Coughing clouds of smoke from a hungry fire, the chateau-like Forge Restaurant in Miami Beach was extensively damaged Wednesday. A roof collapsed, temporarily closing an establishment famed for its high-rolling clientele and gaudy, painted-glass interiors.
Wine lovers worship it as a mecca for a $10 million, temperature-controlled wine cellar and museum holding about 300,000 bottles.
Owner Alvin Malnik, who in January added a wine-tasting room with a working fireplace to the building he bought in 1968, was left shattered by the destruction and in seclusion, unable to comment, according to a spokeswoman. He has been collecting wines for 20 years. Investigators were unable to immediately identify the cause of the fire. No one from the restaurant would say when or if the restaurant will reopen.
Fire Chief Braniard Dorris said part of the roof and the second floor collapsed, and a rear section of the building suffered serious fire damage.
He also anticipated heavy damage from smoke and water.
“This will be big bucks,” Dorris said.
The main dining room has a Tiffany glass wall, a Beardsley Rousseau mural and two nine-foot sconces from Napoleon’s Waterloo headquarters. The Gallery dining room has a 12-foot Victorian fireplace and life-size bronze statues by John Nast. The Dome Room features an original crystal chandelier from the Paris Opera House. The walls of the Sports Room are lined with murals of jockeys, boxers and cyclists beneath a 30-foot-high stained-glass dome.
Adding a new, lighter menu, the Forge had kept a four-star Mobil Travel Guide rating since 1981 and regularly made the Wine Spectator magazine’s list of America’s top restaurant wine cellars. Al Malnik often held private tasting sessions around an ornate antique tasting table. From there he issued quiet orders that sent cellar masters and waiters scurrying to obey.
A new customer addition was a temperature controlled dispensing system where wine lovers could sample 120 wines, including a 1976 Chateau Mouton Rothschild for $39 a glass. “I just want to give people a chance to try wines they might not otherwise try,” he said at the time.