The two women in pressed pantsuits and high-necked collars look on in near
shock, tittering to themselves as Tara Solomon strolls up the steps of the Compass Cafe on Ocean Drive. Even amid the mobile mosaic of the beach-front sidewalk, the high priestess of South Beach nightlife draws stares. Tonight her rounds will include the Havana Club, a decidedly non-Beach nightspot on the mainland, and as always La Solomon is dressed for the occasion - a black-fringe miniskirt, a bustier garnished with a dozen pink, yellow, and red roses (one ceramic, another real, the rest fabric), a black pompom-fringed bolero highlighted by a dachshund pin at the shoulder, a Barbie charm bracelet on the wrist, and of course the wig, a dark affair piled high, bangs hanging down. "It is," she explains, "my pre-Castro tribute."
No sooner does she sit down at a table than the waiter, the fourth or fifth person she greets by name in the first few moments, places a glass of champagne in front of her. The bubbly continues to flow, without request, for the next hour or so.
By day she works as editor for Metro Playbill Publishing, which produces Playbill magazine for theaters and concert halls throughout the southeastern United States, as well as Coconut Grove, Coral Gables, and Key Biscayne magazines. By night she is the princess of club land, a busy social butterfly in subtropical Bohemia, a nocturnal diplomat-without-portfolio.
A native of Cape Coral on the west coast of Florida and a television/film graduate of the University of Miami who refuses to divulge her age, Solomon moved to the Beach five years ago and promptly dove into the after-hours scene as features editor and nightlife columnist for the now-defunct Miami Beach magazine. She currently chronicles her adventures in Antenna, a free Beach newspaper, and serves as city editor of Miami Mensual magazine. She also hosts a weekly Karaoke night, featuring amateur singers, at the Beach club Semper's. Lately she has received more publicity, locally and nationally, than most aspiring South Beach models. And she is fast becoming a striking visual symbol of the Beach's burgeoning reputation as Party Central.
Do most nightclubs let you in for free?
Every club lets me in free. I cannot remember paying a cover charge. But I always bring American Express and enough cash to pay for myself and friends who may not have money. I never assume I'm going to be hosted for the night's events, but chances are I am.
How do you arrange for free entry to clubs? Do you have to call ahead?
No. I just go.
What do you tell them?
I say nothing.
Can anyone do this?
Do you ever have to tell them who you are?
Once. Once I was at the ill-fated Reggae Rockers Cafe across from Warsaw that was open for about three weeks. It was about a year ago, and I happened to be with David Andrusia, the author of the book North America: Hot and Hip. So he was researching a chapter on Miami. As a favor to the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau I squired David about, taking him to the hot spots of South Beach. I thought he should see different types of clubs, although I perhaps do not frequent them, which in this case I obviously did not because they didn't recognize me and were very vocal about not recognizing me. And Dave was just like, "Sure you're queen of the night scene. Sure." I'm not going to argue with this over-steroided, poorly dressed causewayite who is tending door because he doesn't have anything else to do. And so we just spun on our stilettos and pranced over to Warsaw, where not only were we admitted immediately but given rolls of free drink tickets to boot.
But that's the only time it's ever happened?
That I can remember, yes. Once at Boomerang a very young girl hesitated, but then someone probably promptly gave her the signal, and I was admitted.
So they never say no?
No one ever says no.
Do they let you bring along friends?
Yes. Sometimes I'm with one person and other times I've been with a party of twelve to twenty. Often I help entertain writers from New York, and so we're a press junket. In that case I usually call ahead to let them know as a courtesy to the club owner.
What do you think is in it for them?
Every club wants to have fun people that help further the energy, to keep things fun. It's theater, in a way. South Beach is performance art 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Any club owner wants to look and see his club saturated with fun, self-amused, creatively dressed, highly coiffed individuals. It behooves the clubs.
What about free drinks?
Free drinks are a part of it like anything else. Put it this way: I've never had a problem getting a drink, and typically my drinks are on them. Most of the time the club owners are very gracious, very generous, and they'll either give me a small roll of drink tickets or will just bring me a glass of champagne or an Evian.
But you don't come in expecting it?
No, I don't. I never do. I don't expect anything. I never have and I think that's one reason why people have been generous, because I'm not a mooch. I am more than happy to pay my way for anything I do and everything I do. If people want to be generous, who am I to argue? I graciously accept all gifts. It's the nature of a high priestess.
You've only been here five years. How did you become a high priestess in such a short time? And why this high profile so recently?
Fate? Who knows? When I first was on the Beach, I got a lot of press probably because there were few people to really choose from. I never sought out recognition. People just kind of found me. I think every city looks for people to represent them, especially a young city in the midst of a renaissance such as Miami Beach. People are attracted to me - if in fact they are - because I very much represent the Beach. Everything about me has a lot of brevity to it. I don't take myself too seriously. I'm colorful. There are other people, the most obvious of whom is Louis Canales, who has single-handedly done more for Miami Beach than I think anyone here. And Louis, who has often been called King of the Night, unofficial mayor of South Beach, stands out as a person who truly loves the Beach. There are a lot of club personalities and a lot of people that have that second side to them that only comes out at night.
How does the Tara at night differ from the Tara during the day?
Well, Tara One in the daytime is very much a professional editor. I have responsibilities, I have meetings, I have to be on time. I function on a very professional level. I even answer the phone differently, as opposed to sounding like a ten-year-old like I do now. At work I'm much more serious and I get the work done.
What about Tara Two?
Basically Tara Two is just an extension of my daytime personality, but I can get away with a lot more. At work I have to be quietly restrained. I try to dress more conservatively, kind of like a cross between Patty Duke and Coco Chanel. The wildness or perceived wildness people see is just me having a good time. It's not something I put on. People have a lot of misconceptions about me.
What are some of them?
The first misconception, of course, is that I do not have a day job and spend the majority of my waking hours scheduling custom French manicure and pedicure appointments and shopping, or going to fittings at La Troya. Another is perhaps that I'm not all that cerebral, that I'm a little bit scatterbrained. That could be because of some of the nighttime personas or the wild outfits. At least one person has made reference to the fact that I'm a self-promoter. Along with a number of other people, I am photographed a lot, but it's not like I run up to photographers and start posing. I never once have asked a photographer to take my picture. But people that are photographed a lot sometimes are mistaken for self-promoters.
What's a normal day like for you?
There is no normal day for me. But typically I wake up about eight o'clock in the morning. First I make a cup of ginseng tea and I have a piece of like twenty-grain bread, and slowly prepare for the day. As I said, I do have a day job, which most people either don't believe or conveniently forget. Invitations come up daily. Every day there's something new, either a dinner party or a restaurant opening or a club opening. I rarely stay home and watch television. I think it's exciting. It amuses me right now. It's fun. As a journalist I've been able to keep it in perspective, and to this day the only thing I drink is non-domestic champagne cocktails with Evian chasers. I've never been drunk in my life and so I'm able to be part of the scene and also be an objective observer. And I think that's one reason I've continued to go out, I would say, five times a week, and in season seven times a week, with sometimes as many as five functions a night - because I never allow myself to get burned out or go overboard.
Doesn't that take an enormous amount of time and energy?
Well, probably no more than going to Blockbuster Video and deciding what videos to rent for the weekend. The busier I am the more inspired I become. I've been blessed with boundless energy. I have a very high metabolism. You know, I take care of myself. I take massive amounts of vitamins, I rarely drink except for the aforementioned non-domestic champagne cocktails, I exercise at least once a day with my weight system at home, and I have a very strong mental outlook. Mentally I'm prepared to face anything. And you know, being a writer and an editor, going out is part of my job.
Are you ever paid to make appearances?
Very infrequently. When I appear in an entertaining persona such as Karaoke, yes, it's a job. If I hostess an event and my name is a part of the promotion, yes, then I do get paid because it's something I prepare for, take seriously, and I view more as a night job, but it's just more fun than my day job. It seems that lately everything I do involves a microphone, so I have no fear of speaking to an audience, and that has singled me out in that respect. I will be starting Karaoke at Regine's in the Grand Bay Hotel in January. And so just within the last two weeks I have increased my one night a week to two nights a week, still maintaining my day job. More beauty sleep will be needed.
When I first was on the Beach, I got a lot of press because there were few people to really choose from. I never sought out recognition. People just kind of found me.
Tara, Part Two
Have you always worn wigs?
I used to wear my own hair at night more than wigs. And now when I'm performing - when I'm at Karaoke or going to something like a nighttime social function - I usually wear a wig. Not that I hate to wear my own hair or the way my own hair looks. It's just that a wig is like wearing a hat. It's just a big accessory. My own hair is very thick, and when it's piled up, it creates a large topknot atop which my wig sits, therefore making the wigs appear higher than they really are. Sometimes, however, I do use a Styrofoam ball as a styling aid. I did not today because I knew we would be sitting outside and I was afraid the wind would blow my hair to reveal this Styrofoam lump. Not very attractive.
How many wigs do you own?
Actually only about ten or twelve. But I do need to make some additions to the wig vault.
Have you patterned your look after anyone in particular?
Ideas come to me from anywhere. I may watch an old Cleopatra movie and that will be an inspiration for the next evening's ensemble, or it could come from some obscure passage in a book I'm reading. Ideas come from everything. I try to wear something that I think is suitable but which has a certain sense of humor. I can't go out naked, can I? If I'm going to wear something, I might as well wear something that's amusing to me. I dress for myself. At Karaoke we do theme nights, and so I have to come up with an outfit every week that I can only wear once. For instance, one night we had evil-twin night, so I dressed as Serena, evil twin of Samantha Stevens from Bewitched. It's patterned aesthetically after a character that fits the theme, which is anywhere from Chanel homegirl to Addams Family meets the Munsters to Diana Vreeland night. I cannot tell you how few people knew who Diana Vreeland was, but then again, that's why they were at Karaoke and not home reading a book. We've had Valley of the Dolls night, in which I bored the audience to tears by reading passages from the Jacqueline Susann novel. Served them right.
What is Karaoke?
Literally Karaoke is Japanese for "band without a lead singer." It translates into a wild sing-along party every Wednesday at Semper's, where I hostess. There is a microphone, a TelePrompTer, a song book, and a music machine with CDs and cassettes without vocal tracks, only the music. The track is played by music maestro Mr. Gerard, the words appear either on the TelePrompTer screen or in the song book, and the person who is singing uses his or her own voice with the lyrics and microphone.
How do you feel about the "causeway crowd"?
The bridge-and-causeway crowd that we sometimes poke fun at relates more to a suburban, small-town mindset. They just happen to live across the causeway. For instance, at Karaoke I'm constantly harassed by inappropriately dressed, air-guitar-playing Kendallites who have apparently strayed from the Clevelander bar. They view this South Beach avant-garde scene as an oddity, almost like something out of a Fellini movie, which is not so far from the truth. But as opposed to being able if not to empathize, then to enjoy the scene, they instead forget whatever manners they may have learned, and act up and do gross things.
So you would just as soon they stay away?
Usually. However, I do have a few friends that live south of Dadeland.
Is the popularity of the Beach as a destination point for nightlife still on the rise?
Oh definitely. Of course, right now I think the recession has affected going out, and for that matter retail shopping, on the Beach slightly for the time being. But I think with the new year, things will resume the normal frenetic pace. I don't think Miami Beach's full potential has been yet realized. A lot of people from New York are just finding out about the Beach, as strange as that may seem, and they come down for a visit, or friends go back to New York reporting on this wild Bohemian paradise in which we live, and they're amazed. People are freer on Miami Beach, and even New Yorkers who come down are not as jaded when they are here on the Beach. The snobbish, self-absorbed attitude really doesn't work here. There is a certain freedom here you can't find on the mainland. Miami Beach fosters that environment in which eccentricity can bloom. Not only do we accommodate eccentrics, we encourage them. We're very open-minded, very much alive. There's an electricity on the Beach that cannot be denied.
More and more people seem to recognize you. You've become a celebrity. Has this been a goal of yours? Is this a form of success?
Not at all. It's not bad being recognized and certainly not unpleasant being popular, but if this were all taken away tommorrow for whatever reason, I would simply move on and do something else. I am an editor. I am a working person.
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So what does local celebrity status really mean?
It means I don't have to wait in line, never pay a cover, rarely pay for my drinks. Bottom line, it makes it easier to go out. Truthfully, I never think of myself in those terms, in celebrity-type terms. I find it really superfluous and actually kind of silly. The whole notion of being "famous" is a little bit unsettling to me. I just love being part of the scene, and of course it's fun to be popular. But beyond the logistics of going out being easier, it also gives me an opportunity to meet people, to help promote people that live here. I'm a huge supporter of the arts on Miami Beach. We've got a gold mine of talent here and there are a lot of really talented artists that have international caliber, and it gives me a chance to write about them and get to know them and their talents, and help them achieve their goals.
Is being a celebrity more important than Florida's budget crisis or the Mideast peace talks?
Of course it isn't. But life is to be enjoyed, is to be celebrated despite what is happening in the political arena. World peace, a cure for AIDS, a cure for homelessness - these are paramount concerns that should be at the top of everyone's list. They are at the top of my list. However, everyday life can either be mundane or it can be jubilant. I prefer for my life to be jubilant.
How would you respond to people who say this is all a waste of time?
You mean people that are home in their living room in Gables Estates saying, "Oh, this misdirected young girl"? To each her own. One person may be utterly comfortable having a "normal," societally condoned job in corporate America, going out to dinner twice a week, and in bed by 10:00 p.m. That's simply not exciting enough for me.