South Beach: Is It Really That Fabulous?

Today, The Herald wrote an AMAZING story on the evolution of South Beach.  I have been here since 1992.  I moved to Miami Beach one week after Hurricane Andrew.  Prior to that, I came to Miami Beach on vacation.  I used to attend the Winter Music Conference when attendance was about 300.  Now it is some out-of-control number like 30,000!

The evolution of South Beach has been truly amazing and one for the history books.  Like it or not, South Beach is so big, it is now a BRAND!  When I used to vacation here in the late 80s to early 90s, I could have never imagined that the place where I was standing and living would also be considered “the hippest place on earth.”


This is a picture of my friend Kelly and I prior to clubbing in 1992.  We were staying at the Avalon Hotel at 7th and Ocean Drive.  It was considered the coolest hotel at the time.

 I was watching a documentary on SoBe where Tara Solomon mentioned that, in the early days of SoBe, there was edgy glamour but NO money.  She was correct.  The buildings were still dumps, BUT the place oozed with cool.  The fashionistas made SoBe the epicenter of chic- not the chic SoBe is known for today- but chic in an underground sort of way.  You could feel the energy everywhere.

If you were “cool,” you were coming to South Beach.  Keep in mind, we WEREN’T coming to Miami, we were coming to Miami Beach.  I remember when South Beach started to pop.  I was here for the Winter Music Conference, which was held at the Fontainebleau.  Coincidentally, The Bodyguard, was being filmed at the Fontainebleau at the same time.  Wow!  Next came The Specialist, then on and on.


Madonna graced us with her presence back then, too.  Remember her “SEX” book in ’92?  Here’s a page from it with Madge “hitching” a ride in Golden Beach.  Where else would this happen?  Sly came and so did Gianni Versace.  Does anybody remember the name of the MiMo- style hotel that he bought and demolished to create the pool area for “Casa Casuarina?”  I think it was the Revere.  Coincidentally, today is the 10th anniversary of his death.

Names like Louis Canales and Tara Solomon were the ones dropped most often if you wanted an entree into the “glamourous life.”  We all went out seven nights a week.  Remember the “Martini Club” and Cassis on Tuesdays, Warsaw on Wednesdays and on and on (and I mean on and on!)?

Here’s a trip down memory lane:

Semper’s, Egoiste, Hell, Club Nu, Deco’s, 1235, Shelly Novak on the top of the bus at the Marlin tea dance, The Spot, Gary James (he’s back), Avenue A, Michael Capponi (bigger than ever), Jorge Nunez, Andrew Cunanan, Paragon, A Fish Called Avalon, Velvet, Groove Jet, Jimmy Franzo (he used to be my trainer. I hear he’s in Vegas, baby), Rebar Monday nights-hell, Rebar every night!- The Strand, Follia, Fat Black Pussycat or “Fat Black,” John Hood (I hear he’s a writer now), PINKY!!!  Remember Pinky?  He’s on the show about Wilhelmina Models. Cafe Torino, I Tre Merli, The Whiskey, The Kitchen, ICON (the club; not the condo—we’ll get to that), David Padilla, Jaime Cardona (he knows Donatella – woo hoo!), Sinatra Bar, Scratch, Risk, Bar Room, Joia, Prive (is that still open?), Greg & Nicole Brier, Le Loft and Liquid (Studio 54 of SoBe).  Remember Cameo Sunday disco nights?  The Kremlin, Club Deuce, The Island Club, Les Bains Douche, Union Bar, WPA, Amnesia, Alex Duff, Mickey Rourke (he’s back), Debbie Ohanian, Kevin Aviance, crobar, Backdoor Bamby, Mynt, Chris Paciello,Ingrid Casares and Ellen Pompeo – that’s right, Meredith Grey herself.  We hung out, and she would flip through magazines trying to mimic Kate Moss’ poses. Funny! Ellen: call me! Paloma!! Patricia Fields, Esteban Cortazar (when he was, like, three-years-old!), Merle Weiss(she was a brunette then), Torpedo, OVO, Post Mortem, Bash. Tony Goldman, Barbara Hulanicki, Esther Percal, Gilbert Stafford, Joe Bon, Fabrizio Brienza, Horacio LeDon, Alan Randolph, Andrew Delaplaine, George Tamsitt, Cyn Zarco, Gingi Beltran, and Iran Issa Kahn.

Sound fun?  It was!  Non-stop.  When did it stop?  When the MONEY came.  I got into real estate at the suggestion of a friend in ’94 (before everyone and their mother became a Realtor).  Real estate was just about to take off.  Lots and lots of money came pouring into these 20 blocks.  The Netherland on Ocean Drive was the first “luxury condo” that started the wave.  Portofino Tower was the building that would start it all.

Pretty soon there was sooo much money that we didn’t have time to party so much anymore because we were working – working our a**es off!  No time to play. 

South Beach made its reputation on the “beautiful people”.  Everyone was beautiful.  Money follows beauty.  Then came the restaurants, hotels, clubs, art, food, yachts, celebrities, more celebrities, multi-million dollar condos, international bon vivants, $40M homes, and on AND ON.  Pundits say that it is all going to end, but hey, they’ve been saying that for twenty years.

  • Beth

    only Kevin would post full frontal Madonna – and what’s with the body make up and Tonto hair do?


    LOL…LOL…I’m speechless. ROTFLMAO

    I just hope this made it under the wire for the Judge for the last week. LOL!

    Now THAT’s a freakin’ blog post!!!

  • Kevin Tomlinson

    I made it! I made it! My hat’s off to you!

  • Gus Moore

    Great article, Kevin.

    I first came to South Beach the night Hell opened. It’s sounded so mysterious. I believe it only lasted a few weeks.

    Here’s a couple things to add your your “Remembering South Beach” list: the cartoon paintings at Chili Pepper, and the art house movie theater in the Sterling building on Lincoln Road?

    There’s not so many business still open from back then.

  • Jeff Turner

    Kevin… Ardell was right. This may be your best yet. And it aint because of the Madonna photo. Congratulations!

  • Kevin Tomlinson


    They say your best ones are the easiest ones! Humbled by your compliment. Believe it or not, it was all true!

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  • caroline carrara

    Kevin, you looks so young & tanned!
    What about Starfish? That place was so cool and festive….

  • Ines

    NICE!!! This is what I call a blog post!!! That picture of you and your friend is soooo 90’s and your tan was kicking!

  • Kevin Tomlinson

    Yeah way too much, who knew? Did you notice what a dump that hotel room was? The Avalon was considered the nicest hotel at the time. Scary.

  • Ines

    sorry – couldn’t keep my eyes off your hair!

  • Ginger Wilcox

    Everyone keeps commenting on the tan and your hair, but what about the vest?? I disappointed I missed south beach in the 80s/90s!

  • Kevin Tomlinson

    I know, I know the vest is so tragic, no? LOL.

  • Brian Antoni

    I enjoyed your trip down memory lane!

  • Sally Tiger

    Go to bed Brian! All that partying in the 80s and 90s is already showing on your face and as for the receding hairline…

  • Kevin Tomlinson


    It was fun to write too! Where have the good old days gone?

  • Tony Lima

    Hi Kevin
    I used to play also in SOBE during the late 80’s and early to mid 90’s…really enjoyed your article.
    What about Louis Canales and his wife Jen? He was the top promoter…

  • Andrew Fekula

    GREAT POST! I lived there in the early 90’s and was the house dj at WPA. What great memories of that time. It was so much fun then. I go back now with my wife and it’s terrible. It’s lost all its charm and all the magic that made it so great. Miss those times

  • Kevin Tomlinson

    I remember you. I remember Wendy Hunt, Bunny, and the whole gang!

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  • Andrew Fekula

    Hey! Wow, Wendy Hunt and Bunny….! I have absolutely no idea what they’re up to. Do you remember David Winer? He’s in DC now, not sure if you knew that- running a couple of restaurants, one of which is a Grillfish. I saw Ken Pittman when I was down about two years ago. I really do get nostalgic for the early 90’s down there- it was such a blast and the energy was so much fun. I’m actually going this weekend!

  • Kenneth

    What a great trip down memory lane. I remember working out at “The Gym” or Lincoln Rd. and going to the cafe Gertrudes! Who remembers the restaurant Key East, and the old used clothing shop close to the bookstore on Lincoln where the colorful lady used to know and talk to everyone.

  • Tony Copian

    South Beach was mysterious and fun back then. I had my first play produced a the Strand by Acme Acting Company and Louis & Tara made my opening night party a smash!
    Now SOBE is a withering but crowded trip to nowhere and the good faces…the original places are gone.

  • Alise Valdes

    Am cracking up!! This is the best post ever. But one more to add: Pacific Time. I was hostess there back in the day and dated Yves Picot (who didn’t he hit on?) one of the original owners. Andrew Fekula – I remember you! Am living back in Miami now but only ‘visit’ South Beach. Gawd, how I used to love The Spot. And WARSAW!!! Horacio used to sneak me in so I could dance… Ok, now I’m just feeling old….

  • Eric

    Great memories! I miss those days so much! I lived on SoBe from 92 through 96 (Tudor Hotel> Del Rio> Decoplage) I worked at The Cleve. I remember Rick D running the door at Bar None, Gilbert running several doors (I think he’s in NYC now), the back room at Velvet (precursor to Groove Jet… where’s Jimmy Franzo these days?) The very first Monday night Fat Black party with the Brothers Grimm running the show (you had to call a “secret” number to get the password).

    I miss you all!

  • Andrew Fekula

    Hi ALise-
    OMG! So great to reconnect with you!
    I only “visit” South Beach too- It’s definitely not as cool as it used to be. Email me:
    would be great to catch up

  • hs

    what about the muffin man with the crazy art work and lincoln road when it was so cool and peaceful to sit and talk there.

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  • Shawn Williamson

    Great Great Article. I think there are so many of us here and around that miss these days. And so many that wish they were old enough to be here at that time. I’ll throw in some memories. Liquid (as you mentioned) was beyond belief. There was a celebrity around every corner, every night. I remember the music stopping for a minute for the drag show to start or some dancers to take the stage. Super Models models models, everywhere except they were actually cool. Doran (Carmel’s brother which I think is still in LA ) worked the VIP. Hugo was always some place around there till Bar Room opened man he was huge! That place had a different feel, but everyone went and it was awesome every weekend! Liquid was so big and the way they changed the interior so often felt like a new place each time. So many different characters. Remember getting into clubs back then how the dress code was? You needed to be wearing dress pants, and a nice shirt ( or maybe a cool vest Kevin :) if you were a guy. You had to mix in some fashion sense some place. There was no puma pants, jeans, baseball hat or jersey going to happen no matter who you were.
    Remember how big the Astor was and you would pre party there before going to Living room or Chaos?
    Living room with Mike Diamond, ( He’s in NY ) Karim, Jon, and Mossimo. Top Cat spun Hip Hop in the back. Lenny Kravitz sightings became normal, and anyone at that time that was somebody frequented this place. So many Hot girls were there every night. Dimitrius (my friend/ still miss you man!) would have the dinners with the 20 girls and then bring them all in like a parade. Cedric started playing there with Ivano. But the Big DJ for us was Kiko. How many times did you hear “All I want is All I need!” and you and the crowd acted as though it was the first time!! Or “Eww Baby they music feels better with you!” The place went crazy when they played these songs! Stephan worked the security inside, never as a door guy.
    We would leave on Wednesday’s a lot to go to Chaos! Gilbert was badgering someone outside usually. (unless you knew him, get ready to get slammed!)
    Shadow Lounge when Oscar G would have some major DJ come in quite often and Sean Miller worked the door.
    Groove Jet was so fun then as well. Tuesdays was the I think so many door and VIP guys started here. It was Hot but nobody minded because you were so in Aww of all the people around you. The night that did the cookout was Tuesdays? Even Lost weekend was a spot to check out on some nights.
    I think it was Liquid that started the card thing. Remember That! (I still have mine if they work!) Where you could get into the door with that black card, then Bar Room, Groove Jet and Chaos started doing the same thing. How cool did you feel walking through the crowd while the door guy would yell for people to get out of the way to let you in! I can go on and on! Man I miss the old days Kevin!

  • Kevin Tomlinson

    Oh, man thanks for that killer comment. Wow! Hey that vest I think was is ’90 or so–so it was “cool” back then (I don’t see how!).

    This is so funny that this post still is the most read post on my blog.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • monica

    Great post, you left out Jodi McDonald, Arnie Smith and of course Moi, living here since 1980…

  • Kevin Tomlinson

    Arnie Smith? Oh, I can barely remember him. Is he the queen who skipped town owing EVERYBODY money?

  • alli

    what a great post. My best friend and i worked at groove jetin the back ( outside VIP) after the whole icon thing went down.. working at icon was a gift from god so funnn.. and i agree 100% .. money changed it all.. i miss the heath department on collins for one.. there was some funny shit going on out there every morning…. what great times.. get out of work at 6 am and head over to paragon..with marcello and joe bon and raymond outside in some fabulous gear…it was great reading your post thanks

  • Allison

    Hey Eric!! (Post #23)
    We were roommates at the Del Rio!!!
    Wasn’t that on 11th & Collins?
    We shared that studio & I was still eating hot dogs at the time but you were a die hard vegan & I remember you used to shake your head at me every time I ate those things. You’ll be please to know I’m now (and have been for many years) a very strict vegetarian – practically vegan. Whatever happened to you?!
    Where did you go?
    We worked together at the Clevelander, did some modeling together & then POOF! You disappeared.

    Hey Kevin,
    Great blog!
    Funny I don’t recognize you cuz I think I lived in Sobe the longest. Remember “RED” the black guy with the dreads? I think he was homeless or he became homeless, anyway – he even recognized me years later. I think he & I were the longest residents. I moved there about the same time you did, only just BEFORE Hurricane Andrew. (Great timing, huh?)I was little miss social butterfly – there was a different club for every night of the week!!
    Oh God, I miss those days.
    I was in the right place at the right time & Sobe in the 90’s was KICK ASS!!!!

  • Zoe

    Keviiin, only one Keviiin – loved your article!!!!!!!

  • Laurie Manny

    The full frontal Madonna post of yours from the early days is still my favorite. Just loved the brass it took to put it up there!

  • Kevin Tomlinson

    I had no idea it was scandalous. I guess you learn about fear. I had none. That’s a beach outfit in South Beach.

  • Ann Cummings – Portsmouth NH Real Estate

    Kevin – you do know how to WRITE a post, that’s for sure. I’ve loved reading through all the comments, too. Could picture what living there back there might have been like.

  • dloncar

    Haha I used to work @ Les Bain!!

  • dloncar

    Haha, I moved there 3 days after Hurricane Andrew, and stayed for 3 years…..time of my life!!!! I worked @ Velvet, Les Bains, Amnesia.

  • dloncar

    Haha I used to work @ Les Bain!!

  • dloncar

    Haha, I moved there 3 days after Hurricane Andrew, and stayed for 3 years…..time of my life!!!! I worked @ Velvet, Les Bains, Amnesia.

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    Still love this post!

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