The Night Kings: The Men Behind South Beach’s Hottest Nightclubs

Mark Lehmkuhl ||| Snatch and Suite
“New Kid on the Block”

HL What brought you to Miami?
ML I first came to Miami in 1994, right after college. Two years before that, I came here for spring break. When I was in Miami for spring break, I would walk down Washington Avenue and see all the excitement in Miami. I told myself that when I left college I would move there, so the day I was done with school, I [did].

HL What made you get into the nightlife industry, and how has it evolved or changed since then?
ML I grew up in the nightlife industry, as my father had hotels and clubs. When I was younger, he would drop me off and I would hang out in the DJ booth. So I have always loved this industry and lifestyle. In my opinion, Miami has gone from a “boutique” city to more of a corporate/commercial city. I also feel the same trend has gone through in the nightlife.

HL Who was your first mentor and how did he or she influence you?
ML First reason why I got in this business was someone like Ian Schrager. He took the best part of nightlife and transformed it into a lifestyle. He created something different, which is why he became so popular. For a mentor on Miami Beach, I would have to say Chris Paciello. He brought the glam to South Beach. He brought it to a completely different level. He had Madonna, Jennifer Lopez, and more. He put South Beach on the map.

HL How do you feel your club has contributed to the real estate boom and what effect do you think the nightlife scene here has had on growth in the market?
ML South Beach was built upon the fashion industry and nightlife of the world. Before we had that, all we basically had was rundown hotels; a crime-infested area with no value to the city of Miami Beach. When the fashion people came to Miami, the nightlife soon followed. That is basically what built the Beach. It is about the nightlife, hotels, restaurants, etc., that brought the excitement. The core of that is the nightclubs.

HL Do you think people are willing to pay more for luxury real estate to be in the midst of the action?
ML I don’t think there is anywhere in the world like South Beach. We have a vibrant international city, we are surrounded by a beach, and we have world-class nightlife, hotels, and restaurants all on a 25-block little island. The people buying here are the affluent of the world – athletes, rappers, trust fund babies, etc. South Americans can’t put money in their banks, so they have been buying Miami real estate. That is another point that has fueled our real estate boom.

HL What was your most memorable real estate deal?
ML Getting the commercial space for Suite/Snatch.

HL Where do you live?
ML On South Beach, at The Portofino.

HL What is your proudest achievement?
ML The balance of family, friends, and the business I am in. This business can take a lot out of you, as it is really a 24/7 business. Doing Suite was huge, as this is my first project. This is one of the proudest moments of my life, to stand at my club on Saturday night and watch people enjoying themselves so much and escaping to a fantasy world, on something that I built.

HL What’s your favorite condo development?
ML Interior, Philippe Starck’s Icon. Exterior: Portofino, one of my favorite buildings on the beach.

HL What’s your favorite residential neighborhood?
ML Venetian Islands.

HL What’s your real estate forecast for the next two to three years?
ML I don’t agree with anyone, as they have been saying the market is going to crash for the past seven years. The average price for a luxury condo on the Beach is between $1,000-1,500 a square foot. That is substantially cheaper than New York, Paris, and the great cities of the world. We are very well priced. But Biscayne/Brickell is overdeveloped; there are way too many condos on the market.

HL What about your forecast for the nightlife scene over the next two to three years?
ML More big players are going to come to Miami. South Beach has been very hard [to enter into] for an outsider – the same players have been involved on the Beach for the past ten years, but I sense a change where big money is going to invest and come into Miami. You will have Tao, Cipriani, Cirque du Soleil and more. That is the best thing that has happened to Miami in the past 20 years.

HL Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
ML I want to expand to other cities. I see us opening Snatch and Suite in Markets from Las Vegas to South America. I hope to take our brand to the same level as Ian Schrager.