We have gazed upon the netherworld: drag queens with a grudge, the morally crippled, hustlers obsessed with short-order fame. And, dear God, we have become what we beheld. Well, sort of. It's 3:00 a.m., it's Hombre, it's like an extremely confrontational Virtual Reality video recreation of a 42nd Street Jack Ramrod peep show, the House of Erections, and yet, calling it a night is not a critical issue. There's Saint Tara, there's Jon-Jon Bubblegum, there's the slumming editor of a local magazine. And an irate club owner, doing an impassioned deny on the entire cirumstances of our conversation, who just knows that the rumor about the anti-gay bias of this column is absolutely true.
That rumor does seem to be coming up in the strangest places, like, say, the very private Butter Club, whose Draconian semiformal-attire-only door policy has been decidedly controversial. A jacket-clad, perfectly nice artist of our acquaintance, bearing an invitation to the official grand opening, was turned away because his shoes were too old. Rick Carino of Club Nu and Carino's restaurant - no jacket, big-deal boots - apparently had a struggle getting inside. Paul Gabay and Erinn Cosby of Boomerang were deemed sartorially unacceptable by the doormen, and ultimately had to have the owners, Richard Garcia and Alexis Rosado, get them in. Butter Club uniform designer and South Beach personality Mayra Gonzalez had to be let in by designer Carlos Betancourt. Dan Bates of L'Agence had trouble. Details magazine columnist Stephan Saban and companion John Martinez got through the maybe-we-like-you-maybe-we-don't gauntlet, although they were reportedly dismissed as "scruffy looking" by one of the owners.
The policy seems less like Judgment Day - as with the cutting-edge club in New York that once barred the overstuffed Mick Jagger but let in the eternally hip David Bowie - than simple ignorance of the stars of the South Beach firmament. But maybe that's the point. (No trouble personally, which just proves the random nature of fate.)
It all came to a nasty head during The Incident, Tara Solomon's first and last Cabaret Night at the club. The owners, apparently, had wanted the earlier Tara, more mainstream and slightly less baroque. Tara, the leading cult figure of Gay South Beach, pined for something Fellini-esque: animal acts, midgets, odd torch singers, and Jackie Oh!, a local drag recreation of the early Jackie Kennedy, singing "New York, New York." This First Lady of Drag Glamour made it through with a group of "drinking and paying" friends, but once inside was told to wait inconspicuously behind the gold cow on the bar until show time. It wasn't "that kind of club." The customers were "getting uncomfortable." Naturally enough, Jackie felt that this was just one more cruel blow for a woman who has, good Lord, suffered enough already.
"It wasn't like I was some drag queen in there to pick people up. And my friends were all nicely dressed, you know, well-brought-up Jewish people. You're used to a certain entree and respect for whatever you do, and this was such a strange, chilly reception. From the staff, not the people who were there for Tara's show. Anyway, I wound up standing there for about 45 minutes and then took off with my friends. Really, I felt humiliated for my character, not myself. Would the real Jackie Oh! stand behind a cow?"
The Jackie crowd wound up at Torpedo where, reportedly, three to five jacketless men showed up sometime later, insisting that the Butter Club doorman had not let them in, based on his assessment that they were gay. Michael Teger of Torpedo, who also went to the Butter Club that night, says, "They weren't exactly the most butch guys. But there were plenty of gay people in the club. I mean, Kitty Meow was there in men's clothes. The dress code was hard to figure out: Some people were dressed like shit and some people looked fabulous."
Things escalated. It had gone beyond someone's sacred First Amendment right to dress up like Jackie Onassis and appear at slick private clubs. The real Jackie might have risen above it. The drag Jackie lashed back and called Dade Action PAC, various members of the media, Michael Aller, and "everybody I know." Tara hosted a Michael Morrison fashion show the following Sunday (the rumored ACT-UP-type incident never materialized) but is moving on to other venues, places such as Regine's, with a no-doubt spotless human rights record: "I didn't witness anything firsthand, but I'm mortified that anybody would be discriminated against on the basis of their sexuality."
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Given that South Beach is a deranged rumor mill, there is some question as to exactly what happened. Former Butter Club spokesman Richard Perez-Feria, for one, considers the whole situation ridiculous: "It became this circus that spiraled out of control. We're trying to avoid sneakers-and-shorts attire; men are supposed to wear jackets. Our crowd is also the Grove and Pine Tree Drive. It would be absurd to be anti-gay on South Beach, the community is driven by gay people. Gay people work at the club. I cannot imagine that a doorperson would ever say something like that; none of them were ever told anything about not admitting gays."
Fortunately there was no doorman at Stephan Saban's birthday dinner at the Marlin's Shabeen restaurant, hosted by Louis Canales and attended by various South Beach notables. The very nice, and very smart, Natalie Fernandez-Roque. Mayra Gonzalez, in a spectacular black outfit that was a masterpiece of structural engineering, looking like some club-dream-come-true creature. Although no longer dealing strictly with nightlife for Details ("In New York, you wind up writing about the same ten people all the time."), Saban had some great stories about the "toilet chic" of underground clubs in Bucharest and the nature of the international club scene: "In politically repressed countries, you always find the best nightlife. People need it to distract themselves."
Then it was on to Warsaw for some birthday cake and the Amazonia party, coordinated by Canales and John Martinez. Flowing drink tickets. Club veteran Susan Ainsworth, working on a variety of projects. A decor of enormous tree limbs and the drag triumvirate: Jackie Oh!, Kitty Meow, and Varla, still reeling from her own Incident, the club that denied her the inalienable celebrity right to walk in with extra guests for free.
A few weeks of dissolution, what Tennessee Williams called the "greased pole slide downhill" ends at Ernie Levy's Last Temptation party at Torpedo. It's Christmas Eve, for Christ's sake, and we find ourselves watching a complicated North Pole sex tableau, with a tranvestite elf working on a well-built Santa Claus. Taking in the whole sordid spectacle, one of our irony-infused companions remarks brightly: "Isn't it amazing what a man can do when he pulls himself together? Of course, none of us ever will.