Miami Beach Reflections

The Forge

When it comes to the restaurant business, Shareef Malnik could teach a Master class, after all, Malnik began working at his beloved Forge (now Forge I Wine Bar) at the tender age of thirteen. So when he decided to close down South Beach’s oldest restaurant and most storied landmark to give it a $10 million extreme makeover, transforming the look, feel, philosophy, and menu, there was no doubt that the result would be “a good thing,” to quote Martha Stewart. And, in fact, it is a very good thing.

Upon entering the Forge I Wine Bar, the most striking difference is the radical change in décor, from dark Gothic to light, airy, ethereal and almost whimsical. Eclectic furnishings, a glass enclosed VIP dining room with an enormous Balinese table flanked by throne-like chairs, surrounded by floating glass bubbles and a state-of-the art Enomatic wine machine are just a few of the factors that have transformed the Forge into a great space, vs. merely a restaurant. Inspired by hotel lobbies all over the world, Malnik envisions the Forge I Wine Bar to be the place where guests can go for a variety of reasons: from enjoying an elaborate, decadent meal- for which this institution is well-known, to a light bite, wine and cocktails at the bar or a book at the cherished library, complete with working fireplace, stocked with a wide assortment of books curated by Mitchell Kaplan. Another modern touch is the addition of WiFi and Apple-technologies, which redefine the Forge into “Power Lunch” central (don’t pack that briefcase yet, the lunch menu is still in its final stages).

The center bar, which used to command the restaurant, has been moved over to one side and Glass the nightclub, is long gone, in keeping with Malnik’s vision for the restaurant’s new direction. Sidebar: despite’s Malnik’s efforts at de-emphasizing the Forge’s notorious party reputation, the place continues to get packed to the rafters on Wednesday nights, even though there is no longer the “official Wednesday night dinner party.” Think of this as the Party Effect.

The most unique addition to the Forge I Wine Bar is the high-tech Enomatic wine system featuring 80 bottles available in self-service pours of 1.5, 3 and 5 ounces (starting price: $6). Buy a wine card ($15 minimum) and roam around the bar and dining room, as if you are Trick or Treating for wine!

Beyond the physical changes, the transformation includes a menu overhaul that now includes 65 items, in which Chef Dewey LoSasso (who Malnik selected from 172 candidates) incorporates local and seasonal produce and artisanal purveyors such as Niman Ranch and Paradise Farms. Forge classics like the chopped salad and 16-ounce “Super Steak” remain intact. Why mess with perfection? Despite the many creative “Savory Snacks,” which include a bizarre-sounding-yet-tasty, lobster “peanut butter and jelly” sandwich, it’s the caramelized onion Focaccia, a Forge staple, that’s worth the price of admission and is so worth blowing off your personal trainer for a day or two. Also remaining intact, is the wood-paneled wine cellar, boasting the owner’s private collection and large communal table for private dining. For the most part, menu items are reasonably priced, ranging from $8-$15 for starters and $19-$52 for main courses. The best value is the “Burger and Bordeaux,” think of it as a foodie’s “Happy Meal:” a hefty grilled sirloin patty topped with braised short ribs and lobster marmalade and served with addictive truffle fries, pomegranate ketchup and a small chalice of red wine for only 20 bucks! Johnny V’s dessert maven, Malka Espinel, prepares an array of sinful treats.

If the walls (now blonde) could speak they may tell stories about the many colorful Forge patrons throughout the years, including: Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Sir Paul McCartney, Lauren Bacall, Andy Warhol, Michael Jackson, Mickey Rourke, Matt Damon, Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, John Travolta, Kelly Preston, Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, Lance Armstrong and Adrian Grenier to name a few.

Malnik’s focus is on access vs. excess (despite the price tag of the revamp and several decadent, pricey menu items). When asked about the Forge’s new vision, Malnik says, “I knew I wanted to make changes that mirrored how Miami and I have evolved over the years. Everything from a new generation of sophisticated interior to the technology and interactive nature of the new wine bar reflects a new era in the way guests can experience The Forge Restaurant | Wine Bar. I am proud to have created a “space” as opposed to a restaurant by assembling a design team that included interior designer Francois Frossard, Project Manager Allegra Parisi and Capponi Construction. We wanted guests to feel as though they are part of a community. The evolution of The Forge is less intimidating and more comfortable and allows for use of the five senses on a whole new level.”

The Forge Restaurant | Wine Bar is located at 432 41st St., Miami Beach. Hours of operation are Sunday-Thursday, 6 p.m.-midnight; Friday-Saturday, 6 p.m.-1 a.m. Valet parking is still $5. For reservations, call 305-538-8533 or visit for more information.

Haute 100 Miami Update: Brett Ratner

Our Haute 100 list details the accomplishments of the most influential people in each of our markets—Miami, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. These people continue to make moves, so rather than waiting for the next Haute 100 issue to come out, we thought we’d provide you with regular updates on those Haute 100 members who are making headlines. On our Haute 100 Miami list is Brett Ratner, the director best known for bringing to the big screen some of the most comedic action series and making the music industry a little bit hauter.

Brett Ratner

Category: Thinkers

Company: HSI Productions

Industry: Film

What Made Him Haute: Ratner’s is the ultimate story of local boy gone big-time. As a blockbusting director (and former Haute Living cover subject and also cover photographer), Ratner has racked up a list of films that have grossed more than a billion dollars worldwide, but he never forgets his Miami Beach roots. He made his first entrée into the world of film at age 13 by stalking around the set of Scarface, scoring a cameo as a background extra in the 1983 Brian De Palma film. He has referred to himself as the “Ferris Bueller of Miami Beach,” and his connections led him to be accepted into NYU’s prestigious film school when he was only 16. His paternal grandfather, Lee Ratner, a mega-developer responsible for the naming of Lee County in Southwest Florida, was a close friend of Haute 100 member Al Malnik, who became like a father to Brett. Because of this relationship, Brett can claim some responsibility in the transformation of Miami Beach from a geriatric haven into an international haute spot. When photographer Bruce Weber came to town in 1985 to shoot a Calvin Klein campaign, the Beach was suddenly crawling with models with nothing to do. It was Ratner and Al Malnik’s son Shareef to the rescue, and Malnik’s restaurant The Forge became the go-to haute spot. Ratner got on the payroll, earning $500 per week for his efforts turning the restaurant into a must-see on Miami Beach. Today, the Hollywood great continues to turn out blockbusters while also operating Rat Press, a publishing company that is described as “everything that film is not.”

What Makes Him Haute Now: Ratner is no doubt a busy man and continues to take the film and music industry by storm. Along with directing numerous music videos for Mariah Carey, Jessica Simpson, and P. Diddy, Rat Entertainment recently acquired The Unknowns, which happens to be based on a comic book series, another love of Ratner’s. The film centers on a heroine whose memory of being the leader of a strange group is erased, and it will certainly be marked with Ratner’s signature action scenes.

Staying true to his production style, Ratner and Tom Spezialy of Desperate Housewives will produce Chaos on CBS, a drama about CIA operatives constantly getting tripped up and mixed up in affairs. For those history buffs, the director is currently in talks with Avi Lerner of Millennium Films to take upon the task of directing the tale of the mythological god Hercules and also picked up the film Catfish for distribution. The film premiered as the hautest ticket at Sundance, received rave reviews, and will be released through Universal’s Rogue Pictures.

While primarily known for his action comedies, such as the Rush Hour series, Ratner’s publishing company, Rat Press, released its first three books in 2009 focusing on Marlon Brando, Robert Evans, and Jim Brown.

Al Malnik Talks About His Time Spent With MJ

I first met Michael about nine years ago. I was told that he had heard about me and was interested in meeting, and in particular wanted to request a tour of my house in Palm Beach. Michael was an architecture buff, and he had admired the property from afar. He was in L.A. at the time, and expressed interest in discussing several different business ideas and plans. He finally asked [director] Brett Ratner, whom I refer to as my 11th son, to call me and ask to meet with him. I initially said no because I was not a fan, so I really didn’t see the point in inviting him to come over and entertain him.

When I told my wife Nancy about it, she raised holy hell! She said, “Are you kidding? Michael Jackson! I grew up with him! His posters were on my wall! You have to let him come over, I want to meet him.” So to please her, I invited him to the house, and from that first meeting we all developed a beautiful friendship.

Throughout the past decade or so, Michael would come and stay at the house quite a bit, sometimes with the children, and sometimes alone. It was an extraordinary time. Michael was an amazing houseguest because he really didn’t require any attention. He liked to clean his own room and make his own bed, and he taught his kids to do that, too, much to our amazement.

Michael soon became close friends with my son Shareef, along with Brett Ratner and Chris Tucker. The four of them spent a great deal of time together at our house, always having a ball, filled with a lot of laughs. I also have triplets that are around the same age as Michael’s two older children, Prince and Paris, who are 12 and 11 now. We would travel often with Michael and the family, going down to Acapulco or other family vacation spots. We also have fond memories of our times out at Neverland Ranch. The most important bungalow there is called the Elizabeth Taylor suite, which is where we stayed. The first night, he had Elizabeth Taylor herself call me, welcoming me to her suite at Neverland Ranch! The kids, of course, loved Neverland; they went around with Michael’s children and saw the zoo and rode the train. It was such a magical time.

One year, at a birthday party that Nancy was having for the triplets, Michael came to the theater and surprised not only us, but the birthday guests as well. Everyone thought it was a Michael Jackson impersonator. They couldn’t believe it was really him! Come to think of it, some of the people may still think it was a lookalike.

All of our children spent a lot of time together, and Michael’s children especially enjoyed it. When they were with us, they were able to go out with Nancy and I and our family and not be haggled. They didn’t have to wear their veils because no one knew who they were. When they spent time with us they got to experience normal situations that were lacking in their daily lives, like visiting St. Andrew’s school or going to the movies. When they were with my family, they literally were able to take off the masks and no one bothered them. Michael was able to do the same. We worked to create everyday experiences for him, like going shopping. One time we rented out a Publix supermarket so that he could do what ordinary people do on a regular basis.

Michael was able to relax when he was with us and let his guard down. We live on the beach, and he and I would go down to the water together after the sun went down where he was just an ordinary guy, kicking his feet in the surf.

When it comes to my history with Blanket, Michael asked me to be Blanket’s godfather when the boy was a year old. My relationship with Blanket is limited, because he was just a baby at the time, and I did not really participate in his upbringing. But I think that in the event something happened, Michael really wanted me to be a sort of safety net. He wanted to know that I would be willing to raise Blanket as though he were one of my own children, and that’s what the legal document says.

I haven’t spoken with the family since Michael’s passing. I am not used to being in the media spotlight so when the stories came out, I was shocked. I know if I go to the funeral, the press will besiege me again. So instead, our family will just pray for Michael, and wish him bon voyage from this Earth. Our family loved Michael very much, and we will always be respectful, and always extend our hand of friendship to any of his children, should they ever need our help.

Michael had such an amazing energy and such talent. He was always composing new songs and singing them a cappella. One day, he was walking around the house in his pajamas, singing some new pieces that he was working on. He was walking up one set of stairs, and then down another. I asked him, “What are you doing?” He said, “I’m doing two songs at once! I am walking up this set doing one song, and when I walk down the other, I do the other song.” He could write a song in five minutes, it was unbelievable.

I know he did end up recording some of these new songs. He planned on making his comeback by doing an outrageous concert tour, starting in Europe and ending in the United States. At the same time, he wanted to simultaneously publish some of the new albums that he had been working on while he was staying at our house-all new, never-been-heard stuff.

He was so excited to do this tour, so prepared for it. One of our friends who had seen his rehearsal one or two nights before his death, called me and said, “You ought to come out and see Michael before he does his concert. He is unbelievable. It’s like you have never seen him before.” I did have the opportunity to see him perform before, at our house. While visiting, he asked if we could get him a portable dance floor, so of course we did. When I saw him move around on that floor, I was wowed. I had never seen anything like it. I knew he was unbelievable, and it’s nice to know that five years later, he was equally impressive.

It was great fun in those days, but we also shared some hard times. I helped Michael out financially in a lot of different areas when he needed it. At that time, we managed to resolve all of his financial problems. After that period, which was shortly after I was requested to guarantee his bail, I felt it was not in our best family interest to spend all of the time that was required to get Michael on the right track again, because at that point he had capable people around him. And, of course, geography was a big problem because Michael’s business interests are essentially in California or out of New York or Europe. I really just didn’t have the time to continue to devote myself to trying to resolve the many considerations that were in his life. The last time I saw Michael was right before his trial, although we spoke many times after that. He was a bit meaner at that time; he was so furious and so disappointed at the charges being hurled at him. He swore to me that he was absolutely innocent of each and every charge that was made against him. And that’s the way it turned out.

I think the legacy of Michael Jackson will endure for many years to come. Ultimately, the negativity surrounding him in the press will dissipate. He will be more acknowledged and respected for the musical genius that he demonstrated, and that legacy will survive our decade and the ones to come. Our children will rediscover Michael Jackson again many years from now, and be amazed that he created the music that he did, the style of dancing that he did, and more importantly, the wonderful charisma that he generated. His death is another piece of history that we are all experiencing right now, and unfortunately, it’s taken his demise for us to have a wake-up call about the real importance of Michael Jackson.

St. Louis connection to Michael Jackson: Attorney Alvin Malnik

TWO DEGREES OF SEPARATION: South Florida kingpin and St. Louis native, Alvin I. Malnik, 76, has been getting a lot of face time since Michael Jackson’s death. Malnik — a product of Clark Elementary School, Soldan High and Wash U. — was a friend of Jackson’s for a long time and says the King of Pop asked him to become godfather and parent to Prince Michael II, “Blanket” if anything happened to Jackson.

Malnik has been interviewed about his connections to Jackson by NBC’s Today Show, CBS and the Palm Beach Post, among others.

Malnik has said he signed a document in 2003 saying that he could take custody of Blanket if anything happened to Jackson and that he also agreed in writing to be the executor of Jackson’s estate. Malnik says that Jackson at the time became the godfather of Malnik’s then 11-year-old daughter, Spencer. Jackson and Malnik reportedly had a falling out in the past couple of years. The cause of the estrangement is unclear.

Jackson used to seek refuge in Malnik’s 15-bedroom, 35,000-square-foot Palm Beach County mansion in Ocean Ridge. He reportedly would stay there for months at a time with his children and an entourage. Malnik was Jackson’s attorney and said he helped him refinance his debt with Sony and the Bank of America. Malnik also was the creator of the exclusive Forge restaurant in Miami, which he sold to his son Shareef.

Jackson sat with Malnik at the head table during Malnik’s 70th birthday bash at the Forge in 2003, which was attended by my predecessor at the Post-Dispatch, Jerry Berger. Berger was a longtime friend of Malnik’s. He wrote about the party that “the invitation to Florida itself was unique: a taped message from the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson. But the event lived up to its billing. Jackson, accompanied by a full phalanx of bodyguards, was on hand to welcome Malnik’s guests, including B.B. King, Smokey Robinson, F. Lee Bailey and celeb lawyer Roy Black.”

Berger included the names of some of Malnik’s St. Louis pals who were at the shindig: Attorney Martin Green, merger and acquisitions mogul Gilbert Kopolow and L.A.-based sales exec Barry Gelber. He said the Harbour Group’s Sam Fox and his wife, Marilyn, friends of Malnik’s since high school days, were no-shows but were represented by a magnificent floral masterpiece from the Fox den.

Al Malnik Will Always Have St Louis In His Heart

MAKING THE A-LIST – More than 1,000 people packed Maryland Plaza on Thursday night for St. Louis magazine’s fifth annual A-List party, making it the mag’s largest such event yet. The event was jammed with pretty people, networkers and local celebs.

Particularly inspiring were the Human Disco Balls, which were performers perched on the plaza’s fountain dressed in black bodysuits with mini mirrors attached, and the Parkour Performers, who were athletic types doing flips and turns and running up walls. One of the ladies in the crowd was so inspired that she joined the Parkour crew and did a cartwheel down the middle of the plaza – high heels, skirt and all – to the delight of onlookers.

Front and center was the always affable Joe Buck, the top A-lister and on the magazine’s July cover. Joe was accompanied by his wife, Ann. He told this colyumnist that he was looking at a super busy weekend leading into the All-Star Game.

Others we spotted enjoying the lovely weather and the head-turning crowd: Ray and Kerri Hartmann, Guy and Kim Phillips, Jasmine Huda, James Butler, Jacob Bell, Leslie Tunney, Derek Stanley, Melanie Moon, Gerard Craft, Mark Reardon, Sara and Kurt Hentz, Jeff Small, Sam Koplar, Ted Koplar, Frances Thompson, Stephen Schenkenberg, Nicole and James Edgerton, Meghan and Eric Fritsche, Amit Dhawan, Valerie Mills, Meghan and Robert Fort, Melissa and Greg Bohlmann, Greg Lukeman, Kevin Johnson, Suzi Schrappen and George Mahe, Dave Lowry, Carrie Edelstein, Ellen Soule, Jerry Talamantes, Ralph Butler (with his band), DJ Steve Meier, Debra Bass, Maggie Pearson, Rena and Todd Abrams, Linda Hall, Pete and Tanya Feretti, Carrie Houk, Zoe Houk Robinson, Brook Dubman, Brian Smith and Matt Moynihan.PARKING BROUHAHA – KSDK (Channel 5) reporter Leisa Zigman, working on an I-team assignment (the I is for investigation), has unearthed examples of St. Louis police officers both on and off-duty parking their city vehicles in no-parking places across the city.

But that’s not the whole story. Some members of the Police Department caught wind of Zigman’s investigation and have tried to stymie it. Their method? Retaliation.

For years, KSDK employees have parked illegally all around their headquarters at 1000 Market Street downtown. There is limited legal parking in the area, and staffers park their private vehicles as well as news vans in no-parking areas around the building. Up till now, sources at the station tell us, no one ever got a ticket. But suddenly, tickets are popping up like beads of sweat on a cop’s brow.

The station employees are turning the tickets over to management, which sent out a memo to staffers asking them to try to park legally if at all possible but not to worry if they can’t. No notice on how the dispute will be resolved. As for Zigman’s investigation? Full steam ahead. Stay tuned …