This decadent hotel redefined Miami. But few knew what happened inside – until now

Nelson Aguilar (left), a cocaine dealer who was tight with late singer Rick James (right), seen here at The Mutiny in the 1980s. Berkley/Penguin

Roben Farzad, author of a new book about ground zero of Miami’s drug culture, didn’t have much experience with cocaine despite growing up in the city that was rebuilt on blow.

“The most cocaine touched me was as a North Miami Beach honor student,” said Farzad, host of NPR One’s “Full Disclosure” and a correspondent for “PBS NewsHour.” “I was with my cousin, and we were fishing in the mid ’80s. I saw what I thought was a kilo of coke float up. I immediately remembered seeing on the news: ‘If you see news in the making call 7 News.’ So I got a long net and a gaffe. Holy s—! I’ll be famous. I even imagined Mrs. Boone having a parade for me. I imagined getting a guest starring role on ‘Miami Vice.’ I’m not even 10. But I found the coke. So they pull it up, and it was a pillow from a cruise ship. That, and ‘Miami Vice,’ was the extent of my dalliance with cocaine in Miami.”

Still, the subject of Miami’s drug culture looms large in the Iranian-born writer’s life. Farzad is the author of “Hotel Scarface: Where Cocaine Cowboys Partied and Plotted to Control Miami” (Berkley/Penguin; $26), which he’ll talk about at 4:30 p.m. Nov. 19 at Miami Book Fair at Miami Dade College’s Wolfson Campus.

The book relays the history of The Mutiny, once located at Sailboat Bay at 2951 S. Bayshore Drive in Coconut Grove.

Putting the conflicting accounts of what went on inside The Mutiny into a narrative anyone could follow was the writer’s Rubik’s Cube. But the exercise gave Farzad a familiar title for his book, one that references film director Brian DePalma’s bloody, set-in-Miami remake of “Scarface” released in December 1983, a few years before The Mutiny faded.

“So many people were telling you that ‘Scarface’ was based on them and then you realize there’s something to it,” Farzad said.

To guide readers, “Hotel Scarface” features a two-page cast of characters that includes Cuban-born Miami high school dropouts-turned-$2 billion cocaine lords Willie Falcon and Sal Magluta, and Nelson Aguilar, a young cocaine dealer who was tight with “Super Freak” singer and frequent Mutiny guest Rick James and members of the Miami Dolphins.

What Farzad found about that Bayshore Drive building through his research was a setting in which cocaine cowboys and the feds who were chasing them watched each other with a wary eye over steak and lobster and free-flowing Dom Pérignon. The Mutiny drew ’80s celebs like Philip Michael Thomas of “Miami Vice,” whose $30,000 per episode salary was pocket change compared to the dealers at the next table over.

Hard-partying rock acts like the Eagles checked in while recording “The Long Run” album next door at the now defunct Bayshore Recording Studio. “Waitresses gossiped about which member tipped — and bedded — the best,” Farzad writes.

South American drug dealers “who slid into the banquettes and hid guns in their baskets of dinner rolls,” as Esquire magazine reported in a 2014 feature story, conducted business there. So did politicians like Ted Kennedy, rich kids, hit men, narcos, the CIA, snitches, party girls, local TV anchors and Latin America’s nouveau riche. Upstairs there were themed fantasy suites with names like Gypsy Caravan, Hot Fudge, the Bordello and Outer Space, where marathon orgies were Olympian in execution, according to Farzad’s book.

The music of the Bee Gees, Blondie and Donna Summer at the private Mutiny Club, which boasted 11,000 card-carrying members and reputedly sold more Dom Pérignon than any other venue in America at its peak year in 1979, gave Miami its own feverish version of Studio 54. Bumps of coke marinated many a brain here.

The story of the Mutiny also ensnared the attention of two Miami teenagers who were born in 1978, toddlers during The Mutiny’s peak: Rakontur filmmakers Billy Corben and Alfred Spellman, who wrote the forward for “Hotel Scarface.”

The Mutiny

Corben, who will appear with Farzad at the fair, and Spellman were inspired to make their 2006 documentary “Cocaine Cowboys” after reading a Miami New Times cover story on The Mutiny in 1997, Spellman said.

“This hotel was the crossroads, the place where dealers and agents and smugglers and lawyers mixed after hours like the DMZ zone. … ‘Cocaine Cowboys’ came to be our fascination with that era, and Roben’s interest was piqued by that,” said Spellman, Farzad’s school chum at Highland Oaks Middle.

Spellman believes “Hotel Scarface” will become an important historical document as it tracks a key era in the development of the city and remains relevant as the country continues to debate immigration issues that Miami wrestled with in 1980.

“This book is another chapter in Miami history in the same way ‘The Corpse Had a Familiar Face’ or the collection of Carl Hiaasen columns or Joan Didion’s ‘Miami’ book have a place in our city’s history at a critical time,” Spellman said.

Yet few believed in Farzad’s long-gestating book. He was told the story was too provincial. There were too many characters. He was too flip.

“But I’m glad I did it for my sanity and for my city,” he said. “I’m touched all these people let me into their lives. It would have been easier to fictionalize this. Make it a roman à clef kind of thing. But the story was crazier than anything I could fabricate.”

Miami Book Fair runs through Nov. 19 at Miami Dade College, 300 NE Second Ave.;