Swelter

Nightlife, a dicey proposition of plugs, hugs, and drugs, hubris and horrors, fair-weather friends and unsavory courtesies. A trade with certain charms, this chasing of trifles, chimeras, and cheesiness: Stick around long enough and the great pageant unravels in a pleasantly deranged manner, a kind of sustaining brain candy. Been there, done that, and yet there's work to be done, absurdities to savor, pleasures to be taken. Another night, another big-deal debut, Cheetah Club embracing the ever-expanding universe of tangential luminaries: four exhausting hours of stalking low-wattage supernovas, seized by earnestness and pure masochism on a splendidly diverting research mission. A real live nightclub, for better or worse A hot, claustrophobic, simultaneously grand, kitschy, and faintly seedy A the opening inspiring the usual whining, sneering, and lame manifestoes. Always remember, kids, attitude isn't a birthright, it's earned, and even at this stage of the game we're happy enough to be invited anywhere.

As with any ceremonial club occasion, the establishment ready for lucre-raking opportunities only in the broadest conceptual sense, the bar sticky with varnish, a crew still attaching a sign for the television cameras, the usual weirdness at work. For some strange reason, a cougar serving as a kind of mascot-doorman, available for petting, photo ops, and toying with the teeth of fate. A landmark Miami Beach location, however, the two-story supper club redolent with history: Fan & Bill's in the Forties, home to the truly glamorous, the place evolving into Chandler's Steak House, Shanghai Village, and then lying fallow for many years. After a series of abortive deals, the club eventually transformed in fits and starts by Mark Morgan, investors Jose and Maria Diaz, chef Michael Stern, and designer Sidney Mann. An interesting stylistic approach in effect, a high-Beach hybrid of Grandma's house and a bordello: leopard-pattern carpeting, the original heavy chandeliers, whorehouse-red fabrics and black drapes, gold brocade sofas and flock wallpaper, Chinese dragon murals, and just about everything else. All artifice and economic imperatives, one tasteful sort noting that "you can judge people by how much faux anything they have in their lives."

An ambitious program, although the nifty idea of a time-warp Forties supper club marred by modern curiosities A the go-gay "Hump Night" A and the general human element of an all-too-immediate Nineties client pool, sadly lacking the nostalgic balm of the past. In tune with faux history, taking a table in the downstairs showroom-restaurant at an unfashionably early hour, inhaling a swing band and accomplished hors d'oeuvres ("Here, pal, try a deviled egg A it's party time") while pretending to be Walter Winchell anchoring the Cub Room at the Stork Club. For an hour or so, not recognizing a single guest -- an alien circumstance, given that we know way too many people -- struck dumb by the statistically impossible number of aging vixens who can pull leopard-skin miniskirts out of their closets for a theme party.

Boredom, a fractious nature, and the itch for new sensations inspiring an assault on the upstairs disco. Naturally, the cougar, a blissfully mute celebrity, ushered into the VIP room first, the frenzy gradually mounting, a bizarre mix of usual suspects turning out. Jauretsi, the hook-up queen of the Raleigh, with Peter Thomas of Def Jam, who'll be bringing a hip-hop/new jack swing music conference to the hotel in October. Marcy Lefton, an old pal from the ballroom society days. Nil Lara and the forever sweet Samantha Stein. John Salley of the Heat. Club publicist Wendy Doherty, a force to be reckoned with in the early Eighties when she ruled as the satanic doorperson at Club Z. John Hood, a portable Forties theme park with Nineties habits. Clothes designer Puma Lee escorting two snazzy clients: Edgar, stunning in a glittering caftan, and Yajaira of Ruins doing justice to a vintage cabaret gown. Surgeon-inveterate party person Dr. Bob, the prized hunk of the hetero wasteland -- blond, muscular, well-heeled -- setting hearts and vaginas aflutter.

The gay brigade being determinedly witty in our presence, quoting Oscar Wilde ("Either this wallpaper must go or I must") and gushing in all the wrong places. A prolonged tribute to Bobby Guilmartin ("I've always been a fan, despite everything") coming on a bit thick: Guilmartin, as he'll freely concede, no Greta Garbo. Another gentleman imitating Blanche DuBois as bedsheet trash ("When you're sucking up for press, you have to depend upon the kindness of strangers"), other guests ignoring the brevity-is-the-soul-of-wit dictum. As ever, happy to serve as a conduit for attention satiation, a glorified glory hole on the relentless quest for publicity, although lately the idea of invoicing monologuists past a five-minute time limit makes a certain sense.

From there, chasing a sort-of-true rumor -- Bayard Spector of the Phoenix Club negotiating for Les Bains A and then it's last-call time. Winding down with a big promoter, a big developer, and God knows what other largeness A we're all big in this one-horse town. In a buoyant mood, feeling our oats ("I'm only sitting with supermodels from now on"), a wary lass right on target: "Watch it, or I'll make you the John Bobbitt of gossip." In turn hyping the magic mantra of function over form A regular paycheck, health insurance, nonpsychotic A a new convert ending the evening on a decidedly positive note: "Oh, Tom, no one's bigger than you."

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