Jetting to Miami for ABSOLUT Miami ‘Art of the Party’ Panel

I’m out of here! An opportunity, the ABSOLUT Miami "Art of the Party" Panel, has reared its lovely head and now I’m heading to Miami. This morning, I will jet to a place where the grass is still green and the winds not as mean. I’m trading the 18 degrees of balmy Brooklyn for the 81 of South Beach.

Last night, a dozen people and I dressed like Arctic explorers while trying to get warm at Kellogg’s Diner. Our friendly banter was all about the weather. It dominated our every thought as we clutched coffee cups to warm our hands. Everyone was showing off their new gloves and socks and scarves and such as my mind wandered south toward warmth and salvation.
I like Miami Beach. I have been going there since before its dramatic makeover. Back then, it was Tony Montana types and mahjong-playing octogenarians. I stayed at the Clevelander for pennies and ate every meal at the new News Cafe. Nowadays, the charms are different. Tony has been banished with his little friends and the octo-crowd has, well, either moved along or moved elsewhere. It’s been models and bottles in a club-friendly atmosphere. Some people say it has lost some of its luster lately as some travelers opt for the oppulence of Vegas. Vegas may have this and that and many other things, but one thing it will never have: the Atlantic Ocean beachfront. I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow.
At the Panel, ABSOLUT Miami will launch, eliciting an intriguing list of Miami-centric participants. Stories and photos of "some of the best parties over the last 30 years" will excite the crowds. "We’ll learn about the ‘Art of the Party’ – where it’s been and where it might be headed in the future, and we’ll enjoy some signature cocktails along the way." Here are some of the players:
Alfred Spellman and Billy Corben (directors and co-owners of Miami production company Rakontur): Spellman and Corbin were the men behind critically-acclaimed, Miami-centric documentaries Cocaine Cowboys and The U. Rakontur’s development slate this year includes a Cocaine Cowboys dramatic series for HBO, with executive producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Michael Bay, and the animated comedy series Miami Cowboys with executive producer Pharrell Williams.
Ingrid Casares: the “Queen of Miami nightlife” has been seen in gossip pages since 1991 with gal pals like Madonna, k.d. lang and Sandra Bernhard, just to name a few. Her entrepreneurial exploits and celeb connections helped solidify South Beach as an international playground for the rich and famous.
Biz Martinez: Music Director for LIV/Arkadia/MMG; created Miami’s longest running Saturday Electric Dance Music night and after-hours
Conrad Gomez: Has manned the gates of Miami hottest clubs including, but not limited to, LIV Nightclub/Blade Lounge, and Pool and La Cote at the Fontainebleau. He’s also co-owner of mega-club Klutch.
Freddy Diaz: From head bartender at Club 50 Viceroy to the 5-star Setai Hotel Miami Beach, Freddy Diaz has been behind the bar for more than 18 years. He employs classic, modern day, and molecular gastronomy to develop his outstanding libations.
Seth Browarnik: A photographer to the celebrities, hee can be seen at every star-studded South Beach event, taking shots of all the best moments.
Cocktails will be created and served by three of Miami’s leading bartenders."
After all this, we’ll all hit the town. I have many friends in Miami and am looking forward to catching up. I’ll let you know what I see and hear. Now I have to get dressed to go … a process that has been taking me 30 minutes these days.

Post-ABSOLUT Miami Panel: Comparing Big Apples to Florida Oranges

If you see me out and about this week you will notice my lingering tan obtained in just two days in the sun in fun Miami Beach last week. I was lobster red when I headed north and now I’m heading to beige, but I have no complaints. I left New York cold, tired, and snow-white and returned a better man. ABSOLUT Miami had me down south for a nightclub panel moderated by Cocaine Cowboys and Limelight producer Alfred Spellman. Limelight will come out on DVD tomorrow and I’m all up in that. Sunday’s New York Post did a story on it and I was there putting my two cents in. I put $1.75 in the flick. 

Down in Miami,  ABSOLUT was pushing its new flavor — ABSOLUT Miami. It issued this press blurb: "The world’s most iconic vodka, and a staple of exceptional experiences in nightclubs for more than three decades, we recognize the impact Miami has had in shaping the course of nightlife culture and we look to celebrate that tonight, over cocktails and conversation, with some of the city’s most iconic party personalities. Moderated by renowned documentarians, Alfred Spellman and Billy Corben, an intimate discussion will unfold about the ‘Art of the Party’ — what it entails to take a party from good to exceptional."
I was sipping ABSOLUT Miami Heats as discussions began. Freddie Diaz, a panelist, created this cocktail, which was a blend of ABSOLUT Miami, a slice of jalapeno, muddled basil leaves, passion fruit purèe, simple syrup, and lime juice. Freddie was the quietest of the panelists. He talks softly but makes a good drink. The panel was dominated by Ingrid Casares who is described as follows: "’The Queen of Miami Nightlife’ has been seen in gossip pages since 1991 with longtime gal pal Madonna. Among her feats, Casares discovered and developed DJs, such as Victor Calderone and Tracy Young, and worked with the Versaces in the ’90s, throwing their most fabulous parties around the globe. Her entrepreneurial exploits and celebrity connections helped solidify South Beach as an international playground for the rich and famous." Ingrid relived her stint running the iconic joint Liquid with her partner Chris Paciello, who I was told was back in Miami bringing vim and vigor to the Delano. Ingrid talked about the time when Sylvestor Stallone, Gianni Versace, and Mickey Rourke became fixtures on the scene, and how the rest of the country discovered that Miami was a real great place to party. She recalled an event that happened at the turn of the century, where Madonna played drums and Gloria Estefan sang. She was the voice of reason and clarity on the panel as Alfred didnt get much insight from the rest. He could always turn to Ingrid to clear things up. I talked to Ingrid before and after. She is retired from nightlife and working on her family business.
Other panelist included Seth Browarnik, described as "a photographer to the celebrities." He was basically a mentally challenged cheerleader for all things Miami. He said things like Miami nightlife is the best in the universe, and things like that. He also said things like there’s more hot girls per mile here than anywhere in the world. He proclaimed that the celebrities don’t go out as much in Miami because they are afraid, citing cell phone cameras and other circumstances. In places like New York and Vegas and LA, celebrities still swarm the clubs because clubs know how to allay their fears and not burn their celebs or let their clientele do so. I suspect they just want to avoid him, and when nightlife is simplified to the amount of hotties per square inch, then it’s just dumb and dumb is only sometimes sexy.
Comparing Miami to New York is like comparing Big Apples to Florida Oranges. As Ingrid pointed out, people going out in Miami have tourist money in hand with no desire to return home with it. The entire make-up of the Beach is about that tourist money. In New York, there is a thing called "culture" which sometime distracts locals. Miami is a party town, but as the panel pointed out, it has lost some of its diversity. The large gay clientele has moved away, leaving Miami to become one great bottle-banging bash. They do this well. However, the town follows the lead of Vegas and New York, developing few — if any — trends of its own. If you look at places like The Darby, Provocatuer, the Standard or even the Bowery Poetry Club, you see innovation. The event was held at LIV, a wonderful money-making machine that seems to be a cross between Marquee NYC and Rain Vegas. The wait-trons were all beautiful, tall, and tan with pearly-white smiles. It was perfect for what it was.
Miami may indeed not be perfect, but it was perfect for me. The new Fountainbleau was wonderful, maintaining its tacky, almost-chic dècor, and wonderful staff. Everyone was helpful and intelligent. Miami used to be notorious for its awful service industry employees. This has changed as the city has developed from its Marielle days. It is no longer, as Alfred Spellman pointed out, "God’s waiting room." He also conjectured that Miami Vice helped break the city as a glamorous travel spot. Other panelists included Biz Martinez: "Music Director for LIV/Arkadia/MMG, Martinez created Miami’s longest running Saturday Electric Dance Music night and after-hours." Here, I wanted to hear about new music developing in the corners of South beach, but only name or circuit DJs were discussed. With such a diverse ethnic culture, I’m sure there are sounds developing a dozen or so blocks from the beach that aren’t on the radar here.
Conrad Gomez, who "manned the gates of  Miami’s hottest clubs including LIV and Arkadia," recognized a need in the market. He recently opened Foxhole, a high-end bar catering to the locals in Miami Beach." I heard great things about Foxhole. Conrad seemed to be reaching back to old-school in a small joint — a place where a blackcard doesn’t automatically mean you are VIP. Conrad remembered Miami and NY door legend Gilbert Stafford who passed, but will always be in our hearts. I toasted Gilbert with an ABSOLUT Coco Miami.
I didn’t ask questions at the end. Alfred came up to me and said he wished I had gotten involved in the discussion. I was enjoying the talk but absolutely didnt want to argue. The reality of Miami is the real celebrity, promoter, superstar. The ocean, beach, seagulls, and promixity give good reason to be cheerful. I popped in and popped out, had a great dinner at Gotham Steak House and lunch by the Fountainbleau pool. ABSOLUT made it possible and the weather gods did their part. It was like 18 degrees when I left NYC and 81 down there. I could almost get used to it. Miami’s lack of some things are more than made up for by its historical assets. The 80-somethings have been replaced by partiers with IQs around 80. Intelligence is pushed aside by attractiveness, and money is the currency of culture, but it is a great place to visit. Sipping ABSOLUT Miameras while a warm breeze wipes away your troubles isn’t all bad. ABSOLUT Miami did the trick.
Its passion fruit and orange blossom tang will warm me wherever I am. I can’t give you a blow-by-blow account of nightlife at the beach. John Hood, BlackBook’s Miami guy, does that better than I ever could. Alls I know about Miami nightlife was that when the night got real and I didnt want to go home, my friend Donya Litowitz and I headed to Mac’s Club Duece on 14th Street for a good time. Club Duece is a real-deal dive bar where my bottle service came to me as a cold Heineken. The girls in general might not have been considered in that survey about hottest-women-per-square-mile thing. There were no Ferraris parked outside. It was perfect. When I got back to the hotel, a tall, middle-aged, unnatural blonde also falling short of Seth’s survey asked me if I wanted a good time. I can’t be sure, but she looked exactly like a gal who asked me that same question at that same spot 20 years ago. Not feeling nostalgic nor having had too many ABSOLUT Miami Heat’s to cloud my judgement and having had a good time since I landed in Miami, I politely passed. I was getting up early to catch some rays with Donya before returning to NYC.
Donya Litowitz and I almost collaborated on a few game-changing projects in Miami. I was part of a design team that had Greg Brier operating a new Sagamore Hotel. It never happened. There was talk of a G Resort, I think north of town, catering to the gay crowd that was leaving Miami in droves. Besides the Sagamore, G Hospitality Group, was initially launching locations in Wilton Manors, Las Vegas, and South Beach — all hotels. Locations were to include Vegas-style amenities with multiple club, lounge, and restaurant venues. She is a brilliant gal who, along with her sister, created Featherlocks, which are rooster-feather hair extensions. They are selling like cuban sandwiches and spinning off into Puppylocks for pets and other businesses. As we sat by the pool, both of us doing our business on our very smart phones, my mind wandered to a simpler, warmer life in a place with more beautiful women per … no galleries or art house films or culture to distract …but then I said… nah.