Mob ties? Fine. Cheesy tunes ... criminal.

A New York City journalist in town to do his own now-requisite take on the Chris Paciello story remained unfazed by the case's lurid allegations of Mafia racketeering, armed robbery, drug dealing double-crosses, and murder. No, what really shocked this seasoned writer was discovering firsthand that Paciello's famed Liquid and Bar Room nightclubs (billed as the paragon of all that is chic) played music that was downright cheesy. In fact a weekend of vigorous clubhopping revealed that even the latest additions to South Beach's glittering dance floors contained that same unmistakable whiff of fromage.

But then clubland these days has little to do with music. Indeed inside the bulk of the city's nightspots, the soundtrack of choice is little more than background noise, a fact belied by the seeming interchangeability of local DJs. Despite each venue proclaiming its fierce sense of individuality and unique vibe, scan a handful of club flyers and one notices the same names appearing up and down Washington Avenue. This is hardly a coincidence. These DJs aren't artistes pushing a sonic envelope or painstakingly constructing an aurally transcendent experience. They're focused professionals with a demonstrated ability (in the eyes of club owners) to provide an unobtrusive lubricant to an evening's affairs.

Given this, the most crucial player in clubland's current financial equation is the promoter, a role made even more important by the record number of new clubs all competing to lure in the same bodies. It's a point dramatized by the federal government's telephone wiretaps of Paciello. During heated conversations with Colombo crime family associate Dominick Dionisio (currently on trial for stock fraud and mob-related money laundering), Paciello bemoans the attempts of New York City nightlife impresario Stephen Lewis to woo away his own erstwhile partner Ingrid Casares into a new venture. "He's a great manipulator; he'll talk her ear off," Paciello says, after weighing the merits of beating Lewis senseless. "She'll start believing him; she's fucking stupid."

Models, movie stars, and now a million-dollar lawsuit: Just another day in the life of Tommy Pooch
Models, movie stars, and now a million-dollar lawsuit: Just another day in the life of Tommy Pooch

It would seem then that it's not the loss of Casares's keen business acumen that has Paciello so worried. In fact if several sources are to be believed, Casares's actual day-to-day responsibilities at the Paciello-anchored Liquid, Bar Room, and Joia seem to entail little more than showing up. Of course in clubland, showing up is what it's all about, ensuring that the "right people" make the scene. It's this crowd that Casares's name could supposedly draw -- a name apparently worth killing for.

Second only to Casares in local promoter notoriety is Tommy Pooch, who quickly can boil down nightlife's economic mysteries into layman's terms. Fellow Brooklynite Ian Schrager, seemingly filled with jailhouse spirituality after serving time for tax evasion, may drape his own South Beach entertainment efforts in new-age phrases and speak pretentiously of constructing "dreams." Pooch (né Thomas Puccio) however, keeps it simple. As he once declared to New Times: "What you're selling in the club business is sex. In Miami that's even more true than in other places. There are more beautiful women here per square mile than anywhere: fashion models, gorgeous Latin women, strippers.... 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."

Such street-level bluntness has endeared Pooch to South Florida's media, and both monthly glossies and New Times alike have obliged with a deluge of fawning profiles. Rather than harming his reputation in Miami, felony convictions in New York during the Eighties for both credit-card fraud and dealing cocaine seem only to have equipped Pooch with a fashionable bad-boy allure. It's certainly done little to dampen enthusiasm for the Pooch-helmed Wednesday evenings at the Forge, the living embodiment of the man's philosophy. Appropriately enough the Forge's owner, Alvin Malnik, is considered by law-enforcement officials to be a major organized-crime figure in his own right; in its heyday the spot was the storied stomping ground for a cluster of notorious mobsters and their molls, many of whom made it their grazing site of choice after Fidel Castro shuttered their favored Havana joints in 1959. Several decades later Pooch's party is an unabashed throwback to those bygone Batista days, gleefully bringing together wannabe Rat Packers, as well as the silicone set and the wealthy men who love them.

In 1997 that track record of pulling in high-rollers was precisely what attracted Michael Ault, David Sarner, and Tony (né Antonios) Theodore -- the owners of the then-new Chaos nightclub -- to enlist the services of Pooch. The exact nature of that relationship, however, is currently at the heart of Pooch's million-dollar lawsuit against the trio, a move whose ramifications threaten to further air clubland's dirty laundry.

In an interview with Kulchur, Pooch contends that in 1997, Ault, Sarner, and Theodore invited him onboard as an equal partner in Chaos. Because of his cocaine conviction, however, he was barred by law from ownership in any establishment with a liquor license for fifteen years, a period that expires this June. Pooch alleges that an explicit oral contract was agreed upon, within which it was understood that when that fateful June arrived, he'd be given 25 percent of Chaos. In the meantime he worked as a promoter for the club, receiving a weekly salary based on Chaos's fluctuating draw.

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