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No Piano Bar Blues PDF Print E-mail
Written by Charlotte Libov, Special to the BT   
September 2014

Magnum gets a dream buyer

SMagnum_1eptember is finally here, and Bill Campbell’s Speakeasy Singers should be in final rehearsals for our September 10 gig at Magnum, but word came a few weeks ago that the reprise of our popular Prohibition event would be postponed. The reason was a shocker -- Jeffrey Landsman has sold the place.

This news was especially disconcerting, given the fact that so many beloved music venues have vanished. But Landsman’s announcement was followed by this piece of good news: the new owner of Magnum is none other than developer whiz Avra Jain, who is remaking Miami’s Upper Eastside.

Jain closed on Magnum the very same day she hosted 900 gussied-up guests at the grand opening of her latest completed project, the Vagabond Motel. Under her direction, the Vagabond has been completely reborn -- from wrecking-ball fodder to a gleaming symbol of her plans to transform the Upper Eastside into a neighborhood rich in historical charm, with just a dash of flash to attract the tourist trade.

Magnum fit right in, although unlike the Vagabond, no major overhaul would be required. “Jeffrey has such a loyal following that we’re keeping it the way it is, including the name. He trusted us, so we’re going to try to maintain the legacy,” says Jain, referring to her business partner, Joe Del Vecchio. These words made me, as a Speakeasy Singer and fixture at Bill Campbell’s weekly “Legends of Open Mic Night,” ecstatic.

Landsman opened Magnum 13 years ago. He not only ran the place; he and Magnum were, in essence, one. He cultivated customers so personally that when he closed down for his annual six-week vacation, he knew they’d flock back the minute he reopened. This is no small feat in Miami, where diners anywhere else would have vanished in a heartbeat.

“It was getting time for me to move on,” says Landsman, who has spent his entire career in the restaurant trade. “I didn’t want to be sitting in my bar every day until three or four in the morning, and then waking up around noon, having two hours to myself, and then starting all over again.”

Magnum_2He’d considered selling before but had declined until Jain came along. “I’m so happy because the new owners recognize the Magnum for what it is,” he says. “They know it’s a unique part of the Upper Eastside, which they are very invested in. They’ll put their own fingerprint on it, but the piano-bar concept is universal. It’s a win-win.”

Landsman wanted to make sure his staff, many of whom had been with him since he ran Jeffrey’s, his original restaurant on South Beach, kept their jobs. “My chef has worked for me 15 years,” he says. “One of my waiters has been with me 31 years, and all of my bartenders have worked for me at least five years. Everyone will be there opening night. The only difference is that I’m not going to be there.”

But for many people, that difference is huge. “My guests have been calling me,” Landsman explains, “and some of them are saying, ‘What am I going to do, where am I going to go?’ And I tell them: ‘This isn’t about you now; it’s about me being happy. I worked hard to make you happy -- now it’s my turn.’”

It’s also Jain’s turn. In addition to Magnum and the Vagabond, she and her partners own six other properties, including other post-World War II motels: the Royal Motel, Bayside Motor Inn, Stephen’s International Motel, and the South Pacific Motel. The motels all fall within Miami’s MiMo Biscayne Boulevard Historic District, which runs along the Boulevard between 50th and 77th streets. Magnum is just two blocks north on NE 79th Street.

Jain first came to Magnum when a friend brought her there for dinner, before she learned through another friend that the restaurant was for sale. “Magnum is fun,” she says. “You walk in and you think, ‘Where am I?’ You could be in New York; you could be in Paris. It’s unique for Miami. We loved it. Before you knew it, we were both singing out loud. That’s the beauty of Magnum. It’s a happy place and you can feel it.”

Rich in historical charm, with just a dash of flash to attract the tourist trade.Magnum_4Jain also relishes the fact that when Tobacco Road, Miami’s oldest bar, relocates to make way for yet another Brickell high-rise development, Magnum will gain the distinction of being the oldest bar in the city. “I love tradition,” Jain adds, “and the fact that Miami does have that is what I want to help preserve. There is a history here. Magnum may not be as old as some places in New York City, but we have to preserve what we have and take pride in it.”

As for Magnum, Jain says, there’ll be minor changes in terms of improved landscaping, lighting, and such: “Possibly the barbed wire will come down to improve the curb appeal, but we’re not going to change the vibe that people have to know where it is. That’s part of the whole New York City thing. It’s kind of an insider place, and we’re going to keep that whole vibe.”

So while the infamous “Magnum Lake,” which forms in the parking lot every time it rains, is marked for elimination, other favorite features will remain, including the Shack, Magnum’s minimalist outdoor bar, which offers bargain-priced margaritas.

Jain is also eagerly soliciting suggestions. “The whole staff is game,” she says. “Everybody has a great attitude, both the staff and the patrons. Jeffrey created a lot of loyalty, and so we’re going to disrupt things as little as possible.”

The question she is most asked is when Magnum will reopen. “It takes several weeks to transfer licenses,” Jain notes, “so we’re looking at possibly a mid- or late-October opening.”

Magnum_3She is also looking forward to more events at Magnum to keep the place as “lively as possible,” including taking up a staff suggestion for a Halloween Party and more Speakeasy nights (yay!).

As for Landsman, what will he do now? “I’m asked that question a lot,” he replies. “First, selling the Magnum will enable me to retire with dignity.” (Neither he nor Jain will reveal the business’s sale price.) “It’s not what I’m going to do that is making me giddy and excited, but what I won’t be doing. What I won’t miss is the grind.”

Landsman, who has been spotted walking his dogs and is checking out fitness clubs now that he finally has the time to exercise, adds this: “What I will miss is the familiarity of being there and enjoying the Magnum almost as much as my customers do. As a young man, I always loved piano bars, and so I’m happy to have owned Miami’s only real, true piano bar.”

Once the new ownership is established, might we see him again at Magnum? “Absolutely!” he exclaims. “Where else am I going to go?”

 

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