Glorious and Notorious

Casablanca had Rick's, Vegas had the Stardust, Miami's cocaine jazz age had the decadent Mutiny Hotel

"Anyway, you had nights when you had the top drug dealers in town sitting with Customs, DEA, Metro, all drinking at the same bar. Beepers were a new thing back then, but sometimes you walked in there and it sounded like a symphony with all the beepers going off. There were nice ladies there from all walks of life, everything from hookers to corporate executives. Everyone was there to have fun. The worst you had in the way of violence was wives walking in on drug dealers with their girlfriends. Sometimes you'd go in the men's room and there'd be three or four guys sniffing and snorting. I never saw any selling, but I sure saw a lot of giving.

"Why was the Mutiny allowed to operate so openly for so long? Let me explain. It's like in espionage -- the government knows who the spies are, so they leave them in place. That way they can study them. At the Mutiny we knew who was hanging out with who. We left them alone because we wanted to study the genealogy. You did a lot of intelligence-gathering at the Mutiny just by going there. You would know who just brought in a load because they would be celebrating -- it was that open.

"We had a gentleman, Rudy Rodriguez, who we arrested with about $900,000 in cash at his home. In those days there were no money-laundering statutes. Rudy was on his way to the Mutiny when we came in, and here's what he was wearing: white shoes, white socks, a white frock, and a white top hat. His wife was dressed in white. There was a white Rolls Royce out in front of Rudy's house, with a guy named Sunshine Sammy playing a small piano, a keyboard, in the back. We found the dope, the money, but Rudy claimed it was income from his seafood business. The IRS eventually gave him half the money back, and he went to the Mutiny and put a bottle of Dom on every table."

Steven, attorney, former federal prosecutor: "Usually the people with me were other prosecutors or agents, and a lot of the time we were just there out of sheer curiosity. It was the height of the cocaine cowboy era, which a lot of people have forgotten about, and from the eyes of a federal prosecutor it had sort of a sinister feel. Maybe sinister isn't the right word. It was like being in the Wookie bar in Star Wars.

"You've got to put Miami in context. You can't really understand the place unless you knew it then, and if you wanted to understand it then, you had to check out the Mutiny. The Mutiny was beyond a hangout, it was almost a cult. A lot of undercover meetings took place there. In the old days this town was loaded with informants. The U.S. Attorney's Office was absolutely swamped. A lot of people came in from out of town on short-term detail to help us out, and the first place we always took them was the Mutiny."

Burton Goldberg was known to his employees as a petty tyrant and an overbearing perfectionist, but the Mutiny's long slide indisputably began in 1984, when Goldberg decamped, selling the hotel for a cool $17 million. The next year the Mutiny's new owners defaulted on their mortgage, and a bank named Sunrise Savings & Loan repossessed the property. At the time Mutiny general manager Bob Smith acknowledged that his efforts to clean up the hotel's druggie image had been a big mistake. "It was the downfall of the Mutiny in financial terms," Smith noted. "[Drug dealers] supported the club, and the club accounted for 65 percent of the revenues of the hotel."

In 1986 Sunrise Savings & Loan declared insolvency. To avoid widespread panic in the thrift industry, the federal government took control of the bank, thereby becoming the new owner of the Mutiny. For the next few years the hotel floundered along as the feds tried to find a buyer. In 1987 police arrested eighteen people at a cocaine-and-conch party in the Mutiny's Cappuccino and Santa Fe suites. On the surface it seemed the wild days were still on, but in fact the party was a low-rent affair and the Mutiny had lost its pizzazz.

A longer version of this story was published in these pages February 27, 1997.

Blow and Flow: Restroom design conducive to snorting

Tools of the Trade: Practical and creative objects used for snorting

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