Beach Bacchus

Hello Miami's Playboy Mansion, that tribute to all things decadent and carnal. Be it the seductive music and food, the fashionista parade, or French Riviera ambiance, Nikki Beach wants to perpetually swim in a drunken state of glamour. Even on a gray, overcast September Saturday afternoon there's still a sinful scent in the warm, salty ocean wind blowing across the sand.

"There's a reason they put zippers on the tepees," announces a voice that is full and pleasant but hints at weariness. Event promoter Tommy 'Pooch' Puccio smiles behind black sunglasses. He settles into a chair while bikini-clad diners talk over the jazzy electronica sifting through the sound system. His cell phone buzzes and vibrates incessantly but he seems miles away from here.

There's a passing glance at said tepees, but done more out of habit. Pooch is on his way back to Ibiza, the small island club capital of the world just off the southeastern coast of Spain, a place any promoter worth his weight in bass would frequent. He's again in search of ideas, inspiration, and the right variables he can plug into South Beach's nightlife equation to produce answers for the future.

For the past eleven years the Brooklyn-bred Pooch has presided over some of South Beach's more swank soirees, these days at Nikki Beach or in the accompanying Pearl Champagne Lounge. He and business partner Eric Omores have shoved Miami Beach onto the jet-set party map by infusing Euro chic with Caribbean cool to produce a timeless work of nightclub art. But now what?

It was in 1992 that Pooch first gambled on the Beach, selling his New York City nightclub over the phone from the News Café, then setting out to help turn Miami into a year-round playground. After several ventures of varying success (Cassis, La Voile Rouge, Follia), Pooch married his self-described "in your face" style with Omores's laid-back charm and together they turned the Penrod's complex into a Mediterranean-styled sanctuary of hedonism, complete with tiki bars, torches, and sand floors.

"I would visit the clubs in Ibiza and St. Tropez and think, 'Why don't we have this mixture of fashion and music in Miami Beach?'" Pooch recalls. "I've always loved the style of Café del Mar [the Ibiza hot spot known for spectacular sunsets and chill-out grooves] and knew it would work here."

It did. Because of Miami's international makeup, Nikki Beach quickly became the place to socialize for locals and models and jet-setters. Sundays are always on, whether for a late-afternoon lunch or an early-evening dance party, and it's helped bring DJ culture to the nonteen scene. It's far more likely those over 30 have caught wind of dance music at Nikki than at Club Space. "Because the Winter Music Conference is so well received, people are becoming much more knowledgeable about DJs, which I love to see," Pooch says. "You got guys in here 50 years old who know who [Paul] Oakenfold is."

Okay, so Miami has caught up with Europe's DJ culture; now what about breaking out?

"We're starting up an R&B night on Fridays that will be called Cream and Sugar," Pooch announces. "Hip-hop is getting trendier by the day, but now you have really talented singers making beautiful songs to a different beat. Hip-hop is no longer songs about killing cops, and I think we can bring that new sound here." Wait, we're talking Nikki Beach? Yep. Pooch tips his hat to hype-titan P. Diddy, who this past summer skipped the stuffy circles of the Hamptons in favor of a chill vibe in St. Tropez and slam-glammed hip-hop all up their area.

"If Europeans didn't embrace hip-hop before, they will now," Pooch laughs. "They're still buzzing about it. All it takes is a spark."

Spotting flames of opportunity is what Pooch is all about, and he hopes Miami won't cripple what some consider its last remaining culture cash cow. According to Pooch, music is this city's lifeline; both the film and fashion industries promised greatness, only to be let down by a lack of civic support. He thinks music, though, still holds hope for a long-term relationship. "I believe Miami has huge potential right now," Pooch says of the state of the current club pulse. "Everything gravitates towards music."

We don't know if South Beach is holding its collective breath. Pooch felt this city was on the verge of uninterrupted success twice, and twice he's seen catastrophic events put the party on hold. "In [the early 1990s] it was Hurricane Andrew, and then last year it was September 11th," he says. "Every time we get close something happens to push us back. But given a fair chance we can become a permanent location for music production."

He's betting if you build it, they will come. That is, build it really big and really expensive and maybe those St. Tropez types might stick around. Surrounding Penrod's tropical setting are high-rises in varying stages of development, and Pooch nods toward the towers of concrete that will become luxury apartments and condominiums. "Now, instead of flying down, people are going to start moving here and staying," he predicts. "I see a really good crowd moving in here and making Miami the year-round destination we can be."

Not that Pooch won't continue to fly out, and he's itching right now. "I really do learn when I travel," he says, standing and checking his phone's display screen. A number of messages have been left in the few minutes he's spared and it's time to go to work. "I have to know what's coming next and be ahead of the game."

Nikki Peach

What better place than Miami and signature venue Nikki Beach to host Playboy TV's Miss Latin America 2002 Models Search & Fashion Show? On Friday, September 27, the decadent -- some would use other adjectives -- atmosphere in Jack Penrod's crown jewel of entertainment will bear witness to a bevy of gorgeous women vying to become Hugh Hefner's chosen Latin one. The lucky lady picked acts as spokesmodel for Playboy TV en Español. She then goes on to represent the United States at the International Miss Playboy TV 2002 contest to be held in Mexico.

"We're going to focus more on special events than establishing ongoing nights," says Nikki promoter Tommy Pooch, who could lecture on parties featuring stunning, barely clothed models and money-burning boys all night long. As the Beach prepares for the coming season, Nikki is anticipating a number of joint ventures with the adult men's magazine that will solidify the club's reputation for wine, women, and whatever comes from the mix.

Billed as a search for "modern Hispanic women who reflect an image of intelligence, beauty, and sensuality," the event will open at 10:00 p.m. and feature DJ Chris Johnson, resident of London clubs Trade and Astoria. What to expect: lots of women, a runway show, lots of men hitting on the women, high-profile Playboy execs (though no Hef is expected), and some judging on costumes and camera-friendly talent. Cover is $20 and dress, well, nothing for the girls, "upscale" for the boys ...

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Kevin McLaughlin