Swelter

The evening hours, a battleground of opposing forces. Charity and faith vying against greed, desire, and degradation. It's the clash of a dialectic, the struggle of good and evil, the ultimate seduction. And on a less exalted level, a constant fight for the inalienable human privileges: free food, drink, the fundamental right to have a good time at others' expense.

Issues that keep coming up throughout a series of odds and ends, such as the opening of the Hut at 54 Ocean Drive, contained within one of the Thomas Kramer/Portofino Group properties on lower South Beach. Simple, the low-overhead approach: an outdoor patio, a lobby full of battered circa-Seventies-Long Island furniture, lessee Michelle Squitieri brimming with plans. Kramer drinking champagne, perfectly amiable for a zillionaire.

The good, the bad, the brain damaged but tanned out in force for a cocktail party at the very Jetson-esque Sol Hotel on Collins Avenue. Early on, an unusual collection of unfamiliar people. Middle-age women in Gucci, dark as Bedouins, with that I-still-got-it-baby look of defiance, wrestling the onslaught of old age down to the ground, and by God, beating back that evil son-of-a-bitch. And then, gradually, the room filling up with the familiar. A South Beach regular trying to escape the claustrophobic nature of district social life and "get off the Beach for a night." Not succeeding. Merle Weiss of Merle's Closet, fabbing up the opening of her new store on Lincoln Road. The Sol's design team, Charley Pereira and Jose Martinez, looking pretty dandy in coordinated ensembles and talking of creating an "Atomic Fifties" effect for the hotel.

On to dinner at Brasserie Le Coze in Coconut Grove with fellow members of the fourth estate, the general operating procedure being articulated at one point as "We're press, we can't get in trouble." A downtown New York type talking about his bout with cancer and the reaction of Andy Warhol: "At first he thought I had what they called the gay cancer then, you know, AIDS. He told everybody it was great when I got over it, like that proved it could be beat. When he found out it was just regular All-American cancer he got really weird and scared." Fourteen or so tasty courses later, the usual validation rush and a chat with co-owner Maguy Le Coze ("This is just a typical brasserie, you can come late, it's casual, simple") - very French, very slick, very sexy.

The rest of the slick universe, apparently, finding what it needs at various places. Tigertail Productions' presentation of "Miami Discovers Itself" at the Center for the Fine Arts. Peter Rana hyping the June 15 opening of his Body Tech gym on Washington Avenue, earnestly dialoguing about clients Calvin and Kelly Klein: "They're friends. I have an obligation now to train them." Barbie Kreitinger debuting "Scorch" at Warsaw last Friday night. "Kazbah" at the Cameo the same evening. "Insomnia" at The Institute. Michael Capponi and Gary James hosting last Saturday night at The Cave, taking both Fridays and Saturdays beginning this week. The new Barrio on Washington Avenue, working the nouvelle Mexican approach. The Music Room on Ocean Drive re-opening last Monday. The Bay Club at the Sheraton Four Ambassadors working the theme-night beat. The Crazy Horse moving to the Shelborne Hotel and bringing South Beach what it really needs - more male strippers.

Negotiations between The Strand and the infamous Au Bar, who wanted to use the Strand's theater space as another outpost of the Au Bar empire, breaking down last Wednesday. Charles Schreiner of The Strand also reporting that the team behind the upscale Parisian club Les Bains is trying to put together a deal for part of the Financial Federal building on Washington Avenue. Another megaclub, a primal human craving, about to open in the old Paris Moderne space. The deal set to close in early July, according to owner Leroy Griffith. No information as yet on the identity of the buyers or the really important thing: the concept.

The truly urgent and important coming up at the I Tre Merli kick-off dinner for "Heart Strings: The AIDS Memorial Quilt And You," presented by the Community Alliance Against AIDS. "An Event in Three Acts" commencing with Gloria Estefan unveiling the Names Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, now the size of ten football fields, at the Miami Beach Convention Center on June 20. On June 23, the benefit continues with a performance of "Heart Strings" - a national traveling show of music, dance, celebrities on the order of Steve Guttenberg and George Abbott, and commentary from people living with AIDS - at the Jackie Gleason Theater for the Performing Arts. Afterward, a fund-raising party called "Celebration" at Paragon. Proceeds from "Heart Strings" benefit the University of Miami School of Medicine Comprehensive AIDS Program and the Dade Community Foundation National Community AIDS Partnership. A great cause.

And a great kick-off party. Baskets of condoms on the bar as a sort of healthy cocktail snack. Alliance founding chairmen Al Evans and Judi Male, along with Dr. Margaret Fischl, making some rather affecting speeches. A bit of money around the room, a welcome treat on South Beach, along with Terry Zarikian of the Grand Bay Hotel, Nestor Torres, civic activist Frosene Sonderling, and Jeff Abbaticchio of the Doral Ocean Beach Resort, host for Steve Guttenberg and other "Heart Strings" celebrities. Great time, and a mutant strain of celebrity invitees as a party theme. Hulk Hogan didn't make it, but Charytin turned out and lent just the right touch of cut-rate glamour. Lots of overextended cartoon sexuality, decolletage oozing like molten lava, platinum flash, and a boundless Charo-esque enthusiasm: "I donn say perfect Engliish...but everyboddie work so hard...I feel berry fine." The perfect star.

Conveniently enough, producer Andrea Ambandos of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous on hand, working the celeb beat: "The city is hot right now, so we're down here doing some interviews: that Latin star Cristina, Rony Seikaly from the Heat, Tony Goldman, and the house of Henri Spiegel and Michael Wolk - she's a lawyer and he's the furniture designer who has some of his stuff in the new Batman movie."

A career spent wallowing in horn-of-plenty lifestyles, the sort of ideally situated professional for the inevitable celebrity question - who's the most disgusting rich and famous person you've ever met? The Sultan of Brunei? The Hong Kong industrialist who drives across his house in a golden Rolls Royce? Sally Kirkland? Without a moment's hesitation, vibrator to the stars hisses like an irate puff adder and delivers the authoritative verdict: "No question about it - Dr. Ruth. I've been in these filthy rich homes where they show you to their pay phone when you need to make a call. But that bitch, that whore, is absolutely the most disgusting - and the meanest - woman on earth.

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