Bacchanal on the Beach: How Mario Carbone Turned Carbone Beach Into Miami’s Met Gala

Last week, as celebrities, influencers, fashionistas, and, most importantly, race-car drivers descended upon Miami, Mario Carbone was thinking about anything but the track. From Thursday through Sunday of Formula One’s Race Week in Miami, the mastermind behind Major Food Group’s crown jewel restaurant Carbone hosted the “supper club” Carbone Beach for its second year running, as part of an ongoing partnership with American Express.

Attendance at the four-night exclusive and ritzy four-hundred person dinner was not just for basketball stars or fin-tech billionaires, but open to Amex Platinum Card members (just one tier below the ever-elusive Centurion Card) who could pay $3K for a seat or $24K per table at any of the four dinners for the opportunity to share arancini with the international elite.

Before we get to the guest list, a triumph in its own right, let me paint a picture of the dinner itself, which — held in an oversized tent literally on the sand of South Beach — resembled less of a restaurant and more of a Baz Luhrmann fever dream, maybe one in which he snorts a line of red sauce.

Walking through the red carpet into the red-draped tent, one was greeted by rows of servers in perfectly-fitting tuxedos, each holding a different tray of drinks. Elsewhere, a seafood tower was refilled diligently with shrimp, jalapeño oysters, and other crustaceans — the ice shimmering as vividly as the carat-heavy tennis necklaces and bracelets that hung off attendees’ tanned and taut bodies. Sushi chefs at the caviar bar, which is exactly what you think it is, were eager to make us hand rolls. A dancer vogued in front of a pristine 1961 F1 Ferrari Sharknose 156, both her and the car and car draped in red. Did I mention everything was red?

Jazz blared while prohibition-era flappers with feathered hats giggled to each other, teasing guests with beckoning fingers and flirtatious smiles (Think Chicago meets Sleep No More). At the heavily-stocked bar (I had never seen so many bottles of Dom Perignon in my life), guests chatter about the news that three billionaires would be joining for dinner, while others bemoaned the fact that we missed Diddy’s performance the evening before.

In general, the crowd was as Miami as it gets. Tropicana-colored guests with big shiny watches and razor thin stilettos. Big, meaty hands shook other big meaty hands. “You catch the game today?” one important-looking guy said to another important-looking guy. Everyone seemed to know one another from the country club or the boardroom. Even in a room of 400, this was a family affair.

After an hour of schmoozing, guests were asked to take their seats at tables stacked with mountains of pecorino romano, tender soppressata, and bufala caprese. Behind our table, gallerist Vito Schnabel talked quietly with Jared Kushner. Ivanka Trump, Kushner’s wife and daughter of the former president, held court at her fifty-foot-long table where her security guard stood off her left wing glad-handing her friends as if this was a college reunion. Farther off, more business-exec types gathered around the Miami-raised and richest man in the world Jeff Bezos, while Venus Williams dutifully signed an oversized menu nearby. A table over, Miami mayor Francis Suarez posed for a photo with his wife. Between mouthfuls of steak, I scooched my seat forward, so Miami Heat star Jimmy Butler could sneak past. The two showgirls shuffled around the room, taunting those who met their gaze (me). Over the course of the four-day weekend, a small town’s worth of A-listers feasted on Mario’s spicy rigatoni.

For this (mostly) modest New Yorker, the evening felt outlandish, bordering overkill. Cultural, financial, and political big-shots gathering in a giant red velvet tent in South Beach Miami to slurp caviar and drink espresso martinis the day before an F1 race? The memes could make themselves.

At some point between the digestif and the walk back to the hotel, Mario’s vision unfurled itself for me: this is not just a dinner. Days later when I caught up with the man himself, we chat little about pasta, instead focusing on the spectacle. Mario is direct with his intent: “What we do is theater. We write a script, we create a set, we make it as believable as possible. How far you go is how far you can take your customer.” As I describe to him how the sheer excess caught me off-guard, Mario laughs: “The extreme decadence…it’s Fellini-esque. It’s circus.”

He’s not wrong. Few dinner experiences are as opulent in their scope or feature such a wide ranging guest list that would make both a rabid sports fan or real estate bro foam at the mouth. Carbone Beach is a one-of-one, a piece unique. “That’s why this didn’t happen within the walls of the restaurant,” Mario explains. “It was too constraining. We needed a different scale. You’re asking something new of your guests.” Only in its second year, Carbone Beach has irrevocably altered Carbone’s DNA as Major Food Group only gets more and more major. But even with imperial aspirations, Mario remains Zen about creating the most flamboyant culinary experience in North America: “When it’s all there, you just have to let it go.”

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