Gabby Mejia Talks Miami’s Cultural Renaissance Ahead of Art Basel 2015

Photo via @eltucanmiami on Instagram

Gabby Mejia is not your typical nightlife connoisseur. With a resume that includes Creative Director at Andre Balazs’ subMercer in NYC, Entertainment Director at Soho Grand and Artistic Director-turned-independent consultant at Will Smith’s favorite Miami cabaret, El Tucan, Mejia has moved back to Miami and shared with us some insider tips on the heels of Art Basel 2015.

How are things?

“It’s raining here in Miami. I moved to Miami in the end of July.”

What exactly do you do at El Tucan?

“I handle special bookings and DJ occasionally. I brought in Puddles Pity Party, who’s a giant (literally and figuratively at a whopping 6’8″) in the the cabaret/live performance world. I also booked Freddie King, a soul singer and NYC busker who used to sing at my subway station at Fulton! He is the son of the Freddie King and [the late] B.B. King was his cousin, and he brought the house down.”

You just got back from Marrakesh?

“Second time in three months. It’s so vibrant and inspiring to the senses.”

Tell me a little about your career.

“I worked with Andre Balazs for many years. I started off at The Raleigh in 2004—the first time moved to Miami from New York. Initially, I thought I would hate it, but this is my fourth time back now. I have an ongoing relationship with Miami.

I’ve also with Ben Pundole at Shore Club before returning to New York. Then I joined Andre at The Standard Spa Miami beach , handling events and cultural day-life programming.

Next I went to run subMercer [in New York] and did that for three years.

I manage clubs and restaurants and do a lot of bookings and events. There’s always music involved with what I do. I worked on a lot of music videos and event production stuff. I was the entertainment director at GrandLife—Soho Grand, running the Club Room—a beautiful room in the back. They wanted to activate the room, so I did cultural programming. We wanted to offer something different from the typical downtown programming, so we had nights  of African music, for instance — amazing music – with musicians Xander Ferreira and Findlay Brown. We also did a night with Stretch Armstrong – very positive, old-school New York vibes, without being throwback. We had piano karaoke with Joe McGinty. It was a secret room that was very word-of-mouth, attracting the right people.”

I started a music label for subMercer. [The Mercer] was the first hotel to start its own music label with original content. At that time great underground DJs and producers were playing at subMercer, so I wanted to collaborate and produce something with them – to do something more creative and expand the capacity in which we worked together, but obviously music was the common ground and foundation. Every boutique hotel in the world puts out a CD compilation – which is ultimately just someone’s playlist – it’s costly and unoriginal. When I approached Andre [Balazs], I said we have to take advantage [of the amazing talent] who we have the opportunity to work with. We also published vinyl instead of CD’s, though we offered the albums digitally, too.”

Tell me more about your music selection?

My music selection is very diverse, from Classical music to Jazz to Funk to Folk to Northern soul to Disco to Dancehall/Reggae to Rock and Dance Music. Admittedly though, I can’t say I”m one for the current state of mainstream pop music, though there are a few true beacons right now. I DJ too though so I try to keep an open mind and an open ear.

How did you get involved with El Tucan?

“I used to work with a friend Emilia Menocal at Hotels AB [Andre Balazs], and she’s now the Creative Director for the owners of El Tucan and their venues. She pulled me in the assist wight the opening and do programming for the club. Emilia also works with Rob McKinley – the designer for Ruschmeyer’s, Surf Lodge, Sant Ambroeus and Tijuana Picnic – so she brought him to do the interiors.

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Photo via @travisthevoice on Instagram

What are your thoughts on the launch of Faena District?

I’m having dinner with them tonight. They’re great, everyone’s been waiting for it for such a long time. They really kept things under wraps, so there’s been a lot of anticipation. [The paradigm is shifting]. Everything was in South Beach. Then Soho Beach House opened and things moved up north. Mid Beach didn’t ever have much action before – it was a bit of a no-man’s land. Now that whole stretch of the beach is being revitalized and transforming the neighborhood, which is what the Faena Group is known for. The Edition has opened a hotel there as well, with a nightclub, restaurants, a bowling alley and even an ice skating rink! The Freehand is also a gem and attracts a hip, young, easy-going crowd with its restaurant (a paladar of sorts) and famous Broken Shaker bar. Faena Group is about to open a hotel, residents, a market area and an art center designed by [architect] Rem Koolhaas. [Faena] will also have its own massive cabaret theater.

Miami is very much becoming cabaret town. Faena will be really interesting. They pulled together Darryl Gibson, the Culture Director for Andre Balazs in L.A. and Dani Morla, formerly of La Clique in Paris and Le Baron internationally. It’s a killer, ace team. It’s a promising sign that such notable captains of [the hospitality and entertainment] industry are moving to Miami. It’s a positive sign that stuff is going on here.”

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Photo via @alan_faena on Instagram

Tell me more about your professional experience.

“Oh, man…I can’t – the CV is too long now LOL. I’ve been around a minute, but let’s just say it’s NY-MIA-NY-MIA and all things music, entertainment, nightlife, hospitality, travel and events product – the intersection at which they all collide with some film and fashion thrown into the mix, too. I’m a creative, project-oriented person that loves to travel, so I try to keep on the move and work on new projects, so that I’m constantly excited and inspired and challenged. I want to start doing more things abroad, too.

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