Old-school South Beach DJ Ruben Pagan returns as King Domino

Club Beirut, Joseph's on the Beach, Scratch, Club Nu, 1235, the China Club, Warsaw Ballroom, the Kitchen Club, Luke's, Washington Square, Fifth Street, Eclipse, Cheers. Simply saying those names will give a little thrill to those who roamed South Beach before it became watered down and segregated. In those halcyon days, hip was hip, no matter what color freak flag you flew — just so long as you flew it. The mad mixed with the bad, and the bad mixed with the dangerous. And everyone who wanted to be anyone was well in the know.

Indeed, those were the days, or rather, the nights. Because the only daylight most folks saw on that South Beach came on the tail end of darkness. No matter. It was an enlightening kind of dark, one in which each shadow had about it the air of promise and possibility. It was when all good things came to those who did something with themselves.

Serving the soundtrack for many of those wild nights was a DJ named Ruben Pagan. Not only was Pagan present at the creation of South Beach, but also he helped forge its identity. He could drop knowledge for a contingent of black-clad bohos in the basement of an pre-renovation Delano, in the old Club Beirut. He could just as well wow the kaleidoscopically colored throngs at the infamous parties known as Avenue A. Wherever he was, Pagan gave South Beach a beat it will never forget.

And now, after a decade-long exodus to parts far and wide, Pagan is back. And he's back as DJ King Domino. With the new name comes a new reason for being: to show all the upstarts how it's done. That's not to say Domino will be looking over his shoulder for a lecture to deliver. It's to say he'll bring a fast past to the podium and that class is once again in session.

In this case, it's high class. And it's of a caliber that can be spoken of only in whispers. Why? Because this kind of cool you don't shout from the rooftops. And if you do, you sure as hell don't get in.

In, in this case, is a party called Private Residence. And if you make this scene, in you undoubtedly will be. The location is still secret, but it's on South Beach, in a place that feels very much like its heyday. And it's run by Debbie Ohanian, a dame who pretty much invented that heyday.

Going down every weekend night, Private Residence is the kind of throwback people have been looking forward to for quite some time. It's a joint that mixes the mingle of yesterday with a dash of right now and comes up with something solidly with-it. In the center of it all is the divine Debbie O., creator of both Meet Me in Miami and Starfish, which means you're in for one of the finer kinds of evenings.

And of course keeping its beat is none other King Domino, who's as big on Motown as he is on Héctor Lavoe and Gran Combo. But he's perhaps most partial to the old-school hip-hop and the bubblegum disco of his youth. To have Domino teaming with Debbie O. is to have a picture-perfect nightlife postcard suitable for framing. Yet as reverent of yesterdays as the pairing might be, it's likely these two will also be responsible for a whole lot of beautiful tomorrows.

King Domino's current top five:

1. "Date With the Rain," Eddie Kendricks

2. "Bittersweet Love Affair (Dance Ritual Mix)," Jay "Sinister" Sealee and Louie Vega

3. "Everybody Dance," Chic

4. "Life's a Bitch," Nas

5. "Pioneer to the Falls," Interpol

 
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