Swelter

Around 2:30 or so, the new Grove came into focus at Baja Beach Club. Other more straight-ahead offensive clubs have opened in the CocoWalk complex - the none-too-subtle Hooters comes to mind - but nothing could be both as odd and offensive as Baja. A vast Bud Light place that is like one long, especially stupid, surfer movie put together by twelve-year-olds, Baja has chewed up every known entertainment cliche of every known era. The party-hearty, post- Animal House Fifties motif is evoked with drinks served in gallon-size plastic tubs, bikini-clad girls selling beer from huge metal washtubs, and an eclectic playlist of strictly fun music, encompassing everything from the B-52s' "Rock Lobster" to the "Hokey Pokey" to Vanilla Ice.

The eras tend to blur together after a while. Patrons are encouraged to get up on cubes scattered around the club and live out the life of a Sixties go-go dancer. Police whistles, a true Seventies disco touch, occasionally pierce the crowd noise. A state-of-the-art Eighties game section - the ultimate college activity center - is crammed with video gun slingers, Foosball, and every other conceivable dumb thing. For some reason the waitresses wear T-shirts that say, "I got Lucilled. You bitch. You slut. You whore." Everyone is tanned, healthy, brain-damaged, and seemingly oblivious to all the weird incongruities.

In the lounge, two piano players run through a repertoire of rock-concert standards, and then invite the crowd on stage for a feel-good fest: "If you love each other, get up and give your neighbor a hug." Amazingly, strangers embrace each other, clap for the old-time gospel segment, and wave their arms back and forth, anthem-rock style, in loving tribute to the spirit of music.

Directly beside the stage, the yearning masses mill around the entrance to the upstairs dance club, clutching admittance cards and waiting for their numbers to be displayed on a video monitor. The festival of sentiment has not, somehow, affected the massive doorman who surveys our card: "It don't look too good. You got a long way to go, pal - 1200 people have to leave before you can get in. I don't mean to laugh, but you gotta see the humor, right? It's kinda funny." Kind of funny. Kind of not fun. Kind of time to call it a night.

Personally, and that's really what matters with the whole question of entertainment, the Beach would seem to be a little higher on the fun scale. For one thing, there always seem to be new clubs sprouting up. While Gloria Estefan and her people reportedly continue to scour Lincoln Road for the ultimate Hard Rock Cafe site, the huge and ultra-fancy Hippodrome, at 727 Lincoln Road, is set to open, or might have already opened, or can't be bothered to open. Maybe. Sort of. We're not saying.

Co-owner Bernie Martinez, along with partners William Midler (bizarrely enough, a microbiologist) and entrepreneur Carlos Cruz, have done the important work and got the concept down: "We are going to re-create a Roman coliseum, with chic people, Hollywood's best, the paparazzi set, and bring the old Rome to the new, right to South Beach." Martinez, formerly with the clubs Illusions and My Dreams (some kind of paranormal theme here?) insists that everything is going swimmingly: "We should be opening sometime in the early fall or late summer." Another Hippodrome spokesman, citing the demands of secrecy ("We don't want other clubs to open the night we do...not that we think we have anything to worry about") will only suggest that the club might open a week or so before the publication date of this column, August 21. What does that mean exactly? "I can't say." Don't call us, we'll call you. Don't even bother to show up. Even mega-ritz clubs, apparently, have gone underground.

Part Two

Mega-ritz or not, opening dates seem to be problematic. After many delays, pronouncements, manifestos, et cetera, The Butter Club, according to one of the partners, New Yorker Richard Garcia, will be opening "before September 15th. We're shooting for August 28th, but anything could happen." The construction problems, says Garcia, came with the decision to expand the "cabaret, dance club, art gallery," and enclose the open back-yard area of the space at 655 Washington Avenue: "The city has been supportive, but very difficult about permits." (A common enough refrain among the New Era carpetbaggers, Manhattanites who want to colonialize South Beach and prosper in the golden land, where everything is warmer, cheaper, and almost as fabulous as New York.) Garcia plans to work on the private-membership thing and keep the place down to a manageable level of 550 A-crowd types: "You get a hundred extra people, it gets crazy and no one drinks."

It's crazy, everyone drinks, and George and Leo Nunez of Warsaw have to be making, as they say on the old fun Beach, a beautiful dollar. Warsaw celebrated its second anniversary (no raids yet and still counting) last weekend with a series of festivities and a new interior by club veteran George Tamsitt. There had been a distinct pining-for-Broadway look about the place, gone slightly seedy and used up, with enormous hanging renderings of glittering stars from the homosexual universe. Now everything seems somehow lighter, lusher, and more perfectly attitudinal. The Art Deco elements - the gold-leaf panels, beautifully etched windows, and so on -that Tamsitt utilized to great effect for the original make over in 1986, during the site's incarnation as Ovo, have been kept. As Tamsitt puts it, "A new modern structure - sleek, contemporary, and masculine - has been added on to Art Deco. The two don't go together, but it works."

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