Until just a few months ago, the space at 1235 Washington Ave. was known as Mansion. In its heyday, it was one of South Beach’s hottest party halls, where barely clothed women swung from the ceiling till the wee hours of the morning. Before that, in the early ’70s, it was the Cinema Theatre. Between those two iterations, the joint has covered a wide spectrum of entertainment and nightlife.
But later this month, the Washington Avenue institution — which has previously been owned by Al Capone and Prince — will once again bear a new moniker: Icon Miami.
“That building itself, to me, is one of the most beautiful theaters in Miami Beach,” says nightlife veteran Emi Guerra, who, along with fellow Miami nightlife staple Louis Puig, is a partner at Icon Miami. Both men have been involved with many nightlife venues over the years, including Miami’s late-night juggernaut Space. “The building alone lends itself to being used in [a variety of ways]. Not only nightlife entertainment but also [for] different types of shows, whether it be concerts, performances, or theater. We’ve been referring to it as the next-generation nightlife complex.”
Designed by Miami’s Thirlwall Building Design, the 30,000-square-foot art-deco-inspired Icon will feature “updates in technology” and “a couple of big moves,” which Guerra says are still in the works.
Sure, the Magic City was shocked when the news broke that Mansion would shut its doors for good in August. But Guerra saw it as the opportunity of a lifetime.
“It’s been on my nightlife bucket list,” he laughs. “For me personally, it was the next step in my nightlife career, to be able to utilize such an awesome venue and, at the same time, hope to provide entertainment that’s not just centered around the DJ.
“Don’t get me wrong,” he clarifies. “We’ve been booking DJs for years, and they’re incredible, and we will continue to book DJs, but the challenge we find intriguing is doing that.”
Aside from making Icon Miami’s newest party spot, Guerra plans to eventually use the venue as a performing arts hall as well.
“It’s such a versatile venue,” he says. “We’re obviously going to start off with a nightlife concept. As we continue to dive in, we hope to create those other types of events to utilize that space.”
Guerra plans to diversify Icon’s entertainment options. “There’s gonna be times where we’re going to want to see and hear up-and-coming talent and hopefully catch some of those people as they tour the U.S. We’re also going to want to see something that’s nostalgic — the meshing of some of the old with some of the new, and some of the new mixed with the old things we’ve grown to love.”
Maintaining that balance of nostalgia and technology is what Icon is all about.
“Some amazing bands and people have been associated with the building,” Guerra explains. “I believe Al Capone used to own or operate the theater. Duran Duran [performed there], Prince used to own it and perform there, Nine Inch Nails performed there. Those are some pretty cool things.”
The history of the building intrigues Guerra as much as anything else. “It was called Glam Slam,” he recalls, back when the building was owned by Prince. “I remember trying to sneak in, and I was just in awe at the size.”
Megaclubs aren’t new to Miami, and in fact, many observers suspect the concept is on the way out, replaced by a local thirst for smaller, more intimate venues that make everyone feel like a VIP. But Guerra says the factor that makes Icon stand out — what the new kids on the block just don’t have — is history. “That definitely sets precedence,” he says.
“I believe the nightlife scene today is much more diverse than it was ten years ago, even three years ago. You have many more events going on and great pockets of entertainment from the Beach to Wynwood to downtown to Brickell. I think stuff could always get better, but I do feel very fortunate we have a great nightlife scene in Miami.”
Though Guerra is always coming up with new ideas to make the 305’s party scene the best in the world — much like he has for decades — with Icon, he can do so while preserving part of the city’s history.
“Icon does pay homage to the icons of the past,” he assures. “You have to respect those who paved the way for us. That’s my mentality.”