Miami Party Boom

Jules de Balincourt, People Who Play And The People Who Pay, 2004, Oil and enamel on panel, 50 x 48". Courtesy of the Artist and Zach Feuer Gallery, New York.

Villa Vizcaya

Date: July 2005
Venue: Villa Vizcaya
Liquor sponsor: Flor de Caña rum

The Villa Vizcaya is one of those Gatsbyesque single-family mansions that have been converted to event spaces. The new owners installed an industrial kitchen to accommodate catering companies and an HVAC system to dissipate the warmth generated by large groups of people. They removed the permanent furniture so gilt chairs could be trucked in for weddings. Guests still had the run of the extensive gardens, but there was no longer anything particularly Gatsbyesque about the place, just a rental tab of $10,000 for a weekend evening.

The Vizcaya was still a very nice event space. From the parking lot, a jungle of banyans and broad-leafed foliage obscured the house. At night, when picking one’s way down a path lit with honeycomb floodlights around the ground, there was a feeling of tropical intrigue, followed by awe when the coral mansion finally emerged from the fronds and the vines, a floodlit beacon in the night. This used to be a Xanadu, a neo-Italianate castle built before Miami was even a city, before Miami Beach was even solid land. Where one person saw a mangrove swamp, the mind behind the Vizcaya saw greatness. Thus the first real estate boom began.

Now another real estate boom was happening, here in Miami, where I had just settled (in the gravitational rather than pioneering sense of the word: for several years I had been sinking in a southerly direction, like the pulp in a glass of orange juice). This was my first party. I don’t remember much—not even what the party was intended to celebrate—and I took bad notes. The mosquitoes were formidable. I was plastered in sweat. The night was thick and hot and the concrete steps in back descended into still, inky water. The moon hung over all of it: the bay, the stone barge, the topiaries. Corporations were the sponsors. They hung banner ads promoting Clamato; girls in miniskirt uniforms served free mojitos with Flor de Caña rum. I picked up a free copy of a magazine called Yachts International. A real-life yacht was moored to the dock out back, and its passengers were drunk and tan.

I stood with my friend Krishna, watching fireworks explode over Biscayne Bay, over the girls serving rum, over the maze hedge and the moss-covered cherubs and the coral gazebos. We sipped our drinks and scratched our mosquito bites. He gazed at the explosions and said, “The fireworks were so much better at the condo opening I went to last weekend.”

Spa Opening

Date: July 2005
Venue: Hotel Victor
Gift bag: Ylang-Ylang-scented bath cube, thong underwear

I moved to Miami from Arkansas to work at an alt-weekly newspaper. My first order of business, after finding an apartment, was to make friends. I appealed to a girl from work to rescue me from loneliness, and she sent me an email about a spa opening at a new boutique hotel on Ocean Drive, steps away from the mansion where Gianni Versace had met his violent end.

I walked up from my new apartment past the deco and neon, past Lummus Park and the homeless people and mounds of malt liquor bottles beneath the stands of palm trees. It wasn’t yet dark—this was an early weeknight party. My coworker checked us in with the tan girl at the door with the clipboard. From then on there would always be tan girls with clipboards. We were led to an elevator past tanks filled with pulsing jellyfish lit a glowing indigo. The elevator went down to the basement area where the spa was, and when the door slid open an impossibly tall drag queen greeted us, dressed only in white towels except for the diamonds that twinkled from her earlobes.

Petrova, a woman with a thick Russian accent, stepped in front of the towel-bedecked drag queen and handed us champagne glasses. She said they contained cucumber martinis, but I think it might have been cucumber and 7Up. “Welcome,” murmured Petrova. She took us on a tour that was like a ride at Disney World. Curtains were pulled aside: behind one was a naked man on a slab of heated marble. Behind the next was a woman having her breasts gently massaged. “Ew,” said my coworker. We stayed twenty minutes, then collected our gift bags, which contained thong underwear and an effervescent bath cube. I didn’t have a bathtub.

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