He's enamored with the Mutiny Hotel's storied past
10 questions in 10 minutes
I was pleased to meet up with Roben Farzad, on Twitter of all places. Roben hosts the weekly program called Full Disclosure on NPR One and is a special correspondent on PBS NewsHour. He was a senior writer for Bloomberg Businessweek, where he covered Wall Street, international finance, Latin America, and Miami. Farzad is a graduate of Princeton University and the Harvard Business School.
Roben has a book coming out in October, which chronicles the notorious years of The Mutiny Hotel, right here in Coconut Grove. It's called "Hotel Scarface" and you can pre-order it at Amazon here, but until the book is out, let's ask Roben the 10 With Tom questions about The Mutiny, the book and his life.
Roben, you seem quite young to know much about the Mutiny Hotel's "Scarface" history. What interested you about those notorious days?
ROBEN: While I was born in Iran, Miami is where I spent my childhood. I DARED to stay off drugs -- though I watched Miami Vice every Friday night -- and left Miami for college in 1994. This story found me just before I packed my bags...and I could never quite put it down. Leads led to more leads; the address occupied my dreams; retired dopers summoned me. A book somehow happened.
TOM: Can you briefly tell us what The Mutiny was about in the 1970s. What made it so notorious?
ROBEN: It was where the Cold War met Reefer Madness met the Swinging Seventies met the Cocaine Wars. It was Miami's Studio 54, Rick's Café Américain and a Disco DMZ rolled into one tidy address overlooking the bay.
TOM: I'm sure you have toured every part of the hotel recently, what is your favorite part? Anything historical still there that intrigues you?
ROBEN: Aside from maybe the shape of the pool, the current Mutiny has very little in common with the original address, which was abandoned by the late '80s, pulverized by Hurricane Andrew and then completely gutted by new owners. The theme rooms are gone. So is the Club. A hostess who attended a recent staff reunion did swear that the lobby still smells the same.
TOM: Are you a Grovite?
ROBEN: I feel like I am now.
TOM: How many times have you seen the Scarface movie?
ROBEN: Three or four times. Few appreciate how little was ultimately shot in Miami. The exile community did not exactly roll out the red carpet for the producers; the Mariel crisis, race riots and murderous 1981 / "Paradise Lost" were fresh, deep wounds for the 305.
TOM: What about Cocaine Cowboys, have you seen that? How does that compare to Scarface?
ROBEN: Loved that doc, especially the "Reloaded" cut. Billy and Alfred are creative arbitrageurs: they pounced on the fact that there was so much left unresolved from Miami's infamous cocaine heyday. And they did it on a limited budget and an early appreciation for viral promotion: burner copies were circulating in flea markets and 'Cowboys' was all over file-sharing. I'm stoked for CCIII, which looks at the speedboating Muchachos who used to lord over the Mutiny Club and so many rooms upstairs.
What are two things you would do if you woke up and you were in 1977 in bed, in a Mutiny hotel room?
ROBEN: First, I'd call my broker and have him put ten grand in shares of Coca-Cola. I'd then summon room service to fill up my hot tub with Vitabath. After priming my appetite with a grade-A joint and decking myself out in a Brioni suit and chest-hair gel, I'd head downstairs to try Chef Manny's renowned Lobster Thermidor; shoot the shit with Liza Minnelli and Ralph Renick (always at the bar) -- and get to know one Ricardo "Monkey" Morales, the doper-spook-hitman-informant-romantic who kept his semi-automatic in a breadbasket at Table 14. Ricky is this book's spirit animal.
TOM: The last book you read?
ROBEN: Black Edge, the bestseller by Sheelah Kolhatkar, who I worked with at Businessweek. It's a page-turner
TOM: Which tv show/movie would you crawl into and spend the day if you could: Good Fellas, Traffic, Breaking Bad or Weeds?
ROBEN: Breaking Bad. I called that hit after the very first episode. I read somewhere that it was pitched to AMC as "Mr. Chips Meets Scarface." Scarface star and Mutiny regular Steven (Rocky Echevarría) Bauer had one of my favorite roles in the series. Actually, come to think of it: I'd rather crawl into bed and binge-watch ¿Qué Pasa, USA?
TOM: Who is the most famous person you have met?
ROBEN: No one compared to Carl Hiaasen, my hero...who I'm dying to meet. Carl, come on my radio show. Read my book. Lemme treat Pollo Tropical.
Photos courtesy John R. Lawrence
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