"The truth is that it's political," says Alan Roth, then the owner of Ricochet, which has since been sold. "There is energy and action happening in this area, and now they want to crack down?"

At least one club, the Electric Pickle, has yet to reopen after the arrests. When it was raided February 3, co-owner Tomas Ceddia was taken to jail for selling liquor outside of his license. And Goldstein, Villa 221's owner, says he lost more than $200,000 when cops arrested him and shut down his club March 24 during Ultra. He spent all week trying to secure proper permits, so when police arrived at 3:30 a.m., he figured they wanted to see his papers again. Instead, a cop placed him in handcuffs.

"What kind of police work is this?" Goldstein says, arguing that cops should have booked his wayward bartender instead. "If somebody decided to be a loose canon and serve a drink [after 3 a.m.], my personal opinion is arrest that motherfucker."

Oscar Zapata at his Wynwood bar, Shots.
Claire Nelson
Oscar Zapata at his Wynwood bar, Shots.

Location Info

Map

Shots Miami

311 NW 23rd St.
Miami, FL 33127

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Midtown/Wynwood/Design District

Villa 221

221 NE 17th St.
Miami, FL 33132

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Downtown/Overtown

Electric Pickle

2826 N. Miami Ave.
Miami, FL 33127

Category: Dance Clubs

Region: Midtown/Wynwood/Design District

Bardot

3456 N. Miami Ave.
Miami, FL 33127

Category: Dance Clubs

Region: Midtown/Wynwood/Design District

Half a dozen clubs complained to New Times that the crackdown came without warning. Police say they held a training session February 20 to discuss ramped-up inspections. The only problem: None of the Wynwood businesses was invited.

"That was a miscommunication," admits Wanda Mendez, one of the officers leading Operation Dry Hour. "We apologize for that."

But Wynwood bar owners' complaints go beyond the Miami Police Department's shock-and-awe tactics. Instead, they believe the neighborhood is being singled out by cops at the behest of their biggest rivals: 24-hour clubs downtown that are losing business to Wynwood.

"There is no doubt in my mind that this is happening now because clubs in Park West are complaining," Zapata says.

Those fears aren't without some basis. In 2000, Miami commissioners voted to create a special "entertainment district" along North 11th Street downtown where booze could be sold 24 hours a day. Following a rising tide of crime and code violations in 2010, several 24-hour clubs formed a nonprofit called the Miami Entertainment District Association (MEDA). Miami PD doesn't allow off-duty cops to work for individual clubs, so MEDA began hiring police to patrol the area.

According to Mekka's owner, Slyder, who is also MEDA's president, the nonprofit has spent nearly $500,000 on off-duty cops in the past two and a half years. Last month, MEDA paid for more than 700 hours of police patrols downtown.

The nonprofit also has some political clout. During the past election cycle, MEDA donated the maximum $500 to Commissioner Sarnoff, and Slyder says he regularly speaks with Sarnoff's staff.

But both the police and MEDA deny any type of collusion. MPD points out that 43 percent of clubs checked during Operation Dry Hour were downtown, including six MEDA members, although it appears no arrests occurred there. "This is about ensuring safety all across Miami," says MPD Commander Lázaro Ferro.

He says police began receiving complaints about illegal warehouse clubs in Wynwood last year. In September, cops shut down a pop-up club at 550 NW 29th St. that didn't have any permits. "Nobody wants another nightclub fire like in Brazil," Ferro says, referring to the inferno that killed at least 241 people this past January.

Slyder also insists MEDA has no influence over police operations. He points out that his business partner was once arrested for a noise violation. "We don't get special treatment," he says.

But Slyder does admit that MEDA has asked police and Sarnoff to clamp down on Wynwood clubs serving liquor after 3 a.m. (Ferro, the police commander, also says he's discussed Wynwood clubs with the commissioner. But when called by New Times, Sarnoff denied any knowledge of Operation Dry Hour. "I don't get involved in police business," he said.)

Bizarrely, police are now encouraging Wynwood businesses to join MEDA or at least establish a similar organization to hire off-duty cops.

On April 9, Ferro organized a meeting among police, Wynwood bar owners, and MEDA at Shots. But the only Wynwood owners who showed were Zapata and Estrada.

("I'm not going to negotiate with terrorists," another bar owner, who did not attend the meeting, said of MEDA.)

At the meeting, Slyder slammed Zapata's neighbors, calling Wynwood "the Wild, Wild West." He emphasized, however, that he'd called the meeting to dispel rumors about MEDA, not to recruit new members. But Zapata remained suspicious. Slyder had spoken repeatedly about fairness, but the entertainment district's 24-hour exception was itself an unfair advantage, Zapata said.

"Everything that is happening is by the book," he said while sitting at the bar. "But even if it's legit, do you really want to be forced to comply with the group that is behind the complaints? They are having police enforce the rules, but that's because the rules work for their concept [of 24-hour clubs]."

At the moment, Zapata is caught between police officers who say they are cleaning up Wynwood and bar owners who think cops are killing it. While Ferro wants him to organize the owners, Zapata just wants to keep Shots — and his family — afloat.

"It bit us in the ass at first," he said of the arrests before pausing to sip a Red Bull. "But what it shows is that they are starting to feel the pressure over in Park West. Wynwood is growing. And it's going to be a player."

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9 comments
Gobacktokendall
Gobacktokendall

Ugh you know a place is played out when some carpetbagger spic from Kendall tries to get in on the action at what was a once edgy arts district. Que chusmeria.

jgcamp99
jgcamp99

There's money there and it's obvious the city and police are after their cut and then some. Bar owners think it's a conspiracy, yet they were breaking the rules and while I call them rules here, they are actually city ordinances/laws, all while pocketing the difference. These bars get folks tanked up and then they drive off and kill people in dui's. The money to fix that little issue and make it go away has to come from somewhere. Well they're crying about being part of that hospitality industry and tourist/local business. It's not cheap to play in that League. I was kind of surprised some of these places were able to get liquor licenses, last I heard that was a tough piece of paper to get, expensive too. Beer & wine license, not so much ? Anyway, too bad the party has to move onto somewhere else, otherwise pay the extortion money to operate ?

mchlwnd1
mchlwnd1

michael miller is the best reporter in this paper,sure police in miami dade is corrupt and mafia runs the town....

licholibre
licholibre

Lol wow what BS does anyone even know what happens at Space n Mekka. Under age drinking, little pills being popped every minute and fights every other hour. Seriously if the cops are gonna protect n serve the LAW do it correctly not cus some Mafia faggots are paying you to do it. Crooked ass Miami I tell ya!

FWACATA
FWACATA

Nah this just reeks of one greedy neighborhood going after another  and everyone gets screwed. And the cops are the ones who ignited it most likely. I bet if Zapata paid up to MEDA and that crew, he would be fine, but this is just strong arm Mafia tactics. Thats why that whole area is just some whack ass money trap made to joder los comemierda muchachos there and the euro/South American trash folks. I remember shit like this happening in 90's in South Beach and that place is a wet open ass. 

visionaryoftheplanet
visionaryoftheplanet

They are rigth on the money. The police are trying to kill bussines in Winwood

smash44
smash44

Of course laws don't mean anything to young arrogant hipsters and be-boppers. Wait a minute, I guess they do. In every bar I've ever been in, last call is last call. 

wasabi711
wasabi711

How interesting the "law is the Law" the last people that should be citing the law is Space and Mekka. A totally illicit drug induced environment, where the actual establishment promotes the drug use and caters to minors amongst other things

BeReel
BeReel

Even if the police were working under some hidden motive or conspiracy, the point is that the law was still broken. You'd think a person with a business degree might understand that people do act out of their own self-interest, and to quit whining. In all fairness, his arrest could have been avoided if the bar had stopped serving alcohol before 3. It may seem like no big deal to serve a few minutes over, but it's also no big deal to just pay attention to the last call. Then all this energy could be effectively put towards changing the law instead of complaining about it.  It's pretty astounding that so many bars and clubs can't follow guidelines, regardless of how "evil" the law enforcement is. 

 
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