Keith D. Revell


On December 23, 1948, Copa City, the world's greatest nightclub, opened on Miami Beach. Nothing like it had ever been seen before. No gaudy neon sign announced its presence, quite unlike the other clubs that crowded the area. Instead, the building itself was an icon: a dramatic, sweeping, curved structure, conceived by the renowned industrial and set designer, Norman Bel Geddes, at the behest of Copa City's young impresario, Murray Weinger, a transplanted New Yorker who had cut his teeth managing nightclubs on Coney Island. Weinger intended Copa City as more than a stage for big-name entertainers and spectacular floor shows, the typical fare of the top-end nightclubs that clustered along Dade Boulevard, just across the Venetian causeway from Miami, and Twenty-Third Street (called "Swing Street" by cafe operators) on the ocean side of the island. Copa City would surpass its many rivals by offering customers (most of them, seasonal tourists who flocked to Miami Beach between December and April because of its nationally famous nightlife) a unique performance space combining shopping, dining, music, radio broadcasts, cabaret acts, and legitimate theater performances in a building without interior columns where the ceiling seemed to float above the audience. In spite of a star-studded debut that received national attention, Weinger's dream was short-lived, for Copa City went bankrupt only a few months into 1949. After control of the club slipped from his hands, Weinger would spend the rest of his life (a brief eight years) trying to reclaim it, fighting a losing battle against the competitive changes that would soon make Miami Beach nightclubs a thing of the past.