Swelter 14

By Tom Austin

published: July 20, 1995

Maybe it's in the air, all this churning of spiritual anorexia, these studies in dumbed-down concerns, but then, they're always good for a snarky remark or two. Miami entering a new plateau in its continuing evolution as a low-wattage version of Los Angeles -- not a pleasant prospect -- an actual celebrity lawsuit coming as a harbinger of fame imbroglios and cheap glory. Melanie Griffith, in town for the Two Much production a while back, leasing Vanilla Ice's home on Star Island for major money, and after a week or two, exercising a women's prerogative and changing her mind, renting another home on Sunset Island instead. Their people never getting back to us, and we're much too sensitive for actual courthouse research, although the matter of insufficient closet rods apparently came up, according to sources who confirmed the lawsuit. Now Griffith wants her money back. Really, isn't Antonio Banderas enough booty to take from our fair city? It's not a savory business, these appetites of America, but we're staying comfortably satiated for the off-season, in for the long feckless haul. An art-sort-of-mirrors-life number coming up on Ocean Drive, the great Robin Williams materializing for the production of the drag farce Birds of a Feather just down the block from the Lucky Cheng's opening. Handily enough, the symmetry of it all -- along with the continuing de-evolution of risque cross-dressing into just another mainstream marketing tool -- adding a certain allure to another night, another opening. Lucky Cheng's coming to town with all due heraldry, the New York headquarters -- situated in a former gay bathhouse deep in the bowels of downtown -- having something of a cult stature. Somehow, this being Ocean Drive, a tourist strip in a town where drag queens are as prevalent as cats, the idea of cross-dressing waitresses and lip-synched cabaret shows amid conceptual chinoiserie loses something in the translation.

Aside from regional questions of hip, the opening of the Miami transplant featuring welcome new talent from Manhattan -- Onyx, Sugarbaby, et al. A and the locally beloved queens, being saucy and sassy in the manner of truck-stop sweethearts: "Whatever melts your butter, honey...." All the usual jitters and madness on hand as well: neophyte waiters, cheap hurts and status rebukes, the whiny buzz of irate mosquitoes. In between spreading our own peculiar brand of beatitude -- lighten up, we're not at Lutäce -- and trolling for sound bites ("Vanilla Ice can defrost my freezer any time") and column items, the wellspring of a twisted existence.

A true scholar of district hype, falling prey to the well-deserved buzz surrounding Lucky Cheng owner Hayne Jason, the stories of her early days in the Area/Palladium era making nightlife amateurs, by excruciating contrast, seem hopelessly mundane. Jason, a well-bred New Orleans native and new mother, starting off life as an uptown lawyer in New York: "Nixon used to work there. I hated it so much that I started wearing resort wear to the office and not doing anything, hoping they'd fire me. It took them forever." Naturally, a career change being called for, Jason renovating the bathhouse ("We found all these artifacts, huge rubber dildos and everything A it would have made a great museum") and going on to lucky fame and fortune. As with all the club pros, the where-have-all-the-good-times-gone epoch gradually settling in: "Club kids are still great to look at, but there's just not the same creativity around any more. Lately I haven't been going out all that much."

Like most people who constantly inflict themselves on the populace, we're vaguely embarrassed by coarsened hungers, the quest for novelty turning ever more Nonfab, more NonArea, steadily diminishing returns in the deluge. In tow with an ex-veteran of ballroom society, making a pointless search for some Oriental-theme bash later that night, the refugee from a good family ignoring the obvious: We'd just been to the party in question, and when you stalk the district every night, the chic of slumming enters another realm entirely. On to ice cream at the Frieze, a sure-fire cure for anomie, our favorite fountain jockey pointing out our evident evil, the numbers 666 immediately rolling up on the cash register. From there, ring on the weekend: missing the Loco Mia opening -- turned away for the grievous dress code violation of shorts and flip-flops -- and the Isadora Duncan Dance Ensemble at Les Deux Fontaines, dedicated to the dance legend/party girl who had the good sense to go out in style. And then it's an ordinary Saturday night on South Beach, akin to dying and going straight to Hell, without mercy or hope of judicial appeal.

Everywhere at once the clubs bracing for the war zone of market saturation, duking it out for your entertainment dollar and chafing under any kind of civic restraint. Ideally they'd like to be round-the-clock convenience stores with lax policies on drugs, flagrant sexuality, and loitering. What with off-duty cops having worked officially illegal after-hours parties, an inevitable crackdown taking effect, the carnival tightening up. An outlaw gathering at Union Bar busted, the reprobates simply moving a few doors down to Niva. Kiddie raves, Ecstasy-ridden if alcohol-free, going from Warsaw to Diamante to Paragon. The new policies of pressure dictating a little more common sense than usual, business: the vox populi demands constant debauchery, even at eleven in the morning.

In alternative-sexuality circles, HRS officials meeting with the managers of gay clubs over the issue of public and oftentimes unsafe sex. (To be fair, we've also seen plenty of straight-up fucking and heroin smoking at glitzy heterosexual straight haunts.) Every establishment, of course, nothing but a victim of competition, accusing one another of inspiring generalized wantonness: the foam parties at Amnesia and Warsaw; leather-land tableaux at the Loading Zone; Metro Underground's back room; early-morning high jinks at Paragon. But across the board, things may be getting out of control -- the specter of indulgent parents bringing their kids to teen foam parties seems totally beyond the pale.

A nasty little brew, this cult of espuma, leavened with a touch of I Love Lucy and the witches' cauldron of Macbeth: "Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble." With all the growth-industry fuss, Warsaw owner and foam purveyor Yves Di Lena kicking off espuma nights in Chicago and New York, and fittingly, now vacationing off Monaco on a yacht. The media frenzy leaping from our own items on the early wild-thing beginnings -- now heatedly denied -- to various newspaper feature stories, TV news profiles, and other strains of the cannibalistic press. Now that foam has gone almost as mainstream as drag, we finally got around to taking in the Warsaw version: sexually mixed beyond measure because of another spate of publicity. Nelson Fox, who once ran the way-straight China Club in the space where Warsaw now reigns, showing up with a big-ticket date, a covey of Kendall girls, stray lesbians, and fag hags clinging to the fringes, adding the frisson of a spectacularly decadent high school dance.

As ever, the pounding bass system of Warsaw ricocheting around the cranium, and then finally it's theater of the absurd. The introduction to insanity ("Now, the event you've all been waiting for -- the foam party!") accompanied by the pomp of Also Sprach Zarathustra and broadcast warnings about avoiding too much sex fun, the stuff that goes on in parks and alleys every night. A kind of cattle trough for the wayward, reams of faintly acrid bubbles -- probably suitable for cleaning carpets as well -- pouring down on the dance floor from a huge overhead pipe, spotters with water guns standing on the stages to hose off the reckless like so much livestock. Sexy stuff, invigorating in a demented Beach Blanket Bingo-meets-Boys in the Band fashion: a conga line forming, some lunatic in an airline steward uniform stripping on a loudspeaker, people masturbating one another here and there. One middle-age guy with Heidi pigtails having a Pippi Longstocking great adventure, his consort/catamite draped over the edge of the stage -- directly below the fetching guard -- with his ass arched in the air like a dog in heat. Perhaps nothing but a display of fakery and unseemly exhibitionism, or true dead-ahead sodomy, bottom boy ultimately finishing off his pal with a hand job. Something completely different for once, and the larger questions may have to be left to the mysteries of the foam, the wake of a new dawn.