You know, some guys seem to have all the luck—like Edison Farrow, for example. Purely out of necessity Edison created a traveling martini party that is now one of South Beach’s most celebrated weekly social events for the boys on the Beach. But nightlife and cocktails are only one side of this former theatre actor.
On a warm Wednesday night at Books & Books on Lincoln Road, we met up with Edison Farrow to talk about his decision to give up acting for more important things in life—like offering a much-needed party alternative to the city’s gay population, and spreading the word that South Beach is the hippest hometown around.
What brought you to South Beach?
I was acting for about 15 years. My friends said, ‘You should go to South Beach, do commercials and make some money.’ So, I came down here for a month and just loved it. I ended up staying for four months. Then I went back to New York, and the whole time I was thinking, ‘I really liked it better in South Beach.’ After about eight months I said, ‘I’m going.’ I packed everything up and just drove down. That was seven years ago.
How did you get involved with nightlife?
I was going to school for Web site design and bartending, and there are a lot of really nice people you see every three months, and you exchange phone numbers and have every intention of calling each other, but never really do. So, I called about 12 people and I said, ‘I’m going to start a little club. It’s going to be a martini club.’ The concept was 12 people meeting once a week. The first week I told them to meet at the WinterHaven Hotel at 9 o’clock for martinis. About 14 people showed up, and we pulled together some tables and just sat and talked. It was really nice. So I said, ‘I’ll get all of your e-mail addresses and e-mail you where we will meet next week. The next week 35 people showed up. It was nice, but not what I was expecting. Well, four weeks later there were 100 people. We were at the Cheeky Monkey Bar, and I warned the bartender we were coming with a group of 75 people ‘ I don’t think they have ever had 75 people in there at one time, ever ‘ the next thing you know, he’s bartending for us and so are two waitresses and a waiter. My friends looked at me and said, ‘If you aren’t getting a cut of that register, then you are crazy.’ The next week I went to the next place and they offered me a percentage of the bar. Then after about six or seven weeks The Wire called and wanted to do a photo spread and story, and I said, ‘Oh, I don’t want to make this so big. I’m not trying to be a promoter.’ Then Miamigo Magazine did the same thing. I just wanted it to be a word-of-mouth thing. But it finally got to a point after about a year where I had 1,600 people on my e-mail list and for the first time, I had a press night at the Loews Hotel. It was a really big event. The Deco Drive TV cameras were there, Ocean Drive, The Wire ‘ all the magazines. Now, I have 2,200 people I e-mail every week.
How long has the party been going on?
It started in January, so almost 80 weeks. We meet every Tuesday from 9 to 12. Every week I send e-mails. I’ve still never taken out an ad, never made an invitation, flyer or anything like that, only the e-mail and the Web site. I also just started a second night.
Tell me about that.
A few weeks ago we did a night at Mynt, and they are closed on Tuesdays. The doorman counted 500 people walking in [to the martini party]. They called me the next day and asked if I was interested in starting a gay night there. As of Monday, August 12th, the party is moving to the new Bar Code at 1437 Washington Avenue.
I know you are not a promoter, and you keep stumbling onto these parties, but is there anything else you’re working on?
I actually started a column about two months ago about dating in South Beach on the Web site. Then Miamigo Magazine called me and asked if I could add about 200 words, so now I have a column. Then there was an article I wrote sort of knocking The Wall Street Journal on the negative piece they wrote about South Beach. [The Wall Street Journal reported South Beach lost its hip edge when it gave into shopping malls and other corporate chains.] Basically I wrote a rebuttal to their piece…meanwhile, Shakira has a house here, Janet Jackson just bought a house here, Jennifer Lopez, Rosie O’Donnell, Ricky Martin ‘ the biggest stars, they all have homes here. One of the things I said was that people blame the fact that we are such ‘a shopping mall’ on the fact that we have four Starbucks and two Gaps now. If you pick up the Manhattan Yellow Pages, there are 74 Starbucks and 53 Gaps, and they haven’t lost their cool. It just means we are growing into a city. Leslie Abravanel printed in The Street and The Herald an article about my article, and she quoted two paragraphs from my opinion on the piece and my defense of South Beach. I was very flattered.
Other than South Beach, what are your passions?
I go through phases. For so many years it was acting, singing and dancing, but now I really love the promoting world. I think of myself more as a party host than a promoter. Every time I have a party, I feel like it’s in my house. It’s not like work for me. I’m also always doing the Web site and the e-mails. It’s certainly my main job now. And I’m going to be in a play as well. I really don’t act anymore, but some friends wrote a gay play about South Beach. It’s kind of a gay Sex and the City thing. It’s called Nature of the Beach. It will be at Miami Shores Theater in September.
As someone in the arts, do you feel like if you aren’t doing something creative, then your arms are tied behind you back?
Oh, I’ve done everything from writing songs, acting, singing, dancing ‘ all kinds of stuff. One time, about five years ago, I had an idea for a music video for a song I recorded. I rented a studio for the night, got 16 people together, produced, directed, choreographed and the video actually ran on The Box for four months. I always end up doing something creative.
Tell me about your role in the gay community.
It’s interesting because being as I started the group for such a small number of people, and then it grew to so many without my trying, it obviously shows there was a need for what I started. Everything here seemed to be from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. with crazy club music and drugs. I still bartend one night a week at Twist, and I heard over and over again, ‘Where can you go to meet people and talk’ Where can you go out early’ What other places can you go to” I really listened and put it all together into one night. I think the business professionals were kind of a forgotten market. No one catered to anyone who didn’t go out before 1 a.m. Straight or gay, there really aren’t that many happy hours. I started a whole new niche. I have a big voice in the community now because of my e-mail. People who moved here 10 or 15 years ago for the party grew up. They have careers and need a social outlet other than crazy club nights. I kind of started an alternative subculture, and it’s really growing. All these things keep popping up because of it. They started a new gay talk show on 93.1, and they interviewed me there yesterday. A lot of things are coming about.
In your time here, how do you think the gay community has changed?
A lot of people say there aren’t as many gay people here. I think it is just more populated; it’s more of a city. I think there are more of the masses moving in along with the chains of stores. South Beach has just become a little more well known. It’s absolutely the biggest melting pot in the world.
It’s the most diverse 23 blocks in the world, but how do you think nightlife has changed?
In a way, for many years, it hadn’t, and that is why this whole new concept took off so quickly. There just needs to be more options here. That is the biggest problem. Everything can’t be the 1 a.m. to 5 a.m. party scene. You need options.
In recent years it seems every show has a gay character. How do you feel about the media including that demographic in primetime programming?
It’s great. I’m 39 years old and growing up, there was never a gay character on TV, except Billy Crystal on Soap. Then there would be a gay pride parade once a year and there would be some drag queen and some guy in leather. I was like, ‘I do not want to be that.’ Then it got to the point where there was someone on The Real World, Melrose Place, 90210, Dawson’s Creek ‘ every teen show had the gay character. If there were seven characters on a show, one had to be gay. It was almost the opposite extreme. I think it is great because it helps people become more familiar, feeling like they can relate to a gay person. They hear our voice and know where we are coming from.
Are there any particular shows whose portrayal of gay life you disagree with?
I look at the show Queer as Folk, and it’s really extreme. I think it is really a cartoon of gay life. They are supposed to be in Minnesota. They go out on a Monday night and there are 4,000 people all half-dressed. It looks like the craziest party weekend in South Beach there is, and if you went to that bar on a Monday night, there would be five guys in flannel shirts drinking beers. It is just so exaggerated. They have backrooms where there a people having sex, and I’ve never seen anything like that before in my life. A lot of gay people, we love the show, it’s kind of like, ‘Yeah, we’re on TV,’ but if it was a show about all black people with gold teeth robbing a 7-11, I think people would be really up in arms. One person who is on it, I actually knew as a child. His name is Scott Lowell and he plays Ted. Our mothers were best friends in college. My mother is like, ‘Did you see the show Scott’s on’ It’s pretty outrageous.’ And it’s like, ‘Oh no. My mother is watching Queer as Folk. I’m going to die.’
How do you feel about Miami-Dade’s upcoming vote to repeal the Human Rights Ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation?
Well, discrimination is discrimination. It’s great to have someone like Rosie O’Donnell speaking out on our side, because she is someone everybody identifies with. She has a really powerful voice here. The state of Florida is very conservative. Miami’s voice is very different from that of the rest of the state. We’ll have to see what will happen.
Tell me how you feel about the past two Memorial Day weekends.
I think there are so many black events that happen here that are fabulous. They just had the Soul Awards and that was great. They had a black film festival, and there were no problems. It’s just Memorial Day weekend that’s the one time of year when people don’t get along. Memorial Day weekend was always such a huge weekend here. There were lots of tourists coming in. It was a very gay weekend; it was a very straight weekend. All the hotels were booked and all the restaurants were packed. Now it scares away all of the other tourists. Last year when it happened, I started a big e-mail campaign that said if you don’t like what is going on, write your politicians. I gave all the e-mail addresses. All the politicians wrote promising this would never happen on a holiday weekend ever again. Then they put it right on Memorial Day weekend again when they all promised me in e-mail they were not going to do that. I think it is a really, really bad thing for the community, for such a fun community otherwise.
Don’t you think that no matter what race, when you put hundreds of thousands of people on 23 blocks something bad is going to happen’ What can the city of Miami Beach do to prevent that?
I think they feel they can’t really say they can’t come back because it is a racial thing. If any group came in with hundreds and thousands of people and there were stabbings, shooting and rapes, they would be told they are not allowed to come back. The only reason they are not allowed to say that is because the majority of the people are African American. Meanwhile, it is just a horrible weekend here. There is so much crime, and there’s no reason for it to continue.
What’s the one thing we can do to help each other accept everyone’s different life choices and lifestyles?
Respecting each other, understanding each other. I think the change in the perception of the media has really been a big help with shows like Will & Grace. Having contact, having exposure ‘ no matter what you are talking about ‘ if you don’t know anything about them, the lack of knowing and understanding causes you to make assumptions. Respect each other, listen and understand before you make assumptions.
Are there any misconceptions you want to clear up about you, South Beach or your lifestyle?
A lot of people think of South Beach as a bunch of steroid-using party boys, but we’ve grown up. Years ago people said there was no community between the gay community, but in the last two years we’ve created a gay chorus, theatre companies, softball league and a chamber of commerce. Ten years ago it was a ghost town, and for many years it was a tourist town. We are really just for the first time becoming a community, a year-round community. We are growing and growing.