The man behind the E11EVEN Miami brand
It could have been a Wednesday, a Thursday, a Friday. Any night, really. Dennis DeGori, owner/partner of E11EVEN Miami, was making his way through the club, from the Rooftop on down. It was 5 am, he was done for the night and making his final walk-through of the venue before heading out. But just then, he looked up at one of the club’s large screens.
“I was about to go home when Skrillex jumped on the decks,” DeGori recalls of the very recent event. “I had come down just to do my walkthrough and say goodnight and get out, but next thing … I don’t even know he’s going up, that’s just how E11EVEN is. I see Skrillex’s name on the video board and I’m like, ‘Huh.’ So yes, Skrillex is in the booth, and he spun for an hour. And then Carnage got in the booth with him, and Carnage is awesome. I didn’t go home until 7:30 that morning.”
If you’re not exactly sure who Skrillex or Carnage are, that’s ok, I’ll explain. Skrillex is arguably the most popular EDM (Electronic Dance Music) DJ in the world. To put that into further perspective, Skrillex gets paid over $200,000 or more for a private gig. Yes, you read that correctly—two hundred thousand dollars. For his part, Carnage has been listed in Top 100 DJs for the past three years in a row. But these guys hang out at E11EVEN, even spin for free, simply because it’s cool.
“We’ve had everyone [celebrity] you can think of. I just had Leonardo DiCaprio in, Usher, Jennifer Lopez, and I had Kendall Jenner and Kylie Jenner in the other day. But it’s not like anything stops. Most people in the club have no idea that they are even there, which is the beauty of it.” ~DeGori
And they’re not the only ones. Far from it. Want more names? How about Leonardo DiCaprio—he was in a few times recently. Miley Cyrus got up on one of the club’s “go-go” stages and danced for 45 minutes. Drake has been a guest, as have Kendall and Kylie Jenner. No, these aren’t “paid” appearances. That’s just how popular E11EVEN and its brand has become. And trust me when I say, those names are only a few of many.
“(Celebrities) just pour through the door, all the time, day and night,” says DeGori. “Some of them don’t want to be known and we don’t ever divulge if somebody wants to come in and not say that they were there. They come in, they go out, and unless some paparazzi snaps a picture, no one would know it.”
For those who may have missed the massive, 37-page cover story in the January 2014 issue of Club Bulletin, E11EVEN Miami is the brainchild of a man who is known as one of the top veteran operators in the history of the adult nightclub industry, as his 2016 EXOTIC DANCER Hall of Fame induction should attest. E11EVEN is not a strip club, it’s not a nightclub, it’s not a bar, it’s not a live music venue. When E11EVEN first opened, it’s tagline was, “What is E11EVEN,” which evolved into “E11EVEN Miami—it’s exactly what you think it is.” So, nearly three years after its opening, how does the man who conceptualized this venue describe it?
“The fact is, I can’t define it—it’s impossible,” says DeGori. “It’s different things to different people for different reasons. One person will see a club, one person will see a theatrical show and one person will see a cabaret. It lives and breathes differently every single day. It’s much more a social environment. Everything we do at E11even is different from most any place. DJs don’t talk, no one talks on the microphone, ever. We don’t introduce any show, but we do tons of shows. We do theatrical things, we do little vignettes on side stages. I might have a celebrity artist, like an Alec Monopoly, and he’s on a side stage spray painting a girl, spray painting an artifact, but we don’t say anything about it. If I do Cirque-de-Soleil-type things or any theatrical things, we don’t introduce it. We don’t stop anything, it just goes on. If you’re not paying attention, you may miss it.”
While much of the growth of E11EVEN has been organic, there is still a great deal of the concept that DeGori and his operating partners (brother Ken DeGori, Gino LoPinto, Derick Henry and Daniel Solomon) can take credit for. As far back as the late 1990s, DeGori envisioned a future where “regular” nightclubs and adult clubs would merge. And right from the very beginning, DeGori and his partners steadfastly eschewed labels of any kind. There can be no debate that this approached has worked to a degree that has even caught DeGori off guard.
“It still surprises me, every day … every single day,” he admits. “E11EVEN has played out to be exactly what I hoped it would be, and more.”
ED Publications had the opportunity to speak to the man who never sleeps (hence E11EVEN’s popular hashtag, #TeamNoSleep) to find out what it meant to be inducted into the ED’s Hall of Fame, what he’s most proud of when it comes to E11EVEN’s success, and whether he has plans for new E11EVEN locations. DeGori notes that some of the key elements of their success can be applied to adult nightclubs, while also pointing out the number-one challenge facing the adult club industry today.
ED: First, congratulations once again on your ED Hall of Fame induction. Now that you’ve had a chance to reflect back on it, what does it mean for you to be a “Hall of Famer”?
DEGORI: Every time I think about myself and what it means to me, I have a hard time with it because I don’t feel old. Anytime you look at the Hall of Fame people, you always see these old people coming up to the stage and accepting awards and they’re at, probably, at the twilight of their career, whereas I find myself feeling very young, thinking very young and I’ve created a concept which is incredibly novel. So it’s hard for me even to imagine the Hall of Fame, but obviously anytime you’re in the Hall of Fame of anything, you have to feel good about it.
What it means to me … it’s very nice to be recognized. I’m usually not a person who’s part of any ‘club.’ I’m fairly a loner, so to be included in any club makes me feel good. I’m not saying it validates anything I’ve done because I’ve always believed in everything I’ve done. I’ve always worked my ass off trying to do great things. But it’s some validation that somebody thought, even if it was just you or just Don (Waitt), who said, ‘Hey, what about Dennis DeGori,’ so there’s some validation out there. I feel great about it, it’s awesome.
ED: It can be argued that you deserved to be inducted for two separate reasons: One, for your veteran career in the adult nightclub industry, and secondly, for what you’ve done with E11EVEN and its unrivaled success. Of those two reasons for induction, which are you most proud of?
DEGORI: It’s hard to diminish the fact that I’ve literally operated 25 adult clubs over the past four decades. As you know, a lot of those clubs from way back were known for being innovative in their own way. This goes way back to the Ft. Lauderdale days, the original Solid Gold, the original Pure Platinum in Ft. Lauderdale, and on and on and on. Really, I started in Orlando where, originally, we were just at the birth of upscale gentlemen’s clubs. I’ve traveled — I’ve probably lived in a hotel room more than I’ve lived in any one particular place in my life. I traveled from to location to location six months a year. I was usually troubleshooting a club, and you could right any club in three to six months if you know what you’re doing and just make it spectacular again.
Still, E11EVEN is my biggest accomplishment. It feels awkward to even say that, because of all the years and all the places and all the great people that I’ve worked with in my life. Maybe that—those experiences, working with those people—is what I’m most proud of.
ED: More than once over the past two decades, you and I have discussed the “future” of the adult nightclub industry. You had stressed to me that you felt that a merger of nightclubs and adult clubs could work, would work. Now, you’ve created a concept that reflects this ambition with E11EVEN. Has there ever been another venue quite like it?
DEGORI: Thinking back on it, the closest thing to E11EVEN is really Studio 54. They are really incredibly alike in a lot of ways because Studio 54 was what E11EVEN is now, except that E11EVEN is a little bit more like Studio 54 on steroids. (Studio 54) had celebrities, it had the theatrics, it had immersive experiences which were unexpected. You had a bunch of people who came in to enjoy the music and enjoy everything else, but you did have the go-go dancers there as well. You had theatrical things there, and you even had semi-toplessness there. I never equated that Studio 54 could have been a forerunner of E11EVEN until I came up with this concept, which was back in 1991 and well after the Studio 54 days. That’s when nightclubs were nightclubs, when you had Studio 54.
ED: E11EVEN has attracted a healthy share of celebrities who’ve come to club as guests, not for paid appearances. To what do you attribute this to, and how does your staff “handle” these celebrities when they’re in the club?
DEGORI: We’ve had everyone you can think of. I just had (Leonardo) DiCaprio in, Usher, Jennifer Lopez, and I had Kendall Jenner and Kylie Jenner in the other day. But it’s not like anything stops. Most people in the club have no idea that they are even there, which is the beauty of it. The celebrity people know when you come to E11EVEN we put a lot of people around you and people don’t even know you’re there unless you want people to know. If they want to be known, typically they’ll jump up on the stage with the go-go dancers. Like we had Miley Cyrus jump on stage with the go-gos and she was up there for 45 minutes dancing with them and cutting it up. She wanted to be seen. DiCaprio doesn’t want to be seen, so he’s in there with a bunch of girls and he sat down in what we call the “Party Pit” and we have people around him, front to back, to make sure he’s secure, but no one else in the club knows he’s there. Most of the staff doesn’t even know he’s there because there’s no reason to tell them because again, we want this to be an immersive experience.
As far as why all of these people are coming to E11EVEN, the word is just getting around, it’s organic. And people say, “You got to go to E11EVEN,” and so everyone does. If you haven’t been to E11EVEN, then you haven’t been to Miami.
ED: The organic, “word-of-mouth” growth of E11EVEN is apparent, but it’s not the only way in which the club has built its brand. What part has social media (and the internet at large) played in the promotional aspect of E11EVEN’s success, especially with the “millennial” generation?
DEGORI: Reaching millennials is actually super easy: You have to do it through their phones. I have a social media expert and I have a whole team of people dedicated to it. I outsource different aspects of my social media. It’s how we get to everyone. We just started the E11EVEN brand online, which is my ball caps and t-shirts. I swear I’ve gotten orders from New Zealand. How do you get that? The only way is (a) create a brand and (b) it’s all social media. That’s the only way you’re going to reach any millennial is on their phones. If you can’t get to a person’s phone, you’re not getting to them, period.
In terms of what has worked for us specifically on the internet, we meet people where they’re at. That includes all social media platforms, so that’s where we go after them. The thing that has been most effective for us is Instagram. We’re all on Twitter and we tweet because there’s a certain element that uses that quite a bit. Of course we have a full Facebook presence, and we also have a very interactive webpage. We use Youtube and Vimeo. Go look on Vimeo, look for E11EVEN and you’ll see incredibly produced pieces, whether it’s New Year’s Eve or Drake for a special event. We produce incredibly professional visual pieces—you would think I had a movie producer produce these things—and we script them all in house. But the key is to hit all social media platforms, not just one or two.
“If the industry is going to have any shot, it has to get young again. You can’t put a stage up against a wall where everyone looks at it. The stage needs to be in the middle of the room now so people can get around it, so people can move to all different places. We have to stop putting people in tuxedos and saying, ‘You can’t go there, you can’t do this, you can’t do that. You can’t use your phone. You can’t stand here, you’re in the way.’ It’s just a horrific concept that doesn’t work.” – DeGori
ED: But there are also aspects to your social media presence that are organic in their own way, correct?
DEGORI: Not only are we producing our social media posts and hashtags, which anyone in any club could do it, but we involve anyone who’s associated with E11EVEN in any way. We get our liquor people involved, we get them to send stuff out. I might have 15-20 new DJs a week who work with us, and these people are either from around the country or around the world so we get on their pages and then we get them to hashtag E11EVEN. I don’t care if I’m hitting an 80-year-old grandma, because if I can put E11EVEN into people’s minds and somebody says, “Oh we’re going to that club in Miami, E11even,” it’s huge for us.
A few days ago, we had a girl who is an “influencer” in the club. She’s an ex-Playboy model, and she has something like seven million Facebook likes and 10 million Instagram followers. She puts the E11EVEN ball cap on and we take care of her and she’s so appreciative, she throws us some love, she talks about us on her v-blog and she talks about the E11EVEN experience and says, “I love this place, these people are so nice.” And then she has the ball cap on and it goes out into Instagram, so now we just hit 10 million people.
ED: Clearly, the “immersive” E11EVEN concept is working as well as you could possibly hope for in Miami. Can it work in other cities? Are there plans on opening more E11EVEN locations, and if so, can you divulge where?
DEGORI: I’m presently in three different cities, looking, working and making sure I have the right location and the right facility. I’m currently in New York and London, and we’re very close to securing great locations in both cities. As far as other cities I’d consider, I would do Toronto and I would do Vegas if I could get into a hotel/casino. In Ibiza it would work really, really well.
Some of the components that we have, especially the level at which we perform, we would have to import people. New York could be even bigger and better, just spectacular. And again, you have the same demographics, you have the same international feel which is really what’s so important to it. You need places where you have an international feel, you can do that in New York, in London, you can do it in Toronto, San Francisco and Vegas, all day long.
ED: Even though E11EVEN is not an adult nightclub, is there still an “adult” aesthetic at E11EVEN?
DEGORI: At E11EVEN, the entertainers are clearly “independent.” I don’t tell them a thing. All they have to do is come in if they want. The stages are open to use if they want them.
They can come and go when they want. The girls don’t ever have to do a stage. They can walk, chew gum, talk on their telephone, do anything that a guest can do. What they can’t do is break the law. They can’t be against the health code and they can’t be a threat to themselves or anyone else, which has also worked incredibly well.
But the truth is, we don’t focus on the entertainers, we never, have said a word about the entertainers at E11EVEN. We’ve never even said, “We have a topless entertainer.”
ED: E11EVEN’s approach to DJs is also clearly much different from the adult nightclub industry’s general approach.
DEGORI: Seven days a week I have different DJs playing. Seven days a week I may have two, three, four, five, six different DJs in one single night. But again, we don’t introduce them either. There’s no introduction, there’s no shift, there’s no stop and starting music. Everything goes seamlessly.
If I opened a new (adult nightclub) today, I wouldn’t have much talking at all from the DJs. The DJ interrupts the rhythm all night long. Yeah, they’re part and parcel to the old cabaret industry, but you gotta get them to be more involved in a true show, not a verbal show. How much do you really want to hear? How many times do you wanna hear that the kitchen is open? It’s horrible.
ED: Even though E11EVEN is not an adult nightclub, are there any aspects to the club’s success that can be applied to an adult club?
DEGORI: Cut down on your DJ speaking, and make sure your stages are in the right place and you’re not looking up against a wall and everyone’s just staring at her. People don’t want to just sit on their hands. Let your guests get up and move. In every cabaret they want to seat you and that’s where you sit, that’s your spot. That’s ridiculous. You can’t do that with a millennial, you just can’t. You’re not going to keep them seated in one spot. They’re going to go from here to here to here and they want to walk around and you have to build an environment that’s conducive to be able to do that. We can’t just control, control, control the guests.
ED: You are one of the true veterans of our industry, having come up through the Michael J. Peter organization in the 1980s, opening/operating dozens of top clubs across the country, eventually breaking out on your own as an owner, leading to the immense success today with E11EVEN. In your estimation, what is the number-one problem facing the adult nightclub industry?
DEGORI: I think the number-one problem is management and the remedy is management — better management, better ownership. You go into any club now, you’ll have a TV playing CSI, two other TVs turned off; you’ll have staff down at the end eating and chatting while you sit at the bar waiting like a douchebag. No one’s investing in good management anymore.
Unfortunately adult entertainment has a stigma attached to it, so I think some of the more creative people really don’t come into the industry. And for many of those that do, they don’t get it. They might build a bigger and better facility, but then they don’t know how to operate it. They don’t know how to make the thing flow. Architects and designers don’t understand the concept. You need somebody who’s creative and understands what they’re trying to accomplish.
You go into so many clubs today and no one cares. Too many of the people in today’s cabarets/gentlemen’s clubs are interested only in making money, and that is the mistake. It’s that simple. They’re cutting “non-essential” things so they can maximize their bottom line.
ED: How can clubs adapt to the changing times and their evolving clientele? What strategies have worked for you that can work for other operators?
DEGORI: If the industry is going to have any shot, it has to get young again. They have to add more dimensions. You can’t put a stage up against a wall where everyone looks at it. The stage needs to be in the middle of the room now so people can get around it, so people can move to all different places. We have to stop putting people in tuxedos and saying, “You can’t go there, you can’t do this, you can’t do that. You can’t use your phone. You can’t stand here, you’re in the way.” It’s just a horrific concept that doesn’t work. There’s no social experience. Young people aren’t like that anymore. You can’t make a young person sit on their hands. If you do it, they’re gonna leave. The industry is still playing music it was playing 30 years ago, literally. Who’s listening to that? It’s 80 percent the same music. You have to get young, you have to get creative. You don’t have to spend millions of dollars, but you have to add some dimension.
ED: The industry, it seems, is at a crossroads. At the same time, we’ll be celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the industry’s convention, the Annual Gentlemen’s Club EXPO. What are your thoughts on the EXPO and its place in the industry at large?
DEGORI: Without the EXPO and without ED Publications, I don’t think there would be an industry. I don’t think there would be all of these clubs around the nation; I think they would’ve fizzled out. You would have the big clubs, but I think ED and the EXPO has enabled the industry to thrive and protect itself, and ultimately have the opportunity to get enough insight and resources for average people to open up clubs all over the country and all over the world. I don’t think there would be an ‘industry’ if there wasn’t ED Publications. I 100% believe that.
For more information, visit 11miami.com.