I recently had the opportunity to spend some time with Amir Ben Zion – owner and opera- tor of some of Miami’s most illustrious haunts. When I arrived at Bardot, his lounge-y nightclub in Wynwood to find that he wasn’t there, I set out to look for him and lucky for me he was only a few footsteps away at Gigi- his equally trendy, urban eatery. After introducing myself and apologizing with my eyes for interrupting the end of his dinner, he told me he would meet me in 10 minutes. True to his word he was at Bardot 10 minutes later ordering a second round of tequila – except this time he made sure they brought us the kind you sip rather than shoot. Ben Zion has a way of knowing exactly what his public wants; whether it’s creating ambiance with music, hitting the spot with comfort food or in my case ordering a drink. By the time he escorted me out later that evening, I was less interested in learning about the art he hangs on the walls (the original intent of the article) and more interested in the magic he is able to create inside them.
Looking back I see it would have been impossible to isolate one element-like his art collecting and focus on it as a singular device of his success. Inside his club Bardot- which feels more like a large, cozy living room than a small nightclub- the art is practically spilling out of the corners, comingling with other elements while serving a distinct purpose: to form an emotional connection with the guests. It was no surprise the next night when I found out that the large bookcase at the center of his nightclub contains actual family heirlooms like large stem silver glassware and other objects. It all looks so incredibly chic – a confirmation of his taste, but also a statement about what he chooses to share with his public.
If Bardot is Ben Zion’s baby, small and intimate, then Cooper Avenue – the 7,600 sq. ft restaurant, bar, bakery, diner and market he plans on opening on Miami Beach is by contrast a large, electric machine ready to serve the masses. His most ambitious play to date and possibly the most ambitious play Miami Beach has seen in a long time; this place plans to be a huge food operation with original music, a seafood and sushi counter, large bar, coffee shop, market and more. The core of the menu will be comfort food— “modern and American” and the vibe will be a “rough and tumble, democratic, multisensory openness.” When asked what type of art he plans on choosing for Cooper Avenue, he pauses. Imagine 1500 people crossing the busy streets of Tokyo when the light turns red. For Ben-Zion, this is what conjures up the idea of the masses. In this vein, the con- cept of industrialism and post war nuclear mass culture will be the inspiration. He goes on to tell me that at the heart of it, he’s a “voyeur of social movement”. Looking back on his track record, it’s easy to see.
From the sound of it, the food, music, art and ambiance will interplay at Cooper Avenue Miami Beach (a Cooper Avenue Downtown Miami is planned as well) helping us form that distinctive bond with the owner once again. Based on what he has brought us in the last decade, Cooper Avenue is sure to be an “interactive, cutting edge, addictive experience” — much like the man himself.