Swelter 5

Home in bed with the vapors, overcome by existential futility and retreating from the social fray -- who are these people? why are these people? A society assuming the qualities of a 3-D interactive round-the-clock tabloid, hardwired to the cornea. And then the whims of destiny dictating two consecutive nights on the South Beach prowl, enough to kill all traces of morality, spirituality, and sensibility. So infra dig, so amusing, and so ultimately detrimental, the price of fun always being too high in this deranged little village.

Thursday evening, fueling up at the courtesy trough with a very luxe dinner at Max's South Beach, Kerry Simon hosting Rolling Stone photographer Mark Seliger, whose celebrity portraits add a certain gloss to the restaurant. In minutes the veritable Babette's Feast reducing us to a state of cranial cacophony: Simultaneously whining and making grand pronouncements with mouthfuls of complimentary cuisine, behaving like a stooge. Confused past redemption, spending the entire dinner grilling a bewildered local photographer about the quirks of his celebrity clientele, the real guest of honor down at the other end of the table, telling anecdotes about Keith Richards and other icons of the gilded age.

With some reluctance, leaving all the comp coziness and hitting the mean streets, radiating the merry charm of Beirut: Dodging beggars and hovering gangbangers muttering, "Yo Mama," a covey of girls strolling by in lingerie. A wasteland devastated by exorbitant rents, club cheesiness, thuggery, and too many competing establishments, the pool of desirable patrons stagnating as teen Visigoths stalk the valid. All over, the way-too-much, way-too-soon school of real estate development in effect -- some 125 liquor licenses now in effect between 1st and 21st streets, a square mile of alcohol, drugs, and dissipation. From the meanest dives to palaces of privilege, from desperate promoters to disenfranchised moguls, everyone longing for the healing glow of the upcoming Delano Hotel, hip wonderland assuming the mystical allure of Oz, a machine of hope.

In the meantime, the casualties of commerce everywhere at once, twisting in the winds of change. On the corpse of Washington Avenue, the restaurants Greenwich Beach, Cafe M., and Piola shutting down. A.A., a louche lounge with a very brief shelf life, going out with a whimper. Cheetah Club in suspension, working on a regrouping effort for early June; S.O.B.'s, the casbah that attitude and folly built, stumbling mightily and allegedly owing lots of money around town. The Gallery of the Unknown Artists, one of the last remaining signposts of downtown, sinking into true anonymity. Risk, leveled by a recent fire, in hiatus pending an insurance settlement, the adjacent Meet Me in Miami space damaged by smoke and up for rent. Bad times all around, the annual shakeout of summer likely to neutralize other joints, as well.

Conversely, the hearty still storming the decadent citizens of Rome, ready to seize hearts, minds, and wallets. The City of Miami Beach, always eager to piss on any parade, dithering around and tarting up the haven of Lincoln Road: According to a prominent developer, the real projected cost of this summer's landscaping efforts coming to $13 million. They're upgrading paradise and turning it into Boca Raton, persistent rumors floating around about chain-store tenants, most notably a Barnes & Noble books-can-be-fun outpost. As it happens, new Boca money moving in everywhere, the possible projects including a conceptual coffee bar-performance space. Other strains of cash paying large amounts for the tiny vitamin store on lower Washington Avenue, looking to create another pocket-size club. The Spot, home to many a lost evening, set to be reborn under the auspices of the Respectable Street Cafe in West Palm Beach, the alternative concert venue-dance club opening in June.

A low-rent classic, the Knotty Pine, reincarnating shortly as a theme bar-brewpub -- just what we all need -- called the Abbey. Glam Slam, after some management shenanigans and departures, bouncing back and slamming for a change. Another truly historic space, the former Washington Square, gone Spo-dee-o-dee, gone bust, infused with terminal Saint Barthelemy chic, owner Edouard Keguny opening another glittering L'Escale restaurant in the new St. Bart's. Another European, Yves Di Lena of Warsaw, playing hardball all over town and cornering the market. Di Lena taking a 50 percent share in a faltering Les Bains, opening a smaller seven-days-a-week lounge within Warsaw, and doing well at Amnesia, leasing the space for a weekly tea dance and foam party. Andre Boudou bought out of Amnesia, Yves Uzan of the mother chain leasing the upstairs for a Japanese restaurant. It can't go on, this Bourbon Street with palm trees, but it will anyway, past probability and profit.

Out again Friday night, not quite getting it together to attend a tony event at the Raleigh: Nely Galan, New York Times magazine cover girl-Latino programming expert, celebrating a production deal at Fox Television, the guests ranging from beautiful person Carlos Betancourt to generic models and comedian Paul Rodriguez. Naturally, somehow finding time for a four-hour nightlife tour in the pussy precincts, the carnival barkers-doormen seizing on our well-heeled group ("Check it out, guys -- two-for-one drinks") and wasting their time, our whole life being an open bar. Niva, originally debuting as a tasteful little place, joining the forces of obviousness, a doorman loudly hawking an after-hours party, an underground and supposedly illegal concept.

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