He had to think again. In 1991, according to Pooch, a young woman was shot on the Spo-Dee-O-Dee dance floor by a man she had refused to dance with. "She wasn't even hurt bad, but the New York Times made a big deal out of it," Pooch laments. Business dried up. Brandt had moved on. Pooch changed the name of the club to ExSpo but couldn't revive the scene. "I poured money into that place but it did no good. It was over."
That same year, broke and living off cash advances from American Express, he climbed into his mother's 1984 Oldsmobile and drove to Miami Beach. Friends told him it was a good place to start over.
"I was here 24 hours and knew I wasn't going to leave," he says. "I saw all those fashion models. I mean, Miami Beach always had blue skies and palm trees, but [then] it had twenty modeling agencies within a mile. The number of beautiful women was amazing. I figured I could take over this town, but I didn't know how it worked here. In Miami you have to know the locals. They make the scene. I threw my first party right away at a club called the Institute and you know what? Nobody came."
These days Pooch promotes not only parties but himself. A lot of people know him.
It's lunchtime and he leaves his office headed for Big Pink, the popular restaurant on Collins and Second Street. When he enters it's as if the mayor has walked in. In fact, the first table of people that greets him includes Harold Rosen, once Miami Beach mayor and now an attorney who represents various club owners.
Former Miami Dolphins defensive back Louis Oliver embraces him. Pooch has been a friend to Oliver, who now arranges jazz nights, art shows, and other events on South Beach. "Louis is already planning Super Bowl parties," Pooch says of the big game that will be played in Miami in January. "That's going to be huge."
Veteran South Beach disc jockey Mark Leventhal offers greetings. "I got him the DJ job at Madonna's New Year's Eve party," Pooch says. Then a young singer named Stephanie comes up to speak to him about Bogart Records.
Pooch's lunch companion is Gary Corbett, who also grew up in Bensonhurst and is Bogart's producer. "All the way back to high school, Tommy knew a lot of people," says Corbett. "He always got along with different groups. But he wasn't driven the way he is now."
The first people Pooch met on South Beach back in 1991 were other nightlife promoters, such as Gary James and Michael Capponi. He also knew actor Mickey Rourke, who in partnership with James then owned a club called the Spot on Espanola Way. The party scene was already lively, but Pooch thought it would continue to grow.
"We used to sit in the News Cafe and dream up businesses we could start," says Pooch. "We looked at those models walking down Ocean Drive. In one way, we didn't want anybody else to find out. But we were promoters and we wanted people to come."
Capponi helped Pooch break in to the South Beach scene, cutting him in on promotion deals. "Michael was the god back then," Pooch says. One acquaintance recalls Pooch recruiting girls on Rollerblades to distribute flyers for parties. "He was like Fagin, the character in Oliver Twist who uses the street kids to carry out his business for him," he says. One difference: Fagin was a thief, Pooch a promoter.
Pooch suffered his only South Florida arrest one night in the alley behind the Spot. "This beautiful Latin girl comes up to me and says, 'You wanna do a bump, Tommy?' I went into the alley and seconds later I got arrested for the residue of coke on my nostrils. Do you believe it?" He was also found to be in possession of the drug Ecstasy. The charges were later dropped, according to court records.
Eventually Rourke sold out and James moved to Texas. Capponi took a long leave of absence to battle heroin addiction. Pooch persisted. "One of the secrets of his success is he avoided the dangers in the business, which I can't say about myself," says Capponi.