Nightclubs, marketing seen transforming tame after-hours scene
By Mindy Hagen
The recent arrival of nightclubs and increased marketing by restaurant owners appear to be altering the Brickell area's after-hours scene.
Despite the opening this month of a new nightclub, interest in club licenses is low and some restaurants that had geared for the nighttime crowd have scaled back their after-hours expectations.
Two of Miami's five entertainment districts created last year to make downtown more appealing to club owners are in Brickell. The Brickell riverside district was issued five licenses for venues that look to liquor for more than 50% of total sales and Brickell Village was allowed six.
Lourdes Slazyk, assistant director of city planning, said interest in the licenses has been low. She said she thinks the area will take off after new residential development in Brickell is completed within two to three years.
"Right now Brickell is still serving the lunchtime executive crowd," Ms. Slazyk said. "It is primarily still a daytime scene. But as soon as the residential units are up and running, it will be more preferable for those people to stay in the area rather than jumping to Miami Beach or Coconut Grove."
Of the five entertainment districts, only Park West - north of the Miami River - has generated major interest, she said. Because Park West is a 24-hour district while Brickell's mandatory club closing time is 5 a.m., licenses in Park West have a higher value.
"Out of 11 permits, five or six in the Park West area have already been approved," Ms. Slazyk said.
One club intent on making a name for itself in the Brickell riverside district opened Aug. 13. Manager J.P. Felipe of Club Rio, 66 SW Sixth St., said the nightspot has a 13-year lease and is making "a long-term commitment to developing the area.
"We've got the ball rolling," Mr. Felipe said. "Now it's our goal to make sure Club Rio is a presence in Miami's nightlife."
Mr. Felipe said Rio's crowd during its first weekend came from across the city, but the club plans to market strongly within a three-mile radius. Within two to three months, he said, Rio will expand to its rooftop and use open courtyard space to bring in an added 300 club-goers nightly.
"You always want more business," he said. "But right now we are concentrating on getting our ducks in a row. We are working with a lot of promoters who are major players and people who have been successful in Miami's clubbing scene. By working together we can make the club a success."
Nightlife action is also strong at Firehouse Four, 1000 S Miami Ave. In two weeks, a promotional group called The Church will begin holding an event there called Mass on Sunday nights, said General Manager Jeff Kaplan.
"The space lends itself to a nightclub look," Mr. Kaplan said. "Brickell has bars but not many nightclubs for dancing. To be successful, you have to have a feel for what the public wants."
Mr. Kaplan said Firehouse Four regularly stays open until 2 a.m. Thursdays and 3:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays, catering to different groups each night, including jazz Thursdays and a college crowd Fridays.
While club owners remain confident, restaurants and bars opening recently in Brickell have not been able to keep the late-night crowds.
La Nota, which opened four months ago as an Italian restaurant at 600 Brickell Ave., is changing its focus, said new General Manager Pedro Fernandez. The restaurant, now open only Thursday and Friday for dinner, will add more of a Latin and French flavor to its evening menu.
"We are trying to build up a nice crowd on Thursday and Friday so we can then expand to the rest of the week," Mr. Fernandez said. "We are working step-by-step. Lunchtime is perfect but for dinner we have to attract people."
Mr. Fernandez said the restaurant encourages executives to come to its happy hour from 5-7 p.m., which includes live music. But despite its 10:30 p.m. closing, the crowd starts thinning around 9.
"Some people want to get out of Brickell after the work day," he said. "But there still is a lot of potential for early night bars and restaurants from the people living and working in the area."
Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant, celebrating its one-year anniversary at 1201 Brickell Ave., has also exceeded its lunchtime expectations but hopes to improve on weekends, said general manager Terry Rentzepis.
The crowd at the restaurant and bar, which stay open until 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday nights, starts to bend around 11 p.m., he said.
"This area empties out on weekends," Mr. Rentzepis said. "We are trying hard to get the residents who live here to come in."
To appeal to its weekend customer base, Gordon Biersch will offer college and professional football packages in the fall. This year, 560 WQAM radio will broadcast its Miami Hurricane football pre-game show from the restaurant.
"Anytime you build a restaurant, you do it with the down the road in sight," Mr. Rentzepis said. "We are one of the trendsetters in the Brickell market and we know we will get better and better on the weekends."
Finding a distinct late-night crowd can be key to a restaurant-bar's success after workday hours on Brickell, said Tobacco Road manager Alyse Goldberg.
The grandfather of nightlife on Brickell, Tobacco Road at 626 S Miami Ave. has been operating 89 years. It's open until 5 a.m. daily and Ms. Goldberg said late-night business has always stayed strong.
"We get a lot of our late-night business from people who work in restaurants like Morton's and Capital Grille," she said. "They come here to hang out after work and enjoy a drink. Tobacco Road is a staple for them because we stick around. Other places come and go but we always seem to survive and stay as a landmark place for Brickell."