharmaceutically and alcohol fueled place. He writes about people and events here with a connoisseur’s discerning eye, which should not be surprising, considering he’s had a front row seat to it all for years.” —Carolina Garcia Aguilera, author of One Hot Summer



What’s happening on South Beach, aka God’s Waiting Room, Mausoleum In the Sun, the Elephants’ Graveyard, Varicose Beach, the Place Where Neon Goes to Die?

It all started when Christo wrapped beer can islands in Biscayne Bay and turned the eyes of the world not only on the flamingo pink crowns but on this lost in time deco land. It all started when Miami Vice realized that sherbet-colored decay would make a perfect backdrop promoting not only unstructured linen jackets and “three-day bender” facial stubble but South Beach itself. It all started when New York Anglo boys discovered Miami Cuban boys. It all started when the first fashion photographers, after a night at a “let us worship the erection” party, noticed the perfect light on their way home and realized South Beach was the perfect place to shoot not only their loads but their photos.
This led to a migration of tender young models who became little more than expensive chum, exotic garnish, for the straight moneyed and powered.

Well-to-do dogs descended, accompanied by an entourage of sleazy crooks, visionary hustlers and hangers-on, and they all needed a place to screw! Real estate, the true Miami art form. Rehab it and they will cum. Sloppy seconds for all. Redo cheap hotel rooms while using each other like cheap hotel rooms. Forget about the beautiful old Jews that have lived here for the greater part of this century. They are an eyesore. Chic buildings don’t go with shabby people. Glamour and geezer clash.

I checked out celebrity, local bad boy, actor-pugilist Mickey Rourke’s bar—Mickey’s Place (aka Mickey’s Rats by locals because of the seedy-boxing-club-meets-mafia décor, a Cosa Nostra Friday’s). There was the odd tourist trying to get a glimpse of the star of 9 1/2 Weeks. But, Mr. Rourke was nowhere to be found after his arrest last night for resisting arrest after an impromptu fight outside his club. I ran across Lord Michael Caruso, New York’s hot club promoter (Tunnel, Limelight), who was in town scouting a space. He introduced me to his hunky-in-a-Guido-way partner, Chris Paciello, who showed me his lower-abs tattoo of a masked gangster, complete with a smoking gun, stolen cash and the legend “Easy Money.”

Our eclectic island home has been christened by the magic word, “HIP.” And God help us when fairy dust is spread from Lincoln Road Mall to Joe’s Stone Crab. Where will this slippery slope of lust, this designer food chain, this fab Darwinian hand job lead us? Heaven or hell.

Sometimes I think they are the same place.

Gabriel Gets the Letter

Gabriel Tucker’s head was overflowing with a gobbledygook of been-there, done-that, bought-the-T-shirt. He was a twenty-nine-year-old rolling stone that collected a lot of moss. He kept telling himself that he’d know when to stop, kind of like you’re supposed to know when you’ve found true love. Then he got the letter.

Gabriel could sniff out the sleaziest part of a place, could smell the edge. That’s where he felt the best. He tried to live as cheaply as possible even though at the time he was worth millions. Gabriel checked into a hotel, called the Bee’s Knees, in the Shinjuku neighborhood of Tokyo. Shinjuku was all covered in neon. He loved neon the way other people loved nature.

The Bee’s Knees was for men only. Instead of rooms, there were fiberglass capsules, piled on top of each other, floor to ceiling. Each had a TV and an alarm clock embedded in the shell. It was like being in an incubator or a coffin. Gabriel liked it because he felt isolated and connected at the same time.

That afternoon, Gabriel went to the American Express office to pick up his mail and to get his monthly stipend from the trust fund that his grandfather Alvin had set up for him.

He had been traveling for over a decade now. The longer he stayed away, the fewer letters he received. People were forgetting him. The only mail he received were trust statements from his uncle Ian. He would use the back of these pages to write his travel journal. Gabriel would mail these pages to an apartment in a building he owned in Miami Beach called the Venus de Milo Arms, which his grandfather left to him in his will.

The key Gabriel had to the door of his apartment in the Venus, his official residence, was made of solid gold and had a diamond at the top. His grandfather left the key to him in his will also. When people asked Gabriel where he came from, he would stroke the diamond-studded, golden key and answer, “The Venus de Milo Arms.” If there was any anchor in Gabriel’s life, then it must have been the old, elusive “venus,” which his grandfather had never stopped talking about. It seemed like the only thing his grandfather missed about America since his forced tax exile to numerous tax havens right before Gabriel was born. Gabriel felt no connection to anywhere because they were always moving to stay one step ahead of extradition. He was sure his grandfather would have taken him to see the Venus if he wouldn’t have been arrested for tax evasion the second he entered the United States.

Gabriel smiled to himself thinking that his one anchor was a building he had never seen, in a city he had never visited. But even rolling stones had to have a home, and for Gabriel, the old Venus would serve.

There was a letter from his uncle Ian waiting for him at the AmEx office in Tokyo:

Dear Gabriel,

I regret to inform you that when you get this letter, I’ll be dead and you’ll be broke. I lost all your money and my money in the market. Your trust is empty. You still have the Venus de Milo Arms because, as you know, Alvin’s will stipulated that only you could sell it. I suggest you do because it’s falling down. I am now going to jump off the roof of your Venus. I would rather be dead than broke.

No hard feelings,

Uncle Ian

Author Q&A

Q: So Brian, really great book. Fun but with depth, dishy but personal, exotic and at the same time familiar, cynical but tender, and at the end, a kind of unexpected love story and morality tale right smack in the middle of “Sodom on Biscayne Bay.” Who do you think the audience is for this book?

A: Well, I hope almost everyone will like this book for three reasons. First, the time and setting are unique and exotic and interesting to most people I talk to. I am constantly asked “What was it like to be in Miami Beach when it started it’s comeback?” or “Is it really like on Miami Vice?” or “Don’t you feel LUCKY?” There is a real curiosity about the place based on its exotic reputation, history, and prominence in the news. The second reason I hope that a lot of people will like this book is because the central stories are all very universal: love, sadness, friendship, passion, vice, tragedy, great movements, community activism, etc. It’s all there in the book, stuff everyone can relate to. And while people love to get an inside peek at exotic and glamorous places and people, I think they also like to see that even the rich and famous and gorgeous are just like us in the ways that count. Emotions don’t vary much by wealth, residence or level of beauty. You can still love, hurt and die like everyone else. In my book, for example, there is a world-famous fashion designer who has fallen for a penniless model. Not just fallen in lust mind you, but in love. But despite his wealth and power, it doesn’t matter, he doesn’t get what he wants.

The third reason I hope people will like the book is that they will like the characters. For the most part, I liked them too. I personally find it much harder to write about people I don’t like. So I write about people I like and I hope the reader will like them too.

Q: You seem to have nailed the era and the place perfectly. Are you a Miami native?

A: No, my parents are from Trinidad and we moved to the Bahamas when I was a baby. We always had an apartment in South Florida so I spent a lot of time in Miami. My favorite thing was the neon. I thought it was magic. We had no neon in the Bahamas. Then I went to high school in Ft. Lauderdale. So, I guess I am half a native.

Q: So when did you come to Miami?

A: I bought a home and my first apartment building in the center of South Beach twenty years ago. I named my home Chateaubrian and my apartment building was called the Venus De Milo Arms.

Q: What brought you here to stay?

A: The first time I walked up Ocean Drive, I fell in love. I was in transit from the Bahamas to London and had some time to kill, so I rented a car and somehow ended up on South Beach. I parked around First Street and started to walk and by the time I reached Lincoln Road I knew I had to move here.

Q: What attracted you to the neighborhood?

A: I don’t know exactly what it was. It is like trying to remember the first time I saw a lover. I remember seeing an old lady with the most beautiful wrinkles and she was wearing a pink bathing cap covered in pink flowers, like her head was wrapped in cotton candy. I remember she was caressing the arm of a skinny old man and I remember following her fingers to see a tattooed line of numbers on his forearm. I remember feeling a jolt in my heart as I looked away, out to the sea. Then, before my eyes, like a fantasy, a woman emerged from the water and in the sunlight, she looked golden. She was naked except for the tiniest line of G-string. Then two men in matching Speedos walked toward her and their bodies were so built and hairless they looked like huge erections. They both kissed the golden woman on both cheeks. I remember running and diving in the Ocean and swimming out as far as I could and looking at the string of amazing rotting deco buildings, like incredible cubist sculptures. I walked back to my car, got my bags and checked into the first hotel, and I never left.

Q: Where did you stay? What did you do?

A: I checked into the Leonard Beach Hotel, a stunning Mediterranean Revival building, all crumbling breezy courtyard and Spanish tile. I was given the AIDS room. I later found out that artists were each provided a budget and a free stay in exchange for decorating the rooms. The walls were covered in bright orange flames and over my bed was a warning to wear a rubber and over the toilet was a count of the people who had died of AIDS to date. I remember at that time I knew very few people who had died of AIDS. A German developer bought the hotel and spent millions turning it into a club called Hell, which he kept open for a couple of months—and then he demolished that incredible building.

Q: What motivated you to write this book?

A: Well, I remember going to Puerta Sagua and sitting at the lunch counter and I noticed all the hippest young people and old Jewish retirees, and they were wearing the same style of clothes. The young people were buying the old people’s clothes from the thrift shops. Both groups had come to Miami to die, the old people and the young people. It was the time when people with the AIDS would sell off their insurance and then come to South Beach to party until they dropped dead. All these strange beautiful families were forming in these old Deco buildings that developers were trying to destroy so they could build high-rises and the old people were taking care of young people and young people were taking care of old people. I remember watching my mom sit all day holding the hand of George, a new family friend, as he died of AIDS. In his dementia, he thought my mother was his mother. His family had turned against him when they found out he was gay and had AIDS.

I remember going out that night to try to forget the pain. I ended up in Chris Blackwell’s apartment in the Marlin. I was really wasted and Madonna walked in with her friend Ingrid Casares and they walked up to me and my friend Tom, a nightlife columnist, and asked us where they should go to party. It was so surreal. Madonna had just bought a house in Miami. At that time she was like the incarnation of fame itself. It was that night that I started writing South Beach: The Novel. I knew someone had to get this down and it might as well be me. I knew that South Beach would go from a Cracker Jack box of people who had no place else to go, to a floating menagerie of people who could go anywhere. And I remember being very afraid.

Q: Your first novel, Paradise Overdose was apparently heavily autobiographical. South Beach: The Novel seems to also have an awful lot of Brian Antoni in it. A pattern?

A: Well, I don’t think about this. But they say to write what you know so it is natural to write about your own experiences in fiction. I remember the gossip columns, like Page Six, picked up on that in Paradise Overdose and speculated on what was real and what wasn’t. South Beach was truly stranger than fiction. I just lived there and the material came flooding in like a tidal wave. I also did lots of research, going undercover as a doorman at hip clubs. I even had the pleasure of keeping Charlie Sheen outside the door of Fat Black Pussycat because he didn’t know the password. I also worked undercover as the bathroom attendant at Love Muscle, traveled to Havana Illegally and interviewed many holocaust survivors. In South Beach: The Novel, I had to tone down reality. My agent and my editor kept telling me that people would never believe what I was writing, that it was too much. I kept telling them, I had seen this before my very eyes. Maybe I should release an original X-rated version.

Q: South Beach: The Novel is filled with fine detail and nuanced insider observations. A lot of it is cynical, and yet you are almost tender about the place. Is that how you feel personally?

A: Exactly! This book is a love/hate letter to South Beach. I want to kiss it and slap it at the same time—especially what it has become. When you participate in the formation of a place, witness its rebirth, it becomes a part of you. South Beach to me is the people, all the amazing friends that moved here in the early days with a dream but have now been forced out. That is why I included all the names at the end of the book. These are the people that made South Beach. I went through all the lists of people I invited to my parties over the years.

Q: I have heard about your parties. Can you tell me about them, any special moments that you remember?

A: Well, I started giving the annual unofficial party for the Miami International Book Fair. The party has grown so much that at the last one over a thousand people attended throughout the night. My Book Fair party is for people who write books and people who don’t even read them. I love to mix all kinds of people up. I remember many special moments. At one party George Plimpton was reading from a little book of animal stories he had written called Pet Peeves. No one was paying attention but he kept on reading like a trooper. I realized that he couldn’t get the crowd’s attention because Candice Bushnell had stripped down to her underwear and dove into the pool with the band Space Hog, who were totally naked. I remember at another party my brother and I gave a dinner for three Nobel Laureates, including Derek Walcott, Milosz Czeslaw and Octavio Paz. The waiter, who was from Mexico, got so excited when he recognized Octavio Paz that he started to cry. Also, I remember a party I gave for Will Self during the ABA in Miami. Morgan Entrekin, the publisher of Grove/Atlantic, was being followed by a crew from 60 Minutes. Suzanne Bartsch was also there with her troop of drag queens and club freaks and 60 Minutes spent all night trying to film Morgan together with them. I thought, this guy is never going to publish anything I every write after this. But I was wrong. I remember a party I hosted for the American Library Association. Those librarians raised hell. I’m recognized all over the world for my parties. I was just in Shanghai and a Chinese guy working the door of a club I went to said, “Hey, didn’t I jump in your pool at a party at your house in Miami?”

Q: Speaking of your home, I have read about your house in several different books about Miami. Your style can only be described as—and this is an understatement—eclectic. A mix of classics and Florida kitsch. It’s as if Eames and Starck set up shop in one of those Florida roadside tourist traps filled with alligator heads and coconut monkeys. The book and your house are cut from the same mold. Is that really Brian? Crazy eclectic.

A: If you go back to Trinidad and mention my last name, everyone will tell you all Antoni’s are crazy. As far as eclectic, I am all over the place. I love design and I love turning it on its face. I like objects with a sense of humor or that tell a story. My design is a moving narrative. I was always jealous of my brother and sister because their interests were so defined and focused. My brother always wanted to be a writer and my sister always wanted to be an artist.

Q: Speaking of your family. They are almost spooky talented. Your sister Janine is one of the world’s foremost conceptual artists and your brother, Bob, is a celebrated novelist. Was there something in the water in the Bahamas when you guys were growing up?

A: Well my sister won a McArthur genius award and my brother won the Commonwealth Prize for best first novel. I won a third runner-up prize in backgammon at summer camp. When Adaptation came out, people called and said, there is a movie about you and your brother. He is literary, got a PHD from the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. And I taught myself to write and am very commercial, I hope. Then when the Royal Tannenbaums came out, I was told they were just like our family. One thing we all three have in common is that we are dyslexic. We all failed the second grade because we could not learn to read and write. The nuns told my parents we were stupid. The other thing we have in common as a family is we all seem to use the family for inspiration. My brother wrote a book called My Grandmother’s Erotic Folk Tales, in which he retold my grandmother’s stories. My sister turned my Mom into my Dad and my Dad into my Mom in a photographic piece called Mom and Dad. Both my novels have artists as one of the main characters. I did not use any of my sister’s art in South Beach: The Novel because she got so pissed off that I used some of it in Paradise Overdose.

Q: Miami is also arguably America’s most exotic city: Discuss

A: I have always thought Miami was America’s most exotic and “foreign” city. A portion of it has to do with the very rich cultural mix. The place has a real Latino flavor, though in some ways that is quite recent. The earliest pioneers were all the railroad folks, and assorted Northern tourists who just fell in love with the warm tropical weather and never went home. Over the years, the original pioneers were leavened by a fascinating mix of holocaust survivors, gangsters, and Cubans—along with a large cross-section of the rest of Latin America, and most recently a very significant gay and lesbian population. On top of that, you have a real tropical climate. As someone raised in the Bahamas, I can tell you emphatically that the climate just gets into your bones. When my friends come down from NYC, the tropical climate seems to melt their brains. They turn into sailors on leave. In NYC they want to talk, here they want to take drugs and get laid. They become mellower and slower-paced and horny. It might be simpler to just sling some gigantic red velvet ropes over the causeway and hang an overgrown disco ball over South Beach and give people the drug and sex act of choice as they enter the neighborhood. In some ways, Miami is America’s very own Caribbean island, but with reliable plumbing, good roads, great shopping and a decent corned beef sandwich.

Q: Is the place as weird as it seems to “Middle America?”

A: Yeah it really is. I live in South Beach more than half of the time and it is a never-ending menagerie. It’s why I like it there so much. On a single block, in a single 5-minute time frame, you might see some Anglo kids skateboarding, an Hassidic Jew in a black hat, an impossibly tall black drag queen in a neon green mini-skirt, a young Latino couple in love, a gaggle of Lilly white English tourists fresh off the plane from Manchester, a fashion model and who knows what else? There are foods and forms of entertainment found in South Beach that you just don’t see anywhere else. You either love this sort of thing or you hate it. I think most people are at least a little adventurous, so they love it in little bits, maybe for a vacation or maybe in a book. Full time is a different story I think, but either way this is definitely NOT middle-America.

Q: Why does the time and place fascinate us so much.

A: It fascinates simply because it is so different and at the same time different plus LOUD. We are humans, we evolved to like new stuff, novelty, something different. And not only is Miami DIFFERENT, it’s really so much bigger than life too. The temperatures are hot, the sun is intense, the colors are bright, the rhythms are foreign, the accents are strange, there’s intrigue in the air and so on. Not only do we see people and things here that we won’t see in Milwaukee or Denver or Buffalo, but we see SO MANY people in one small compact place. There is also a sense that there is a different code here. More is tolerated. People can be eccentric or different or even weird. It’s not simply tolerated, it’s actually appreciated. Although Las Vegas is famous for the expression “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” you could have said that about Miami a long time before Vegas existed, and it’s still true today. People come here to start new lives and new adventures and sometimes JUST TO BE THEMSELVES. The city has a lure, for sun worshippers, Latin’s, gays and lesbians, northerners who dream of a retirement in the sun, paparazzi, etc. And of course there is also the drug trade, the fashion industry, the sex, the music, silly amounts of money thrown around, the fast life, etc. How many places in the world can you see two Ferraris involved in one accident? South Beach is like all the best articles in People Magazine and the National Inquirer and Vogue all rolled into one small island a few square miles in size.

Q: If we send our readers to South Beach, what must they absolutely NOT miss.

A: Every visitor needs to do at least seven things: 1. Walk up and down Ocean Drive on the beach side and look at the bathers, the colorful lifeguard stations and the incredible row of pastel art deco hotels that face the ocean. If you do that, you will understand half of what intrigues people about this place. 2. Stroll up and down Lincoln Road pedestrian mall one Friday night. You will see one of every type of human on earth and a lot of cool places to eat and shop as well. 3. Even though it’s not on South Beach, go see Vizcaya, an old house that’s now a museum, on the mainland. That’s a whole different kind of wealth. In some ways, it’s still here, but you won’t see it. It’s hidden away these days. 4. Also have some genuine Cuban food. Don’t worry about the menu, just tell the waiter to bring a traditional meal, but don’t forget a Cuban coffee and tres leches for dessert! 5. Drag yourself to an after-hours club on Washington Avenue at 4 am on a Saturday night and see what the cat dragged in. Just follow the club kids sucking lollipops and chugging water. 6. Go take a look at the Delano Hotel. It’s a little bit of old South beach deco and a little bit of magic. 7. Come skinny-dipping with me in my black pool at midnight and stare up at the moon over Miami through the canopy of palm fawns. Trust me.

Q: At the end of the day, for all the charm and mystique, are the people of South Beach REALLY any different from anyone else, or are we just the same Joe Schmoes underneath?

A: Yep, you know what? We really are all just Joe Schmoes at the end of the day. I have been very lucky in life, growing up with privilege. I have had the opportunity to know a LOT of famous and glamorous people and I can tell you that, beyond any doubt, though they may have 10,000 thread count sheets and fancy cars, they love and lust and hurt and bleed and die just exactly like everyone else. I can also tell you that wealth and beauty do NOT make a person interesting, or at least not for more than an hour or two. There are interesting and curious people all around us all the time, they just don’t necessarily wear Dior. They might be small-time reporters, starving artists, drag queens, holocaust survivors or even trust fund babies whose trust funds have vanished. You just never know….

Q: Any message buried in the book?

A: Well, there are many. I really am trying to show tolerance, show how people that might seem so strange on the outside are all the same on the inside. I want people to appreciate differences, and to treasure the old, in people and in buildings.

Q: The period when the book is set ended 6-7 years ago. Will there be a sequel.

A: No, definitely not. I really think what was so unique about South Beach is over. It was the transformation that interested me. I was watching MTV’S Sweet Sixteen while I was drinking a SOBE soda and all those girls had these elaborate parties with VIP rooms and red ropes and I had to laugh and think, the whole country has gone South Beach.

South Beach History

Ponce De Leon sails by Miami Beach searching for the Fountain of Youth which would later lead to the T.V. sensation Nip/Tuck. Tequesta Indians had been living on Miami Beach for three thousand years.

A man named Henry Lum strolled to beach and saw a few stray coconuts. He later sailed to Trinidad and bought coconuts and planted them on land he purchased on South Beach. Rats, rabbits and raccoons got the best of him. Two brothers, named J.E. Lummus and J.N. Lummus started developing the same land.

The amazing Carl Fisher, inventor of the modern car headlights, sailed into Miami Beach and changed it forever. He built the fabulous Flamingo hotel where he brought gondolas and as he wrote, “I have some of the most wonderful Bahama Negros you ever saw to push these gondolas around. They are all going to be stripped to the waist and wear big brass earrings. And possibly necklaces of live crabs.” President Warren G. Harding stayed there and took a dip in Carl’s Roman pools

Joe and Jennie Weiss, Hungarian-born Jews, moved to Miami Beach and would later open Joes Stone Crab serving the new eating sensation that would lead to culinary immortality.

Jane Fisher, wife of Carl Fisher, becomes the first in a never ending string of bathing beauties. Women who used to bathe in her husband’s pavilion would wear long black dresses, black stockings, bathing shoes and mop caps. Because Jane was working on the Australian crawl, she needed greater freedom in the water so she reassembled herself in a skirt that dropped only to her knees and anklets, scandalizing South Beach. After a few weeks of public outcry, not a black cotton stocking was to be seen on the beach. This led topless beaches on South Beach and it becoming a capital of fashion and haven for models.

The transformation of Miami Beach continued as the result of a building boom. Millionaires, with names like Firestone and Gould, built mansions. Polo ponies and yachts sent down for the winter, private beach and golf clubs, bootleg liquor were the order of the day. Miami Beach introduced the idea of glamour to the American masses. For the first time in the American history, it was considered okay to strip off nearly all of your clothes, to be fabulous and Miami Beach was the place to do it. Humorist Will Rodgers called Florida’s state emblem, the dredge. “Binder Boys,” arrived to cash in on the boom. They bought property binders or options for a small down payment and then resold them at a profit. Sometimes binders changed hands several times in a day. First flock of celebrities arrived in Miami Beach: Gene Tunney, flying ace Eddie Rickenbacker, Ziegfeld Follies start Will Rodgers, thus paving the way for Madonna, Paris and Diddy.

Art Deco style is introduced at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris

Miami Beach’s first synagogue, Congregation Beth Jacob was charted. Some of the newer hotel admitted Jews.

Category 5 hurricane devastates Miami Beach. 114 people die.

Gangster AL Capone moves to Miami Beach and blazed a path for his gang as well as for other northern gangsters, to come after him. Bootlegging, prostitution, rum running and gambling thrived on Miami Beach.

Even during the depression, Miami Beach’s reputation as a playground for the rich attracted the working class and new Art deco style hotels were erected all over South Beach. Spanish Baroque style was replaced by streamlined, sleek modern tropical deco style. Jewish Tourists and hotel owners migrated from the Catskills and Atlantic beaches to South Beach and the ethnic makeup of the South Beach changed. The Minsky Burlesque moved in from New York bringing beauties galore.

Miami Beach was selected to be military training ground. Soldiers were housed in the hotels and drills were conducted on the beach and on golf courses. German U-boats were torpedoing tankers in full sight of sunbathers. Clark Gabel showed up for training.

Miami become celebrity city and boomed again! Morris Lapidus and his followers introduced their whimsical, decadent, dream-fantasy style. Arthur Godfrey moved his show to Miami Beach. He is followed by Jackie Gleason and “away we go!”. The beach became the stomping grounds for the brat pack, Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Mansfield. The Beatles visited Cassius Clay before he became Mohammed Ali.

The Fontainebleau Hotel opened. The joke was, “Did you hear about the shark that attacked a woman swimming at the Fontainebleau? It bit off her stole.”

Castro took power in Cuba and masses of Cubans began to arrive in Miami changing the face of Miami Beach adding another layer of ethnic diversity and intense coffee.

The bubble burst. Lenny Bruce joked, “Miami Beach is where Neon goes to Die.” Glamour fled. Nightclubs fell victim to package entertainment offer at the large hotels. Shoppers abandoned Lincoln Road in favor of new fangled malls further north. The beach was badly eroded. Even the sand fled. Baby boomers found Miami course and materialistic. They went to the Caribbean and Europe and Disney world. Deserted hotels and old apartments were filled with senior citizens on decreasing fixed incomes. South Beach became, “God’s Waiting Room.”

Riots during the republican convention marred the reputation of Miami Beach. Street violence dominated the press. Jane Fonda joined the anti-war demonstrators in Flamingo Park which included people ranging from the Veterans Against the War to the Gay Liberation Front . Confrontations broke out between anti-war demonstrators and thousands of Cubans marching against Communism. Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman threatened to leads 10,000 naked protestors down Collins Avenue. Police chief, Pomerance responded, “If you can get 10,000 naked protesters to walk down the asphalt on a hot (August) day. I’ll lead the parade. And wait till you see what I use as a baton.”

Stupid redevelopment plans called for razing most of the buildings north of fifth street, imposing a moratorium on construction so building went unrepaired. Those who could, fled before the wrecking ball that never came. 1980-Castro’s Mariel boatlift dumped a quarter million poor people on Miami, including twenty five thousand convicts from his prisons. Many fled to South Beach, one of the cheapest areas to live. This added to the already established criminal element supporting the cocaine trade. South Beach sank deeper into crime and despair.

Barbara Baer Capitman realized the value of the crumbling old deco buildings and formed the Miami Design Perseveration League. She wanted people to fix them up rather than demolish them to build a concrete cannon surrounded by shopping malls and parking lots, like the rest of much of Miami Beach. Leonard Horowitz started painting building in pastels.

Riots in Miami’s African-American neighborhoods across the bay.

The New Yorker Hotel is demolished.

Miami Vice premiers on fall television schedule and the Army Corps of engineers finishes refurbishing the beach.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, surrounded the islands in Biscayne bay off south beach in pink and the world took notice. Artists, gays and trend-setters began to trickle into South Beach. They were followed by photographers and models. Hoteliers. willing to restore rather than raze moved to South Beach. Bohemia reigned.

City Commission designates the Espanola Way and Ocean Drive/Collins Avenue Historic Districts.

South Point Tower is completed, the first new high-rise in South Beach

The Senator Hotel is demolished.

Hurricane Andrew hits Miami

The Hotel Delano is restored marking the new era of glamour to South Beach. The rich and famous flood (Versace, Madonna, Sly Stallone) South Beach. It turned into America’s Riviera.

The 44-story Portofino Tower ushers in a new wave of high-rise construction in South Pointe area.

Gianni Versace was shot on the steps of his home on Ocean Drive and the latest era of South Beach died with him. R.I.P.