by Mengly Taing
Brian Antoni arrived in South Beach, Fla., by mistake. A canceled flight from New York to the Bahamas 20 years ago left the now 48-year-old writer stranded in a transitioning seaside oasis where old Jewish couples and young gay men danced next to the setting sun and Madonna called Sylvester Stallone her neighbor. As he says, “South Beach used to be a place where people went because they had no choice. Now, it’s a place the whole world turns to.” Antoni invited WWD into his eclectic West Village apartment to discuss his new book, “South Beach,” out now from Black Cat.
WWD: How has South Beach changed in the last 20 years?
Brian Antoni: It’s the difference between Kenny Scharf performing on Lincoln Road for 20 people and Art Basel, where the whole town becomes a Costco for billionaires. What used to be Carlos Alves throwing pottery on Lincoln Road is now Pottery Barn.
WWD: In the back of the book, you list 11 pages worth of names to whom this book is dedicated.
B.A.: These are the people who made South Beach. They are South Beach. I wanted to get them down before they are forgotten.
WWD: You include people like Cher, Martha Stewart and Jennifer Lopez. Were any of your characters inspired by them?
B.A.: All the characters are inspired by real people. The italian designer who falls in love with the Cuban rafter and launches Rafter Style is inspired by [Gianni] Versace. The Holocaust survivor, Miss Levy, is inspired by Iris Apfel. And the fictitious gossip columns [interspersed throughout the story] mix actual bold-doings i witnessed with ones I made up.
WWD: Does any remnant of the old South Beach still exist?
B.A.: Mac’s Club Deuce is a dive bar that attracts everyone from celebrities to yuppies to neighborhood characters. I would go to Puerta Sagua, a Cuban restaurant that has been there since the beginning, and order some “ropa vieja” and a “dulce de leche.” I would go skinny-dipping in the ocean at three in the morning and swim out and look at the incredible line of Deco buildings.
WWD: Talk about unusual objects and people. Looking at your apartment, when did you start developing such eccentric taste?
B.A.: I grew up in the Bahamas without any real exposure to art. We didn’t have a TV either. maybe growing up in nature affects you. Collecting things on the beach makes you a collector by going out and looking for shells every day and looking for objects on the beach. What I do now is just a continuation of that.