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"There's a reason they put zippers on the tepees," announces a voice that is full and pleasant but hints at weariness. Event promoter Tommy 'Pooch' Puccio smiles behind black sunglasses. He settles into a chair while bikini-clad diners talk over the jazzy electronica sifting through the sound system. His cell phone buzzes and vibrates incessantly but he seems miles away from here.
There's a passing glance at said tepees, but done more out of habit. Pooch is on his way back to Ibiza, the small island club capital of the world just off the southeastern coast of Spain, a place any promoter worth his weight in bass would frequent. He's again in search of ideas, inspiration, and the right variables he can plug into South Beach's nightlife equation to produce answers for the future.
For the past eleven years the Brooklyn-bred Pooch has presided over some of South Beach's more swank soirees, these days at Nikki Beach or in the accompanying Pearl Champagne Lounge. He and business partner Eric Omores have shoved Miami Beach onto the jet-set party map by infusing Euro chic with Caribbean cool to produce a timeless work of nightclub art. But now what?
It was in 1992 that Pooch first gambled on the Beach, selling his New York City nightclub over the phone from the News Café, then setting out to help turn Miami into a year-round playground. After several ventures of varying success (Cassis, La Voile Rouge, Follia), Pooch married his self-described "in your face" style with Omores's laid-back charm and together they turned the Penrod's complex into a Mediterranean-styled sanctuary of hedonism, complete with tiki bars, torches, and sand floors.
"I would visit the clubs in Ibiza and St. Tropez and think, 'Why don't we have this mixture of fashion and music in Miami Beach?'" Pooch recalls. "I've always loved the style of Café del Mar [the Ibiza hot spot known for spectacular sunsets and chill-out grooves] and knew it would work here."
It did. Because of Miami's international makeup, Nikki Beach quickly became the place to socialize for locals and models and jet-setters. Sundays are always on, whether for a late-afternoon lunch or an early-evening dance party, and it's helped bring DJ culture to the nonteen scene. It's far more likely those over 30 have caught wind of dance music at Nikki than at Club Space. "Because the Winter Music Conference is so well received, people are becoming much more knowledgeable about DJs, which I love to see," Pooch says. "You got guys in here 50 years old who know who [Paul] Oakenfold is."
Okay, so Miami has caught up with Europe's DJ culture; now what about breaking out?
"We're starting up an R&B night on Fridays that will be called Cream and Sugar," Pooch announces. "Hip-hop is getting trendier by the day, but now you have really talented singers making beautiful songs to a different beat. Hip-hop is no longer songs about killing cops, and I think we can bring that new sound here." Wait, we're talking Nikki Beach? Yep. Pooch tips his hat to hype-titan P. Diddy, who this past summer skipped the stuffy circles of the Hamptons in favor of a chill vibe in St. Tropez and slam-glammed hip-hop all up their area.
"If Europeans didn't embrace hip-hop before, they will now," Pooch laughs. "They're still buzzing about it. All it takes is a spark."
Spotting flames of opportunity is what Pooch is all about, and he hopes Miami won't cripple what some consider its last remaining culture cash cow. According to Pooch, music is this city's lifeline; both the film and fashion industries promised greatness, only to be let down by a lack of civic support. He thinks music, though, still holds hope for a long-term relationship. "I believe Miami has huge potential right now," Pooch says of the state of the current club pulse. "Everything gravitates towards music."
We don't know if South Beach is holding its collective breath. Pooch felt this city was on the verge of uninterrupted success twice, and twice he's seen catastrophic events put the party on hold. "In [the early 1990s] it was Hurricane Andrew, and then last year it was September 11th," he says. "Every time we get close something happens to push us back. But given a fair chance we can become a permanent location for music production."
He's betting if you build it, they will come. That is, build it really big and really expensive and maybe those St. Tropez types might stick around. Surrounding Penrod's tropical setting are high-rises in varying stages of development, and Pooch nods toward the towers of concrete that will become luxury apartments and condominiums. "Now, instead of flying down, people are going to start moving here and staying," he predicts. "I see a really good crowd moving in here and making Miami the year-round destination we can be."