Kulchur

Bar some: What's fueling SoBe's underage-drinking crackdown?

Have you considered a night out at CocoWalk? That was the message last Wednesday from Miami Beach to South Florida's kinder, as Beach commissioners voted 6-1 to bar those under age 21 from setting foot in their city's nightclubs. Of course underage drinking itself had little to do with the momentum behind this ordinance, a fact alluded to during that spirited meeting by Commissioner David Dermer as he rhetorically asked of the room: "Why do you think all the media is here? We've got three camera crews and writers here!" Referring derisively to an earlier discussion over the Loews Hotel and its massive subsidies from Miami Beach, he continued, "When we give millions and millions of dollars away ... nobody's here. But when we deal with whether an eighteen-year-old can go into a club, everybody's here!"

Indeed all the commissioners knew exactly why a cluster of TV news crews and local scribes had descended on city hall. While the official line is to cite Art Deco as the catalyst for South Beach's rebirth, rare is the public official who won't privately concede that it isn't historic preservation, sun, or surf that has fueled the Beach's dramatic economic explosion -- it's sin. Or, to be more specific, it's the embodiment of sin in South Beach's clubland, making it the grazing spot of choice for European jet setters, Latin-American capital slingers, Hollywood celebs, and Prada-shod fashionistas. In turn soaring real estate values, record hotel-occupancy rates, and packed restaurants all flow from this '90s conglomeration of star power, décolletage, and cold cash.

It's hard to erect a spectacle to conspicuous consumption and keep it a secret, however. Consequently South Florida's unwashed masses have refused to content themselves with vicariously experiencing this glittering adult playground by breathlessly running their fingers over the glossy pages of Ocean Drive. Instead they've decided to try and crash the party. Thus over the past few years, we've seen weekend nights on Washington Avenue transformed into a bizarre mix of a frat-house beer bash and Village of the Damned; come dawn both the roving packs of teens and ominous police presence retire, leaving only a morass of broken glass, vomit, and the last of the nightclub stragglers wobbling either home or to an after-hours joint for round two. So much for streets full of glitz and glamour.

It's all about the Benjamins: Miami Beach's crackdown on underage drinking has little to do with alcohol
Steve Satterwhite
It's all about the Benjamins: Miami Beach's crackdown on underage drinking has little to do with alcohol

Reigning in clubland's goose without killing off its golden eggs has been a source of continual tension between club impresarios, city hall, and nervous real estate developers. It was a state of affairs that seemed to reach a heated apex last August, when, during a contentious meeting of the Washington Avenue Task Force, planning-board member (and real estate heavyweight) Saul Gross looked straight ahead at several prominent club owners and declared firmly: "If you don't deal with the problem clubs, the city is going to deal with them for you."

It's a message the true movers and shakers in South Beach's club scene seem to have taken to heart. Their business philosophy was expertly articulated by Commissioner Nancy Liebman when she declared during the May 10 meeting that "our nightlife is for adults. We want adult people to come into the clubs, and we want to attract back all the adults who have been frightened off by all the kids.... We're raising the quality of the city." Although Liebman has often been painted as the archnemesis of clubland by the lotus eater crowd, when she added that she was devoted to "getting rid of the wannabe clubs that [cater to] the wannabes," she merely was voicing aloud the concerns of South Beach's velvet-rope-cordoned establishments.

For smaller clubs like the Living Room, as well as more expansive rooms such as crobar and Level, catering to high rollers is the name of the game: celebs and the gentleman willing to pony up $300 per bottle for the privilege of sipping their vodka in those celebs' presence. If you can't even scrounge up the resources for a fake ID, it's doubtful you fit into either category; you're an element that's as undesirable to these clubs' owners as you are to the police.

It's for precisely this reason that the Beach's less tony after-hours clubs and bars have found themselves standing alone in their protests and lawsuits against the city. Not only have their upmarket brethren conspicuously failed to offer any support, they'd be downright overjoyed to see places like Club Deep and the Mix shuttered. Witness the about-face of Gary Thoulouis. When he attended last summer's Washington Avenue Task Force meetings (then as a freelance promoter) he was an outspoken opponent of the city's efforts to enact new nightlife restrictions, even angrily charging Commissioner Liebman with seeking a "Footloose solution."

There Thoulouis was last Wednesday, however, calmly approaching the microphone, facing Liebman, and after announcing his current title as marketing director for the Living Room (situated on the 600 block of Washington Avenue, ground zero for police attention), announcing -- perhaps not coincidentally -- that he was now completely in favor of the under-21 ban.

In line with this thinking, the imminent arrival of a host of new nightclubs in downtown Miami (and its incipient threat of competition) elicited little concern from either commissioners or Beach club owners. The implicit consensus seemed to be that if Miami officials are so desperate for live bodies on their downtown streets at night that they're willing to embrace the drunken hoi polloi blowing chunks on its sidewalks, well, they're more than welcome to that crowd.

As the commission meeting finally wound to a vote, only one issue remained: What about the models?

"I have heard David Kelsey say many times that an ordinance like this will keep away the young European models that visit our clubs," noted Commissioner Jose Smith with a smile. Indeed as the self-appointed spokesman for the modeling community, Kelsey (who also moonlights as the president of the South Beach Hotel and Restaurant Association), had previously wasted few opportunities in decrying age limits on club entrance, opining repeatedly that such restrictions would force modeling agencies such as Click and Elite to promptly leave town, taking all their young nubile clients with them. South Beach was a precarious financial structure, held aloft on a plucky supermodel's shoulders. No models, warned Kelsey, equaled citywide economic ruin.

Yet the very clubs that sponsor the bulk of the fashion industry's shindigs had all gone on the record as supporting the move to 21 and older only. So who exactly was Kelsey speaking for, besides himself? This staunch defender of the underage runway set was unfortunately absent, traveling in Europe on business ("I understand he's in Amsterdam right now," laughed Commissioner Smith. "He's probably having a good time there"), thus leaving it up to the Beach Chamber of Commerce's Jeff Bechdell to state the obvious.

"I've spoken to people in the industry, as well as going up to models on shoots," Bechdell said. "Their answer to me was, 'The models go where the jobs are.' The nightclubs don't attract them. The models will go to a deserted island to do a shoot if that's where the jobs are."


You're more than forgiven if you consider the world of experimental electronica better suited to home listening via headphones than a live performance. After all few things are goofier than the sight of a roomful of concertgoers nodding their heads as someone taps away on a laptop computer. Fortunately San Francisco idm duo Matmos agree.

"So often playing electronic music onstage is static," Matmos's Drew Daniels offered in a recent interview. "It helps to have some risk involved, where something could conceivably go wrong." Accordingly for the pair's own live outings, real-world sampling -- from rhythmically twisted balloons to whatever might happen to be in the room at the time -- is the modus operandi. It's a technique that necessarily flows from Matmos's eschewing of digital timbres and beats for a more organic groove. "My father is a cosmetic surgeon, and when he walks around, all he sees are floating noses," says Daniels. "Me, I'm obsessed with sounds and textures.... Lawn mowers and cars with bad air-conditioning belts are a constant source of enjoyment to me."

Matmos appear at the Meza Art gallerycafé (275 Giralda Ave., Coral Gables, 305-461-2723) on Friday, May 19. Also on the bill for the evening is Miami's own pair of left-field aural tweakers, Phoenecia, spinning individual DJ sets under the monikers Jeswa and Takeshi Muto. Otto Von Shirach rounds out the night.

Send your music news, local releases, and general gunk to Brett Sokol at 2800 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33137. Fax to 305-571-7678 or e-mail brett.sokol@miaminewtimes.com

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