‘Hotel Scarface’ – The True Story That Inspired The Movie

Miami Cops Posing with their haul from a 1978 drugs bust

If you’ve never heard of the Hotel Mutiny, it is located in Miami, and it was quite the interesting place back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. It even inspired the Babylon Club in the 1983 film Scarface, which starred Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer. Models and celebrities of the music and film industries frequented the establishment. Cocaine kingpins loved the place. Back in the day, there was nothing quite like that place.

The legendary place was founded by a man named Burton Goldberg, and he owned it until 1984. As you can see, he didn’t mind interacting with leopards.

Image Source: Pinterest

It still exists, but it has obviously changed in the past 30+ years. It can 2951 S. Bayshore Dr. in Miami’s upscale Coconut Grove neighborhood. The reviews are pretty good.

Now, a new book sheds light on exactly what transpired during Hotel Mutiny’s heyday. The book is called Hotel Scarface: Where Cocaine Cowboys Plotted To Control Miami. It was written by National Public Radio personality and PBS NewsHour special correspondent Roben Farzad.

The hotel/club received a lot of famous visitors, for one, which is part of the reason it was so interesting. American politician Ted Kennedy and movie star/politician Arnold Schwarzenegger were known to visit the place, as were bands like The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, and Led Zeppelin.

Sitting at nearby tables, however, were drug kingpins – cocaine kingpins, to be specific. While the celebrities presumably paid in cash for their orders, the kingpins were allegedly paying for their orders with cocaine, and lots of it. They were quite open about simply handing over thousands of dollars of the stuff to the staff.

If you’ll recall, Miami had a problem with cocaine back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. There was actually a series of drug wars centered in the city between the United States government and several drug cartels. The city ended up becoming known as the “Drug Capital of the World”, which is a dubious honor at best.

Al Pacino definitely immortalized the drug dealers of Miami during that period when he was portraying Tony Montana in Scarface, a Cuban refugee who arrives in Miami with nothing in the 1980’s and then ends up becoming a major drug kingpin. Tony Montana is exactly the sort that would have hung out at The Hotel Mutiny, which certainly explains why the club/hotel served as an inspiration for one of the gangster movie’s pivotal scenes.

Image Source: Movie Scresnshot

Producers Oliver Stone and Brian De Palma knew of the place’s reputation, which is why they stayed there when they were in town to shoot Scarface. Heck, even producers of the show Miami Vice knew about Hotel Mutiny’s reputation. One drug lord actually managed to attain roles in two episodes, and he did so in exchange for cocaine for the cast and crew of Miami Vice.

An interesting fact about the movie: the local population of Cuban-Americans forced filming of the classic to move from Miami two weeks into production. They objected to the way Cuban-Americans were being portrayed. Most of the film was shot in Los Angeles.


Anyway, there just wasn’t a place in Miami—or possibly anywhere else, really—that attracted drug dealers like The Hotel Mutiny. The luxurious 130-room hotel and club was definitely their favorite place to live their lives and do their thing.

Regular drinkers included cocaine kingpins Ricardo “Monkey” Morales and Mario Tabraue. Tabraue was an interesting character, known for having leopards and a pet chimp. Testimony from trial in 1989 revealed that he once tried to dismember the corpse of an informant using a machete. He spent more than 10 years in prison, and then ended up founding a wildlife foundation.

The hostesses at the club were known to be very kind to the kingpins, which definitely makes a whole heck of a lot of sense—be nice not only for the tip money, but also out of concern for personal safety. Arguably, they went a little too far—they were known to hide weapons in breadbaskets as well as in cushions. One waitress even figured out how to check for ankle holsters on suspected undercover cops using her stiletto heels.

Image Source: Pinterest

What caused the luxurious—but otherwise typical hotel—to become a criminal haven for the power players in the cocaine trade? South Florida was not doing so well back in 1979; Cuban refugees were flooding the area, and the murder rate had gotten insanely high, as some of those refugees were hit men. Apparently the fast food chain Burger King was forced to lease the county morgue a refrigerated truck so that the morgue could deal with all of the many, many corpses.

We already mentioned the drug wars—those were a factor in the hotel’s change.
The hotel was a refuge, of sorts. True, you were seated amongst the people who contributed to all of the chaos in order to get rich, but it was still a refuge.

To give you an idea of how much money was being spent at the place, at one point the hotel/club was known to be selling more bottles of Dom Perignon than any other place in the world. Even the executives of the company couldn’t believe just how much champagne was being sold there. It was being used to fill bathtubs. These days, that stuff goes for about 200 dollars a bottle.

Naturally, the federal agents and police knew what was going on there—and as all things must one day come to an end, so too did Hotel Mutiny’s time as a haven for many of the most dangerous people on the planet.

We mentioned that the hotel/club’s founder sold Hotel Mutiny in 1984. He was an interesting character in and of himself. He was considered the “Hugh Hefner” of Miami at one point. Burton Goldberg died in November of 2016 at the age of 90, but before he perished he actually became an alternative health advocate and self-published several books.

H/T – Source


Written by Kevin Barrett

Kevin Barrett is an award-winning reporter currently residing in one of the many suburbs of Philadelphia. In addition to working in journalism, he was worked in higher education and logistics. He is single, but does have a distracting little dog who keeps him from achieving maximum productivity.

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