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In its time there was nothing like the Mutiny Hotel, and today it lives on in hindsight like the afterimage of a hallucination, bright but blurry. The Mississippi Delta is said to begin in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel in Memphis; likewise the Mutiny in its day defined Miami's psychic boundaries. It was the nerve center of the city's exploding cocaine trade, a favorite hangout of globetrotting spies, and a desperately popular watering hole for Latin America's nouveau riche. It was meant to be elegant, and was, but early on it became infamous and edgy, and reveled in the reputation. Its most decadent highs were a carnival barker's advertisement for the Seventies, and its decline was an early object lesson in America's S&L crisis.
"I did a movie called life, with actors that were real people," says Burton Goldberg, former owner of the Mutiny. "We had dictators, secret police, drug people, bankers, the international trade, gunrunners, and celebrities: Rod Serling, Senator Kennedy, Cher, Hamilton Jordan, Jacqueline Onassis, George Bush. Mimes and magicians! Naked dancers in very fine taste, not prurient! Music! Chairs with enormous arms!
"I was very proud of the rooms -- the Egyptian Suite with stained glass and hand-carved chairs, the Roman tubs. The mirrors over the beds came from a hotel in New Orleans. The amount of romance that was budding there was incredible! It was in the very center of the sexual revolution."
The Mutiny Hotel opened in 1968 and closed for good in 1989, after years of spiraling senescence. At its peak in 1979, the private Mutiny Club claimed to have 11,000 card-carrying members, to gross seven million dollars a year in food and beverage revenues, and to consistently sell more Dom Perignon than any other venue in America.
A decade after it closed for keeps and more than fifteen years after its heyday at 2951 S. Bayshore Dr., it has been reincarnated as Mutiny Park, a condo-hotel. But there are ghosts, many of them still alive and walking around with their memories. Some want to forget they lived part of their lives at the Mutiny; some of those quoted below were given fictitious names to honor their requests for anonymity.
Jack, retired smuggler: "I would arrive at the Mutiny at seven in the morning, have breakfast, and talk to the girls. Each table had its own phone. You snapped your fingers and they'd bring the phone, plug it in the jack at the base of the table, and tell you what the number was. I would drink coffee till about noon, interspersed with a couple Heinekens. Then I would switch from the patio area to the glassed-in dining room for lunch. Barbara would seat me at my table and I'd meet with financiers for the films I was trying to produce.
"The afternoons were drinking martinis between one and five. Back to Scotch at five, calling assorted girlfriends, calling the front desk, ordering assorted theme rooms -- the Jungle Room for one type of girl, the Valentine's Room for another, always with a Jacuzzi. Plus ordering a nice supply of champagne and cocaine -- a gram, an eighth, whatever. The nights were basically about trading coke for sex. You plied women with coke, champagne. You would throw down 500 bucks and say buy some clothes, some nice earrings, here's my beeper number, I'll pick you up tonight.
"The Mutiny was the meeting place between North and South America. Both types of governments, both sets of dealers, both groups of spies and law enforcement people. You could conduct business, you could party -- there was really no reason to leave, and after a while I didn't. I lived there for weeks at a time. I left when I went to prison.
"Multimillion-dollar drug deals were being done at the tables on any given night. The DEA was there pretending to be dealers, trying to suck in the real dealers. The girls that worked there knew the clientele; they knew the cops, DEA, and all the major players in the drug business. You would think that a place with drug dealers and cops in the same room there would be a lot of tension. There was no tension at all. The girls would say, 'Jack, those four guys over there, they're heat.' But they didn't need to tell me. Those guys had the beards, the jackets, the shorts, whatever, but they always had the wrong shoes. That was the dead giveaway, always."
Mitzy, day waitress: "Being a Mutiny girl was sort of a status thing. Your makeup had to be perfect, you had your nails checked every day. We were all in our twenties, and we were all lookers in our own way. I had to go for three interviews before I got hired, and for the third interview I dressed a lot less conservatively.
"There was a lot of legitimate money -- millionaire Mexican chicken farmers, rich Venezuelans, local lawyers and businessmen -- but you also had the drug dealers throwing money around. They loved the girls, they were all showing off, and they all wanted to date us. We did very well. I can remember someone saying, 'Sweetheart, get me a pack of cigarettes' -- cigarettes were a dollar a pack then -- and they'd give you a hundred and say keep the change. To work three hours a day, three days a week, and clear $500 a week, that was a lot of money.