New Book 'Hotel Scarface' Chronicles '80s Cocaine Boom In Miami

By David Konow 01/10/18

The book focuses on the infamous Mutiny Hotel, which was a hub for the city's notorious drug-filled nightlife.

outside the Mutiny Hotel
photo by Alfred Spellman Photo via YouTube

While critically derided in its time, the 1983 film Scarface is now a modern classic and a powerful cautionary tale about the evils of cocaine. The film also expertly captured the Wild West-era of the Miami drug trade in the early eighties, and now a new book, Hotel Scarface, takes a look back at that era and how Miami became a mecca of cocaine, money and murder.

Hotel Scarface is written by journalist Roben Farzad, who grew up in Miami, and told PBS, “When cocaine came to town, it was so ridiculously profitable, it was so seductive, it made people do such crazy things in the name of money and power and bloodlust, that you had something approximating a failed state by 1981 in Miami.”

Once the flood of Cuban exiles came into Florida at the dawn of the eighties, it also brought an influx of crime to the state, which became a big security concern with the U.S. President, the Miami Police, the DEA, and the FBI.

“When the feds got serious about it, I think all the fun and games and the hyperbole of it was shut down,” Farzad continues.

At first, the Cuban exiles were smuggling pot. Then, they became the kings of the coke trade, rubbing elbows with the rich elite of the state. And like in Scarface, “It just became so violent,” Farzad says, with the Cubans in a deadly rivalry with the Colombians.

The book focuses on the Mutiny Hotel in Sailboat Bay. A lot of rock stars came through—David Crosby and Graham Nash even wrote a song about it—but a lot of drug lords and cocaine cowboys were there as well. (The New York Times reports that Miami Vice star Philip Michael Thomas even lived there for a bit.)

Farzad called the infamous hotel “the ecosystem of all that money that was there, money and sex and cocaine and aspiration... It was kind of the closest thing to Miami’s Studio 54...”

Clearly this story, and this era, were irresistible for Farzad, who told the New York Times, “What’s amazing to me is that it’s very much a story that still exists in Miami’s psyche and the Pan-American psyche.”

And as an undercover cop working the drug beat in Miami told Farzad, “All roads led back to the Mutiny. The druggies, the celebs, the crooked pols, spies, the informants, cops—good and bad—were all there.” 

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.