If The Bitch were to pitch a sitcom starring South Beach entrepreneurs Dwight Nelson and Robert Sibel, she would draw catcalls of clich. Though the duo brings to mind mellow-hip incarnations of Bill Cosby and Robert Culp in the Sixties intelligence-gathering spoof-thriller I Spy, their shtick has definite Odd Couple overtones. Sibel is a nimble bachelor. (He lives in an ocean-view pad furnished only with a huge plasma-screen TV); Nelson is a family man with a wife and two kids. Sibel is obsessively detail-oriented and pragmatic; Nelson is the creative visionary.
Politics are the source of many boisterous arguments Sibel, smirking, declares himself "one of five Republicans on the Beach," while Nelson is an avowed blue-state loyalist. "I listen to AM radio to keep up with what they're thinking," Nelson notes, shaking his head.
The partners recently launched the Press Room on Lincoln Road between Alton Road and West Avenue (the site of the former Michael Collins Grill). Taking advantage of the dividing wall that seemed to defeat the Irish-themed pub, Nelson and Sibel have split their new place into two distinct identities, a traditional sports bar and a hushed, welcoming nouvelle American bistro.
Press Room designer Sean Saladino is known for outre embellishments at his Tommy Lee-affiliated RokBar nightclub, including bling-bedecked "pimp" goblets. In Nelson and Sibel's place, though, he showed considerable talent for understatement. Deep sapphire walls adorned with vintage Vogue photos are illuminated by chandeliers carved from wafer-thin sheets of marble. Wood panels and louvers were harvested from a demolished Michigan barn, and what appears to be a giant jigsaw mural is actually the salvaged (and reversed) text elements from an old-school cold-type press.
Most days, Nelson is at the command center in the sports bar while Sibel oversees the finer dining operation; the former is supposed to appeal to a younger crowd while, Sibel says, the bistro's target clientele is "thirtysomething professionals who still want to go someplace cool but are sick of the Washington-and-Collins scene."
Carol Green, a fortyish screenplay writer and movie script consultant who shuttles between Miami Beach and St. Augustine (and, The Bitch must add, a buddy of highly adorable John Leguizamo), was enthralled by her dining experience at the bistro a few weeks ago. "It's got a real New York City feel to it," Green noted. "This is a place I'd come with my girlfriends to drink wine and complain about men, and then drink some more wine."
On the other side of the building this past week, a normal contingent of four sports-bar guys wife-beater-wearing Cro-Magnons hollering profanely at the Houston Astros while nursing a single pitcher of light beer didn't exactly personify the target demographic.
Pablo Rosas, a 25-year-old Brazilian marketing researcher who wandered in off the street, seemed bewildered by the boisterousness. "It's in my neighborhood, so I thought I'd stop by here, but ... it doesn't really seem like my kind of place," Rosas worried, eyeing the cavemen. "But I met the owner and he was nice, so I feel important."
The Press Room is Nelson and Sibel's second collaboration, the first being Felt, the pool hall that seems as if it has forever been on the 1200 block of Washington Avenue.
Nelson was a regular Minnesota Fats at the Diamond Club which occupied the space before Felt until one night, when he was unceremoniously thrown out for eating pizza. Nelson decided at that moment to buy the joint, which, with Sibel, he eventually did before renaming it and carefully making capital improvements without undermining the club's smoky local street cred. ("I did fire everybody at the Diamond Club, by the way," Nelson adds.)
That was 2002. This year, seizing the opportunity created by the brief life of Michael Collins, Nelson and Sibel decided to apply their business philosophies to the fickle Miami Beach restaurant trade.
The Bitch, attracted by the calamari, is a regular. Sibel enjoys baiting her with droll, right-wing commentary referencing everything from the transfer of the ancient Roman capitol to Constantinople to the peccadilloes of Bill Clinton.
Although the squid-loving dog regards Sibel with a full mouth and quizzical expression, Nelson has become quite adept at handling his long-time amigo. They've known each other for seven years, though the first few seasons of the friendship were spent in phone-only contact while they worked for Internet bust casualty Ginuity. When the men were finally together in a group meeting at the Atlanta headquarters of the Internet consulting firm, Sibel scanned the assembled crowd for his unseen friend and then finally rose to ask, "Where's Dwight?"
"This African-American gentleman stands up," Sibel recalls. "And I was like, 'Wow, Dwight, I had no idea you were black!'"
Fortunately, Nelson says dryly, "I'm very much the professional."
The Bitch refused to stand in line and endure what Lesley Abravanel, writing for Frommer's, called "the most oppressive door policy in town." A bevy of Elite models, their hair drooping after an hour in the rain, was firmly turned away. Restaurant critics who had made reservations weeks in advance were rejected by head-shaking hostesses. Bottles of Absolut and Jack Daniels went for $200 a pop to those who made the hemp-rope cut.
Such was the routine at ego-flattening restaurant-nightclub Grass, the impenetrable fortress of the Design District. Apparently owner Laurent Bourgade who would occasionally demand that sartorially unsatisfying patrons leave (a practice The Bitch highly approves of, by the way) has decided the best way to keep the riffraff out is to let no one in.
The flamboyant one-person PR tornado known as Evrim Oralkan, who recently threw parties and did other marketing for Grass, says, "I do not believe they will reopen. As far as I know, Grass is closed. I am not sure who the new owners are and what they are planning to do."
But the club's Website notes: "Grass is closed for improvements and will reopen for season." (Um, isn't it season?) Calls to Bourgade and the number on the "for rent" sign on the property went unreturned.
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