Al Malnik knows Miami. And, it's safe to say, Miami is a world-class city, in large part, because of him. A devoted businessman, family man and philanthropist, Malnik has left his mark on much of the Miami Beach landscape since he moved here in 1956. From his world-renowned restaurant, The Forge, his creation known in its heyday as the stomping grounds of the Rat Pack and other legendary characters, to his extremely generous support of local charitable organizations such as the Make-a-Wish Foundation, the Jackson Memorial Hospital and Mt. Sinai Hospital, it is obvious that Malnik likes to make things happen. And, when he does, no one can top him.
His success as a restaurateur, a major consumer loan lender and an entertainment lawyer to the likes of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin and Jackie Gleason are well documented and testament to his unrivaled clout and reputation. But, few know that this prominent South Florida figure is a self-made, private, humble and deeply spiritual patriarch of an ever-growing family-his wife, Nancy, recently gave birth to twins rounding out his brood at 10-with an eye for design, a passion for art and a love for good home-cooked meals.
Driving up to the entrance of the Beaux Arts Mansion, Malnik's 35,000-square-foot Palm Beach residence, it appears that F. Scott Fitzgerald could have had it in mind as he penned The Great Gatsby. It is a breathtaking feat, a modern-day nod to the historical Beaux Art style, helmed by the athletic Malnik himself.
"I have always wanted to craeate a Beaux Art house," Malnik confides energetically. "l love to build. I love to complete my eclectic taste." Malnik is a passionate collector. A hobby-turned-obsession when he was a young law student, collecting provided a vehicle for him to amass value and wealth while writing his own history through celebrated objects. It started with stained glass but today, everything from art-a cast-away Picasso hangs behind a guest bathroom door and unique Roy Caruthers pieces are displayed throughout the house-to wine-thousands of Jeroboams and Methusalis of Margaux, Petrus and Rothchilds sit in his multilevel wine cellar-to antiques-the third pool table ever built by Brunswick stands next to two enormous mirrors from the Carnegie Mansion in New York-has a special niche at the Beaux Art Mansion.
"My philosophy," Malnik explains of his approach to antiques, "is to buy art...that is irreplaceable because the craft no longer exists as it did when it was made. They need to be individual and unique." Individual and unique are themes that run throughout Malnik's home, largely due to his masterful coupling of seemingly disparate elements from the classic to the contemporary. Touring through his collection, the suave and handsome Malnik seems to channel Old Blue Eyes himself as he glides from room to room unveiling his favored pieces. His dining room is an unexpected treasure trove. Featuring a stunning 1860-dining room set emblazoned with the Cartier seal (a little known fact: the esteemed jeweler was an accomplished furniture maker, he also designed Malnik's alabaster clock fireplace) from the Cartier family estate in Switzerland paired with Russian Beaux Art candelabras and a solid-gold candle holder, a gift from Saudi Arabian Prince Abdul Aziz, the room is the picture perfect marriage of styles.
"The house is replete with all different types of things," Malnik admits with a charming grin, "yet it all seems to work together. Others might say that it is lunacy but it is a turn on for me."
Mixing things up has been a recurring agenda for the St. Louis, Missouri native not only in décor but also in business and in philanthropy. "I started out as a renegade," Malnik admits, "I always did what I wanted, represented people when I practiced law that many people told me, 'you're just going to ruin your career' and perhaps they were right. But, I always felt I needed to do what I wanted to do."
And today, the tireless Malnik is collaborating with noted businessman Jordan Zimmerman and record executive Steve Rifkin to develop Kids Block, an educational entertainment project for children buttressed by hip-hop music, created by the talented and famous record producers, Poke & Tone. The venture will include a weekly television show and several other satellite components.
"It's an updated Sesame Street," Malnik enthuses. "Very hip. Very urban. Very today."
Hip, urban and today. These words could also be used to describe Malnik's other business endeavors. Joining his "eleventh son", film director Brett Ratner of Rush Hour and X-Men: The Last Stand fame, Malnik's professed next phase will be an exploration of opportunities in the entertainment industry.
But, despite his many business dealings, Malnik remains deeply committed to supporting causes and charities that make a difference in people's lives. Sometimes, those people are very close to home. Malnik and his beautiful wife Nancy had been involved with the Make-A-Wish foundation long before they had children of their own.
"They literally bring the child back to life by granting a wish," the grateful Malnik remarks. "They really do. We saw it."
Three years ago, one of their triplets, Jarod, was diagnosed with leukemia and was admitted into St. Mary's Hospital for six months while he underwent chemotherapy. Luckily, Jarod has been in remission for almost three years now and is a happy healthy 8-year-old boy but during his hospitalization, Malnik observed Make-A-Wish in action. They brought hope and happiness to all of the kids in the pediatric-cancer wing including Jarod. "It was fantastic," he enthuses.
Splitting his philanthropic energies among children's causes, religious-based charities and other worthwhile organizations, Malnik is proud of his charitable work. Currently, he is setting up a foundation that will specialize in seeking out deserving causes to be the recipients of his generosity so that donations like his current gift to the Jackson Memorial Hospital, in honor of the late chairman and his dear friend Jay Weiss, are a regular occurrence.
Although Malnik fondly recalls the days of Miami Beach past, he is enamored of Miami Beach today. "I have seen the beach go through all of these different phases and I mean it is certainly in its glory now," Malnik says. "It is just absolutely phenomenal. Beyond what I could ever envision would happen to Miami Beach."
That said, the seasoned resident recognizes that Miami Beach is still in its infancy and is therefore vulnerable to the cycles of real estate. "The real-estate market here is quite amazing," he explains. "When times seem that there is no limit to the upside, you marvel at how quickly values have escalated and how quickly the escalated values of real estate are selling…and then, it just seems like a combination of factors occur and one day it all wipes out and fortunately that is only temporary."
Luckily for Malnik, he sold most of his real estate last year when the market began to get shaky and although the crumbling market troubles him, he admits, "I felt good that I sold when I did." But, Malnik has not lost faith and believes that like all things, real estate in Miami will rebound. The question is, "when?"
Until then, Malnik, who is in fantastic shape thanks to his daily workouts, is happy adding an extension to his home for his children that will include a tennis court, a basketball court and a football field in the backyard. It will also house an Asian gallery in the lower level complete with prehistoric mammoth tusks and awe-inspiring pieces made of jade and agate.
"It's great to be at a place in life," admits the contented Malnik as his toddlers' laughter echoes in the background, "where you do what you please and you become accustomed to your own shoes."
Alvin Malnik has worked hard to get to this place. A self-made man who has proved repeatedly that if you put your mind to something, the sky and beyond is the limit. But, unlike many, Malnik takes his success in stride. Enjoys it without gloating and his humility is perhaps one of his greatest achievements.
"I consider myself not particularly noteworthy," Malnik smiles. "To be honest with you, and I know this may sound a little bit funny, but I've kind of grown into my life so, I am used to it. I don't really consider myself or what I have or what I do to be very unusual."
Unusual indeed. And, remarkable. And, inspiring. And, historic. His is a life in a movie, one that everyone is dying to watch, that he both directs and stars in just as he sees fit. His purpose is singular and pointed. "My primary legacy," Malnik confides, "is I want all of my children to have a footing in life. To be proud of themselves. Be proud of their family. To grow spiritually, intellectually and economically." Leaning back and smiling, he continues, "I am very proud of all of my family." Well, it is fairly certain, that they are very proud of him too. And, the legacy continues.