Archive for February, 2009

Alvin Malnik’s Decedent Dynasty – THE FORGE

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Seated at a prime table in the main dining salon with six of his guests, Shareef Malnik momentarily disengages from the group’s lively conversation and gazes around the opulently appointed dining room, as a sinful hint of satisfaction comes over his face. And justifiably so, for it is his restaurant, The Forge, that has, for the last thirty-three years, maintained its position as Miami Beach’s premier destination for dining decadence.

The Forge is an American icon, a throwback to the lavish excesses of Hollywood in the 1930s and Monte Carlo in the 50s. It is a temple built to the gods of wine, women and song, and tonight is right on track to become just one more memorable night of dining and dancing madness set to a score of too much of everything too much food, too much wine, too much hedonism.
The story of Shareef Malnik’s Forge is the story of a Miami Beach dynasty.

The cast of characters at The Forge on this particular Wednesday night is straight out of a 1930′s MGM movie tables full of tourists from New York and Buenos Aires; local politicians smoking cigars and hamming it up; a South Beach nightclub owner and his entourage dropping-in for a visit; a few tables full of individuals who could teach the Sopranos a thing or two about business; and, of course, there are the ladies, young and lovely ladies from fiery Latinas to statuesque Nordic beauties, all dressed to the nines, with cocktails in hand.

The Forge Bar area which separates three adjoining dining salons, Pamela Canellas and the Hot Jam dancers are up on stage dressed in flowing white outfits and gyrating wildly to the frantic salsa/disco mix that permeates all of Miami nightlife. With waiters rushing from table to table throughout the five dining rooms and with large numbers of people simply dancing in the aisles, The Forge is indeed hitting on all cylinders tonight. Its English oak paneling, impossibly high ceilings, large Tiffany stained-glass panels and bare-brick walls radiate a stately ambiance of old Europe, but the parade of Jaguars and Roll Royces lined-up out front are a testament to its hedonistic popularity. To understand The Forge’s appel d’hédonisme requires an understanding of the strong personalities behind it: the man who originally created it Alvin Malnik, and the man who now controls it Shareef Malnik.

The predecessor of the modern-day Forge was a blacksmith’s forge built in the early 1920s by Dino Phillips, who designed decorative iron gates and sculptures for wealthy Miami Beach families such as the Firestones and Vanderbilts. In the early 1930s Phillips transformed his shop into an elegant dining/dancing supper club and gambling casino where wealthy Miami socialites dined and danced under the stars in the outdoor garden area.

In 1968, after years of neglect the original restaurant/casino fell into disrepair and was purchased by Shareef’s father, Alvin Malnik, a young Florida attorney. Alvin Malnik immediately embarked on a million-dollar makeover of the restaurant that reflected his love of European art and architecture. Original Dalis, Rousseaus framing a sconce from Napoleon’s bed chamber and antique tapestries were set throughout.

Al Malnik’s re-designed Forge opened its doors in March of 1969 and was immediately heralded as Miami’s most glamorous destination filled with visiting celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Richard Burton and Judy Garland. Politicos such as Richard Nixon and financier Bebe Reboso were also frequent guests, and, yes, Meyer Lansky and the boys were often seen dining at The Forge. As a matter of fact, it was upstairs in the original casino area in 1977 where Meyer Lansky’s stepson, Richard Schwartz, shot Craig Teriaca, son of an alleged underworld figure, after a quarrel over $10. (Three months later Schwartz was found murdered in his Cadillac behind The Inside Restaurant on the Bay Harbor Islands.)

The crowning achievement of The Forge was always its wine cellar, an eight-room, underground facility containing more than 300,000 bottles of the world’s finest vintages. Among the rarest, which are secured behind floor-to-ceiling iron gates, are a 1792 Madeira and an 1822 Chateau Lafite Rothschild the later worth an estimated $150,000. So impressive is The Forge’s wine cellar, that French financier and noted oenophile, Baron Elie de Rothchild once donated bottles from his private collection after visiting restaurant.

Al Malnik’s colorful history in Miami Beach is a matinee-quality storyline that earned him huge financial returns. But, big returns don’t come without big risks. Malnik has also apparently been a positive influence on Miami Beach’s Brett Ratner, director of “Red Dragon” and Jackie Chan’s “Rush Hour.” The relationship is sometimes described as that of “a father figure and mentor.”

Alvin Malnik often donates to his alma mater, the University of Miami, and most recently, Al and his wife Nancy were honored as lifetime benefactors by the Make A Wish foundation during a lavish ceremony at the 8th Annual Hotel Inter-Continental Ball in Miami.

Even though questions still remain unanswered, two things are absolutely indisputable: first, through a series of real estate developments from Florida to California, and associations with powerful individuals, Al Malnik has amassed a serious sum of money throughout his lifetime, and is now enjoying the fruits of his labor in a 35,000 square foot beach-front villa, Beaux Arts Mansion, in Ocean Ridge, Florida, and secondly he created one hell of a restaurant.

Rebirth Of The Royal – One Of Alvin Malniks Fab 5 Deco Buildings

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

A History of the Royal South Beach Hotel by
Judith Berson-Levinson, Ed.D.
image_hotel_exterior_outside_1
The Royal was born in 1936 when Polly Lux de Hirsch-Meyer built eight ground floor store units on Washington Avenue and 8th Street, leased them and then added the upper floors of the Royal Hotel two years later.  Miss Lux was a  “Viennese beauty” from Pittsburgh, who was glorified by Florenz Ziegfeld in the late 1920s and went on to become a successful developer after she retired from the Ziegfeld Follies (The Miami Herald, June 2, 1940). She moved to Miami Beach with her mother and brother and $20,000 including an inheritance from her father and $6,000 from the sale of her Broadway lingerie shop.  With guts and gumption she became the first licensed female contractor in Florida.  The Royal was her third hotel project, preceded by the Imperial and Majestic on Ocean Drive and later followed by the Triton on Collins and 29th Street.  Within eight years, she had amassed an estimated fortune at $300,000 by successfully building, buying, leasing and selling properties. The Miami Herald reported that she had “courage, a capacity for hard work, a natural and friendly manner, and simple tastes… a shrewd business woman but feminine to her finger tips.”

She later married Baron de Hirsch Meyer, a local attorney, philanthropist and generousbenefactor of Jewish causes, who had built his own fortune in the South Beach hotel business. Baron was a native of Wisconsin who came to Miami Beach in 1925.  Baron was his name, not a royal title, but this did not stop Polly from signing into European hotels as the ”Baronness” de Hirsch Meyer.

According to local legend she became an overbearing, pompous woman in her later years, however in her defense, she continued the philanthropy and gave generously to many charities following her husband’s death in 1974.   He was one of the original founders of City National Bank, Mt. Sinai Hospital, the University of Miami Law School and the Miami Beach Bar Association.  The main tower of Mt. Sinai is named after them because of his, and later her, generous gifts.  During her widowhood, Joey Carr (nee Cohen) gave up his career as a producer of TV commercials to be her companion and escort.  When she died, she left him nothing.  He sued her estate, claiming he was entitled, but he lost. The court basically threw him and his nonsensical suit out, saying, in effect, “you’re not entitled to a share of the estate because you dated her!”

When Polly built the Royal, she chose Henry Hohauser as the architect for the ground floor. Hohauser also designed many hotels such as the Edison, Henry, Collins Park, Governor, Miami Beach’s first bank building at 601 Collins Avenue, the synagogue that currently houses the Jewish Museum of Florida, and hundreds of apartment buildings, hotels and private homes.  Two years later, when she added 46 hotel rooms on the 2nd and 3rd floors to create the Royal Hotel, the architect she selected was L. Murray Dixon, who also designed the Tides, Victor, Raleigh, Ritz Plaza and hundreds of hotels, buildings, and residences.  The Royal holds the distinction of having been designed by two of the most prolific Art Deco District architects of the late 1930’s and early 1940s.

The Royal is located within the Flamingo Park Historic District, as well as the Miami Beach National Register Architectural District (commonly known as the Art Deco District), and it is listed as a “contributing structure” in the Miami Beach Historic Properties Database.   When the district was designated in 1979, it became the youngest district to ever receive this recognition.  The significant original architectural features of the Streamline Moderne structure include the distinctive glass block corner extending to third floor, cut corner entry, extended eyebrows, and
horizontal stucco relief pattern.

Originally the main entrance to the Royal Hotel was at 758 Washington Avenue. It was distinguished by a marquee extending over the sidewalk and led into a spacious lobby in the rear.  Later the front section of the lobby was converted to a retail store.  A postcard advertised the new Royal as “The Aristocrat of the New Miami Beach Hotels,” offering “OPA rates of $2.50 and $3.00 per day and $7.50 and $10.00 per week per person, double occupancy.” (OPA was a WWII era federal agency that set ceiling prices on almost everything, ranging from shoes to food to clothing to hardware to hotel rooms). Through the years, many popular businesses were located in the Royal’s commercial units including Beer Barrel (1940s), Chungking Restaurant (1940s), Lux Restaurant, Farr’s Havana Tours (1930s), TEB’s Coffee Shop, Buster’s Restaurant and Lee Ann Pharmacy before it moved to its current location on Washington and 10th Street.  The owner of Teb’s was the uncle of Norman Giller, a prominent post-war architect.  Tebs originated the concept of delivering food to construction job sites. Current tenants include Paesano’s Italian Ristorante, Royal Bar & Cigar Lounge, Origin Asian Bistro & Sushi Bar, and a scooter shop.

During World War II, the Royal Hotel was one of approximately 300 buildings and hotels that were taken over by the Army Air Corps Technical Training Command to serve as barracks, mess halls, offices, and classrooms for cadets training go overseas to fight for our nation’s freedom.  As many as four to six cadets slept in bunk beds in each hotel room.  Young soldiers filled Miami Beach and many returned after the war to live, to visit or to retire many years later. The Royal Hotel has been a proud sponsor of Sand in Our Boots: Miami Beach WWII Veterans Reunion and Recognition Events, coordinated by Berson-Levinson and held annually on Pearl Harbor Day since 1999.

In 1999, local developers Steven Z. Levinson and Judith Berson-Levinson purchased the building with the intention of renovating the abandoned hotel floors, which had been vacant for nearly eight years.  The Levinson Group did a complete renovation including the restoration and repair of the terrazzo lobby floor and Spanish tile on stairs that had been hidden under marble installed by the previous owner, replacement of the neon “ROYAL HOTEL” sign on the glass brick on the corner of the building, removal of a false ceiling in the lobby to reveal the original molding, repair of the second floor Sun Deck, hallways and restoration of guest rooms including Italian marble floors, all tile bathrooms, new individual central air conditioning, updating of all electrical, plumbing, fixtures, etc.

While the extensive restoration was in progress, a national hotel operator leased the hotel and created the futuristic interiors that have received international acclaim. The designer was Jordan Mozer of Chicago whose work includes the House of Blues, Mirage Resorts and Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas, Universal Studios, and Barney’s New York.  Mozer created a “fusion of past, present and future,” combining the 1930s character of the classic building with the latest in technology to create an experience that transports guests through time.  The “Jellyfish at Night” carpeting was designed to create an aura of fantasy, leading guests toward their rooms where they are “wowed” by the unique, custom-designed furnishings which have been called “functional works of art.”

Those with a keen eye for design agree that Mozer’s “digital throne” (which can accommodate a computer keyboard and revolving flat screen TV) pays homage to Arne Jacobsen’s Egg chair, developed for the lobby and reception areas of Copenhagen’s Royal Hotel in 1958. Each room at the Royal South Beach contains high tech amenities such as a digital safe, high-speed Internet access, remote-controlled central air conditioning, and a CD player. The Royal is featured in several books including “Cool Hotels,” “Fodor’s Guide,” and “Best Designed Hotels in North & South America,” plus numerous magazines and newspapers throughout the world such as Architectural Record, Detour, Travel & Leisure, Wallpaper, the New York Times, and the Miami Herald.

The renovation was completed in 2000 and the hotel opened for the Memorial Day millennium celebration, however delays in opening and insufficient funding forced the operator to close their doors within four months.  The Levinsons reopened the hotel in May of 2001 and have been running it since then, marketing it as a residence hotel to meet the needs of extended-stay guests seeking short-term rentals by the day, week and month.  The hotel now provides a home-away-from-home for models, artists, entertainers, film producers, yacht brokers, business executives, students and tourists from all over the world.  When the Levinsons offered the unique units for sale as condos in 2003, the result was a record breaking sell-out in less than one week! The new Royal South Beach Condo Hotel is a wonderful example of a deco dowager rising like a phoenix from the ashes of neglect.
Rev. October 25, 2003

Shareef Malnik / The Forge Dynasty by Joseph Brown, South Beach Magazine

Monday, February 2nd, 2009

The cast of characters at The Forge on this particular Wednesday night is straight out of a 1930′s MGM movie tables full of tourists from New York and Buenos Aires; local politicians smoking cigars and hamming it up; a South Beach nightclub owner and his entourage dropping-in for a visit; a few tables full of individuals who could teach the Sopranos a thing or two about business; and, of course, there are the ladies, young and lovely ladies from fiery Latinas to statuesque Nordic beauties, all dressed to the nines, with cocktails in hand.

In The Forge Bar area which separates three adjoining dining salons, Pamela Canellas and the Hot Jam dancers are up on stage dressed in flowing white outfits and gyrating wildly to the frantic salsa/disco mix that permeates all of Miami nightlife. With waiters rushing from table to table throughout the five dining rooms and with large numbers of people simply dancing in the aisles, The Forge is indeed hitting on all cylinders tonight. Its English oak paneling, impossibly high ceilings, large Tiffany stained-glass panels and bare-brick walls radiate a stately ambiance of old Europe, but the parade of Jaguars and Roll Royces lined-up out front are a testament to its hedonistic popularity.

To understand The Forge’s appel d’h donisme requires an understanding of the strong personalities behind it: the man who originally created it Alvin Malnik, and the man who now controls it Shareef Malnik.


exterior1a-160The predecessor of the modern-day Forge was a blacksmith’s forge built in the early 1920s by Dino Phillips, who designed decorative iron gates and sculptures for wealthy Miami Beach families such as the Firestones and Vanderbilts. In the early 1930s Phillips transformed his shop into an elegant dining/dancing supper club and gambling casino where wealthy Miami socialites dined and danced under the stars in the outdoor garden area.

In 1968, after years of neglect the original restaurant/casino fell into disrepair and was purchased by Shareef’s father, Alvin Malnik, a young Florida attorney whose name thanks to the New Jersey Casino Control Commission will forever be linked to legendary mob financier and former Miami Beach resident, Meyer Lansky. Alvin Malnik immediately embarked on a million-dollar makeover of the restaurant that reflected his love of European art and architecture. Original Dalis, Rousseaus framing a sconce from Napoleon’s bed chamber and antique tapestries were set throughout.

Al Malnik’s re-designed Forge opened its doors in March of 1969 and was immediately heralded as Miami’s most glamorous destination filled with visiting celebrities such as Frank Sinatra, Richard Burton and Judy Garland. Politicos such as Richard Nixon and financier Bebe Reboso were also frequent guests, and, yes, Meyer Lansky and the boys were often seen dining at The Forge. As a matter of fact, it was upstairs in the original casino area in 1977 where Meyer Lansky’s stepson, Richard Schwartz, shot Craig Teriaca, son of an alleged underworld figure, after a quarrel over $10. (Three months later Schwartz was found murdered in his Cadillac behind The Inside Restaurant on the Bay Harbor Islands.)

wine-cellar-140The crowning achievement of The Forge was always its wine cellar, an eight-room, underground facility containing more than 300,000 bottles of the world’s finest vintages. Among the rarest, which are secured behind floor-to-ceiling iron gates, are a 1792 Madeira and an 1822 Chateau Lafite Rothschild the later worth an estimated $150,000. So impressive is The Forge’s wine cellar, that French financier and noted oenophile, Baron Elie de Rothchild once donated bottles from his private collection after visiting restaurant.

Al Malnik’s colorful history in Miami Beach is a matinee-quality storyline that earned him huge financial returns. But, big returns don’t come without big risks. In 1982 his canary yellow Rolls Royce was blown-up in the underground parking garage of his residence at a high rise Miami condominium called the Cricket club, which Malnik had previously developed. Speculation as to the reasons behind the attack ranged from some sort of warning to Malnik and his business associates, to an elaborate scheme to fool federal investigators who were looking into his affairs at the time.

In 1987 Malnik’s friend, pioneer speed boat builder and Formula Marine owner Don Aronow was shot to death while sitting in his car on Miami’s NE 188th Street, an area known as ThunderBoat Row. The reasons why are still unclear.

Over the years questions were often asked sometimes by government investigators, sometimes by the IRS about Malnik’s financial dealings. One case brought against Malnik by the IRS concerning his 1962 and 1963 tax returns lasted over twenty years, with Al finally winning in 1985.

But, perhaps the most interesting questions of all came with recent tabloid speculation that Al Malnik has some sort of association with pop-star Michael Jackson. A dinner at The Forge between Michael Jackson, Al and Shareef Malnik and their wives made front page news. And when news broke that Michael Jackson often stays overnight at Malnik’s multi-million dollar Ocean Ridge, Florida estate when he’s in town, headlines such as “Is Jacko Married to the Mob?” and “The King of Pop and the Mob?” popped-up in numerous publications. Reliable sources will only say that Jackson and Malnik are “personal friends,” and “they’ve been friends for years.” The official word from Malnik is “I have no present or past business relationship of any kind with Michael Jackson, nor is one contemplated.”

However out of character an association with a modern pop star such as Michael Jackson might seem, it would actually be somewhat in line with previous associations earlier in Al Malnik’s career. He reportedly served as attorney for Sammy Davis Jr. and several other members of the Rat Pack during the 1960s, and celebrities such as Russell Simmons, Benjamin Bratt, Harvey Keitel and Salma Hayek have all attended parties at his South Florida home, making Al Malnik’s association with the entertainment industry a well-documented fact.

Malnik has also apparently been a positive influence on Miami Beach’s Brett Ratner, director of “Red Dragon” and Jackie Chan’s “Rush Hour.” The relationship is sometimes described as that of “a father figure and mentor.”

Alvin Malnik often donates to his alma mater, the University of Miami, and most recently, Al and his wife Nancy were honored as lifetime benefactors by the Make A Wish foundation during a lavish ceremony at the 8th Annual Hotel Inter-Continental Ball in Miami.

Even though questions still remain unanswered, two things are absolutely indisputable: first, through a series of real estate developments from Florida to California, and associations with powerful individuals, Al Malnik has amassed a serious sum of money throughout his lifetime, and is now enjoying the fruits of his labor in a 35,000 square foot beach-front villa, Beaux Arts Mansion, in Ocean Ridge, Florida, and secondly he created one hell of a restaurant.

Shareef Malnik was born to Alvin and his first wife, Debbie in 1958. By 1982 he had earned his law degree from the University of Miami and was living the glamorous high-life in Miami Beach.

In the early 90s, Shareef indulged his passion for off-shore racing by competing first in the American Power Boat Association’s offshore circuit and then the Offshore Professional Tour, winning the 2nd Annual Offshore Grand Prix of Miami. In 1991 he narrowly escaped death when his catamaran – The Forge – was heaved into the air at well over 100 knots, rolling over three times before finally coming to rest. Shareef’s helmet was ripped from his head during the accident, leaving him with a serious concussion and a two day trip to the hospital.

Shareef soon garnered a notorious reputation for his adventurous, thrill-seeking lifestyle which included running with the bulls in Pampalona, shark-diving in Walker’s Cay and racing a Porsche 911 in the American Le Mans Series Championship.

As if off-shore powerboat racing, auto racing and the glamorous lifestyle of a restaurant/nightclub owner wasn’t enough, Shareef has also, on occasion, accepted acting roles. In 1995 he appeared in Just Cause, starring Sean Connery and Kate Capshaw, and in 2001 he was cast in The Blackout, which starred Matthew Modine, Claudia Schiffer and Dennis Hopper. Shareef also won kudos for his portrayal of a hallucinating cokehead in the psychological drama Cafe y Tabaco (Coffee and Tobacco) produced and directed by Miami’s Michael Justiz.

With his daring style and leading-man good looks, Shareef Malnik also demonstrates a distinct adeptness for acquiring high-profile wives. During a four year period while his father was acting as chief financial advisor to Saudi Royal family member Prince Turki Bin-Aziz, son of the king of Saudi Arabia, Shareef married Sheika Hoda Al-Fassi, the daughter of Prince Turki’s brother-in-law, the notoriously flamboyant Sheik Mohammed Al-Fassi.

(Sheik Al-Fassi almost single-handedly supported the South Florida economy during his year-long stay here in the early 80s by purchasing several homes from Miami Beach’s Star Island to Golden Beach and The Landings in Fort Lauderdale, plus numerous cars and boats. At one point, the Sheik ran-up a $1.4 million bill at the Diplomat hotel in Hollywood. Miami, however, withdrew its welcome mat when Sheik Al-Fassi’s checks started bouncing. Sheik Mohammed Al-Fassi, who also gained notoriety for hiring artists to paint pubic hair and flesh-colored genitalia on the classic Italian statutes that surrounded his 38-room Beverly Hills mansion, passed away on December 24, 2002 in Cairo, Egypt.)

After Shareef’s marriage to the Saudi princess a period where he and his father spent much of their time residing in the Saudi Royal Family Palace Shareef returned to Miami and later married his fourth wife, the beautiful fashion designer and former MTV Latin America veejay, Edith Serrano. However, after four years of marriage they were recently divorced.


In the summer of 1991 an early-morning fire did an estimated $7 million in damage to The Forge. When it re-opened in November, Shareef Malnik had assumed ownership of the business replacing his father at the helm and has controlled The Forge’s ever since.

In August of 1992, less than a year after Shareef took control of The Forge, Hurricane Andrew tore through South Florida, leaving in its wake a devastated city without water or electricity. For most businesses this was an inconvenience, but for The Forge it spelled disaster the restaurant’s multi-million dollar wine cellar, which had been maintained at an optimum temperature for decades, was ravaged by Miami’s August temperatures that soared well into the 90s.

Over the next year, sommelier Gino Santangelo kept meticulous records of which vintages were rejected by diners, and it soon became painfully obvious that many of The Forge’s oldest and rarest wines had suffered damage and were failing to live up to the restaurant’s world-famous high standards.

In November, 1993, Shareef Malnik hired renowned British wine expert Clive Coates to evaluate the 300,000-bottle cellar for evidence of degradation. Coates uncorked 50 select bottles, some of which dated from the early Nineteenth Century, and determined that many of The Forge’s most desirable vintages were hopelessly degraded.

When The Forge’s insurance company only offered to pay a mere $450,000 for damage to the cellar, the Malnik’s sued their primary insurer Assicurazioni Generali of Italy and Transamerica Insurance Company for $5 million dollars for the loss of 25,000 bottles of classic Bordeaux and Burgundies. $3 million of the total amount was for the loss of some extremely rare vintages.


When Shareef had first assumed control in 1991, The Forge’s clientele was predominantly Miami’s aging upper-social class. Anticipating the South Beach renaissance of the early 90s, Shareef set a course to dramatically transformed The Forge from a haven for old-money Miami to an exquisitely hip destination for a new breed of social animal pouring into South Beach as it transformed itself into an international hotspot.

By Joseph Brown of South Beach Magazine