In South Beach, where most clubs struggle to keep the attention of the in crowd for one season, it’s hard to imagine a weekday theme party surviving for more than a few weeks. But, at the Forge, the mix of elegant dining, black-tie service, fine wines, good music and changing themes has kept people coming Wednesday nights for the past 11 years.
The Miami Beach restaurant-slash-nightclub originally was opened by Al Malnik in 1969, but in 1991, his son Shareef took over, hoping to make the place a haven for hipsters and celebrities. A couple of years later, the Wednesday night theme party was born.
“I needed to do something to re-invent the place and something to make the change stick,” he said, toasting the party’s longevity last month at the anniversary party sponsored by Ocean Drive magazine. “I decided to throw [the party] on an off night.”
Malnik gets together with a team of people at the Forge each week to come up with themes for the Wednesday parties. Since the theme changes every week, they try to plan anywhere from a week to a month in advance. Memorable nights have included the time the dining area became center stage for a Jungle Party with tigers, pythons and an ape on display; a Salute to the Troops night honoring the armed services; a winter wonderland with artificial snow decorating the floors, white satin curtains and people dressed in white; and a beach party with sand, palm trees and 65 Miami Beach life guards dressed for a day at work.
Since this week’s party fell during the holidays, the club planned a simple New Year’s Eve theme. Next Wednesday will celebrate a birthday and the following week, Malnik is planning a pajama party in which beds will be brought into the restaurant and patrons will come wearing nighties. To compete with the raciness of other South Beach nightclubs, Malnik said he has been known to push the limits.
We put a runway down the center of the restaurant to host a La Perla fashion show and had models walking around in beautiful lingerie,” he said.
Malnik recalled one night in the mid-‘90s, two or three years into the Wednesday parties, when he saw cars lining 41st Street and celebrity guests in his place as the moment he knew his reinvention of the Forge could hold its own.
“I looked around and all on the same Wednesday night, Madonna, Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman and Wayne Gretzky were all inside having dinner throughout the party. It was so bizarre.”
The recent anniversary celebration was no exception as Derek Jeter casually dined at a corner table with a group of friends. Other big names seen in recent weeks include Sen. Hillary Clinton and boxer Lennox Lewis.
But don’t think you need to be on the A-list to attend this party. Promoter Antonio Misuraca, who also does parties for B.E.D. and Prive, said the Forge is a place for everyone and it’s his job to make it that way.
“I cater to everyone and treat them with respect,” he said.
Malnik echoed his comments. “We have décor, lighting, sounds and theme productions, but what really makes it come alive is the people.”