Amnesia Recalls The Past As Part Of A New Sea Change For South Beach

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At Friday's grand re-opening of Amnesia, the once-vaunted South Beach club, there was a distinct celebration of the past. Banners behind the bars and photo-op corners proudly proclaimed, "Making people happy since 1984," the year the club's original location opened in Cap d'Agde, France. The Miami Beach outpost followed in 1993 and came to rule the then-nascent SoBe scene until the end of the decade, when it closed and the location was overtaken by Opium Garden and Prive.

The Miami version of Amnesia was one of the area's first superclubs, a two-story, indoor-outdoor complex centered around a massive, open-air dancefloor. Few of the crowd clamoring at the velvet ropes this past weekend were old enough to remember that original era (unless they caught some of the club's latter-day, all-ages teen foam parties). The fact that they cared, though, may be signaling a slow sea change for the South Beach scene.

When Amnesia went out around the turn of the millennium, electronic dance music was still a club scene staple, with actual, uh, dancing still the focus of many clubs. In the ensuing years, though, the music of choice changed—from house to mostly "open foramt"—and in came bottle service. Even large clubs like Mansion, which still regularly books big-name EDM DJs, eventually covered over their dancefloors in favor of banquettes and sparkler-shooting magnums.

Amnesia stands, in some aspects, in contrast to that. First, much of the 26,000-square-foot original interior architecture has been preserved or restored. This means a slightly '80s deco feel—trellis material around the balconies, for one—that seems retro cool in 2011. The roof has been covered over due to noise rules, but some of the indoor-outdoor feel remains thanks to unusual greenery and landscaping throughout the interior.

But most importantly, the centerpiece of this club is the huge dancefloor in all of its original expansive glory. While private booths take up about half of the upstairs balcony, on the main floor, bottle service is corralled into one small elevated area at one end. Throughout the rest of the club, too, there is space aplenty—even actual seating!—if patrons don't feel like buying real estate.

For clubbers who prefer an upscale environment in which they can still get a little loose, Amnesia fills a void pretty much unfilled by any other boite on the island. 

For a lot of this, punters can thank Bob Sinclar, the French demigod DJ who's also part owner of the venue. Actual club music is clearly important here. The Funktion One soundsystem is booming but crisp, and a large booth/stage area along one wall promises ample room for live PAs and other performances. And the upcoming slate of performances promises lots of EDM of the big-room variety. Sinclar himself spun Friday night and plans a monthly residency, and a headlining set by Joachim Garraud rounded out the opening weekend's festivities on Saturday night. [all these photos are from Joachim Garraud's night. -Ed]

Let's not call this place exactly "populist," though. To squeeze past the ropes on the opening weekend, the old door hook-up was a must, and that's unlikely to change. That is to say, there is little hope of just showing up and hoping to pay a cover for entry. And if you plan to drink a lot, bottle service may oddly wind up being more economical. Order, say, a Grey Goose/Red Bull combo at the bar, and that'll set you back $18 for the vodka itself and another $9 for the energy drink. (A typical domestic bottled beer goes for about $12).

Still, for clubbers who prefer an upscale environment in which they can still get a little loose, Amnesia fills a void pretty much unfilled by any other boite on the island. The possibilities for the upcoming 2012 edition Winter Music Conference, now a sprawling 10-days long, seem especially promising. In the meantime, Amnesia is a welcome reminder of South Beach nightlife's roots.