Back Door Bamby
Brace Yourselves, America,
Miami's Back Door Bamby is Coming Your Way
by John Buchanan
rock-n-roll scenester Mykel Stevens didn't put a lot of thought
into his decision to move to South Beach. After coming here on
vacation in 1995 he asked himself the simple, yet life-altering question
"Why would I live in Philly when I can live in a place like South
Carmel Ophir came to Miami
from New York to
attend Florida International University and along the way, he too discovered the still nascent neighborhood
of South Beach, which was just starting to attract famous photographers,
supermodels and a hip, artsy international crowd. While working his way
through school as a waiter at the Waldorf Towers Hotel on Ocean Drive, Ophir once
made a room-service delivery to room 201 of the hotel. On
the receiving-end of the delivery was supermodel Claudia Schiffer, who was in town
to shoot her ground-breaking GUESS? ad campaign. Ophir knew at that
moment South Beach was the place to be.
Ophir entered the South Beach nightlife arena along different paths, yet
both quickly mastered the delicate art of attracting the hip crowd to first-class
also worked as a barback at the beloved underground club Sempers, underneath the Waldorf Towers Hotel with South Beach
living-legend Louis Canales—the genius behind in the infamous Avenue A
parties. In the early 90s, Ophir landed a job at Greg
and Nicole Bilu-Brier's Groove Jet, working in marketing and DJ-ing, where he stayed until February
Stevens began hosting parties with a friend from Philly named Nicholas Pioli, who had
previously moved to
Miami. Mioli had been a promoter in Philly, throwing a
traveling weekly party called "Vagabond." "I brought all my friends to
these parties," Stevens says. "They were very artsy, mixed,
underground parties. When I got here I looked around and saw that on the Beach, at
the time, good nightlife was lacking, so, I decided to put something
together." While putting his concept together, Mykel worked as a pool bartender at the
newly-opened Delano Hotel Rose Bar.
Soon, Ophir and
Stevens, as fledgling promoters and South Beach party fixtures, would cross paths—from
the long-running "The Church" party at Groove Jet, co-created by
Ophir, with Stevens working the door, to "Propaganda" at Prince's Glam Slam.
the while, Stevens was perfecting his concept for a party designed to bring out the coolest, hippest, most creative and self-expressive
in and week out. The party's name? "Back Door Bamby."
With their local
phenomenon going national with an eight-city tour sponsored by
Heineken and MAXIM Magazine, we recently spoke to Mykel Stevens and
Carmel Ophir at Crobar nightclub in South Beach.
now you're taking
Bamby—the "Bitch," as you like to call her—on the road, for
an eight-city national tour sponsored by Heineken and MAXIM Magazine. How did that happen?
Carmel: A friend of mine who used
to work for Little Louie Vega brokers deals designed to bring different
corporate brands together where there is a mutually benefiting result.
He matches up companies with ideas based on
similar interests. He's very friendly with the Publisher of MAXIM.
They were negotiating an advertising deal with Heineken, which is
outside their normal advertising parameters. So, MAXIM approached us as
a value-added promotional idea for Heineken, and asked us if we'd be
interested in doing a national tour, eight major cities.
When was that?
Carmel: The second half of last year. I went to NY and sat in a
conference room with reps from Heineken and Maxim and we put the
basic concept together. Then we started on
the real work, the details.
What was the concept
that sold them?
DJs, great party, great venues. Bamby, the naughtiest girl in Miami, is
taking her dysfunctional family on the road. Be a part of it. The DJs
are Little Louie Vega, Josh Wink, Erick Morillo, Dave Morales. Heineken
picked the cities, for branding in key markets.
Nightclub, Miami Beach
What are the eight
Carmel: Miami, New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, DC, San
Francisco, Los Angeles, Detroit. We've already done Miami
and New York. Next, in July, are San Francisco and Los Angeles. Then in
the fall, we do the remaining cities.
What other cities were
Carmel: I was pushing for Las Vegas, Philadelphia and
Cleveland. Texas, too. But
they had only budgeted for eight cities and they wanted their most
What is the basic idea
of the tour?
decided to take Bamby on the "Adventure to Stardom
Tour" —on behalf of Heineken. Green bottle, red star...she's
going to be a star! There's white in the label, so we use a lot of the
color elements in the décor and installation process...White fabric
treatments and balloons, huge red Stars, etc.. We also had our
artist Attila draw a Bamby Girl, dressed as a Dutch Heineken Girl. It
becomes a branding exercise for Heineken in the venues.
From the first meeting
in New York until you put on the event, how much time passed?
Mykel: Five months.
What took so long?
wanted to wait and launch it at Winter Music Conference, which wasn't
until this March ? which was also our seventh anniversary. So, it was
a great catapult for the tour. Then, we did the New York event, May 15,
at a club called Discotheque. It was a fantastic night ? South
Beach does the Big Apple.
How many people?
Well it's a small venue.
We did about 900 for the night in a room that averages 400 to 500 a
week. People were in and out, all night.
What dates are next?
Carmel: In July, we're doing San Francisco, on July 11 at Ruby
Sky. Then, on July 24, we're doing L.A.. at I-Bar. In San
Francisco, the DJ is Josh Wink. In L.A., the DJ is David Morales.
Give us a rundown of a
Mykel: It's a standard show, but we try to localize it to
each city and each venue. Like, in L.A. we're doing the whole red
carpet, movie star thing. But the core of the night is good rockin'
house music. Then we have these "interruptuses." One is a tribute to
30s-40s-swing...the Lindy... that whole thing. One is a tribute to the
drag/androgyny scene back to David Bowie, and the third is a tribute to
Who are the stars of the
Mykel: From Miami, the drag artist and opera singer Adora. From
New York, the drag legend, former South Beach pioneer, Kitty Meow. We
have other performers and dancers, too.
How big is your staff
Mykel: About eighteen people... dancers, performance artists,
production people, the visual arts crew, the DJs, myself and Carmel, and
a manager...in a real suit,
Let's talk about the early days—how did you guys
Carmel: Crossing Lincoln Road. I admired his (Mykel's) fashion style.
Somehow, some way, we just connected and starting vibing on each other.
Did you know who he
Carmel: No, I didn't, I just dug his style, man...(laughing)...he was wearing polyester pants and this slick Mod jacket and Jamiroqui
hat, big sunglasses. I was doing my 70s thing—bellbottoms, suede
jacket, scarf. So, we took notice of each other, then later, another
South Beach pioneer, Gilbert Stafford, gave us our official
What was your first
impression of Mykel when you saw him?
Carmel: ...(laughing)...Cool motherfucker—thank God we have something like this
what was your first
impression of Carmel?
Same thing, we just locked-in right away.
Carmel: I think
also what was happening around that 95-96 era was that you had the
transition going into Liquid, which was the mega-club,
superstar-celebrity driven, VIP everything. That was a major step at
that time. What also started happening was the polarization of the
crowds—hip-hop party, straight party, VIP party, gay party—there
wasn't anything criss-crossing any more. So, Mykel had a vision and a
desire to develop this small, intimate party that just ended up being
How much time passed
between meeting and getting together as partners?
Mykel: About a year after I started it [Back Door Bamby] at Lua, over on Espanola
Carmel: I was getting ready to leave my gig at Groove Jet. We
were kind of just hanging out, and I guess boredom just took over the
Mykel: ...so we went for a beer at Blue and...
Carmel: ...then we thought, "yeah this would be a really cool
place to do Bamby," ...back to basics...on a Monday... cool friends...
driven by money, just get the locals out. So, in 1999, we moved the party to Blue. Then, in January 2000,
we moved to Crobar.
What was it that made
you want to have a partner, Carmel, rather than doing your own thing
Carmel: At the
time, I was still doing The Church, which was, on its own, a long-running
thematic night that had its own niche crowd. So, with Mykel, I shared
the notion of doing something long-term and right—so, we got
together. A good reason to have a partner is that when you do a
project solo, it gets difficult and overbearing, because let's say you
get sick one day or have to go out of town unexpectedly—nobody's
there to help you.
what about Carmel
most appealed to you?
Mykel: He's very creative, very professional, and he knows
how to have a good time.
That's a pretty
unusual combination on the South Beach party scene, isn't it?
Mykel: Yeah, definitely.
Carmel: There's also too many of what I call ?hit and
runs,? people doing something for the sake of doing it and, boom, they're out. People who are fly-by-night, if you
will. Our intention was to do something long-term—we had no
idea it would go as far as it's gone.
did the name "Back Door Bamby" come from?
Mykel: My friend Nicholas Pioli, the person I came to visit
after he moved down here.
In a sentence, what was
the original idea for Bamby?
Mykel: Creating something that was fun. For me personally, going out was lacking on the Beach. What I
wanted to do was bring all kinds of people together, at the same
all the models and the hip scene that was already here by 1996, what made you think the Beach
needed a more over the top party?
Mykel: It was just about bringing different kinds of people
together. I'd go to different events, like a night at Groove Jet or a
gay party, and each one would have a different vibe. So, I wanted to do
something that was industry-oriented and brought together all those
different kinds of vibes.
Carmel: An important
factor also, on a personal level for me, is that back then, the events,
the parties, everything there was to do socially, was driven on a
nightly level. It was one event a night that the community really went
to, together. It didn't really matter what your affiliation was, or
what you liked. Having grown up in New York and being reared on the
birth of house music... and witnessing the end of the "Studio
54 era", when the hype went underground and was driven by the music
and the gay scene...but you always had the hip street crowd and the
place where girls could go and feel safe...and the mix of people drove
that energy. Theatrics were a big part of it, too.
In terms of the climate
you came into on South Beach and the opportunity you saw, what was your
first impression when you got here?
Carmel: Freedom... total freedom
Carmel: From the expectations of what you are supposed to be doing at a
certain age. After you go to college, you go into corporate America. You
climb the ladder. What I found here in South Beach was the ability to do
that, but on your
own terms. There was a freedom
here in the late '80s, early '90s, that you can either invent
yourself...or... re-invent yourself...
Mykel: ...or destroy yourself...(laughing)
Carmel: ...yeah, or expose yourself...without any of the nonsense you have to put up with in New York or
other big cities. This was the diamond in the rough. You wrote your own rules, you set
your own trends. And if you brought the element of cool,
people respected and followed that. There was a lot more appreciation of
the arts, and being an individual, in those days.
The stuff that's prevalent today is "clonitis." Where the
black sheep used to be the most accepted, as something different, now
it's not accepted at all. That's bad for a creative, hip scene.
It's a shame.
Mykel: An alternative scene is important in anything—alternative lifestyle, music, arts—whatever it might be.
Mykel, what was your
first impression of South Beach when you got here?
Mykel: Oh, my God—I was coming
from Philly, so I was taken by the beauty of the beach and the
outdoors, the Ocean. I grew up an hour from the Jersey shore,
so that's what made me want to make South Beach my home.
Borealis, Rudolph & Cyclona
What have been the major
influences on your creative sense of clubbing?
Carmel: Rudolph Piper, who now owns Nerve here on the Beach,
had a place in New York called Danceteria. I went there when I was 16
years old. That was the first club I snuck into. In retrospect, I can
say that club was the foundation for what I'm doing today in terms of
the feeling—rockers, models, rastas, heroin chic'ers, Goths,
drags, suits... all together. There was an element of theatre when you
walked in, and that's something we hold near and dear now—what
happens when the lights go down and it's showtime.
What have been your
other influences in that sense?
Carmel: My brother Doron and I had an event called Groove Girl
Thursdays at Groove Jet, in which we created a character called Gigi—and we developed a story line around her. At about the same time,
separately, Mykel was developing the concept for Back Door Bamby, which
was also based on a character. Then, two years later, we ended up merging
into a single party that became this whole big thing.
DJs Shannon and Gigi
How long was the party
Mykel: About eight months.
many people were at your
very first Bamby party opening night in the spring of 1996?
Mykel: Small but super-cool... about a hundred.
That's an excellent
crowd for Lua. So you were a success from the first night?
Mykel: Yes. It built from there, week in, week out, until we
got to the point where we'd get several hundred people and have to
turn some away at the door because of the fire code capacity.
What caused you to move
it to Crobar?
Carmel: Believe it or not, I was a bit skeptical about moving
it, because we were so driven by the thought, 'man, this is it, it's
intimate, it's cool.?
Mykel: But I was of the opinion that a moment of growth was
needed to really make it worth the while for the time and energy we had
to put into it every week. The other big reason was so we could have a
larger space to work with, that would allow more production.
What kinds of moments
have made Back Door Bamby special over the last several years?
Carmel: Superstar DJ's like Sasha or Dave Ralph, who will
just pop in, unannounced, and do a set. Then they just hang out. The
most satisfying thing, really, is to see some other club owners and
promoters feel the pinch from such an incredibly small place as Blue
driving so much energy and passion. They couldn't figure out why they
couldn't do it in their places.
How did you cut the deal
with Crobar? Did you approach them or did they approach you?
Carmel: Crobar is very, very politically correct, you might
say. So, they didn't blatantly ask. They were the new kids on the
block, literally, and they would never have done that. But the owners
and managing partner were all three hanging out with us every Monday
night. It was their little escape, because they loved the party. So, it
was only a matter of time until something happened.
So you moved to Crobar
on Monday, January 31, 2000?
And how did it go?
Remember, we host the party in the
upstairs room at Crobar... We were packed. We did about nine hundred
Three times the maximum
capacity of Blue?
Carmel: More than three times, yes.
And that translates to
dollars in your pockets?
Mykel: Yeah, pretty much—but we do have much higher costs,
Carmel: It also translates to the
word and the chatter on the street.
How did you grow the
concept when you moved to Crobar and what were the first things you did
to increase the production values?
Carmel: Prior to Blue, when the party was at Lua, then Groove
Jet, KGB and Liquid, it had its foundation and flexibility built in. We
just adapted to a bigger space.
Mykel: We started using more nationally known DJs and
performers. The first
was Joey Arias and Sherry Vine, from New York.
Carmel: Then, very quickly, March 2000 came along and it was
our fourth anniversary and we had to fill the whole club, which is huge.
It was the first time we did the main room. So, we brought in Little
Louie Vega, who is also a friend and who had done the two-year
anniversary in 1998 at Groove Jet. It was a phenomenal night. That was
the real marriage to Crobar, I'd say. That's when the relationship
came to be with Kenney and Cal, the owners of Crobar, and us. A shared
If you have the vision,
what kind of obstacles do you have to get over to increase the size of
the venue and the increased costs of doing the party?
Carmel: Legitimizing the way the business is operated, from top
to bottom ? staffing, payroll, taxes, you name it. Make it a real
business. The Bamby party is just the umbrella of a properly-run,
legitimate business that is very solid and very well run. Everything is
accounted for, down to the penny. Quite frankly, who else does that
Mykel: And quite frankly, it's the stuff
we hate the most.
Carmel: But you have
to be good at that part of it, too—or you won't be around to
demonstrate your creativity. Efficiency is every bit as important, and
it's the efficiency that is what really pays off.
In terms of your
long-running success, what is the most important
lesson that you've
Carmel: We sort of go against the grain of the business, which
says make money, pay yourself first, then worry about everything else.
That's not what we do. We put production and the party first...blow
them away...make sure the people have a great time...blow their minds.
Think Kiss at Madison Square Garden, but in a tiny little room. The
people know that no matter what, they're getting something for their
money. At the end of the day, it's not about the guy on the guest list
or the VIPs who want to be treated like gold. It's about the person
who actually pays the ten or twenty dollars to get in and then pays for
his drinks. That's the guy who should be respected the most. That pays
the club, the rent, the DJs, the staff—everything. In general,
though, that doesn't get taken into account ? at all. So, we always
go the extra step, for the paying customer who just wants to have a
good time and get true entertainment value for his money. So, our
biggest obstacle is how to avoid being second-rate at anything we do,
but also maximizing the financial return from what we do.
What's the biggest
crowd you've had so far?
Mykel: Close to two thousand people.
What really catapulted
you to large-scale events and big crowds like that?
Carmel: In July of 2000, we did a big fashion event with
designer Patricia Field for the launch of her magazine. We produced the
entire event, for Patricia's partner, Mary Crispin. She's Israeli
and I am, too. We created the whole party together in 24 hours.
What was the other most
important factor in your success?
Carmel: Major DJs like Little Louie Vega, Danny Tenaglia, Erik
Morillo and the whole Subliminal camp, Dmitri from D-Lite. DJs from
Paris. Now we have a sound that is affiliated with Bamby. It's house
music with a rock and roll attitude. The flow of the music over the
course of the night is very important, and we mix in some rock and roll
and other stuff with the comedy and the drag shows. We even go disco and
play hair bands. Now, a lot of clubs are doing it.
How do the DJs feel
Mykel: They love it, because it's all about the music. Sasha
told us it reminds him of his early days at the Hacienda in Manchester,
England because Bamby is all about the music and a great
What are some other neat
things you've done lately?
Carmel: We brought in a comedian from Philadelphia to work what we call
one of the "Interruptuses," when the music goes down and
there's entertainment. The drag show is one Interruptus. There are
three Interruptuses a night where the lights go down, and it's
?Ladies and gentlemen, direct from Philadelphia—Rocco!? He did stand-up
comedy for three minutes. He was hilarious. He killed 'em.
Nobody would expect that at Crobar—or anywhere else on South Beach
Mykel: (laughing)...Good stuff.
Let's talk about
Bamby, the character. Who is she?
Carmel: She's our alter ego.
DJ Erick Morillo & Mykel
Some people seem to
think the name Back Door Bamby is a veiled reference to anal sex, is it?
Man, it's anything your
imagination allows it be...(laughing)...And, there's also a
back-door entrance to the party, but that's just a coincidence... (laughing)......
It's like the old blues song, "Back Door Man", A story of a
man who has an affair with a married woman,
so when the husband came home, he'd sneak out the back door...
At least that's one way to look at it....(laughing)...
So, what you're
actually saying is that Bamby, your alter ego, is a transvestite.
Mykel: Exactly. ...(laughing)...
How did transvestitism
become all the rage for the middle-class?
Carmel: We did a wedding for Bamby. It was huge, fantastic. The
bride was in drag. It was like a game show. It turned out the groom was
in drag, too? it was a woman...her tits falling out. Perrier Jouet
executives were there. They sponsored part of the event. Afterward they
said, "you guys have to come to Paris." ...(laughing)...
Mykel: It's been a matter of people seeking us out instead of
us seeking them out because Bamby is so unique. Movie studios call us to
do movie release parties, and artists, celebrities and media people call
us up because friends told them we're the cool party in Miami when
you're in town.
What's next for Bamby?
Carmel: We have plans to do more events, more nights. We want to have a presence in
New York and L.A. We'll also be bringing her to New York once a week,
every Monday night, just like in Miami, when Crobar opens in New York
this fall. We're also going to get into merchandising—T-shirts,
other fashion things, other types of products. All cool stuff. But our ultimate
goal is an animated TV
series, like Beavis & Butthead or South Park—provocative stuff.
We have the new character that
could become a pop culture icon. We have 20 episodes already written. We
want to become an entertainment-media company. We're also planning a
major comedy event, beginning here in Miami.
Let's talk about
that. People who think about becoming a promoter on SB think it's easy
and that you make a lot of money and get laid a lot. What are the nuts and bolts that
made you successful?
Mykel: Having drive...that's the bottom line.
It's that simple?
Carmel: Sustained drive. It's that simple. And there's
another factor—people who don't take the business of fun seriously
end up just going toward the fun and fading very, very quickly.
Getting caught up in free liquor and all the other perks and goodies
that come with it—if you're driven by that,
it's a formula for disaster.
But, if you're driven by, which we are, the creative outlet, the
luxury, the privilege and the opportunity of having fun in this entertainment genre—the money and all
the perks, the girls, the limelight, the interviews, the photo sessions,
the TV—that comes second. It's still important, but that can't be
Of all the people
you've seen come here and try to become promoters, what percentage
would you say failed because they fell into the group set for disaster?
Carmel: Most... I really couldn't assign a percentage, but the kinds
of people who've been here for as long as we have and do it as well as
we do, you can count on one hand.
From whom did you learn
the ropes for success?
Carmel: The early guys, the true pioneers—Gary James, Michael Capponi, Tara Solomon, who wrote the ?Queen of the Night? nightlife
column in the Miami Herald during the glory years of South Beach. They were all brilliant
at what they did.
But it's never easy,
Mykel: I'd love to say it's always been a bowl of cherries, but that's not the
case. It's hard work.
That explains your
popularity among the drag set. That
brings us to polarization on the Beach and how the scene has changed?
Carmel: In that
sense, Bamby is a tribute to the old beach, in the sense that all
crowds, all types, all affiliations, are welcome...that's what makes
the party the party.
But no one group can
claim ownership. Isn't that also important?
Mykel: Absolutely. That's the whole idea. Even the
celebrities who come in here realize it's different and they can cut
loose and act normal. Carmen Electra and Christina Aguilera have been up
right there, dancing their asses off. (...points to the upper-deck VIP area of Crobar...)
What do mean by
polarization of the scene and what do you mean by it?
Mykel: It started happening in the mid-90s, with the whole
celebrity-VIP-guest thing. The VIP cliché was unfortunately
misunderstood. The guy who drives up in a very hot car, with a hot girl
on his side—he's got money. But there's no reason he should be
whisked in and treated specially, except you know that he's going to
spend money. But the guy who's walking in with a woman in a boa, a
fierce outfit, fashionistas who
spent a lot of time getting ready to go out and be cool—whisk them in. They're the ones who
deserve the special attention. They're the ones who make the party
Was that a mistake South
Beach made or is it inevitable anywhere?
Mykel: It's inevitable—it happens everywhere.
Carmel: The other aspect of polarization is that you used to
have a scene, a community of people. Now you have hip-hop night at
Crobar, VIP at Opium, and a gay party over there. You're not going to
a party any more, you're stepping into a genre event. It's even
worse than that. If you want to get into Mynt or The Shore Club, you
have to dress a certain way. If you walk into Bamby, you can be in jeans...a cut-off T-shirt...in full rubber...in drag... you can be whatever you want to
be and it's totally cool. Even if you're an out-of-town doctor in an
What's happening with
the scene now? What do you predict for this coming season?
Mykel: I think it's going to become more of a hip-hop scene.
Do you agree, Carmel?
Carmel: In the big venues, yes. And I think to the city as a
whole, it's financially beneficial.
What else do you think
Carmel: I believe that in greater Miami, as a whole, people
will seek alternative areas to explore and entertain themselves. I think
there's a major stagnation in club culture, now.
Here, or everywhere?
Carmel: In the United States.
What has been the price
of polarization on South Beach?
Carmel: South Beach is not getting the hip New Yorkers any
more. We're not getting the artists or the fashionistas, especially after
the demise of the local modeling scene. We lost the bohemian factor and
the international fashion crowd. Then celebrities replaced that, but now
they're gone, too. It's always changing. That's okay. What I
don't like, though, is that you can't be yourself and be mischievous
and rambunctious like you used to. Quite frankly, that's why I think
the downtown Miami Design District scene is gaining such popularity.
It's more laid back.
Do you think it's a
threat to the Beach?
Mykel: I don't think it's so much of a threat as a change.
I mean you don't see the cool, hip, creative locals hanging out on the
Beach any more. They're downtown, at places like SoHo Lounge. Now, on
the Beach, you're seeing Middle America.
What are your favorite
Carmel: I don't really have a favorite place, but my favorite
party is called Revolver. It's at SoHo Lounge. There's also a cute
little place called IO... avant garde parties...not so polished a
scene...more of a pioneering spirit.
Any other parties in the
Carmel: Yes, we're working on a new one called Cherry Bomb.
We don't officially have a venue yet, but we're working on it. It
will be at a major club.
What's the concept?
Carmel: Dice, cherries, flames—a whole rockabilly kind of
vibe. Very sexy. Rock-n-roll, danceable, 1980s, Sunset Strip, Los
Angeles, sleaze, leopard skin. A relative spin-off of Bamby, still that
After all of this
success, what would you say has been your secret?
Carmel: We're like a family. All of the people who work for
us—we all stay together in the same hotel. There's no hierarchy
or ?A? list. We do it together. And Mykel and I, as the owners of
the property are no better and no more important than they are. We're
like a family...we put this show on together.
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