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Magic the bum races up Washington Avenue on his beat-up bicycle, screeching to a halt just outside a velvet-rope line. He boots the kickstand theatrically. "Valet!" he bellows. His timing, as always, is good. The beautiful people are just beginning to stream in to club B.E.D., and they turn, like a flock of well-groomed birds, to regard this skinny little fellow in camouflage pants, black boots, and an oversize red hat that hasn't been washed in ages. Magic's bushy mustache and ragged goatee seem to thrust out at them as he accepts their laughter and uses it to pull them in.
"I'm a fairly honest bum," he chatters, staring at a young woman. "You ever been with a bum?" Magic keeps up the monologue as he goes through a slightly juiced routine of Chaplin-esque physical comedy and legerdemain. The latter consists mostly of making cigarettes and money disappear, which he does with the aid of a fake thumb he picked up in a South Beach shop. Justin Levine, a University of Miami student perched on the hood of a nearby police cruiser, hands him a $20 bill, which Magic walks away with and pretends to eat. The boy lets him keep the money.
He often gives Magic a few bucks during the slow part of Monday evenings, as he waits for B.E.D. to fill with the rich, the bored, and the gorgeous. This is Levine's job, to make sure these people come and spend enough bling on drinks every week to support his reputation as a party promoter who delivers. Sitting beside him is his business partner Perry Sasson. If Levine has adopted the dressed-down street chic that goes with the hip-hop parties he promotes in various clubs throughout South Beach, Sasson's style is more yid-hop. Baggy jeans and T-shirt? Check. Baseball cap and sneakers? Got 'em. Bushy black beard? Uh huh. Yarmulke and tzitzis? All set.
Welcome to the new age of South Beach promotions. Levine, Sasson, and a third partner, Michael Robbins, are the next generation of club kids who have turned socializing into a lucrative business. They've taken the modest name of Empire Events and in about three years have established a recognizable brand of parties that regularly attract the high rollers and boldface names that constitute the life force of clubland.
Nightlife photographer Seth Browarnik describes their clientele aesthetic as "a mix of really good-looking Jewish college girls and a bit of thug." It took them awhile to earn respect, he adds. "I wouldn't even look at them four years ago, but these kids proved themselves. They throw good parties and they have hot girls that follow them. That's important."
The trio have worked for just about every major club on the Beach, but their current regular roster includes B.E.D., Mansion, the Forge, and Prive, at which they host weekly parties. "It's not the kind of job you apply for," says Robbins. "You just wake up one day and realize you have all these connections."
The big names in South Beach promotion are still the old-timers like Michael Capponi and the team of Tommy Pooch, Ingrid Casares, and Alan Roth. But in a place so trendy and cyclical, it doesn't take long for young pups to become old dogs. Rich Santelises, a Beach veteran who handles nightlife accounts for Ocean Drive, remembers the Nineties, when South Beach was wild, dominated by promoters who were as beautifully fucked up as the people who came to their parties. "It was so fresh and crazy," he remembers nostalgically. "It's become [a business] of young guys with good college backgrounds, who come from good families. They've grown up watching their parents throw great parties, and they just continue that and turn it into a business. They make phone calls and text-message their buddies. It's not much different than throwing parties in high school."
Levine, Sasson, and Robbins are definitely of the latter tradition, though they've taken it to a higher level, with marketing databases and rapid expansion into other ventures, such as limousine charters and real estate. It is more about the business than the lifestyle for them, although of the three, Robbins is the most likely to be found slurring pleasantly by the end of the night. Levine rarely drinks, and Sasson has sworn off alcohol, drugs, and women entirely because of a decision he made six months ago to adhere to Orthodox Judaism.
Robbins is the old man at age 27, a Long Island native who graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in business administration. A short, nebbishy fellow with a receding hairline, he got his start as many young promoters do, handing out club flyers to cool-looking people on the street. While still in college in the late Nineties, he got a taste of the seedy glitz of the Beach scene working for bad boy Chris Paciello at Liquid. Then Paciello got arrested for murder and bank robbery in 1999 and was taped by an undercover cop talking about whacking Gerry Kelly, a competitor. (Paciello got seven years in exchange for becoming a government witness. A British tabloid claims the feds are tailing his ex, model/actress Sofia Vergara, and actor Tom Cruise, in case the hotheaded goon gets any bad ideas.)