By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
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By Kyle Swenson
Lesson No. 1: Know your terrain
If you are in this for the long haul, it pays to invest a little time and money to get to know the lay of the clubland. We're not talking about the neon-lighted tourist traps that abound on Ocean Drive, where sunburned frat boys of all ages wander into Wet Willie's or Mangos with sand in their shoes and visions of Girls Gone Wild reflected in their rum-glazed orbs. Clubland for our purposes is generally ensconced behind velvet ropes along Washington and Collins avenues, and on Lincoln Road. Also included are restaurant-clubs such as Tantra and B.E.D., and the watering holes in a half-dozen or so cool hotels, such as the Delano, Raleigh, Astor, and Shore Club.
To the occasional visitor, this world seems a fantastic, plastic playland filled with wealth, beauty, and amusing rituals of social dominance. It is that, but like any scene in a small place, it is also just a neighborhood where the same characters keep popping up. Hang out a short while and you too can become one of the "fabulous 300," a term loosely applied to a roving group of locals who aren't fabulous for any apparent reason, yet have gotten their names on all the right lists and can be relied upon to appear at any event featuring free food or an open bar.
"There are a lot of people who live on the free parties, people who know if there is a wine and cheese opening anywhere," observes Tommy Pooch, a long-time South Beach promoter who hosts a Tuesday-night party at the Astor Hotel and a Sunday soiree at the Raleigh. "You could probably stay drunk just going to condo openings." (This is another outgrowth of the redevelopment boom in downtown Miami and Miami Beach -- lots of condo-sales parties presented by former club promoters and featuring a pet artist or two as cultural beards.)
"You can't just get off the bus from Ohio and roll into a club," Pooch continues. "You gotta get yourself localized." Getting quickly acclimated to and accepted within this surreal sphere is how most of the club kids, promoters, and bottom feeders have made it in South Beach. Knowledgeable locals recommend doing a little reconnaissance on the party circuit for a few weeks. Since you don't know anyone, you'll have to lay out some cash initially, but the investment will pay off. The important thing is getting your face remembered by doormen, bartenders, promoters, club owners, and scenesters (maybe 50 or 60 people you'll see everywhere). This is the hardcore gang.
Justin Altshuler, known everywhere in clubland as Buster (he is promotions director for Party 93.1 [WPYM-FM] and a founder of Alternative TV-3, the first all-dance music video station), started out this way. Buster was just a dissolute party boy from Boston who arrived in South Beach a few years ago looking to channel his social skills into positive cash flow. He got jobs first in the industry, at clubs, and then a stint at Ego Trip magazine, a local nightlife guide. Then he had his best idea: hustling public access cable time into a new clubland career.
Relentlessly social and inventive, Buster worked his way up and through the scene. "When I first got here I could not afford this town," he recalls. "So I was cozying up to the people with the drink tickets. I learned to have a few drinks before I went out. Back in the day, I used to bring a flask with me. First I was a moocher. Then I was media, which is just a step above. You get to know people, get on the right lists."
Karen Geneppa has learned this lesson well. Like many nightlife denizens, she almost instinctively parties with an eye to marketing herself. "I try to make everyone feel really special," she says. "I introduce everyone to everybody else, guys, bartenders, management. I can go to any club alone and I'll start talking to some guy right away. They will remember my name next time."
The scene varies as parties come and go, but a somewhat reliable circuit at the moment is Tantra and Back Door Bamby at crobar on Mondays; the Astor, Rumi, and Opium Garden on Tuesdays; the Delano and Michael Capponi's party at B.E.D. Wednesdays; Skybar at the Shore Club and the hip-hop night at crobar on Thursdays; and Mynt and Prive Friday or Saturday nights. There are plenty of other places to circulate, including Nikki Beach Club, the Ritz-Carlton, Flute, and Automatic Slim's. You also find less affected types slumming at Spiderpussy, the Thursday party at Liquor Lounge; Jazid; Ted's Hideaway; or even that venerable dive, Mac's Club Deuce.
Go to these places often and bring friends, preferably female. Arrive early and chat up the bouncers and bartenders. Another advantage to this strategy is that most clubs have free or reduced admission and drink specials before midnight. Get an interesting business card and give it to everyone. Dress well and tell amusing stories. Don't be an asshole. "Don't expect to be king in a week," warns Piper. "It may take a month, but once you're in in Miami, you're in. Once you are on the lists, you're invited to the best parties." Another back door to the party lists is putting your name and e-mail address in every guestbook at every art gallery, museum, and condo opening in town. Such lists are marketing tools and they circulate. Of course the list you really want to be on is Ocean Drive's -- those parties are always teeming with fabulous freeloading opportunities.