By Michael E. Miller
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Richard doesn't have the ten-dollar cover charge, so he's crashing the party behind an invited guest. "I'm with him," he blurts, lifting his chin toward the stranger. The doorman unhooks the gold velvet rope.
It's been a while since Richard has been in this cavernous nightclub. In 1987, as Club Nu, it helped usher in the Age of South Beach. Now it's known as Rezurrection Hall. Tall and 29 years old, Richard pauses to register the familiar (black walls, dark corners, an endlessly high ceiling) with the new sequential video projections of the Dalai Lama, a flying fish, a crescent moon and tie-dye dove, and a four-square symbolizing Peace, Conservation, Brotherhood, and Love. Stands offering massage, tarot card readings, and new-age trinkets are imbued with an orange shimmer from thick candles. The hand-colored signs over the two bars, however, best explain Richard's return: juice bar. Coffee bar.
"Last drink I had was two weeks ago. Two months ago. I've been clean 40 days," he calculates. "Last time I was here, I was on Ecstasy, cocaine, Quaaludes, you name it. This is good. They're not going to get rich or anything, but it should be fun A for fucked-up people like me."
This June 22 one-nighter is the debut of "The Wave." The monthly event (the next scheduled date is Friday, July 19) is part of a growing new movement, according to Rezurrection Hall co-owner (and Club Nu co-founder) Tommy Turchin. "It's time for a higher consciousness, a higher-thinking-person's world," asserts the 42-year-old South Beach pioneer, who says he's been "clean and sober" for twenty years. "A place where it's all right to let your hair down and be exactly who you are without the use of alcohol, and just be aware of what you're doing."
Without warning, a Goombay-style percussion sextet bursts in from a back room, its members sporting dark glasses and white band uniforms embellished with huge green faux plumes. Pounding drums and cowbells, they do a five-minute shake and rumble through the crowd, to an approving refrain.
Still, no one seems to know quite what to make of the booze-free scene.
He: It's like being in an altered state. It's being done in California and they're going to try it in South Florida.
She: Really? Cool.
Ten feet away, a young couple stands face to face. He's holding an eight-ounce bottle of water, she's empty-handed.
He: It's this North American Indian meditation thing. Smoke goes up.... It's supposed to give good vibes. It's really neat.
She: [Nods, smiling sweetly.]
Just after 11:00, diaphanous curtains pull back, revealing the dance floor and stage. Conversations give way to a DJ spinning Bon Jovi's "She's a Little Runaway," and a gray-ponytailed man sporting a red kerchief with blue polka dots in the breast pocket of his blue blazer lets out a hearty "Wooooo-hoo!" The crowd has peaked at about 500 in this club that can accommodate 2000.
Eight years ago Leslie Armstrong was a Club Nu regular. Regularly drunk and high and tripping. When Turchin approached her with his alcohol-free idea, she was skeptical. But Armstrong, who for the past six years has hosted The Clean and Sober Hour radio show -- Sunday nights on ZETA-4 (WZTA-FM 94.9) and LOVE 94 (WLVE-FM 93.9) -- agrees that in South Florida, the time is right.
"It's not this preachy alcohol-free AA thing, but a higher-consciousness deal for people who are tired of dealing with wasted people who are tripping," says Armstrong, who faced down her addiction to alcohol and other drugs in 1988. "I think there is a hipper, younger movement that's really taking place in this country. To open a nightclub on South Beach on Saturday night with no alcohol -- it's incredible."
At the juice bar, four bartenders stand idly. One lifts the lid of a blender and sniffs. A man and woman are sitting together, elbows on the bar. They have matching blue plastic cups and black straws in front of them. He drags on a Marlboro. She exhales a Marlboro Light.
"You don't get the returns like when people are drinking alcohol," observes the bartender. "Tonight it's about one and a half drinks per person. They just want to have something in their hands."
Why cut off the booze on a revenue-generating weekend night? Two reasons, says Tommy Turchin. "We're known for doing things that are different, and the world is changing. The world needs thinking people."
A little after midnight, the crowd has thinned. Richard appears, carrying a water bottle. "I ran into two girls that I once went to bed with. They're glad to see me. One wants to give me a massage and the other wants to do I-don't-know-what to me. This is neat! I like it," he muses, adding, "This guy gave me one of those long whaddayacallits. Uh, a candle!