Deconstructing Tommy

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

Pooch goes home to his eleventh-floor penthouse on West Avenue in Miami Beach. The space, with views in all four directions, is decorated in a Southwest motif; a steer's skull on a wall, lots of deep red and umber. In one room hangs his five-foot-square oil portrait. Next to it is a painting of the ace of hearts. A Pulp Fiction movie poster, featuring Pooch's old Spo-Dee-O-Dee client, Uma Thurman, hangs nearby.

Pooch lives here with his eighteen-year-old girlfriend, Juliette Dudnik, a model born in Ukraine and raised in Chicago. They met last year on a golf course. "I took Juliette to modeling agencies here," he recalls. "They said her nose was too big or she needed to lose weight. She came out of there crying. Then I took her to Elite in New York, the biggest modeling agency in the world, and they wanted to shoot her right away. Everyone here calls up and says, 'Sorry, Tommy, we made a mistake.' Such bullshit." Juliette is currently appearing in a television ad for ESPN wearing gloves and shadow boxing. "I'm picking nothing but winners this year," he shouts. "Winners, winners, winners."

Pooch has never lived with a woman before, he says. "Do you know how hard it is in the nightclub business to stay with one woman?" he asks. "It's impossible." But philandering is not the only pitfall that Pooch faces. There are drugs. Corbett, his partner in the music business, fell into heroin addiction in the Eighties. A producer and former road musician with Kiss, Corbett saw his career plummet after the habit took hold. Pooch says he recently paid to move Corbett to Miami Beach from New York. "He has more talent in his pinkie than most people have in their whole bodies," says Pooch.

So far Pooch has also escaped another danger for any Italian in the entertainment business: being tagged with the m word. "If your name ends in a vowel then everybody wants to insist you're Mafia," Pooch complains.

Still, the rumors persist. One reason: as promoter at the Forge, he works for owner Shareef Malnik, whose father Al Malnik was reputedly an associate of legendary gangster Meyer Lansky. "I didn't even know about that until after I started promoting at the Forge," Pooch says. "But that's not what Shareef is about at all."

Pooch is also close friends with Chris Paciello, part owner of the nightclub Liquid, who was recently written up in the Village Voice and the The Miami Herald. Those papers reported that Paciello's arrest record included grand larceny and assault. They also said he had attended meetings with members of the Gambino crime family. "I don't believe any of it," Pooch insists. "The guy is just trying to make a living here." So is Pooch. A highly placed Miami Beach police official says he has no reason to suspect Pooch has Mob connections.

Early Wednesday night Pooch is preparing to host his now-legendary party at the Forge. He's worried because it's pouring rain. "Sometimes they don't want to get wet," he says. "We'll see."

When Pooch first went to work for Malnik four years ago, the Forge was legendary but fading, he says. "All their clients were old," he claims. "They were coming through the door using walkers."

But Malnik spruced up the place, which includes lots of stained glass and paintings in varying styles, a decor that is best called Late Twentieth-Century Excess. And Pooch went to work with his phone list. The Wednesday clientele now tends toward men with large cigars and thick wallets, and women with large breasts, both natural and surgically enhanced.

The night starts slowly, but the rain stops and business picks up. Women arrive in sequined sheaths, red halters, gold lame wrap dresses. In comes Gianni Pirelli, scion of the Pirelli Tire family of Italy; noted attorney Al Goldstein; and Jose "Pepe" Horta, a former top official at the Cuban film institute and owner of Cafe Nostalgia in Little Havana, which will soon open another club next to the Forge. Superlawyers Roy Black and F. Lee Bailey, who often attend, have stayed home.

Pooch sits at the table nearest the door, greeting many of the men and kissing and embracing the women, running his eyes over them with his trademark lust. Juliette and a bevy of other young ladies sit with him. They fuss over visitors who are important to Tommy, talking and dancing with them. "Juliette knows that's part of her job," he says.

Some of the women in attendance dance at Pooch's favorite strip bars, including one called Thee DollHouse in Sunny Isles Beach. They have positioned themselves around the premises like salt licks in a grazing pasture. It is rumored they are there more for business than pleasure. "I'm innocent to all of that," insists Pooch. "I don't ask people those kinds of questions."

Pooch has drawn celebrities here, too: Nicolas Cage, Michael Douglas, and Jordan. They recommend Pooch to their famous friends. It is said he helps them enjoy South Beach any way he can. "Some come to seriously party, some don't. But I don't talk about that," he insists. "I have famous friends because I keep my mouth shut."

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