The Pawn Shop, Miami



No, the comics are not for sale.

Forget off the beach. This mod-kitsch lounge is practically off the map.
By John Landers

The fashion model keg party is rocking the Royal Estates Trailer Park, while various jet-set hipsters relax in the 727 Lounge. Over in the Living Room, the glitterati are sprawled across a variety of antique love seats, sipping cocktails and looking fabulous. Out back, local skateboarders are showing off their half-pipe skills while an appreciative crowd cheers them on. Meanwhile, at the epicenter of all this insanity, the crowd on the dancefloor is singing along to Guns N’ Roses. No, this isn’t an upcoming episode of “The O.C.”; it’s just another typical Saturday night at the electric, eclectic Pawn Shop.

Miami’s newest hotspot defies all expectations. Located in an unlikely building in an unfashionable neighborhood, this “boutique lounge” has become the destination of choice for a delightful assortment of artists, club kids, tourists, fashionistas and street cred celebrities. The brainchild of owner Kurt Von Nastrand, Pawn Shop offers something for everyone. Everyone, that is, except those who prefer SoBe snob appeal.

“When you’re located in an old pawn shop, it’s hard to have that kind of attitude,” explains marketing director Michelle Leshem. “We’re kind of the antithesis of South Beach. We’re doing it our own way, more laidback, and very witty.”

The mismatched Living Room

Kid ‘N Play
In addition to a vintage Airstream trailer, the Pawn Shop also features a pool table, a pinball machine, a photo booth and a full-size school bus. Each of the five theme areas – the Hunter’s Lodge Bar, the 727 Lounge, the Living Room, the Royal Estates Trailer Park, and the Bus – has a distinctive decor and personality. “People haven’t seen anything like it before,” says Leshem. “It’s art imitating life.”

The Pawn Shop’s music direction is equally uninhibited. “We don’t have a set format,” says Saturday night resident DJ Sean Drake. Drake and his partner, Juan Mejia, mix it up both in the booth and out on the dancefloor, working the decks and the room with equal enthusiasm. “We’re also hosts. We walk around, get our friends drinks, and hang out,” he says. “We treat it like a house party, and that’s the format of the music.”

On any given night, Pawn Shop patrons can expect a delirious blend of Depeche Mode, De La Soul, AC/DC and everything worthy in between. But each night has its own flavor: Thursdays lean toward old school hip-hop, Fridays more Brit-pop and indie rock, while Saturdays are “guilty pleasures” - pop and rock and classics that many dance music aficionados secretly know and love. Despite the heavy retro element, the DJs manage to keep it all fresh by going far beyond typical “greatest hits” playlists. “We try to keep it not so wedding,” Drake laughs.  What, no “Tainted Love”?

Didn't you miss school bus seats?

Gimme The Bass
Much to the delight of DJs and patrons alike, Pawn Shop’s sound installation works equally well with each of these different musical styles. “We’ve had a big improvement with the sound system,” notes Drake. The most recent upgrade was handled by south Florida firm Sound Stage Systems (, after one of those friend-of-a-friend referrals so common in this industry. “We came in and made some recommendations. They needed more bass,” explains Sound Stage’s Michael Arias, “So we added some speakers, reconfigured the system, and then senior engineer Jimmy Crombie analyzed and tuned everything using SMAART.”

The result is an efficient, balanced installation which features Mach speakers, QSC PLX Series amplifiers and Rane processing. According to Drake, it’s a perfect fit for Pawn’s needs. “It’s nice, warm and cozy, not blaringly loud,” he says. And to get the most out of it, he ascribes to the floor rotation policy. “We keep the volume kind of low until the room gets packed, and then we slowly creep it up. As the energy of the song increases, we’ll increase the volume,” he says. “But after that, we’ll settle it back down a little bit. We’re in the business of selling alcohol. We need to send people to the bar once in a while, not just keep them dancing all night.”

The 727 Lounge

Like the sound system, the lighting also compliments the Pawn Shop’s party persona. Designed and installed by Griffin Automation of South Florida, the system consists solely of Martin Professional instruments. The eye-catching install was something of an anomaly for the firm. “I’m a service company, more than anything,” says president Tom Griffin, “but I also do quite a few martini bars and gentleman’s clubs.”

Griffin’s major challenge was the building itself, which had once been a tobacco storage facility for the nearby Port of Miami. “The biggest thing was trying to incorporate modern, intelligent lighting with old wooden beams,” he recalls. Fortunately, Griffin was able to locate the various MX-10, CX-10 and Wizard fixtures so that the massive timbers wouldn’t obstruct the colorful light show. In the end, the system provides a powerful combination of style and speed. The sophisticated scanners and color changers allow operators to conjure just the right mood, while the effect lights give them the power to rock the house on demand.

Because of the neighborhood, attracting the right mix of customers to the venue would’ve been impossible without Pawn Shop’s unique decor, sound and lighting. Even with all of those advantages, convincing people to come to downtown Miami has been a bit of a challenge. “Jose [Ortiz, the other half of Pawn Shop’s marketing team] and I are very keen on doing things our own way,” says Leshem. Obviously, their unorthodox efforts are paying off. “You have models, punk rockers, VIPs, hot college girls, graffiti artists and everyone’s in the same room, dancing,” she says. “We’re not even in the Design District. We’re just a pawn shop in the middle of the ghetto. It just goes to show, if you create something good, people will come.”


6 - Martin Professional CX-10 color changers
4 - Martin Professional MX-10 scanners
2 - Martin Professional MX-4 scanners
3 - Martin Professional Wizard effects
1 - Jem 24/7 hazer
1 - Martin Professional Atomic 3000 strobe

7 - QSC PLX2402 amplifiers
4 - Mach 181T subwoofers
4 - Mach M125i speakers
4 - Mach M154i speakers
2 - NEXO PS10 booth monitors
2 - Pioneer CDJ-1000 CD players
2 - QSC PLX1602 amplifiers
2 - Rane RPM 26z programmable multi-processors
2 - Technics SL1200 MKII turntables
1 - Pioneer EFX-500 effects unit
1 - Rane MP 44 mixer



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Copyright 2005 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2005 TESTA Communications