The Last Dance

From the evidence at the Club Nu offices on Purdy Avenue, contained within the Robert L. Turchin, Inc. building, they've had a good long run as stars. The place is crammed with publicity stills of the boys alongside the various luminaries who have dropped by the club. Rock star memorabilia - a stone signed by Mick Jagger, George Michael's boots - is prominently on display. They remain diligent fans. "We took care of celebs," says Tom proudly, "treated them nice, made sure they didn't wind up in the tabloids. And they reciprocated, let us use their names and faces on invitations."

At the same time, the toll taken by four blurred years of parties and fun is also evident on the walls. You can see the boys transformed from seething-with-ambition, bright-eyed youngsters in their very early 30s to club veterans in their mid-30s, all leanness, major Rod Stewart hair, and tapped-out expressions. If they were a band, and able to be broken down into cliches understood by teen-age girls, each would have his own distinct following. Rick Carino, a great decadent look and a mass of pre-Raphaelite-style hair: the wild man. Tom Turchin, sensitive, sweet-natured hippie visionary, hair long and luxurious: the nice guy. John Turchin, modest hair, sensible: the one to take home to the folks.

Flipping through a box of photographs, John offers helpful commentary. Pointing to a picture of Miami Beach Mayor Alex Daoud looking especially dopey, he smirks and says, "This guy here has always been very helpful." Next is a photo of gross-out performance stripper Lady Hennessy Brown. In the matter-of-fact tone that would be used to elucidate the inner workings of a carburetor, he describes one of her routines: "She has people pull this ribbon with bells on it, straight out of her lower end, and it just went on and on. Guys at the bar, 50 feet away, were playing with it."

No one blinks at the pictures, and they hardly look up when an associate walks in to announce that a court summons has just arrived. John nonchalantly explains that it's from a doctor who was hit over the head with a beer bottle by another patron during a recent dispute over a girl: "It's a private matter, but they always wind up coming after us. It's just part of doing business."

The ephemeral nature of the nightclub industry rather precisely mirrors the trajectory of a big-time rock career: the first beautiful unveiling of a new talent; the blossoming of genius; the gradual decline and scramble for commercial attention; the artistically compromised album, obscurity, comeback attempts. It would be wonderful if clubs could, like certain rare flowers and conceptual-art pieces, appear in all their radiance for one glorious night and then die forever. But real life dictates that they go on past their moment, that the room be filled as much and as often as possible.

Inevitably the appeal of the place began to wane. Louis Canales, for one, has been around long enough to have, like Boethius, the consolation of philosophy. "The whole process of clubs breaks down into a kind of ethnic/socio-economic grid," he says. "The avant-garde, the trendsetters, make it hip, but they won't mix with the trendy yuppies from Brickell and Turnberry they eventually attract. And then others moved in, and it became their club. A Sweetwater, blue-collar Cuban thing, very particular sense of style. But the breakdown goes across the board: upper-class Cubans hear a blue-collar Spanish accent, they head for the door.

"And by the winter of 1988, the Beach was like a kaleidoscope of clubs - the Avenue A things I did with Gary James, which were, in essence, totally illegal outlaw parties, Paris Moderne, Scratch, Beirut, Friday nights at Joseph's. The right people had moved on. But clubs aren't supposed to last forever; there's like a built-in obsolescence. Clubs are about fashion, they're just things of the moment."

But a four-and-a-half-year run is extraordinary for a club. In the business, it is generally agreed that you need to make your money within two years. The Palladium in New York, even with $13 million and the team of Ian Schrager and the late Steve Rubell, closed within two years. And in the time that Nu was open, a lot of local people came and went. The very slick Paris Moderne, reportedly undercapitalized from the beginning, opened and closed in a few scant months. Scratch lasted a year and a half. Club Ovo became the China Club, then the Rhythm Club, then Warsaw. Woody's shut down after eighteen months and the space was recently rechristened as Egoiste. 1235 became Deco's, then Passion, then an empty space. Fire and Ice: dead. Who's in the Grove: dead. Barracuda: dead.

Most places, according to George Tamsitt, do not close for lack of business: "It's usually because of greed and internal politics among the partners. The Turchins remained a phenomenon so long because they were brothers." However, some of their success clearly has come from being very tough, very smart businessmen, despite a failed attempt last year to export their nightclub expertise to Dallas. And they've maintained flexibility. As chichi rooms yielded in popularity to less polished places, the brothers leaped into the fray with The Institute, the ultimate rough-looking club. Formerly the old Beach Theatre located just off Lincoln Road, the huge gutted room had been used by Club Nu as a storage space and workshop for installation pieces.

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