Swelter

Lately, what with one thing or another, we've been looking for something different. Something that doesn't make sense. Something rough.

The thirst for the unusual was almost permanently cured by the Saturday night second-anniversary celebration for Warsaw, a hellish, deranged, utterly offensive carnival. Standing on the balcony, looking out over the club - a sea of shirtless and sweaty 22-year-old men, lesbian-themed S&M routines, cross-dressers dancing merrily on an enormous papier mache penis, a conga line of Village People cast-offs, a Court of the Sun King tableau of transvestism and fellatio, disco laser beams flying straight into your eyeballs like the headlights of a 747 - was to be transfixed by disbelief, disgust, and horror. Awash with nonexistential nausea, we somehow thought it imperative to stay on till 3:30 a.m. nonetheless.

At one point, in search of a nonsocial bathroom, we mistakenly wandered into the club office and made the acquaintance of a sinister eight-foot python who wouldn't stop messing with us, several Fellini-like ephebes ("Darling, that sex act we did last night is the talk of the Beach"), and Lady Henesy Brown, performance artist and featured entertainer of the evening. An attractive, rather voluptuous woman with dyed-blonde hair, three children, and some 32 years of experience in "interpretive, Afro-American, and exotic dancing," Ms. Brown was the decided highlight of the evening.

Sipping one of the club's "sex-in-the-bushes" cocktails (pineapple juice and "some kind of Japanese cordial that doesn't get you drunk") while running up and down her thighs the torches she uses in her act, she matter-of-factly explained her unusual routine. "Basically, I like to shock people. Karen Finley? Oh, please. I'm talking about blowing their fucking brainpans off. See, what I'll do is, I'll suck the head of that snake like it's a dick. Then I'll get all these ribbons in - I usually have to empty my bladder first -and then have somebody pull them out. I mean, it's like if you're going to sell peanuts: you might as well do something special and sell a lot of them."

The act, involving a bottle routine that Fatty Arbuckle once went to jail for, was definitely not peanuts and definitely not for the faint-hearted. But the action never stopped, despite the cries of "Oh myGod" and the pained expressions of several transsexuals. People kept dancing and gossiping. After all the sensory barrage, the odes to Warsaw, a guy actually leaned over and said, "Hey, what's the name of this club, anyway?"

A night like that - thank God the promised full-size pig never showed up for his simulated sex routine - has a way of putting one in the mood for kinder, more gentle clubs.

Such as the unusual but nice Espresso Bongo, the Boho-style coffee house located at the corner of Lincoln Road and Michigan Avenue on the Beach, an area where a wide array of entertainment needs are met rather neatly. There's South Side Johnny's for live music, food, and attitude; the Chinese restaurant B.C. Chong; Palma, the very tasty boutique from New York; the gym In Training; Books & Books and the truly alternative Alliance for Media Arts in the forever beautiful Sterling Building.

Espresso Bongo has already had its share of big-deal events, but the whole concept of the club is based around the idea of not really doing anything in particular, a place where people can take in folk music and poetry readings, smoke, drink, and actually talk. Given the social consciousness/conversational level of Miami, this would seem to be a novel concept.

The flyer for the club has all the right imagery: a photo of the early, lucid Bob Dylan and snatches of dark poetry ("Yes, I am a thief of thoughts not, I pray, a stealer of souls"). But unlike the cliched dank coffee houses of the beatnik era, everything is light and airy, with lots of windows, kitschy leopard-skin sofas, glass brick and bleached wood. The food is also up-to-the-moment, all goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, and pine nuts.

It's the kind of scene that is simultaneously relaxed, utterly self-conscious, and relentlessly cutting edge. Co-owner Dennis Britt, formerly with the alternative dance club Beirut, wants to eventually stay open till 5:00 a.m. and make Bongo "the late-night hangout, like a glorified Denny's - the place where you go when all the other clubs have closed and you need something to eat."

On our last weekend visit, it all jelled quite nicely. A party of fun lesbians giggled over their beers. Some intensely fashionable people in Fifties dresses and black-on-black ensembles smoked, glowered, and kept aloof from their social inferiors. On stage, Britt plucked away gamely at some indiscernible folk song. The room had that great aura of being totally inside, before the onslaught of the causeway crowd.

And then a cackle and a breathless exclamation ("Gorgeous...I mean gorgeous") cut like a bandsaw through the din of cultivated chatter. The North Miami condo commandos, the new warriors of the Nineties - beyond-irony consumers of culture, with some sort of mysterious seismograph system for discovering hot new places - had descended.

Hybrid post-Sixties coffee houses on Miami Beach are pretty unusual, but the exotic can come in many forms. In our circumstance, for example, sex does not really enter into the nightclub experience. Accordingly, an average ladies-night party can seem real strange.

Laura Bonet, who owns and operates the restaurant Bolero and the glitzy backroom club Match on Washington Avenue with Michael Martin, had suggested the prospect of celebrities: "Why don't you come when the Gipsy Kings are going to be here?" But then, we couldn't think of anything to actually say to the Kings. ("I really, really, loved your cover of `My Way.'") Although a faintly embarrassing concept, one of the regular Tuesday and Thursday ladies-night parties - ordinary, horny, and noncelebrity crammed - seemed a better alternative.

It was all kind of Eighties disco madness, Regine's meets a Latin version of Nell's: mirrored balls, brocaded lamp shades, leopard-patterned banquettes, lots of gold lame. Happily enough, a group of ladies with major hair materialized within moments and obligingly posed for a photo opportunity.

Being stars, at least momentarily, they completely ignored the men in attendance, expertly struck attitudes of frivolity, and then left a cruel vacuum in their wake. Afterward, as they walked out to the restaurant, one of the thoroughly modern glamour gals gushed philosophically to her friend: "You know what? Let's just have fun tonight and not think about what we're doing.

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