Longform

Deconstructing Tommy

Page 6 of 6

Still, the rumors persist. One reason: as promoter at the Forge, he works for owner Shareef Malnik, whose father Al Malnik was reputedly an associate of legendary gangster Meyer Lansky. "I didn't even know about that until after I started promoting at the Forge," Pooch says. "But that's not what Shareef is about at all."

Pooch is also close friends with Chris Paciello, part owner of the nightclub Liquid, who was recently written up in the Village Voice and the The Miami Herald. Those papers reported that Paciello's arrest record included grand larceny and assault. They also said he had attended meetings with members of the Gambino crime family. "I don't believe any of it," Pooch insists. "The guy is just trying to make a living here." So is Pooch. A highly placed Miami Beach police official says he has no reason to suspect Pooch has Mob connections.

Early Wednesday night Pooch is preparing to host his now-legendary party at the Forge. He's worried because it's pouring rain. "Sometimes they don't want to get wet," he says. "We'll see."

When Pooch first went to work for Malnik four years ago, the Forge was legendary but fading, he says. "All their clients were old," he claims. "They were coming through the door using walkers."

But Malnik spruced up the place, which includes lots of stained glass and paintings in varying styles, a decor that is best called Late Twentieth-Century Excess. And Pooch went to work with his phone list. The Wednesday clientele now tends toward men with large cigars and thick wallets, and women with large breasts, both natural and surgically enhanced.

The night starts slowly, but the rain stops and business picks up. Women arrive in sequined sheaths, red halters, gold lame wrap dresses. In comes Gianni Pirelli, scion of the Pirelli Tire family of Italy; noted attorney Al Goldstein; and Jose "Pepe" Horta, a former top official at the Cuban film institute and owner of Cafe Nostalgia in Little Havana, which will soon open another club next to the Forge. Superlawyers Roy Black and F. Lee Bailey, who often attend, have stayed home.

Pooch sits at the table nearest the door, greeting many of the men and kissing and embracing the women, running his eyes over them with his trademark lust. Juliette and a bevy of other young ladies sit with him. They fuss over visitors who are important to Tommy, talking and dancing with them. "Juliette knows that's part of her job," he says.

Some of the women in attendance dance at Pooch's favorite strip bars, including one called Thee DollHouse in Sunny Isles Beach. They have positioned themselves around the premises like salt licks in a grazing pasture. It is rumored they are there more for business than pleasure. "I'm innocent to all of that," insists Pooch. "I don't ask people those kinds of questions."

Pooch has drawn celebrities here, too: Nicolas Cage, Michael Douglas, and Jordan. They recommend Pooch to their famous friends. It is said he helps them enjoy South Beach any way he can. "Some come to seriously party, some don't. But I don't talk about that," he insists. "I have famous friends because I keep my mouth shut."

Pooch has an attitude toward the rich. "I don't like the ones who did nothing to earn it," he says. "I don't like people who are the product of lucky sperm. If you earned it, that's fine."

By 11:00 p.m. the Forge is full to bursting. The DJ is playing all his ethnic cards: "Volare," "Hava Nagila," "Mi Tierra." Pooch is dancing in the aisles, surrounded by women. The DJ is dropping Tommy's name into the songs and people are cheering for him. He throws his arms out. "I love my life," he yells at an acquaintance. "Lots of guys have told me they want to come back as me. But they can't because I'm comin' back as me, buddy." Then Tommy Pooch laughs with glee.

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John Lantigua