By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
The music gave the club a unique feeling, and helped establish it as the place to be for the fashionable set. It was the height of Miami Vice fever, and the city was caught up in a high-roller mood, the kind of big-room glamour that had marked the glory days at places like the Embers. You could almost feel the money in the air.
And the drugs. In the same way Prohibition-era drinking and illicit gambling lent an element of intrigue to the fabled Miami hot spots of an earlier age - places like the One O'Clock Club and Brook's - drugs shaped the big dance clubs of the mid- to late Eighties. You could pay your admission, walk into a room, and witness scenes straight out of Vice, people living out a cliche that had been arrived at only the week before: dramatic entrances by ponytailed drug dealers surrounded by entourages of henchmen and two or three peroxide blondes, all flashing thighs, cash, and doped decadence. Drugs made the clubs overwhelming, sinister, and vaguely threatening, in a fun sort of way.
George Tamsitt, the creative force behind Club Ovo and Paris Moderne and now general manager of Downtown, speaks of those recent years with the authority of an expert. "I don't know if Club Nu set new standards of opulence, but I think they may have set new standards of decadence. There wasn't any back room for cocaine; it was just everywhere. In the corridors outside the bathrooms. On the tables in the dining room. It was just there. This was late '87, '88, '89. Now it just couldn't happen. There was a big crackdown on all that, everywhere, particularly on Miami Beach. And I also think the times have changed. People are drinking less, doing less drugs, and they have less income to spend."
Tom Turchin points out that, unfortunately, "from here to Timbuktu, drugs are part of the nightclub scene." But drug users and dealers, he and his brothers insist, were either promptly expelled or prosecuted "to the full letter of the law." (A warning sign to this effect was posted in Club Nu.)
Warning signs, of course, are made to be ignored. And in April of last year, after a six-month undercover investigation, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the state Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco raided the club and made several arrests for drug sales. According to Jorge Herrera of the state agency, "These clubs are visited periodically and inspected. In upscale discos, a high-income kind of crowd, it's not uncommon to have drug sales, quite frequently, without the knowledge of the owners."
With or without drugs, Club Nu in its heyday always had a different kind of ambiance. It was all tarted up like other big discos, but there was another level of weirdness. As with the Vegas Big Room mentality, when Wayne Newton tries to give the impression that he's barely holding himself back from really blowing the roof off, Nu aimed for a pervasive sense of chaos only tenuously under control, as if the place could break loose at any moment. But Miami Beach is definitely not Las Vegas, and the shaky edge at Club Nu - musically, visually, culturally - was often truly close at hand.
The lure of wildness was a valuable commodity, something to be nurtured and manipulated by careful planning. The mystique of the dangerous avant-garde at play was exploited in the great American tradition, the way Wild Bill Hickock sold out the Old West with his traveling revues. On any given night at Nu - one never knew - anything might happen. Mondo New York cult figure Joey Arias might end up singing with flutist Nestor Torres. Kinky tableaus like the North Beach Leather fashion show might be punctuated by real bikers roaring through the club on Harleys, bearing models. Bizarre publicity stunts and semi-psychotic performers swirled amid a thick atmosphere of booze and noise. And sex. Sex was everywhere, in every form, an operating aesthetic that has now been further refined by the gay disco Warsaw. But Club Nu, according to Tom Turchin, was there again, ahead of its time. "We were the first to do that whole sex thing," he says offhandedly, "with male dancers and all that. The Bone Boyz [a local team of salacious dancers], you know how popular they are now, they started with us."
No one seems to think there is anything strange about a statement like that. But then, club work is not for the unduly sensitive (seeing people at their worst, night after night, would take the heart out of anybody), and it breeds a Beckett-like numbness, an almost preternatural tolerance of all that is human. The Bone Boyz seem to be, in the end, no more or less valid than, say, Liza Minnelli.
Hype, spurts of enthusiasm, revealing moments of jadedness - today the Club Nu partners project an odd combination of all three, in a manner reminiscent of rock stars. As young South Beach developer Craig Robins pointed out at the farewell party, Carino and the Turchins grew into the role: "They're old Beach boys, like my brother and me, but they look like rock stars. They actually believe it."