By Jacob Katel
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Studio A's creators see Miami as an important, untapped entertainment resource. "Miami has had a big void in live music for years. When I was growing up here, the tours would all stop in Atlanta ... but there's such a young, energetic, creative art scene breaking out of Miami, and there's a real demand to see all these artists," says cofounder Pedro Mena, also noting that indie rock groups such as Black Rebel Motorcycle Club have a consistent market in South Florida.
Although venues such as downtown's I/O have hosted several national acts, most touring bands never venture farther south than Fort Lauderdale, booked at the Culture Room or Revolution. The Studio A team vows to change that and to create a place for the crowd to remain after the show.
On a recent Thursday evening, the block of NE Eleventh Street just east of Miami Avenue is desolate. It will be hours before lines form in front of the two cavernous resident clubs Nocturnal and Space. At nearby strip club Goldrush, only a few panhandlers and stray cats linger under the purple neon signs. But at number 60, activity is in full flush, the final flourishes being put on the interior of the newest venue on the block, Studio A, a "rock and roll discotheque" that opens this month.
The ringleader of the project is Georgie Seville, a New York native and founder of NYC's famed Motherfucker party, which has attracted acts such as the New York Dolls, the Bravery, and the Rapture. "We started the Studio A project with Robert [Nowak], our financial backer, a year ago in New York," Seville says. "I had visited here a lot; I have family here." Seville then approached Pedro Mena and Steve Pestana, New York transplants but South Florida natives. Mena and Pestana copromoted Shout!, one of New York's earliest and longest-running underground rock dance nights, from 1997 until earlier this year. At Seville's behest, the two moved back to their hometown. Pestana later left the project; Mena stayed.
Next came the singularly monikered Fancy, the tall, thin, pencil-mustached mastermind behind the group Fannypack and its 2003 electrobooty novelty hit "Cameltoe." Talent booker "Boca Phil" Egenthal was recommended to Seville by the resident talent buyer of New York's legendary Bowery Ballroom.
"Not everyone in Miami wants to drive 50 minutes north to an inferior club in a strip mall," Seville says. "And then after the show, where do you go? You're stuck up there."
They also wanted the venue to be as accessible as possible, so South Beach was out. "There are no locals there, and the parking is expensive," explains Robert Nowak. "So I saw this space on Eleventh Street, which the city is calling the new entertainment district."
In an effort to create an outdoor nightlife and dining promenade akin to Fort Lauderdale's Riverwalk, the City of Miami has awarded new clubs in the neighborhood 24-hour liquor licenses. Studio A, in turn, hopes to take full advantage, planning to host after-hours events on weekends. But the clubby vibe will remain on equal footing with live music programming, Seville insists. "We'll have live music in a consistent stream, but it'll also be a dance club," he says. "We want it to be a hangout for all things alternative in Miami."
"I plan to have everything in the full öalternative' spectrum, from emo to alt-country even jam bands," says talent booker Egenthal. "We'll also have many all-ages shows starting earlier in the evenings, and I'll have college nights where students get in at reduced admission with their IDs."
Even hip-hop isn't entirely ruled out. "We can't set out genre limits," Fancy says, "because no one listens to genres of music anymore. Everyone's a mental jukebox; that's even how you buy music these days you just scroll through a list. But we're the people who know öBig Pimpin'' is the same beats per minute as öTake On Me.'"
The design of the club's interior is a point of particular pride for everyone involved. Along Studio A's back wall is the stage, a long rectangle raised high. Lower platforms along the sides form VIP areas kitted out with plush purple couches. Just past the front entrance is the large, circular main bar, complete with a glass box suspended overhead for live-action entertainment. One important detail stands out: From virtually any point on the club's 600-capacity floor, the average attendee has an unobstructed view of the stage.
"We've got the New York dirt under our fingernails," Seville says. "The image of Miami, to a lot of people, is still all the cheesy T&A on South Beach. We want to help change that so the rock and rollers aren't afraid to come here."