Last Night a DJ Saved South Beach

A week in the nightlife of spin doctor Carlos Menendez

If mild-mannered Clark Kent had a hip, record-spinning counterpart, it would be Carlos Menendez. But while Kent played the fool in order to keep secret his other-worldly powers, Menendez plays it cool - ultra-cool - and utterly collected. But both, when they are called, perform miracles of a sort. One stops bullets, the other blunts boredom. Let's just say the scene is safer for both their efforts.

All superhero mythalizing aside, Menendez rocks South Beach - with a vengeance. There isn't a hot spot on the sacred strip he hasn't shaken into glorious submission. He's done (and does) it with house, techno, rap, acid jazz, and most of all, soul, a sanctified soul of rare grooves and heavy hits, in steamy, pumpin' rooms jammed with hundreds or thousands. When you come to dance - and I mean dance with total, unmitigated abandon - you come to where Carlos Menendez is holding court.

New Times sent this intrepid correspondent on a whirlwind one-week assignment trailing the vinyl-whipping legend. From sundown to sunup, in every ranking groove stop imaginable, it was apparent that reluctant man-about-town Menendez cared only to move the crowds. Armed with a disarming smile and a world-class collection of the hippest records ever to get waxed, Menendez turned each and every house upside down without breaking a sweat. Perspiring or not, he's the hardest-working DJ on South Beach.

Sunday: Passe '92 at the Spot. The rebirth of last year's smash Boomerang series, this is classic progressive like no one dares to program. To get the idea, picture Zeta 4 gone new wave: Smiths meet Stranglers meet Generation X meet Ultravox and all mega-boss memory enhancers in between. Add the fact that the Spot is conveniently located smack in the middle of the only two other Sunday happenings in town - Disco Inferno and Warsaw - and you have a must-stop for the evening's curriculum. In fact, Passe '92 becomes a de facto V.I.P. lounge for those in the know as they club-hop the night away.

Monday: Island of Lost Souls at the Island Club. Trends and clubs come and go, but this quiet little riot remains. (March 2 marked three golden years - legendary status by any stretch of the imagination - for this nightlife institution.) Sweaty without an ounce of pretense, it's muscular funk at its most sinuous. The mix (and the door policy) is color blind, and the harmony makes the jam all that more special. And crucial. Is it Cypress Hill or St. Etienne? No matter, it's one jumpin' room under a groove-riddled moon.

Tuesday: Bootleggers Social Club. Here mixmaster Menendez drops serious knowledge. Like New York's Soul Kitchen, it's the rare groove that sets the mood. Relatively tourist-free (thankfully), because one has to have a well-connected ear to the street in order to find where the party's goin' on each week, it's everything a social club should be: privileged, familiar, secretive, and hipper-than-thou.

Wednesday: This is the one night when our subject takes a break from behind the wheels of steel and heads over to the Playhouse to check out his pal and number-one competitor for the South Beach throne - Luis Diaz. Like all promising evenings on the town, though, this one begins in a groove-friendly environment. First it's the Marlin for a dose of Island Records honcho Chris Blackwell's Jamaican skank and then, for a good three or four quicker-picker-uppers at 720 Ocean Drive (that's the Beacon), where Paul Andre's Rose Bar rocks magically with adjective-bashing ambiance and the pre-programmed sounds of both Menendez and Diaz.

Thursday: Beyond Therapy at Paramount Plaza. The only real rave in town spans the outer limits of dancy frenzy. A cut above the usual techno fray, Menendez (with presiding three-deck Brit DJ Mole and Techman 1) revs the trippiest beats to ever hypnotize a dance floor. Here the DJ's the star, perched on stage and backed by a barrage of Brakhage-bolting light. The V.I.P. chamber boasts the only Northern Soul selection south of Manhattan, which in itself is cause to celebrate, but the main room is probably the closest you'll get to orbit without the help of hallucinogens.

Friday: Egoiste. Be it bimbos from hell, models from heaven, or one of Gary James's must-attend Avenue A blowouts, a Friday night at "Ego" never disappoints. (Even the nights that smell like teen-spirit - for those eighteen and older - are packed with up-and-coming Luke Perrys and Cindy Crawfords.) Menendez is the house DJ, which usually means he's calling the shots, and as has been amply imitated, he's a sure-fire shooter. Don't bother telephoning ahead, take a chance and surprise yourself. But don't ever show up before midnight.

Saturday: Van Dome. The piece de resistance. By the time you read this, the latest and loveliest addition to swingin' South Beach will have seen a few Saturdays charm the well-heeled thrill seekers. Menendez mixes his magic from atop a mahogany control tower far off in the corner of this funky but chic and sophisticated room, and he proves once and for all that yes, relative grown-ups, too, like to have fun. Kicking the ballistics that make the whole world dance, if you look hard you can see his grin, like the Concorde's landing lights, high in the sky, safe with the knowledge that this roaring crowd, like the others, is firmly in the palm of his hand. And as old Jim Thompson once said, "The man with the grin is the man who will win."

And there you have it, a virtual blueprint for scene-making success. If you cannot manage to find something from the above to tickle your fancy, I'm afraid you're not only in the wrong town, you're in the wrong time as well. Happy nightcrawling.

 
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