By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
Britney Spears is many things to many people. To her label executives at Jive Records, the midriff-baring singer is a recording artist who pulled in more than $35 million last year. To the advertising honchos at both Pepsi and the Dairy Council, she is the nymphet pitchwoman whose "I'm Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman" anthem strikes just the right balance of wholesome teen appeal and Lolita-esque heavy breathing. And to hundreds of media pundits, she is the most famous self-professed virgin in the world -- a vow ex-boyfriend “N Sync singer Justin Timberlake is no doubt painfully aware of.
What Britney Spears is most definitely not is 21 years of age. Born on December 2, 1981, Spears was a good eight months shy of that mark when she led a gaggle of friends and bodyguards out of South Beach's Loews Hotel this past March 29 just before 3:00 a.m., and into two waiting SUVs. The group then drove the two blocks to Washington Avenue's crobar, where Spears's bodyguard was seen conferring with the nightclub's doorstaff.
"I thought to myself, “This is weird -- aren't you supposed to be 21 to get into the clubs on South Beach?'" recalls a photographer on assignment for Peoplemagazine who followed Spears to crobar. "I've got a daughter who's eighteen and she knows she can't get into that club. So isn't Britney breaking the law?"
Yes. Since May 2000, Miami Beach has outlawed the under-21 set from setting foot inside its nightclubs, let alone actually drinking alcohol there. There is a loophole; establishments classified as restaurants because of an on-premises kitchen, such as Billboardlive or Rumi, are allowed to admit minors.
Still the People photographer didn't have much time to mull over the law's irregularities. The club's Thursday-night hip-hop party was in full effect, and a horde of visiting spring breakers were all angling for admission and having their IDs checked. Surely Spears -- or at least one of the underage-looking girls in her group -- would also be carded at crobar's velvet rope, the perfect opening for a quick snapshot. Instead Spears and her pals were whisked through the club's fire exit on Española Way, with several of crobar's hulking security guards forming a human wall to block any pictures.
Once inside, Spears's group was ushered to a VIP table, where -- according to an onlooker -- they all began to drink champagne. "You've heard the phrase “drowning your sorrows'?" the on-site gawker told Kulchur, referring to Spears's recent romantic breakup with “N Sync's Timberlake. "Well, this chick was under-freakin'-water."
The Miami Beach police department confirms that during the singer's weeklong stay, they received several phone calls from fellow patrons only too eager to rat out Spears's illegal club entry and underage drinking; a night imbibing at Opium Garden also set local tongues wagging.
All of this would be little more than amusing gossip-page fodder if it didn't raise a larger issue. Are there two sets of laws for Beach clubhoppers -- one for celebrities and one for the hoi polloi? After all, Spears is hardly the only under-21 star to be sighted in clubland. Just for starters, tennis pinup Anna Kournikova, twenty, and hotel heiress Paris Hilton, eighteen, continue to make the scene. And hardly an issue of Ocean Drivegoes by without a glossy shot of moppet-about-town, seventeen-year-old fashion designer Esteban Cortazar, posing inside the Beach's hot nightery of the moment.
So what's the deal here? Is the police department simply turning a blind eye to the lifestyles of the rich and famous?
"The law is the law," insists Miami Beach Police Department spokesman Detective Robert Hernandez, adding that the, ahem, Spears affair may be referred to the state's Alcohol, Tobacco, and Beverages agency.
Crobar co-owner Bob Myers tried to downplay the seriousness of the event. "[Spears] came to crobar to check it out and see if she wanted to shoot a video there," Myers explains. "She came in the evening because she wanted to see how it looked full of people. She did not drink a thing."
Regardless of her motives, Detective Hernandez remains unmoved. "There's not a part of this ordinance that says you have to be 21 to go into certain establishments unless you're Britney Spears. It doesn't matter if the person's a celebrity, or has this much money, or knows so-and-so."
Currently that means an initial $500 fine from the Beach's Code Compliance Department. Subsequent violations bring larger fines and a city hearing to determine if the club should be forcibly closed.
Given the stakes of the game here, however, it seems doubtful that crobar's gatekeepers -- or those at Level, Mynt, Rain or any of the city's other 21-and-over-only dance floors -- are going to keep Spears waiting on the sidewalk outside. Having famous faces inside one's club is the magnet for chic, $600-champagne-bottle-ordering crowds. Lose the steady diet of star power, so this thinking goes, and you might as well relocate to Boca Raton.
With Spears set to return to South Florida on July 13 for a Fort Lauderdale concert, her reappearance on South Beach seems assured, though she'll still be three-and-a-half months short of being allowed to legally shimmy inside crobar. Kulchur decided to do a little civic-minded role playing with Det. Hernandez.
Let's say I'm sitting inside crobar and I spy Britney Spears right next to me, knocking back a magnum of Cristal. Being an upstanding citizen, I whip out my cell phone and alert the police department. Would an officer rush to the VIP room?
"We always respond," Hernandez replies. "We would send somebody there and at the very least have the person leave the establishment. We would then either cite the club or arrest whoever served her alcohol. It might not always be the bartender. I'm over 21. If I go buy a drink and give it to Britney Spears, I'm the one who's liable now."
Quickly warming to the scenario, Hernandez continues with a laugh: "I don't see Britney Spears going up to the bartender directly. Unfortunately you and I have to go get our own drinks. But whoever in Britney's little entourage got the drinks would be responsible under a state statute -- that's arrestable."
Did dealing with pop stars ever come up at the police academy?
"No," Hernandez chuckles, mimicking a stern police instructor: "This girl with blond hair is Britney, this one is Christina Aguilera." But he concludes on a serious note.
"The law is black and white," he says of the Beach's ordinance barring nightclub entry to those under 21. And while Hernandez declined to specifically name any spots currently under investigation, he warned, "If a club is giving famous people special treatment, then they're rolling the dice. If they're willing to pay the price for letting someone violate the ordinance, then they're going to pay the price."