Luke's Gospel: Before South Beach Got Boring
Uncle Luke, the man whose booty-shaking madness once made the U.S. Supreme Court stand up for free speech, gets as nasty as he wants to be for Miami New Times. Up this week: He tackles VIP bottle service and a plan to roll back last call at city bars and nightclubs from 5 to 3 a.m.
In 1990, I got into the South Beach nightclub business when I leased a spot on Fifth Street at Lenox Avenue that everyone came to know as Luke's. Back then, it was one of only two black clubs on the Beach. You didn't have any black clubs on Ocean Drive, Collins Avenue, or Washington Avenue. A lot of people don't know it, but during segregation, you had to be out of the city by sundown on Miami Beach if you were black. When artists such as Nat King Cole performed there, they had to stay in Overtown. Today, you go into a nightclub -- Mansion, SoBe Live, Cameo -- on any given night and you will find a mixed crowd.
When I had Luke's, the Beach was much more fun. It was a lot wilder. Everybody came to my club. University of Miami football players were always in there. Former Miami Dolphins safety Louis Oliver met his wife at Luke's. Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson would come by when they were in town playing the Heat. Eddie Murphy was in there on the regular. Robert De Niro hooked up with one of my waitresses. And being that I was a single rapper-nightclub owner, there was a lot of office sex too.
We had some wild parties up in there. It was loose. Girls would get up on the bar and take off their clothes. I remember I filmed the "Pop That Coochie" video at Luke's. We had all these girls up onstage. I think Cisco, this cheap wine with 20 percent alcohol you buy at convenience stores and gas stations, had a lot to do with the zaniness. People use to call it liquid crack. When you drank that shit, you just lost your mind. I had to close Luke's two years after opening because I wouldn't pay off the liquor license gangsters — the state.
Now, people go into South Beach clubs pissed off. They have to pay outrageous valet parking prices. They have to stand in line and wait to get picked to go inside. They need three drinks just to get over the frustration of going through a cattle call. The emphasis is on buying bottles and hiring models to walk around like eye candy. That's why people from the mainland stay on the mainland. They don't want to go through the bullshit on South Beach.
Of course, they might be forced to settle for South Beach if Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff has his way. He's floating the idea of rolling back last call from 5 to 3 a.m. all over the city, just like he did in Coconut Grove. That is his district. If the people who elected him there want bars and clubs to close at 3 a.m., I have no problem with that. I respect him because he is not bashful about what he wants to do.
But a citywide 3 a.m. last call would be the death of Miami. Right now, they have no damn money. They need all the revenue they can generate.
By closing at 3 a.m., the city is going to drive people to Miami Beach or other places in Dade or Broward that stay open late. The clubs in Miami won't be able to afford to stay open.
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