Carmel Ophir doesn't show up for his Back Door Bamby party at crobar till it's already kicking at about 2:00 a.m. By the time he arrives, his Monday-night institution is slammed with loads of stunningly seductive women, along with some men who could very well pass for women. Anyway, Carmel exudes a commanding presence, coasting through the upstairs room as various party people vie for his attention. He has an intriguing persona, a quality amplified by his crossover fashion sense. He wears a Brooklyn cool, b-boy windbreaker that's complemented by a pair of SoBe fab, movie-star shades. And although he's often accused of being part of the enclosed sanctum that is the South Beach nightlife circle, he reminds people that he came up through the "alternative, progressive" scene, not the establishment.
But ever since graduating to megaclub promotions when he was hired as crobar's creative marketing director in 2000, he has been hounded by a dark figure from his past: Nicodemus Hammil. Although the conflict between them (documented in "Dark Obsession," April 8) stems from a personal rivalry, it's crobar that has been drawn into the middle of the melodrama.
Nicodemus says he used to go to crobar at least twice a week. In the summer of 2002, his partner, Anitra Warren, was invited by drag queen promoter Shelley Novak to throw her birthday bash at the club. "We invited over 250 guests and spent several hundred dollars in preparations," Nicodemus recounts. "But five days before the event, Carmel put a block on it. An employee told me he held a meeting and was afraid we were going to kill him."
Carmel admits that he was responsible for canceling the party. "I wasn't aware that Nicodemus and Anitra were going to be part of a party at crobar until the week before. When I found out, I told the club that I didn't want them there," he says. "I was the marketing director and after two years of enduring their harassment, I didn't feel like I had to be uncomfortable in my own workplace. These people had threatened me over and over, so the club agreed with me, they had to go elsewhere."
That development led to the biggest thorn crobar has ever had in its side: www.clubpropaganda.org. Nicodemus created the site after repeated phone calls to club co-owner Kenny Smith, asking why Anitra's party was canceled, went ignored. "At this point I took their e-mail invites and reworded them into parodies that I hoped would get their attention, that they'd talk to me," he says. The "parodies" included headlines such as "Crobar the Bully," "Rat Ophir is a Bottom-Feeding Scumbag," and "Cavity Kenny the Drugbar Hypocrite." They also accused the club of "watering down its drinks" and "engaging in illegal cavity searches."
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In May 2003 Nicodemus sent out an eleven-page declaration to the New York State Liquor Authority, state Gov. George Pataki, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in anticipation of crobar Manhattan's December opening, alleging that the club's management "harassed," "victimized," and "committed violent acts" against the public. Then this past March 3, Nicodemus used the e-mail address firstname.lastname@example.org to send out a notice three days before the Winter Music Conference stating: "crobar nightclub has closed it's [sic] doors until further notice ... we have a severe rat infestation in the cellar."
About six months ago crobar filed a civil lawsuit against Nicodemus in Miami-Dade County for defamation on the grounds that he "repeatedly published false statements," among other "illegal activities." (Nicodemus says the club is requesting $15,000 in damages.) Last January, it also filed a motion to shut down clubpropaganda.org. But in an example of being a victim of your own success, the court immediately denied the motion because the club couldn't support its claim that it had lost patrons as a result of the site. In fact judging by the enormous lines that form outside when crobar is open, it seems more popular than ever, especially since it hired Emi Guerra, who has brought in the preppy crowd, as a marketing director in February.
After the motion against his site was denied, Nicodemus countersued in February for defamation and emotional distress, asking for two million dollars in damages. But the most distressed people have got to be the spooked crobar employees who are innocent bystanders in this mess. In recent weeks, multiple sources have told me that strange women have been throwing human hair and black powder at the club's entrance, and a ritualistic headdress was found in its VIP room.
Spokespeople for crobar refuse to go on the record, out of fear of reprisals from Nicodemus. But co-owner Kenny Smith did issue this statement during an e-mail interview. "Why Nicodemus is sending out these defaming e-mails is beyond us," he wrote. "It's a shame that someone who is allegedly committed to being creative and an artist can only express himself negatively by affecting and impacting the families of 120 [employees] that live in South Florida. It's a shame and we feel sorry for him."