In 1990, Bobby Radical walked into South Beach’s Disco Inferno. His life changed forever.
“I quit my day job, and I never stuck to a day job since,” he says. “I realized there was a different calling for me, and it was the nightlife.”
His tale is a siren’s song of excess under pastel lights, and it lured a whole generation of artists, models, developers, and thrill-seekers the globe over. South Beach in the ‘90s was a golden era done in by its own explosive success, and while the excitement has died down, the nostalgic hangover remains.
In honor of the best days of SoBe’s past, and in a move to keep its history alive, Radical and his buds are bringing the spirit back to life. The South Beach Reunion is a series of parties Friday through Sunday, each kicking off with a special sneak-peek of Radical’s upcoming documentary, The Making of South Beach.
“We were writing the rules back then,” says film producer Judd Allison. He remembers when his company Picture Perfect first moved to Ocean Drive in the late ‘80s when he’d have to tell out-of-town clients not to walk down Collins Avenue “because literally, you will get mugged.”
“German catalogues saw Miami Vice and thought everything on Miami beach looked like that,” Radical says. “They came down, and it wasn’t that way, set designers had built it up like that, but they created demand and it was just like setting a fire that never went out.”
The Making of South Beach captures the full story of the manufactured paradise with a main focus on the late ‘80s. Radical interviewed more than 150 key players and whittled six hours into 27 episodes. It’s the true, unadulterated story of how a sleepy beach town with one flashing red light became “the new Ibiza.”
“These celebrities didn’t come because other celebrates were here,” Radical says. “The celebs came here because of the staff, and the people that made up the family that was South Beach. We had such a cool family that it became apparent worldwide, what happened in the ‘90s put Miami Beach back on the map globally.”
Filming the doc brought strange and colorful characters out of the woodwork, and the reunion parties hope to recapture some of that old spirit so many sorely miss. It’s a feeling that died somewhere around 1999, when the money and status of SoBe eclipsed the people and places that inspired it.
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“You had to pay the bills or you went under, and that pressure changed the whole format of South Beach,” Radical says. “I couldn’t get into a club with a skateboard because the bouncer there no longer knew the locals. The whole business model changed, because they’re paying exorbitant rents and that’s the only way they could have survived. Unfortunately, that’s the state of the economy on South Beach. Mansion is closing. Who would have figured that?”
Rents were raised and velvet ropes were posted outside old familiar doors, so a lot of those old faces moved on to other things. Some moved downtown — some moved out of Florida for good. Allison repositioned his home base to the ToeJam Backlot in the heart of Wynwood, where he’ll host a celebration of the reunion Saturday night. For many, Wynwood’s art-first approach is a breath of that old air, though it will never be quite the same.
“It’s more governed than it was in South Beach,” Allison laughs. “They didn’t know how to deal with us. Everybody just had a little free for all.”
South Beach Reunion. Kick off dinner Friday, Sept. 18, at the Forge, 432 W 41 St., Miami Beach. Official Reunion Saturday, Sept. 19, at the ToeJam Backlot, 150 NW 21 St., Wynwood, featuring battle of old school DJs Carlos Menendez, Lance O', Luis Diaz, Ruben Pagan, and more. Closing party Sunday, Sept. 20, Tea Dance at the Albion Hotel, 1650 James Ave., Miami Beach. Visit themakingofsouthbeach.com.