You can’t find anyone who will say a bad word about South Beach nightlife impresario Eric Omores. You can’t find anyone who claims the 40-year-old, African-born, French-educated former DJ ever cheated them out of a dime. Unlike his rogue’s gallery of peers and predecessors, he has never been the subject of a scandalous cover story in the local investigative newspaper New Times. He has never been indicted for murder or income tax evasion. He has never been arrested for drunk driving or drug possession. He has never been the subject of a paternity suit. In a place like South Beach, where everyone has a past and trashing one’s friends and foes alike is a peculiar form of social blood sport, his spotless record arouses suspicion. It hints of extraordinarily well-enforced secrets or, worse, some kind of warped reality on the far side of cynicism.
But, it turns out, there is a simple explanation: Omores is a true cultural anomaly. In a ferociously egocentric trade that relentlessly perpetuates shameless self-promotion, he is a man of few words. In a brutally competitive netherworld of hazy situational ethics, he is a man of honor. Despite a string of successes since his arrival in Miami Beach in 1992—from pioneering celebrity-model-grunge club Bash and North Beach Mediterranean eatery Lemon Twist, to sun-sand-and-sex oasis Nikki Beach Club, fashionable champagne lounge-supper club Pearl, and New York’s elegant new Man Ray bistro, sister to the A-list Paris establishment—Omores is celebrated, from South Beach to Saint-Tropez, more for his personal nature than his stellar accomplishments.
His singular role in the perverse extravaganza that is South Beach nightlife raises an interesting question: is the local landscape so hopelessly besotted with narcissism and hyperbole that a humble, honest, hard-working, self-professed “simple” man can be elevated to near-sainthood? Or is Omores truly so exceptional as a human being?
“In terms of dignity and poise, he’s like Jackie Onassis,” says nationally-syndicated journalist Tara Solomon, who covered the burgeoning South Beach scene as “Queen of the Night” columnist for the Miami Herald from 1993-98. “I know it sounds ridiculous, but it’s true.”
“He’s like the old movie stars,” says veteran promoter Tommy Pooch, who co-created Nikki Beach Club and Pearl in partnership with Omores and Miami Beach mogul Jack Penrod. “He’s just classy. It’s nice to see old world charm in a guy in this day and age. It goes back to family, to roots. You can see it in his manners. You don’t get enough of that here.”
“It’s very rare, not just in South Beach, but anywhere in the world, to find someone with the kind of integrity he has,” says Lucia Penrod, who has observed Omores in his dealings with her husband for the past two years. “He never deviates. When he says he’s going to do something, he does it.”
His reputation has earned Omores the privilege of enduring business relationships with celebrities such as actor-director Sean Penn and Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall, the two original investors in Bash. Last year, Penn and Hucknall joined newcomers John Malkovich and Johnny Depp in the New York Man Ray venture. Omores cultivated his friendships with Hollywood celebrities during his tenure as a DJ at the Los Angeles club 20/20 from 1984 to 1989. The list included Madonna, Jack Nicholson, Prince, Kim Basinger and Eddie Murphy. Like more common folk, celebrities, too, were drawn to Omores.
Yet, his pre-South Beach resume yields little evidence of his eventual legacy. Born in Senegal, the son of a French-educated agronomist father, he moved to France at age nine. He attended public schools and earned a university degree as a theatrical sound and lighting engineer. At 22, he went to work as a sound and lighting specialist for Club Med, serving six-month stints in Yugoslavia, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Martinique, Mexico and the Bahamas. After three years, he decided to move to the U.S. He spent a month in New York and six months in San Francisco before settling in Los Angeles in 1984.
Once in the U.S., Omores made a life-altering decision—he became a DJ. “When I came to the States, that was a way for me to survive and make good money,” he says in his lyrical, soft-spoken French-African accent over espresso at Nikki Beach Club on a cloudy, deserted weekday afternoon. “I had learned about dance music in Paris clubs and then I had been exposed to music all over the world during my three years with Club Med. I had a technical background in the theater. It made sense to me.”
Very quickly in L.A., he extended his early success at Century City’s red-hot, movie star-populated 20/20 to a second club, Flaming Colossus, before entering the brave new world of party promotion.
Soon, he made another life-altering decision to open his own club. Exploring Hawaii first, he wound up back in the Dominican Republic, where he debuted Bar’ock, one of the first clubs in the Caribbean to play imported dance music from the U.S. and Europe. He also installed the European-style bottle service that would become the future business model for all of South Beach, beginning at Bash. Eighteen months later, he sold Bar’ock and ventured to Miami Beach. “I had come shopping here one time,” he says, “and when I saw what was going on, the scene, I just thought, ‘Wow, this is a great place to be. This is where I’ve wanted to be my whole life.’ There was a lot of energy in the air. It was very bohemian, like SoHo in its early days.”
He says that coming to South Beach was the most important decision he ever made. “Before that, I was not very grounded,” he says. “I was always ready to pack and go. Here, I opened a business, bought a house and grounded myself.”
Unlike almost all of his predecessors and peers, he avoided the classic pitfalls of heavy drinking, drug abuse, womanizing and marathon partying that had littered South Beach with the ambulatory corpses of once-talented and ambitious would-be club kingpins. With the will of Prometheus, he focused on his business plans. “I’ve never seen him with a drink in his hand,” says Tara Solomon.
Since April 1993, when he opened Bash, Omores has established himself as the most respected and successful player in town. Along the way, he has set a standard that few can match. “He is one of only three gentlemen in the business,” says journeyman South Beach publicist Louis Canales, who has known Omores since he arrived. “I mean that in both the traditional sense of the word and that he is a gentle man. He is a man of his word. He is focused. He is incredibly hard-working. Amazingly, I’ve never seen him lose his temper, even in the most disturbing circumstances. He’s just a kind and giving human being.”
In a time of ever-increasing cynicism, such an endless stream of sincere compliments strikes like a form of Chinese water torture. It is almost too much. Except for the time-honored credibility of observers such as Tara Solomon and Louis Canales, one would recoil at the accolades heaped upon Omores. But wait, it gets worse. He talks at length, unashamedly, about his mother. He credits her with his character and work ethic. “She is a woman with a lot of courage,” he says proudly. “She told me I could get out there and conquer the world. She gave me a great sense of self-esteem and confidence, along with love and discipline.”
She also nurtured a dash of the Renaissance Man in her only son, who has four sisters scattered as far afield as France, London, the Caribbean and Miami. Omores speaks and writes five languages fluently—English, French, Spanish, German and an African dialect, Woloff, from his native Senegal. He listens to Billie Holliday. The Great Gatsby is one of his favorite novels. He practices quiet humility like a powerful mantra. He is as calm as a Zen master. His mere presence in a room is a sort of human feng shui.
Naturally, he rejects any suggestion that he is much different from his peers. “I just look at it from a different perspective,” he says. “I’m not a show-off type of guy. I’m a working guy, a simple guy. I came by what I have the hard way. I’m very humble because I started with nothing and I’m pretty well off today. I just don’t get caught up by the whole scene. I like to preserve my privacy. I like to preserve my intimate moments for myself, so that’s probably what people interpret as being shy. In my family, everybody is pretty much reserved, but I’m not that shy. I mean, I get my way. I feel that I get my point across. I try, anyway. But, yes, I am reserved. To me, it’s important to stay spiritually focused and stay on track and not get caught up in and involved with the other side of what Miami has to offer. It can be a poison. It’s a big mirror. So, if you just look at the surface, it can be dangerous because it’s very artificial. You can ride that wave and get swallowed up.”
How has he avoided being swallowed up? “Its all thanks to my mother,” he says, smiling shyly. “I have great moral strength and I think twice about everything.”
Surprisingly, he rejects the suggestion that South Beach is a moral and cultural wasteland, driven by the lowest common denominators of sex, drugs and money. “I don’t think moral values and spirituality are as rare as they seem,” he says. “They get lost in the party lifestyle and the beautiful people, but they are here.”
Omores does not discuss his personal life, but it is said by those who know him that he discreetly collects a treasure-trove of the most valuable bounty on the beach—the company of beautiful women from all over the world. His skill at engaging the fairer sex comes as no surprise to Tommy Pooch, himself a legendary ladies’ man. “It’s the quiet ones you gotta watch out for,” he says, laughing, of his partner. Unlike his peers and Ferrari-driving playboys, however, Omores doesn’t show off his consorts for public scrutiny as trophy girlfriends. “That’s something I keep private,” he says, once again manifesting an attribute of classic old world gentlemanliness.
But for all of his personal integrity, it is his business acumen that has given Omores longevity. “Anything Eric is involved in, you know will be the best of its type in the market at that moment,” says Louis Canales. “Bash was the best celebrity-model-grunge club. Now Nikki Beach is the most unique party. It’s a straight Sunday tea dance, an absolutely brilliant concept. Eric just has that sense of timing and style.”
“He definitely has the best track record,” says Duncan Ross, the Miami-based director of new media and music for Fashion TV, which has used Nikki Beach Club as a venue. “He’s one of the few people who can keep the star factor around. He does quality over quantity in a place where everyone else is trying to do quantity. He’s a true nightclub mogul and we don’t have many of them.”
Despite his formidable history, however, Omores has painstakingly avoided the black hole that eventually beckons almost all denizens of the nightlife world. “He wasn’t ever egocentric and he wasn’t ever caught up in this microcosm of South Beach,” says former scene chronicler Tara Solomon. “I think Eric sincerely believes we’re all God’s people and that’s how he treats everyone.”
To Tommy Pooch, however, there is something even more amazing than treating one’s fellow man as a child of God, or creating a nine-year string of successes in a fickle, volatile market—Omores has gotten only four hours of sleep a night for the last 20 years, yet still emerges into each new day remarkably fresh and alert. Typically, he comes home at 5 a.m. and rises at 9. “He’s the only person who gets less sleep than I do,” Pooch says with a certain psychic exhaustion. “And I’ve still never seen him yawn.”