Shock nightclub was supposed to be a little slice of southern France on extremely un-Gallic Washington Avenue in South Beach. Montpellier-born impresario Julien Manival spared no expense in outfitting the space — once home to '90s hot spot Liquid — in kinky red leather, high-def video projectors, and trippy LED lights. He hired local artist Victor Hugo to paint the interior and convinced some of SoBe's biggest names to promote its November 11 opening.
Visitors to the exclusive venue were initially treated to quite a show: Women in cancan costumes brought customers flaming drinks. French Djs fresh from Ibiza spun house music over the club's cutting-edge sound system. Manival bragged to El Nuevo Herald that he wanted his patrons' heads to spin for days from all the special effects.
After a couple of weeks, however, Shock abruptly shut down. And when Manival's checks started bouncing, the Frenchman jetted back across the Atlantic, leaving behind as much as $100,000 in outstanding debts.
"He talked a good game," says Nick D'Annunzio from TARA, Ink., a public relations firm Manival hired to promote Shock. "Julien made it seem like he came from money and had created a name for himself in southern France," he adds. "He really seemed like a big deal."
Instead, Manival stopped paying TARA, Ink. after the first month, breaking a $16,250 contract but promising to settle up as soon as he renewed his visa in France. He hasn't returned yet. D'Annunzio says he's since tried billing Manival's credit card but it repeatedly declines. "I don't think we're ever going to get paid," he laments.
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Many of Manival's associates knew the club was in trouble long before it opened. Arturo Vargas, an investor in LUX — a nightclub upstairs from Shock — reluctantly agreed to loan the project $44,000 to buy liquor. But when he stopped by Shock shortly before the opening, he realized Manival had no idea what he was doing. "Everything was so disorganized," he remembers. "He bit off more than he could chew."
Reached in France, Manival claims he's the sucker, losing $300,000 of his money when the building's owners cut off his credit and closed the club without warning.
"The owner is the stealer because he stole my credit card and changed the lock with all my materials inside," he says in poor English. "It wasn't my fault." Manival says he still plans to pay his debts and make it in South Beach. But those he stiffed aren't holding their breath.
"He wanted to be the hottest club on South Beach," says artist Victor Hugo, who claims Manival still owes him $20,000 for a mural he painted in the club. "But what is going on there right now is fraud."