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.