The days of South Beach being the center of Miami’s nightlife are long past. The turn of the century brought the action to the city’s downtown area with a cluster of closely located venues at its epicenter. The multiple award-winning Heart is one of this cluster’s younger hotspots, but it has nonetheless earned its place—and its awards: Miami New Times’s Best Afterhours in 2017’s Best of Miami and DJ Mag USA’s Best Venue-South in the first ever Best of North America Awards this year—bringing it to the top of the heap.
Louis Puig and Travis Rogers are the powerhouse duo behind Heart. It’s these two that are to be credited for the position the venue holds as one of the destination nightclubs in North America. Both veterans of the nearby legendary Space, Rogers is primarily responsible for the talent buying at Heart, something he segued into from the tickets and guest list side of the promoting game while he honed his social media marketing skills as a college student. To quote Rogers, “I was going out so regularly, I thought if I worked in the business, I wouldn’t spend as much money. I never thought I would be doing it this long, or be where I am today.”
It’s Rogers’ booking savvy that is, in part, responsible for Heart’s success—which although might look like a cake walk to the casual outside observer, took a lot of effort to establish, as Rogers explains.
You have some crazy hours at Heart. How do you make that work for such a large capacity venue open only two days a week?
Heart holds close to 2,000 people. The patio is the room that’s most known for electronic music acts. The other rooms, year-round, we do multiple formats. Miami Music Week we’ll program the whole club with electronic music, but because of the club’s size, it’s very hard to open more than one or two times a week. Two nights a week is a challenge on its own.
As far as the hours, if you think of another club in another city that might be open from 11pm to 2am or 5am, we’re open 15-, 16-hour nights. Our two nights are really like five nights. Along with Space and E11even, we have the only 24-hour license left in Florida. It’s special because it’s really the only place in the United States you can do this. But I won’t lie, it’s exhausting.
You also do some free entry opportunities for locals, which is very generous.
Unless it’s a really big act where the artist’s fee demands we do tickets, we try to do at least free entry before 1am, especially for our locals. We have long hours. If you want people to get there early, you have to entice them, at the same time, you want to give back. The business doesn’t have to be completely about money. With the number of hours we’re open, we can afford to give away a couple of hours for free.
Heart is known for hosting marathon sets. How do you do programming for so many consecutive hours?
Usually the type of music will dictate the talent’s set time. If it’s a very hard sound, they might take the earlier set because once the morning time comes, you need a lot more melodic tunes and a lot more breakdowns. You need someone who can play the heavy moments too, to hold the crowd for those long hours. The type of format and the type of way each artist plays might also dictate set times. Also, if they have more experience with the morning set, they might get that slot.
We had the Martinez Brothers do a 20-hour set at the club. Last year we did a 40-hour party, a charity event with 15 DJs with Erick Morillo as the headliner. He played 10 to 12 hours and the rest played two- or three-hour sets.
In the beginning, since we were very new, it took a while for people to grasp that there was another after-hours. It took a while, at least six months, for us to establish that imprint. We really started making noise after our first Miami Music Week in 2016. We used to struggle to stay open past 8 or 9am, except for those key holidays. Now we struggle to actually close.
What do you feel you bring to Heart’s brand?
I work hand in hand with Louis Puig but he gives me a lot of freedom. If there’s something I really want to do, I don’t always have to ask for permission. We’ll work on bigger names together, but I have pretty free range to do the musical programming we want to do at the club—which is very rare because I’ve done this at other venues and a lot of owners always think about numbers and long-term figures. The good thing about a guy like [Puig] is, he grew DJs at Space. He was booking Oscar G in the beginning, Danny Tenaglia, Erick Morillo, Loco Dice, and grew them into the stars they are in our market. We’re able to do the same thing. Pick up smaller acts, bring them three, four times a year and push them in this market. It’s fun to do that. See someone we booked the first time with 100 people in the room and two years later, there’s 600 people seeing that artist.
In terms of bookings, you’re always taking a risk. I try to push something I’m really into and sometimes it works out really well, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I bring somebody just too soon, a little bit ahead of the curve before the fans have caught on to it. It’s hard to monetize but you have to start somewhere and someone has to take those risks.
It doesn’t seem like any of your booking decisions are reliant on the artist’s social media presence, which is refreshing.
That’s something that doesn’t matter in Miami. The last four or five years, our crowd has become very educated in music. They’re very informed. Venues like Treehouse and the Electric Pickle and Do Not Sit On The Furniture book really obscure acts from places like Albania. They’re small rooms, 150-person capacity but they’re packing them out. It just shows that people are really into these up-and-coming sounds. At the same time, I can’t do those artists at my venue because of the size of the room. Not yet. You have to put a little bit of business into the decision making when it comes to clubs like Heart, Space, and Trade.
With all these clubs in such close proximity, is the competition quite fierce?
We’re all friends when the clubs aren’t open but when it’s game time, we’re competitors. It’s a growing market, especially for the underground sound. If it was four or five years ago, it might have been too close with Space and the Electric Pickle doing this kind of stuff. But now in Miami, there’s probably five or six clubs doing underground music. There is more underground music then there is commercial music, which is great. It shows that the consumers are finally getting out of their comfort zone.