By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
By Frank Owen
By Allie Conti
Visiting celebrities would be able to fly in via a helipad on an adjacent parking lot. Lord Toussaint of Infinite Audio Systems would put in a big-deal sound system, utilizing the "world's first full-range application of Electro-Voice manifold technology." Atlanta's Perfection Lighting & Sound would install a 40,000-watt, computer-controlled lighting system. Pricey corporate and VIP memberships would be available, adding just the right touch of snobbery ("The entire second level of Nu is exclusively set aside for VIP members only"). The space would be loaned to charities for fund raisers, and a variety of independent promoters would pass through, producing special one-night events. And in a nod to the renowned New York club Area, which featured different decorative makeovers every six weeks, Club Nu would also have an interior flexible enough to accommodate elaborate "environmental installations." Built around themes such as "Back to the Future," the "Palace of Versailles," and "Woman," and accomplished by props, murals, and live performances, the installations were supposed to create an entirely new club every six months.
At the time, the renaissance of South Beach had just begun, and the district was all dressed up with nowhere to go. Club Z on Washington Avenue had changed ownership and become the decidedly nonfabulous 1235; George Tamsitt had left Club Ovo on Espanola Way, and a similar downturn had begun there. Besides Cats in the Grove and fairly lame discos at the Cricket Club and Turnberry Isle, there wasn't much else. All of the smaller, more casual clubs that would eventually chip away at Club Nu's market share had yet to open their doors. "There was nothing in town then," recalls Louis Canales, nightlife maven and former Nu marketing director who began working with the Turchins in the fall of 1986. "The club scene was like Hialeah-by-the-sea. We had to create a prototype. This was the first time in Miami that the visuals were integrated, like a circus, with something happening all the time. It was just a fusion of the right team, the right entertainment, and luck."
Even by Miami Beach standards, the opening festivities, commencing on Saturday, April 18, 1987, were stupendous. The limos and city commissioners went on for miles. Two dozen downtown New York personalities were flown in to lend an aura of Manhattan hipness to the club and to South Beach in general. The waitresses were all decked out in specially imported black-vinyl sex kitten ensembles, an innovation apparently introduced to this country by Club Nu. That weekend's gala is still considered to be one of the legendary premieres in Beach history. "It was a mob scene," recalls Tom Turchin with a showman's gift for embellishment. "There must have been 10,000 people, 5000 inside and probably 5000 waiting outside. Traffic was backed up all the way down to Fifth Street and up to 41st. A mob scene. We had, like, 100 press people - we didn't bring them in, they just came - hanging out in the kitchen, 'cause that was the only space we had available."
Louis Canales, who has witnessed his share of spectacles, was also duly impressed. "The opening was amazing," he remembers. "Three nights of parties, something like 12,000 people. We flew in everybody from New York - Stephen Saban from Details, Walter Thomas from Scene, Viva, John Sex and his Bodacious Ta Ta's, Fred Schneider from the B-52s. It was the first time a lot of them had been down and it was a great showcase for South Beach. We told everybody the club had cost three million. I think it was really like one-and-a-half to two million dollars. Part of the business is hype."
The hype paid off, at least initially. "For a while, two years or so, it was hot, it was happening, really an evolution in breaking barriers," Canales says. "People mixed more than they did in other places. In one night we might have two or three promotional parties, a concert, a fashion show, and the usual private parties. But the size of the place worked against it. It could hold like 1800 people; with 500 people, the place looked empty. In New York, you might have 10,000 very right, very on-target people - but of course they don't go out every night. Down here, in '87, it was like 500 or 600 right people."
The right people, everyone agrees, got to hear some great music, far more sophisticated than that played in most discos of the time. According to John Turchin, the brothers spent "a lot of time and energy following the Billboard charts, and we'd let the DJs know the style of music we wanted played. We didn't want them to get stuck in one groove." Norman Bedford, Nu's former creative director, who booked live acts to supplement the DJs, put in his own share of time and energy. "Some of the English progressive industrial bands we had, like the Swans and the Mighty Lemon Drops, had never played Florida," he recalls. "We had to get them four or five other venues in the state to have them come down. It was a monumental effort. Towards the end, though, it was like the club didn't have the promotional balls they had in the past. Everybody was always second-guessing themselves. And I don't know why. The shows had a good track record of making money."