Glorious & Notorious

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

In a 1982 interview with the Miami Herald, Raul Villaverde claimed that his by-then-vanished brother had refused to cooperate with Wilson, who had been charged with conspiring to recruit Americans to train terrorists for Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy. Villaverde said he and his brother were "set up" in the Tick-Talks case by Monkey Morales as a favor to Monkey's CIA friends.

Mitchell, ex-FBI: "You've really got to define what you mean by a CIA operative. There are agents, but then you have a lot of operatives who are contract men, paid on an ad hoc basis. Many of these people are businessmen who travel and collect a lot of mundane intelligence: crops, commodity futures, et cetera. At the Mutiny, we're talking about the latter. A substantial number of Miami Cubans were in a position to learn things about what's going on in Cuba or elsewhere. They were on the CIA payroll. They thought it was cool, so they wouldn't hesitate to let people know, to brag about it. You got laid a lot more, and people were scared of you.

"Some of the baddest asses I have ever known in Miami, guys doing intimidation and shooting, that CIA persona is what they aspired to, it's the one badge they didn't have. I called it the 'Casablanca effect.' There would be a contingent of pretty opulent dopers pissing money away with the most outrageous women. Then you'd have a contingent that everybody knew to their bones was a spy of one kind or another. Then there were pretenders and wannabes. Nobody ever knew exactly who the spies were. They were information gatherers. Hell, everyone was. I guess that's what we all had in common."

Martinez, the assistant Metro police chief: "About the spy thing, I'm not sure if that was a reality or a myth, whether these were real CIA, were they there officially, were they wannabes, or former CIA guys now involved in the drug business. I never did find out for sure."

Burton Goldberg was known to his employees as a petty tyrant and an overbearing perfectionist, but the Mutiny's long slide indisputably began in 1984 when Goldberg decamped, selling the hotel for a cool $17 million. The next year the Mutiny's new owners defaulted on their mortgage, and a bank named Sunrise Savings & Loan repossessed the property. At the time Mutiny general manager Bob Smith acknowledged that his efforts to clean up the hotel's druggie image had been a big mistake. "It was the downfall of the Mutiny in financial terms," Smith noted. "[Drug dealers] supported the club, and the club accounted for 65 percent of the revenues of the hotel."

In 1986 Sunrise Savings & Loan declared insolvency. To avoid widespread panic in the thrift industry, the federal government took control of the bank, thereby becoming the new owner of the Mutiny. For the next few years, the hotel floundered along as the feds tried to find a buyer. In 1987 police arrested eighteen people at a cocaine-and-conch party in the Mutiny's Cappuccino and Santa Fe suites. On the surface it seemed the wild days were still on, but in fact the party was a low-rent affair and the Mutiny had lost its pizzazz.

Local developer Manny Medina and a group of British investors finally bought the Mutiny in 1989 for $8.65 million. American taxpayers paid $5 million in losses on the building via a new congressional savings and loan bailout plan. Medina spent $2 million removing asbestos and gutting the building's interior, but his scheme to create a new upscale hotel never materialized.

In 1990 the Mutiny's furnishings were sold at auction, including a ceiling mirror from the Bordello Room, the blue satin bed canopy and Roman tub from the Arabian Nights suite, and the space-ship control panel built into the bed of the Lunar Dreams room. By the following year, scuzzy bums had moved into the now-vacant hotel, and members of the Coconut Grove Women's Club next door complained of rats and opossums floating in the near-empty swimming pool.

Last year Miami-based Flagler Development bought the Mutiny for $10.2 million. Developers Ricardo Dunin and Raul Echarte say they plan to invest $17 million more to turn the structure into a British Colonial-themed luxury condominium. A sales center and model condo unit opened on the site of the old Mutiny a few months ago, and business seems brisk. Dunin and Echarte plan to completely reconstruct the building, adding all new plumbing, electrical work, interior walls, windows and roof, as well as a two-story entrance and lobby. The lobby will have sisal carpet, cane and bamboo furniture, paddle fans, and brass details.

The new owners are careful to say that their creation will bear little resemblance to the old Mutiny. They've chosen to hang onto the name, though.

Manny Medina, former Mutiny owner: "Will it carry some of the stigma? Of course. We thought about that when we took over, the idea of changing the name. But the name will carry some of the cachet, too. Let me tell you something. I remember standing in the lobby of the Tamanaco Hotel in Caracas in 1979 and someone saying to me, You want to really know who's who in the world? Go to the Mutiny Hotel in Miami. They'll still tell you, South Americans, that the Mutiny is the place they dreamed about -- a table at the Mutiny. That was it, the beginning and the end."

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