By Rebecca Bulnes
By Laurie Charles
By Chuck Strouse
By Lee Zimmerman
By Laurie Charles
By Falyn Freyman
By Hans Morgenstern
When Space 34 announced on October 2 that it was shutting its doors with an October 11 "closing party," two months after a highly publicized drug raid by the Drug Enforcement Administration that netted eleven arrests, all you could hear for days was the churning of the rumor mill. Some opined that Miami's dominant dance music club wasn't really closing, a theory that gained traction once Space added a second "closing party" with DJ Danny Tenaglia for October 18. Others figured that its owner, Louis Puig, would sell the club so fast that it wouldn't even have to close for a single weekend. One unnamed promoter floated a theory that it was closing temporarily to avoid losing its liquor license.
A deep-rooted cynicism seemed to underline the reactions and rumors swirling around the soon-to-be-defunct nightclub. For all intents and purposes, Space 34 is a business that grosses tens of thousands of dollars a week; unlike its more elitist South Beach neighbors, it unabashedly caters to working and middle-class young people from Kendall and Hialeah looking to dance and drink the night away. There's little sophistication in warehousing several hundred people inside a large building, selling alcoholic beverages at nine dollars and up, and entertaining them with dance music that relies heavily on flashy effects -- long percussive drum rolls, bass-heavy beats, and heart-tugging synthesizer melodies -- augmented by nonstop lasers and lights that zigzag across the building, making its main room appear to be a demonic Def Leppard video from the late Eighties.
But Ben Turner, creative director for DanceStar USA and founder of the popular U.K. dance mag Muzik, believes that Space 34 was a burgeoning force on the international dance music scene. "It is so sad that a brand should appear to end when it was so clearly about to receive global recognition," says Turner, whose DanceStar named it "Best Club Venue" at an awards ceremony held in March of this year. He compares it with Cream, a British superclub that, in spite of wild success and overflow crowds, was forced to close its doors in September 2002 after years of police surveillance and harassment. Was Space 34 destined for the same fate?
"What will it take to print the entire interview?" writes owner Louis Puig. The embattled impresario doesn't want to do an in-person or phone interview, but has instead agreed to answer a list of questions submitted over e-mail. Now, after sending back a response, he wants to turn the interview into a paid advertisement. "I will pay for the page," he says. Though I respectfully decline the offer, I send a list of follow-up questions that he answers a few days later.
No one wants to believe Puig would give up on a venture that, by all accounts, was making money hand over fist. But he reaffirmed his belief that "bad press" was to blame for its closing. Then, tellingly, he added, "The sad thing is that everyone in the city turned their back on us." Though he wouldn't elaborate, he said, "I didn't expect to get any support from the media or other club owners but I always thought that I could count on the city to back us up. Our customers have been very loyal and supportive. They are the only ones that know how hard we try to keep this club clean."
While he wouldn't reveal how much his club grosses a week, Puig admitted that it sells so much alcohol on a given night that "you can keep 1000 Errol Flynns happy for a lifetime." He added that he is talking with four different entertainment companies, including Pacha Ibiza and Lyons Group, about a sale. He plans to put out an official press release on the controversy sometime this week.
Since first opening in March of 2000 with a set by New York house legend Danny Tenaglia, Space 34 has had its share of legal problems, many of which have been well documented. On Friday, August 15, the DEA raided it and arrested eleven people after conducting a two-year investigation into alleged drug sales at the club. Soon afterward, the club received a spate of bad press for failing to pay impact fees it owed to the Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department. Though it eventually paid the money, the incident illustrated its straining relationship with local government, a sharp contrast to the kudos it had received from local officials only a few months before.
"We always want to encourage business in the City of Miami, but if issues of drugs and other recreational behaviors are detrimental to the community, then that's an issue you have to take a look at," says Barbara Carey-Shuler, chairwoman of the Miami-Dade County Commission. When asked to elaborate, she referred the matter to city Commissioner Johnny Winton, who could not be reached for comment by press time.
During the interview Puig attempted to clarify several facts about the bust. "The DEA six-hour raid on Space 34 yielded no drugs and no owner, staff, or employee has been charged with any type of illegal activity," he said, contradicting a Miami Herald story that reported two current employees, George Anthony Bailey and Hector Rafael Constanza, were arrested. He added that Bailey and Constanza's arrests were "outside of the club" and unrelated "to their employment at Space."
Puig believes the club has been targeted by prominent South Beach nightclubs envious of its runaway success. "There are hundreds of anonymous phone calls being made by jealous South Beach nightclub owners, staff, and employees to local enforcement agencies alleging illegal drug use at Space 34," he said. "We are being singled out and made an example of simply because we are the largest and most popular club in the nation." In fact, he said, one South Beach club held an impromptu celebration on the night of the DEA bust. "The night we got raided one nightclub on the Beach announced it over the microphone," he alleged, adding cryptically, "they also got raided that night." When asked to name the offending club, he said, "You are the reporter." Two of the nine clubs raided by the DEA that night -- including Gold Rush, which is directly across the street from Space 34 -- were in Miami-Dade; the rest were located in Broward and Palm Beach counties. None was in Miami Beach.
Though no one wants to name names -- indeed, several promoters contacted for this article would only speak off the record or declined to comment -- it is clear that Space's transformation from an after-hours spot for nightcrawlers into a superclub and anchor for downtown Miami's burgeoning nightlife scene was the cause of some consternation among South Beach promoters. Puig said he never had any interest in attracting "the European VIP crowd" that clogs Miami Beach nightlife. Clubs, he said, "are for dancing and not for people to sit on a couch showing off their Louis Vitton's [sic]."
There was no guest list last Saturday night, and anyone wanting to gain entrance into the "closing party" had to wait for several minutes until a handful of the venue's several hundred revelers had left the club. Inside it took nearly fifteen minutes to walk from one side of the main room to the other. There was a girl from West Palm Beach whose friend had taken her there for her birthday; and a raver who giggled happily, seemingly geeked out by the experience. There were more than a few partiers with dilated pupils bulging out of their skulls, telltale signs of an Ecstasy high.
But no one seemed particularly concerned that Space 34 was closing. Indeed most figured that it would reopen in a few weeks anyway, maybe under a new name or new management. As for Puig, what will he be doing now that the sale is imminent? "Get married and have kids," he said.