Last week, an Instagram account for a promoter called House of Love advertised a "Secret Playa Gathering," directing interested parties to a webpage where they were prompted to enter a code. Entering the code unlocked the location for a birthday party for Dolev Berkovitch, whose Instagram account identifies him as "Producer of @houseoflove_mia."
A listing to buy tickets to the party was also available on an event sales website, which advertised ticket prices as between $45 and $99.
Last Friday night, the Burning Man-themed party attracted about 400 people, most of whom were not wearing facemasks, practicing social-distancing, or following CDC guidance while they danced long past the 11 p.m. countywide curfew, according to a police report from the Miami-Dade Police Department (MDPD).
The party was held at a property called Sofia's Garden Farm near Homestead in unincorporated Miami-Dade. Posts on House of Love's Instagram account refer to the venue only as "Paradise City" or "Secret Playa."
CDC guidelines say large in-person gatherings where people don't have room to social distance and where attendees travel from outside the local area are among the riskiest types of gatherings when it comes to the spread of COVID-19.
In Instagram posts reviewed by New Times, hundreds of people at the House of Love party were gathered under a tiki hut in close proximity to one another. Many of the guests were jet-setters who posted photos of themselves traveling to other countries during the pandemic. Berkovitch himself has posted about traveling to Mexico and Costa Rica this year.
New Times made multiple attempts to contact Berkovitch, Sofia's Garden, and House of Love via phone and Instagram message but received no response. (House of Love blocked a New Times reporter from its Instagram account.)
Earlier this month, Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos A. Giménez said it will be difficult to reopen nightclubs and bars before a COVID-19 vaccine is widely available because those venues don't allow for social distancing. Venue owners in Miami's nightlife scene have struggled to make ends meet under the restrictions.
Parties like House of Love's, however, are more difficult to regulate.
Earlier this summer, the New York Times reported that large parties at private residences were potentially spreading COVID-19 in South Florida. Giménez said at the time that house parties are difficult to control unless the organizers are participating in unlawful commercial activities, like charging admission.
It's unclear how those regulations apply to a private venue. According to the Miami-Dade police report, several people said they'd paid $120 to attend Friday's House of Love party.
Emergency orders from the mayor's office prohibit large gatherings on county-owned property, such as parks, and at official party venues, like clubs or bars. Sofia's Garden brands itself as a wedding venue and falls into a gray area of the emergency orders, which appears to make enforcement difficult.
Miami-Dade police were called to the property multiple times after receiving noise complaints after midnight on September 19. The first time, officers asked someone in charge of the property, identified as Luis Varela, to turn down the music owing to excessive noise. According to police accounts, the music was turned down but turned back up repeatedly. The fourth time police arrived at the scene, they shut down the party and escorted people off the property. The officers issued a civil citation to Varela for excessive noise and shut down the party around 4 a.m. But the rager continued after police left, and another officer responded hours later at 9 a.m. after receiving yet another noise complaint from the same location.
"Contact was made with [Berkovitch] who advised it was his birthday party celebration and that the music would be turned down. After several minutes of police waiting for the music to be turned down we noticed that the music got louder," the responding officer wrote in a report.
The party was shut down once again, and the officer observed 400 people leaving the property.
No citations were issued.
The birthday bash wasn't the first party House of Love has hosted at Sofia's Garden during the pandemic, according to posts on Instagram. House of Love has been tagged in photos showing a large, festival-like event in June under the tiki hut at Sofia's Garden, with live DJs, fire dancers, and people dancing in close quarters without facial coverings. Captions indicate the June event was a birthday party.
Elsewhere in the county, pop-up party venues have been the target of police crackdowns, including a makeshift strip club and hookah bar.