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Going out on South Beach can be intimidating for the average citizen whose wealth, beauty, or hipness quotients aren't quite stratosphere-scraping. Most of Greater Miami, in fact, generally avoids the place, except when carting around visitors from out of town, impressing business contacts, or trying to seduce nubile young somethings-or-other. To achieve South Beach orbit successfully is to detach from reality and succumb, whether ingenuously or cynically, to the involuntary reaction triggered by a critical mass of achingly gorgeous people, velvet ropes, and the pounding rhythms of seriously overplayed hits. Alas, though, even if you eagerly embrace the shallow fabulousness of South Beach, you can't afford the price tag that comes with the lifestyle.
But you don't necessarily have to have money. "You can maneuver through the Beach without spending a penny," advises long-time promoter Maxwell Blandford. "There are so many people here who don't have a pot to piss in, yet they are on every VIP list in town," sighs Elaine Lancaster, Miami Beach's drag queen ambassador. "Because they bring something to the party -- looks, personality, or they've got a great story everybody buys."
Want to be a VIP at überchic celebrity pit Prive? A table for two with a magnum of champagne is a mere $500. That's if you can get in. If the femme on your arm is not quite fatale enough, or if you were foolish enough to let Juan from accounting tag along with you; if your own look suggests Hialeah homeboy more than Ocean Drive hipster -- these are all reasons you will not be rubbing elbows with P. Diddy, J.Lo, or that bony blond hotel heiress whose ass everyone has seen.
Okay, so forget the VIP section for the moment. You'll settle for proximity to the alpha wolves. Even this, however, will cost you. At crobar, Rumi, or Mynt, for instance, just getting in the door requires $20. Once inside, drinks run $8 to $12 on average. So you and Juan (assuming Juan has gotten himself a decent haircut and stopped wearing that Dolphins jersey with "Marino" on the back) have three drinks and you've already spent $100 in one place. And that's before you've paid for the cab, or the tab for the hotties you're trying to pick up. Live like this often and the cash flow from your day job starts to feel mighty inadequate.
Yet you notice that there are some nightlife cognoscenti who manage to breeze through the door past a line of hopeless jerks every time. These same people seem merely to glance in the direction of the bar and a sweating glass of sweet toxicity is placed in front of them -- gratis. Take, for example, Karen Geneppa, 24, a film student and self-described girl about town. For lovely and almost pathologically outgoing girls such as she, the ropes always drop and free drinks magically appear. "I'm a big flirt and everybody loves me," she explains. "When I go out with my girlfriends, we know we have no money at all, but we're going to Mynt and we're drinking all night." She adds, "If it's not for free I don't go. It's not worth it."
But you clearly don't have the bod, the patter, or the attitude of Karen and her micro-mini'd ilk. All the usual suspects from the South Beach scene agree that most people living the high life without paying for it are the beautiful, traffickers in the beautiful, celebrities, or people from the nightlife, fashion, or music industries. "You're either well connected, or you wait in line and pay your money," says Ernesto Arambatzis, a promoter of events at the Delano and Mynt, who entered clubland a decade ago through the modeling pipeline.
Then there are the professional mooches, such as those living on the fringes of the drug world, and the media. And the amateur mooches, or "artists, hustlers, pseudo-VIPs, and scumbags of all sorts," as nightlife legend Rudolf Piper puts it. "Which is good," he adds with a laugh, "because those people are fun."
The thing to remember is that the main purpose of clubland elitism is to create an exclusive sex buffet for men of means. It also benefits the second-tier hangers-on who make them feel important in exchange for a piece of the overflow -- the extra women, booze, and obsequious service the big men don't want. Create this environment and the cash bulls stampede. Depending on whom you talk to, a relative handful of big spenders accounts for half to three-quarters of the revenue at a given club. The rest of the herd, meaning you, is considered the filler crowd.
Piper is one of the few clubland denizens with a firm grasp of the ironic nature of a business built entirely on illusion. "There are people who take the idea that being a VIP here means something," he laughs. "Five years ago it meant you had to be cool. Now you have to have money. It's all about connections."
So how does your average real estate agent from Kendall grab a piece of this action? Read on for a few lessons in how to live fabulously in South Beach without money, a.k.a. pimpin' on a budget.