Opportunity Cost

The cops of Sunny Isles Beach and the physicians of Brickell know how to party

The words epic and classic — favorite Bitch exclamations for happenings with high and very low extremes of social entertainment value — can barely be applied to this past Saturday night's iteration of the Wynwood Art/Design District gallery walk. It was appropriately held under a full moon amid intermittent interludes of tropical-depression deluge. A highlight of the tour, at least in terms of marquee value, was a heavily promoted opening called "New Orleans Artists in Exile," Crescent City gallerist Jonathan Ferrara's traveling exhibition of work from artists displaced by Hurricane Katrina. The show, mounted at the Steve Martin Gallery (66 NE 40th St., Miami) offers a few head-turners, notably British photographer Charlie Varley's shot of a crying girl separated from her parents; the image ended up on the cover of Newsweek.

The party attracted one of the highest per capita collections of kooks ever documented in any city. There was Steve Martin himself — not the comic actor but a miniature ringer for Simply Red singer Mick Hucknall, with a curly thatch of strawberry blond hair. Martin's contributions to the exhibit were life-size (and smaller) two-dimensional wire sculptures of nude women. As proof of his virility, throughout the evening Martin paraded around his toddler, an even tinier squalling beet of a creature.

Fortunately there was a distraction. Perhaps referencing in tone — if not content — the most famous line from the most famous drama set in New Orleans, there sounded a loud bawl throughout the gallery: "Maaaarrrrgggarrettttttt!" All activity froze for a second as the source of the cry was isolated. It belonged to an impossibly chic-looking woman in a nipped-waist red Chanel jacket, black evening trousers, high heels, and a beehive of steely gray hair at least eighteen inches high.

Slavic bone structure and Kabuki makeup create a most stunning visage
The Bitch
Slavic bone structure and Kabuki makeup create a most stunning visage

The Bitch had to meet this enchanting creature.

Wow, is that your real hair? Are you one of the artists?

"Oh nooooo, darling," the woman cooed. "I'm just Belle. You can call me Blue Belle. I'm here with an artist, though ... her name is Margaret! Do you know Margaret?"

Um, no, but I've ... heard ... of Margaret.

"Well, let me go get her," Belle intoned, heading back toward the gallery's door and repeating her call out to the sidewalk: "Maarrrgarrettttt! You get back here! We've already seen this art, but come see it again and get some more cheese! There's a fresh platter and more wine!"

The Bitch spun around to carefully and quietly study the platter of mozzarella balls and tomatoes while devising an exit strategy.

"Hey, what are those things?" questioned a man who, using a pineapple chunk speared by a toothpick, was gesturing at the food. The dog noted this fellow's ruddy facial features, which were shaded by a trucker cap and floating above a rayon shirt emblazoned with images of martinis, beer bottles, and soda cans.

Uh, I think it's some kind of cheese or something.

"Damn," the man responded. "They look exactly like those pearl onions my mom always made at Thanksgiving," he sighed. "Anyway, I'm Dan. Dan Belle. My wife and I are here with our friend Margaret!"


Enough Food and Cool People

In the fickle world of South Florida's cutthroat dining industry, a successful chef who takes a few years off is rare. But Mary Rohan-Dominguez, who oversaw the restaurant at the Indian Creek Hotel in Miami Beach during its late-Nineties heyday and later cheffed at Ortanique in Coral Gables, did just that in 2002. During her sabbatical, Rohan-Dominguez's absence was mourned by legions of acolytes who adore the pixielike blond's engaging manner as much as her edible creations. So the party Monday night at the Palm (4425 Ponce de Leon Blvd.), where Rohan-Dominguez returns as the restaurant's new executive chef this week, was an emotional reunion of friends. It was also an occasion to admire the chef's intact culinary prowess.

After a round of applause upon her arrival around 7:00 p.m., Rohan-Dominguez waved shyly at the group of about 150 attendees. "I'm not really much of a speaker in front of a crowd, but I am so happy to see so many familiar faces ... and here's how I'll show it," she said, gesturing toward a group of assistant chefs bearing huge trays of food. Some of the abundant fare included Bitch-approved "Wahoo Ceviche," a citrus-infused mélange of reef fish, crabcakes, and black-bean patties.

Pat Kelly, a Key Biscayner who works for a Gables developer and is also on the board of directors for the Center for Orangutan and Chimpanzee Conservation (www.prime-apes.org), has followed Rohan-Rodriguez since the Indian Creek days. "It's nice that there are still small artifacts, here and there, of good things about Miami that endure," Kelly mused, declaring the party a "wonderful success."


Not Enough Food and The Man

Sgt. Edward Santiago of the Sunny Isles Beach Police force worked the third shift this past June 7 from 9:00 Wednesday night to 7:30 Thursday morning. Sounds pretty grueling, but before work, Santiago was quite the lady magnet at a groundbreaking party — or something — for the St. Tropez condominium sales center, where the tower is to be built at 330 Sunny Isles Blvd. Uniformed and dashing, Santiago mingled, snacked, and attracted a wake of female admirers, while a half-dozen of his departmental colleagues stood out on the causeway directing traffic and fending off angry motorists.

Meanwhile the party to broker the waterfront pads suffered from the chronic blight of South Florida promotions for big-ticket items: too much alcohol and not enough food (though the 200 mostly Eastern European guests had to persevere to obtain the booze from four stressed-out bartenders). When Jennifer Becker, an assistant account executive for party organizer the Apple Organization in North Miami Beach, noticed The Bitch making a hasty departure after refusing to wait, like, 45 minutes for a dollop of mashed potatoes with asparagus stems, the flack promised a written post-event statement. Becker later declined to provide said document or to answer any other Bitch questions, which included the query: How smart is it to serve martinis and cosmopolitans to people with empty stomachs and send them out to pick up their valeted vehicles?


Selling Seltzer and Stuff

The Bitch was surprised to learn a short while ago that the Joey New York line of cosmetics and skincare products, which bear quintessentially Big Apple-conjuring names such as "Egg Cream" and "Pretzel Cart," is actually based in Aventura, where founder and CEO Joey Chancis resides. It's great that Chancis lives in the SFL, but what's up with her selling her wares — normally found in Bitch-approved environments like Sephora and Nordstrom — on cable shopping network QVC? Isn't that, like, an outlet for cubic zirconia rings and Chia Pets?

Chancis herself told The Bitch not to be such a snob. "QVC is a great way to be educated on products, [because] the owner, developer of the company, and its products — in this case me — appears and educates the consumer on key ingredients, technology, expected results, and who the product is good for," Chancis chided. "Joey New York will not be discounting any products, so it will not hurt the retail stores. We are only launching a select few products on QVC."

Um, okay!

Joey will be on the QVC airwaves at 7:00 p.m. June 17, in a segment called Saturday Night Beauty.


The Italian Steps Sequence

Nothing epitomizes Miami Beach excess like Casa Casuarina, the former home of slain designer Gianni Versace on Ocean Drive, so The Bitch keeps track of what's going on within its baroquely decorated walls. Until lately, regular updates came courtesy of de facto spokeswoman Lindsay Dufresne of Zakarin PR in Coral Gables. Recently, though, an invitation to an event at the Casa arrived — about five minutes before it was scheduled to begin — on a new letterhead, that of Tim Johnson.

Johnson, who seems to dislike the public part of public relations, turned out to be not only tardy but also remarkably uncommunicative. After a few monosyllabic utterances, Johnson told The Bitch it was "a really bad time to talk," refusing to acknowledge many multiple subsequent attempts at communication. Basically, though, this is what the inquisitive hound was able to extract from Johnson: He handles the marketing only for Spa Eleven, the massage-and-facial retreat operating within the mansion. (There's another Spa Eleven in Delray Beach; both are owned by South Florida investment banker Nicole Oden.) Public relations in general were now entrusted to Command PR of Manhattan. The change was engendered by Casa owner Peter Loftin, who, Johnson said, "was unhappy with Zakarin."

Zakarin principal Amy Zakarin, who said she had never heard of Johnson, very diplomatically confirmed the breakup: "When we were hired two years ago, we were very much involved in shaping a strategy to help support Casa's private membership offering. Since then, there have been some changes in the culture at Casa — nothing negative, just different. This new firm is suited for that direction. From what I've gathered, there will be a lot more focus on parties and promotional concepts."

Parties do seem to be of special interest to Command PR owner Jonathan Cheban, who is widely known for his frequent managed-photo-opportunity appearances (of himself, not his clients) in the New York Post's "Page Six" feature and in glossy society spreads in Hamptons Magazine. Cheban was not around when The Bitch tried to reach him this past week, but Command agent Simon Huckcharacterized the new Casa strategy.

"The parting was on very good terms, but Zakarin wasn't providing the service that Mr. Loftin was looking for," Huck said. "Zakarin PR is more focused on real estate. Command is more national, celebrity-driven, more focused on national publications as opposed to local ones."

Describing Command's success in media machinations thus far, Huck continued, "We already got a three-quarter-page spread in People magazine. Jaime Pressly was making an appearance on the Tonight Show and talked about the Casa for five minutes. Kristin Cavallari from Laguna Beach stayed there last week. When you're trying to sell a product or get recognition for places in Miami, it very much helps to have a New York-based agency. I think it's important to have a celebrity component, and we have that."


Nasty ... and Sneaky Too

Torrian Ferguson recently reached out to The Bitch to talk about his new book, using the following lure: "Picture this. Some friends invite you to a Coral Gables party that turns out to be a swingers' shindig, a copulation carnival in a sprawling house.

"Wide-eyed, you take it all in. Suddenly things go sour. A fully clothed woman is screaming at a naked man — her husband apparently — with another woman. Neither knew the other was at the party or a swinger until that moment."

Wow, that sounds really disgusting!

Nonetheless The Bitch phoned Ferguson for some more salacious details. Now in his thirties and living in North Carolina with his wife and two children, Ferguson is actually promoting his second book, a Carolinas-based erotic mystery called Scandalous. It was the Opa-locka native's debut novel Swingers, which came out in 2004, that was based on black professionals in Miami who do as the title suggests.

Amazingly, though, Ferguson turned out to be pleasant and down-to-earth. He says he visits his dozens of Miami relatives regularly. In the mid-Nineties, Ferguson explains, he was single, bored with his job as a hotel cook, and drawn into Miami's swinger world by friends. He claims he never took part, just watched.

Right. Whatever.

"What you see on HBO's Real Sex, that's the scaled-down version," Ferguson says by way of description. While the parties began modestly and normally enough with hors d'oeuvres and wine served perhaps at a house in the Gables or equally suburban environs, it wasn't long before the horizontal gymnastics kicked in. "You've got 'pool parties' going on and couples everywhere," Ferguson recalls.

It was not, however, a totally random kind of stranger-meet-stranger deal. Most of those in the decidedly exclusive realms of Miami's upper-middle-class black swingers know one another, Ferguson says.

Ferguson penned Swingers in his free time and sold it to Two of a Kind Publishing in late 2003. By the spring of 2004, the book had made number four on Essence magazine's best-seller list, based on sales at black-run bookstores around the nation. At an Aventura book-signing, Ferguson was amazed by the reaction. "I had a ton of people say, 'Yeah I'm a swinger,'" he recalls.

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