On the Eve of 2003 ...

The long arm of our faltering economy has reached out and touched this New Year's Eve. But don't worry -- you'll be the beneficiary. Most clubs and restaurants on South Beach, even big names like crobar, Level, and the Forge, are lowering New Year's party prices from last year. That might seem surprising as this is the year everyone is supposed to exhale after last year's post-September 11 anxiety and solemnity. But times are tough now, especially in the South American and European countries that are home to many of our visitors. So Beach business owners don't want to give anyone a reason to stay away.

Expect to save some flow, about $25 to $75, if you plan on buying a ticket or making a reservation to a New Year's bash. But don't spend it all. Save some cab fare. Contrary to the popular myth that cabs provide free rides on New Year's Eve to sloshed revelers, a Metro Taxi rep explains: "That never happens. The cab drivers have mouths to feed and bills to pay."

Of course money shouldn't be the focus of your New Year's plans. Other holidays have deeper meanings than this one -- giving thanks, giving praise, or giving period. But New Year's Eve is simply about having fun, and fun means being safe, so use the buddy system, steer clear of rabble-rousers, and be careful with those party favors. Noisemakers and pointy hats have been known to cause injuries in the hands of a seriously sauced individual. Don't be afraid to seek out an officer of the law in a sticky situation, but don't bother them with minor problems like lost cars or missing shoes (it happens). New Year's Eve is the busiest night of the year for cops, according to the Miami-Dade Police Department. So be smart. Inappropriate shenanigans could land you in county jail till dawn shines on a new year.

A good way to secure a fun and safe night is to plan ahead, and that's where we come in. We wouldn't want you to walk aimlessly through the last night of the year without a clue, so we got the dibs on where to go and what's in store. As usual the big clubs will throw big parties, restaurants will put together their most elaborate dinners, and nearly every block will host a house party or two. No matter what you do, though, the people you do it with will have the biggest impact on how your New Year's Eve goes.

Clubs

Bermuda Bar & Grill: One of the longest-running dance parties is getting ready for another New Year's Eve bash. This party features complimentary drinks till 2:00 a.m. Also included is a champagne toast at midnight for the big balloon drop. Then show off your moves until 6:00 a.m., when it's time to go home. Arrive before midnight and pay a $25 cover charge. 3509 NE 163rd St, North Miami Beach, 305-945-0196.

Big Fish: Party the year away on the banks of a cleaner Miami River (supposedly) at Big Fish. Live music and DJs will keep the rumps bouncing and an open bar will leave the patrons swimming, but not in the river we hope. A $60 cover for those who ate before they left home and $129 if anyone wants a nice seafood dinner. 55 SW Miami Ave Rd, 305-373-1770.

Blue: Blue, decorated with electric shades of blue (hence the name), will offer music to match the mood. Be among the models and locals to pass by this New Year's Eve. An impressive roster of DJs will be spinning tunes to keep you moving all night. 222 Española Way, Miami Beach, 305-534-1009.

Cafe Iguana: Head south to Kendall's favorite hot spot, where $25 admission includes free drinks till 1:00 a.m. At midnight toast in the New Year during the balloon drop. Then dance till you drop or until 5:00 a.m., whichever comes first. 8505 Mills Dr, Town & Country Center, 305-274-4948.

Club Deep: Party into the New Year with Power 96, broadcasting live on the Internet. The night features a hot/cold buffet and $3 drinks between 9:00 and 11:00 p.m. In addition each person receives a free bottle of champagne, party favors, and a souvenir T-shirt. At midnight watch the ball drop from Times Square on large-screen monitors. Then look out for your chance to win $1000 during Deep's own balloon drop. The party continues until 5:00 a.m. 621 Washington Ave, Miami Beach, 305-532-1509.

crobar: Experience the New Year at crobar's Third Annual Crystal Ball, the Beach's biggest dance party, featuring DJs Cedric Gervais and Juan Mejia and other fantastic disc jockeys (oh, that's what DJ stands for). They'll be spinning house and progressive house, you know the difference. Doors open at 9:00 p.m. and stay open until 7:00 a.m. Advance tickets cost $60 and can be purchased through Ticketmaster or the crobar box office Monday through Friday noon to 5:00 p.m. until December 28. Included are a champagne toast and party favors. Table prices are $1000 per table and include one bottle of champagne and one bottle of premium liquor. For information about table reservations call 305-531-8225. For Ticketmaster call 305-358-5885. 1445 Washington Ave, Miami Beach, 305-531-5027.

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