Deconstructing Tommy

How a Bensonhurst boy rose to the summit of South Beach's promotion biz

Sunday, 3:00 a.m.: Tommy Pooch, South Beach nightlife promoter, wades through the teeming Washington Avenue club, appropriately called Chaos, accepting tribute from his fans. Everywhere he turns, bright red female lips pucker and land on his cheeks or the corner of his mouth. Ample young breasts, overflowing their bodices, press up against him. Glistening, pleasure-hungry eyes stare into his.

"Hello, Pooch."
"Hiya, baby."
"Nice party."

Men, distracted one moment from the amazing array of decolletage and taut thighs, call out in sincere, near-delirious appreciation: "Pooooooooooch!"

Tommy salutes them.
Techno music pounds. Strobes flash, scan, blink, and explode off chandeliers, blood-red draperies, and bobbing, bare-shouldered bodies. Tommy Pooch has done it again. Seven years after he arrived broke in Miami, hundreds of parties later -- some successful, some not -- Pooooooooooch is on top. The young, heedless, and hedonistic flock to him.

Pooch has accomplished all this by applying a formula he learned in the Eighties in New York City, where he tasted both bitter failure and sweet success. "What you're selling in the club business is sex," he declares flatly. "In Miami that's even more true than other places. There are more beautiful women here per square mile than anywhere: fashion models, gorgeous Latin women, strippers, you name it. They go around with hardly anything on. It's wild. And if you draw the women, the guys can't stay away. The celebrities come too: the Stallones, DiCaprios, Nicholsons, Clooneys, and De Niros. You get them, then you're golden."

No one in South Beach's nightlife industry has thrown more successful soirees in different locales in recent years than the 40-year-old Brooklyn native. He is also part owner of three pizzerias. And now that music recording and television and film production are expanding in South Florida, Pooch is getting his fingers into those pots, too. He owns part of an acting school and a brand-new recording company called Bogart Records. He is also trying to launch a production studio that will be rented to movie and TV crews.

Pooch's media ventures have yet to turn a profit and he is in debt. Though he contends he's on the brink of the big time, he admits his path has been rocky: two felony convictions by age 26, one for cocaine possession and one for credit card fraud; a 1992 drug charge, which was later dismissed; failed businesses that led to his being sued; credit card companies breathing down his neck; and, perhaps because he is an Italian in the club business, innuendoes about possible Mob ties. "I think he came down here to get away from all that," says a long-time acquaintance.

Like others before him, Pooch escaped to Miami Beach and hitched his future to the city. He epitomizes a new dynamic in the entertainment scene, one that glorifies the promoter, the guy who knows beautiful people and brings them together. He does it for profit, and occasionally for local charities. To track Pooch is to experience the haute monde and the naughty highlife of South Florida, and to meet the shakers who create it.

Tommy Pooch Productions occupies a sixth-floor office at the corner of Washington Avenue and Fifth Street in Miami Beach. That yellow, red, and blue building, designed by Arquitectonica to look like a Lego structure, is also inhabited by the trendy China Grill restaurant and glossy Ocean Drive magazine. It is owned by German financier, real estate magnate, and socialite Thomas Kramer. Pooch attended Kramer's three-day birthday party in London last year.

Pooch works behind his leather-topped desk in a room sponge-painted yellow. He peers out windows overlooking the Beach and downtown Miami. In front of him lies a stack of snapshots, including one of Pooch and Technicolor basketball star Dennis Rodman.

He is working two phones. On the first, he speaks with old acquaintance Bernard Fowler, a back-up singer for the Rolling Stones who is heading to South Beach to party. On the other line is Amy Reilly, a public relations consultant who is bringing fourteen swimsuit models to Miami for a promotion. She needs a restaurant owner who will comp meals for the women in exchange for publicity. The whole scene is to be shot by the E! Channel and broadcast on the Internet.

"I can getcha fourteen entrees and desserts maybe, but who's gonna handle everything else?" Pooch asks. He puts his hand over the mouthpiece and tells a visitor: "You should see these women. One is on Beverly Hills 90210, one is a Playboy playmate, and another one was in Penthouse." He rolls his eyes.

He and Amy cut a deal to feed the group at the Forge, the legendary Miami Beach restaurant where Pooch hosts a party that attracts hundreds of people every Wednesday night. Some high rollers from Texas are coming to town just to eat with the models. They'll spend enough money to make the deal profitable for the restaurant, Tommy is told. This is good. Pooch will share the evening's profits.

After hanging up he speculates about the future of nightlife. "These days people are willing to go to a party thousands of miles away if you collect the right crowd," he says. "Before long that will be the thing, not just a place, but getting them together. You make a list of 150,000 people, all of whom have money and time. They come to you because you cut through the bullshit and get them together with nice people."

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