The Art & Science of Clubland, Part 2

Lesson: There's no business like show business

An apparently drunk Latin man shakily leans over the barricade and begins barking rapid-fire Spanish at Adrian. Ash, the third member of the door crew, done up in drag with an aqua miniskirt and matching heels, swoops into action. "¡La linea, por favor!" he snaps at the now-cowed man. Ash tries to keep a stern face for added effect but quickly shakes his head and begins laughing: "Oh, honey, that's all the Spanish I know."

11:52 p.m.

"I'm trying to build it up little by little," says Gigi, looking out from behind the turntables of the DJ booth at the expanse of crobar's main room. The crowd, though sizable, is still gathered at the bars. The only figure on the dance floor is a young man in a wheelchair, pivoting the motorized chair back and forth while nodding his head to the rhythms roaring out of the towering speakers, disco-era cult faves such as Instant Funk's "I Got My Mind Made Up" and the eerily percussive "Voices Inside My Head" by Common Sense. "I don't want to hit them right away," Gigi adds. "It's all about setting a mood. Erick is coming up." A good opening act knows he's just there to prime the audience.

Good clean fun at Back Door Bamby: Promoters Mykel Stevens and partner Carmel Ophir (below) only play at being ultraexclusive
Steve Satterwhite
Good clean fun at Back Door Bamby: Promoters Mykel Stevens and partner Carmel Ophir (below) only play at being ultraexclusive
Carmel Ophir
Steve Satterwhite
Carmel Ophir

12:38 a.m.

"You wouldn't imagine you could have such a party on Monday!" Janinna Meyer hollers into Kulchur's ear in her clipped English. "It's good! Fabulous!" Yelling is the only way to be heard at the bar this close to the dance floor, which now is packed, a tangled mass of waving limbs. Meyer is here with two classmates from the Miami Ad School. They're Germans in their early twenties, just beginning their second semester of school. Kulchur asks what drew them to Back Door Bamby. Could they be celebrating Martin Luther King Day, as the "Free at Last" quotes on tonight's flyers headily announce? Meyer furrows her brow and glances apprehensively at one of her friends. "We're here for Erick Morillo," she says. They've heard him spin back in Germany. He too is "fabulous.

"There's a lot of locals here, not too many tourists," Meyer continues, pointing out one of the keys to a cool party.

And you're not a tourist? You've only been in Miami a few months.

Meyer's eyes flash red. "No! I am not a tourist! I am a local!" She storms off as her two surprised friends try to avoid eye contact with Kulchur.

1:05 a.m.

Erick Morillo hunches over a turntable, his fingers poised. The music has turned quiet. The entire club stares up at him expectantly. Behind Morillo stands Carmel Ophir, who allows this dramatic moment to linger ever so slightly. Then, like a conductor bringing down the baton, he cues a nearby lighting director. In the next choreographed instant, the room is submerged in a wash of blue light, and Morillo lets fly his first record, at a volume almost twice as loud as before.

You can feel the bass rumbling in your stomach as Morillo mixes in a record featuring crowd noise, creating the aural illusion that all of crobar is screaming in frenzied appreciation. "See how he's working the cross-fader," Ophir says admiringly as Morillo's hands dart back and forth from the three spinning turntables to an array of sliders and knobs. Of course considering that Morillo's DJ fee for his four-hour set is in the $5000 range (on top of his airfare and hotel), he'd better work that cross-fader.

2:34 a.m.

If you want to find Ken Smith, just look up. Standing well over six feet tall and with the broad shoulders and physique more commonly associated with a football player than a nightclub owner, Smith is easy to spot. There are two other co-owners, Callin Fortis and Bob Myers (the three oversee Big Time Productions, which operates twelve clubs and restaurants in Chicago), but only Smith prides himself on being a late-night fixture inside crobar.

At the moment he is standing in front of a speaker stack, surveying the bustling dance floor with a satisfied countenance that suggests a hint of smugness. Tapping his arm, Kulchur asks if he's here tonight to work or to play. Smith smiles and stoops down to speak: "I'm always working."

He leads the way to the second-floor VIP room, unused tonight, and settles in on the edge of a sofa. Kulchur is still unsteadily readjusting to the relative quiet, but Smith is practically effervescent even at this hour, a quality that makes him seem far younger than his actual age of 37.

"This isn't real; it's like putting on a stage show," he says, gesturing grandly to the room around him. Ticket-buyers demand entertainment. Put on a compelling show, and they'll come see it. That means utilizing everything from dancing midgets to outlandish costumes to create a vibrant, louche atmosphere. Three-piece suits and matching attitude aren't part of the formula.

"It takes a lot of energy, a lot of focus," he goes on. "But anybody can buy a club. There's no formal training involved. You can't go to college to study clubology!"

Although he reminds Kulchur several times that he does in fact have a college degree, Smith cites thirteen years of Chicago nightlife experience -- working his way up from bartender, doorman, and promoter to his present role -- as much more valuable. "It's eighth-grade stuff: Did my doorman spit on you? Did he say goodnight when you left? I won't tolerate rudeness."

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