By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
*Andrew Delaplaine had been a playwright and publisher without any restaurant experience to speak of when he entered the business in 1987. That year he and his sister Renee took an old Rolls Royce garage on Jefferson Avenue and Fifth Street, and converted it into a theater and bar called Scratch. Soon Scratch had become a theater and supper club by evening, mutating into a dance hall at night. One of only a handful of dining spots on the Beach -- The Strand, Osteria del Teatro, Mezzanotte, and Tropics International were about the only competition -- Scratch helped set the early standard for style and hipness in the area, even though many who remember the club's heyday don't number the food and service among the highlights.
The success didn't last. "We think we made over a million the first year. I'm not sure; I was too drunk to count," says Dela-plaine, perched on a chair at his niece's Passport Cafe and Market on Collins Avenue, cradling his third glass of white wine in 45 minutes. "My job was to fill the place up, which I did," he continues. "Meanwhile, I pursued my oblivion at the bottom of a glass of Scotch. By the time I sobered up, I was too late to save the place."
Besides his own personal excesses, Delaplaine blames Scratch's demise on underhanded employees who robbed him blind. "By the time we put in proper management, the cash flow -- I don't know how you'd say this in financial terms, but it was hemorrhaging. If we'd been properly managed and financed, we'd still be around." Scratch closed about eighteen months after it opened. In 1991, when Delaplaine was forced to file for bankruptcy because of an unrelated legal dispute, he lost the old garage. He figures the entire Scratch venture cost him one million dollars. "It was the perfect example," he chirps, "of a glorious failure."
*Remember Lucky's? Opened in 1988 at the renovated Park Central Hotel on Ocean Drive, the restaurant quickly became one of the most popular dining and drinking spots in Miami Beach. "Lucky's wasn't just a restaurant," gloats 49-year-old developer Tony Goldman, who owns restaurants in both New York and Miami Beach, "it was an integral part of a statement and an articulation of courage and commitment and taste and style."
At the time of Lucky's startup, Goldman already owned eighteen properties in the then-forlorn Deco district. He says he poured one million dollars into the restaurant and opened the place "as a means to establish the reputation of the hotel." Less than three years later, though, it was closed. This despite a glowing review in 1991 by Bryan Miller, restaurant critic for the New York Times, describing Lucky's as "the classiest restaurant in South Beach."
Goldman says it was the summers that crushed Lucky's. Indeed, if there's one aggressor that has plagued every South Beach restaurant, it's the off-season doldrums. Thousands of big spenders can fill a place to bursting from November to April, but the business can't just pack up and hibernate for the rest of the year. That was the case with Lucky's, says Goldman, who recently opened the Riviera Kitchen and Bar in his Imperial Hotel on Ocean Drive. But as a strategy, Goldman insists the restaurant was a raving success. "It served as a beacon of style, of taste, of what one could do, and it showed the restaurant world of New York that there was opportunity here," he boasts. "Back then, to start to think of a high-priced restaurant without a tablecloth was almost a shandeh, as we say in Yiddish. It was almost an absolute no-no. You don't do that! I brought the 21st Century into the community in every way!"
*Al Amir, a Middle Eastern restaurant, opened at the end of 1989 on Washington Avenue. Excellent reviews didn't stop its sudden closing in May 1991. "It was doing very well for the first few months, then the Gulf War came and that was the beginning of the end, as they say," explains owner Michael Levkovitz, speaking from California, where he says he's involved in other restaurant ventures.
Al Amir experienced about a 50 percent dropoff in business during the war, the owner notes. But even before Iraq, business hadn't been great. "Maybe it was too elegant for the community," Levkovitz conjectures. "Maybe it wasn't a cozy place where
you can walk in wearing shorts and T-shirts. I think we succeeded in building one of the nicest places in town. But unfortunately people like to go to places like Mezzanotte and eat pasta and squeeze
into a noisy place where they can't have any concentration."
*Former model Gary James opened ESP on Espanola Way with two partners in June 1991 and closed it the following July. What he imagined to be a "casual bistro-type place with diner-ish food," he says, became a fashionable and fancy restaurant with "chandeliers, tablecloths, a piano, lots of browns and blacks. And as we went along, we thought the food had to get more sophisticated and upscale." James blames one of his partners for forcing the restaurant in a different direction than they had originally planned.