Glorious & Notorious

Casablanca had Rick's; Vegas had the Stardust; Miami's cocaine jazz age had the decadent Mutiny Hotel

Mitchell, law enforcement consultant, ex-FBI: "I knew this Cuban immigrant, a very bright guy, he arrived in Miami and got a very menial job making about 50 bucks a week. He came upon a couple guys who asked if he knew how to use a walkie-talkie and binoculars. He says sure. They drive him to the Keys, and put him on a bridge and said if you see any police, either in cars or boats, get on the radio and let us know. He spends the whole night there scared to death and never saw a thing. No one showed up. The two guys pick him up in the morning, mosquito-bitten to no end, and two weeks later they showed up and gave him $10,000 in cash. One thing led to another, and the next thing he knows he's one of the biggest dope dealers in Miami.

"The highlight of his pissing-it-away days was this: He had a confirmation party for his daughter at the Mutiny Hotel. It cost him $30,000.

"I thought I was working real monster cases in south Philly, but boy was I wrong. For dope, Miami was the center of the universe, and the Mutiny was the center of Miami.

"Back then a kilo of marijuana cost $5 at the dock in north Colombia. So then you sell it up here for a thousand. The profit margin was so high it defied description. That was before cartels, before it became big business. What do you do with all that money? I know two dope dealers who traded cars, they were at the bar and simply swapped registrations. One was a Porsche, the other a Mercedes, and both vehicles had engine problems, so they were playing games with each other. That was their idea of a game. Colombian drug dealers really didn't understand the U.S. because they didn't live here. They relied on Cubans to do their dope importation and distribution. The Mutiny became a central point for Cubans involved in the drug business to hang out and be seen.

"These were otherwise normal human beings who all of a sudden fell into so much money it was unfathomable. It was like hitting the lottery every Saturday night. And the Mutiny just seemed like the place to be. Miami Beach had become a pit. There were no clubs for these guys in Lauderdale, because they were Cuban. There really was nothing else but the Grove.

"Drugs were relatively new to the FBI, so I said, Well if I'm in Newcastle, I'll mine coal. The first thing I saw was that it was a very fluid environment. Allegiances shifted all the time. You would be partners with three other people on a load, but the next day you weren't. If you were sitting at the Mutiny and had access to X amount of dope that was arriving, you then needed access to storage, offload spots, shrimpers, trucks; so you would hook up with your partners of the moment there at the bar."

Roger, divorce lawyer: "Miami has always had the best criminal lawyers in America. For a long time, up until the federal laws changed, the majority of the cases handled were drug cases, and 90 percent of the good criminal lawyers defended drug cases. Later the cases became much more difficult, the sentencing guidelines left less room in which a lawyer could operate. But for a period of time, the Mutiny was a very popular place for lawyers, and it wound up getting some of them in a lot of trouble. I remember there were law offices on one floor of the Mutiny, and the classical music station, WTMI, they had their studio and transmitter on another floor, which I thought was sort of funny.

"I went there some of the first nights it was open, back when the Palm Bay Club and Jockey Club were in their heyday. It was one constant party, all the glamorous people from around the country and around the world. Then when Miami started changing, it did too. Drugs became much more prevalent and there was so much cash around that all the expensive and exclusive places started to attract the cowboys. You know: the people who now have streets named after them."

Tom, journalist: "One of my first snazzy dates in Miami was with a very glamorous rubia Cubanita who lived at Grove Isle who said, 'Gee, why don't we go to the Mutiny for a drink?' What's the Mutiny, I'm wondering? I found out. They had these humongo padded leather banquettes, these incredible private booths. What was obvious to me was that this was a perfect seduction scene for a young man unencumbered, who had recently come to Miami. It was the perfect makeout place. The decor at that time was kind of jungle-y. Those banquettes: You'd sit there and think of what might be underneath the cushions -- cocaine, bugs, cash. So here I am with this incredible Latin blonde in this incredible joint. Wow! I was in Miami! I had arrived! The only thing was, by the mid-Eighties, the cocaine cowboy days were dying down. During the Scarface era it was quite a scene, but that had kind of ended by then."

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