By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
In late 1989, the brothers allowed Rodolfo Tejara, the artist responsible for Club Nu's extravagant interior designs, to use the Lincoln Road space as an "art gallery," and The Institute was born. A perfectly legal admission price of ten dollars was charged, but the beer inside was free. State inspectors eventually decided the gallery was really a dance hall without the proper licensing, and shut it down. In November of last year, the Turchins opened the place again, without Tejara but with all due licenses. The Institute features concrete floors, an array of huge, gaudy props, and not much more in the way of creature comforts. There is no air conditioning. It is an absolutely brilliant space.
The Institute's apparent success hasn't come without mishaps. Responding to complaints about minors frequenting the club, state agents and Miami Beach police conducted a raid last Thursday night. One underage drinker was arrested, three people were hauled off on drug charges, and another was charged with possession of pot and obstructing an arrest, among other things.
Dealing with crowds and cops hasn't completely distracted the brothers from considering the future of the Club Nu property on 22nd Street. Tom Turchin is all optimism...and hyperbole. "People are simpler right now," he says. "They're not looking for extravagance. They don't want to get dressed up, and they're looking for smaller places to drink and dance in. We're going to reopen in the fall, probably around November. This is going to be a club for the Nineties and into the year 2000." His brother John, however, takes a more studied approach. The leasehold on the property is not prohibitively expensive, and the rare 24-hour liquor license they own is extremely valuable. He says he intends to "leave the place alone, see what comes up and wait for the right offer."
In the meantime, two of the "handful" of original investors - air-conditioning contractor Drew Chanin of Chanin Air (located in the Turchin building) and plumbing contractor Chuck Ermer of Right Way Plumbing - would not talk about the specifics of their investment in Club Nu. Both, according to John Turchin, put in a mixture of services and cash. "Once the club is sold," he says, "all proper distributions will be made to those who made capital investments."
Fast-food sex may have become AIDS, cocaine may have turned ugly as crack, and life may have generally tightened up since Club Nu's shining hour, but at the end-of-an-era party, it was like old times again. The night was a medley, a reprise of all the popular bits everybody had come to associate with the club. Around midnight a convoy of Harleys roared in through the front door, throttled up, and then parked in formation around the dance floor. A very accomplished transsexual in a black cut-away leotard danced on the bar, fondling herself. An inspired, overly exuberant guest jumped up on a nearby table and gyrated expertly, smiling like Al Jolson.
But toward 3:00 a.m., everything began to unravel, replaced by a cardboard facsimile of luxury. The place looked trashed, beat up, and dirty, the same state of deranged, inevitable decay that takes over small Caribbean nations. Banquettes were collapsing, the formerly slick restaurant became a worn-out lounge, and nothing, indeed, felt real.
Just as in the old days, there were the usual squabbles: "Listen man, you have no reason to be talking to my wife." A nasty fight eventually broke out, and the security guys waved off people with, "No big thing. It's just a little fight...a girl fight."
An attractive young couple, the man in black and the woman in a standard-issue Spandex miniskirt, walked up behind the second-floor disc jockey booth and began to screw, leaning against the wall and giggling. After a few moments, they scampered down to a stairwell near the dance floor and started up again with the abandon of stray dogs in heat. Everyone at the bar looked on benevolently, as if they were at Woodstock.
By 3:30 the evening had gotten to the point where it would be necessary to either throw up, die, or actually go home. The upstairs celebrity room, where the partners were hosting a private party, was a better alternative. The favored haunt of Mick and Rod and Julio, the site of all kinds of rumored late-night cavorting, was packed and fun, but hardly decadent. Lighting designer Joe Zamore manned the bar while Stephany Turchin, wife of Robert Turchin, Jr., chatted about the demands of family life. Very few people even smoked, let alone partook of more demanding vices. From there the view was definitely better, and looking out over the dance floor, a thousand nights blended into one long, glittering feast. And then suddenly, into nothing.