Pucker Up

End-of-the-day cocktails at Chris Blackwell's Marlin Hotel set the tone for an easy evening before the night grind. The sour apple martinis are a little bitter, but our barman Eddie can fix that with a dash of Apple Pucker. Eddie is "famous" in that South Beach kind of way. The way that only barkeeps can be for mixing up concoctions. The Marlin has been Eddie's center of operation for almost eight years. Upbeat, cheery, and accessorized with a great ear, he and his slicked-back ponytail are mainstays in a swirling landscape of ever-changing flyers, promoters, owners, and nightclub monikers.

At 9:30 p.m., midday in party town, the Marlin assembly is a little light to be considered a party. We are a few boozers shy of a Wild On ... episode for E! Television. Eddie says the place won't get chock-a-blocked until around 11:00 p.m. That's the way it goes, but we are okay at this moment partaking in the elusive interesting bar conversation and a little dash of liquid vice from a bottle. Pucker up.

Thursday night's installment of Paid Attention with DJ Induce and his Counterflow crew has been buzzing as of late and bringing out a good crowd to the Marlin. A few hip-hop celebs here and there like Cee Knowledge (formerly known as Doodlebug of the now-defunct hip-hopsters Digable Planets) have come through and showcased in the lamppost-era hip-hop setting brewing downstairs from the Elite modeling agency.

DJ Tom La Roc is scheduled to be one of the guest DJs on this night at Paid Attention's hip-hop congregation of old school and underground enthusiasm. It sounds to be a much-needed injection into the vein of the local hip-hop/pop scene. The Counterflow boys claim in a flyer to set sail with the new "in a sea of sameness."

Drinks in hand, we step down to the comfy cushion warren and rest the worn-out boogie heels. From the top of the bar Eddie is heard advising a herd of tourists who happened into this den about the skinny in Miami for the weekend. They get into a little conversation about movies, theater, and all things South Beach.

"There's always something to do in this town, huh?" gushes a dopey-eyed conventioneer, his enthusiasm dampened only by the prices: "So the movies here are ten dollars?" Well, not quite, but you'll find that ten bucks ain't a lot of cash round here. Lucky if you can get a stiff drink at that rate, from Eddie or anybody else.

It's not quite time for the breakers and poppers to boogie and lock, but Clubbed decides to bid Eddie and his bar farewell. Gonna stretch the pocket change a little further by heading up to Lounge 16. Surprisingly nobody here but bartender McLean and DJ Brian. That's okay, cause we're working our way up into high party gear slow-roller-coaster-incline like. Gonna get some real stimulation on the way down, on the far side of the freak hour, when we hit the avenue again past midnight or so. There is always something going on the later it gets.

The blond bartender McLean, smile on cue, slides a few drinks our way and the team moves to the lounge area to swill 'em down. Wearing a baseball cap and resembling a college frat boy with his knit collared shirt, Brian throws on Prince's "Erotic City." Just loud enough to feel, but we're still able to engage in light bar conversation over the music and suck down some alcoholic comfort. The chairs and futons are almost too relaxing. Another minute here and we'll be pulling out the pillows.

Time to get going. No better place to crank up the mega-club style than crobar, where Conrad the door god waits for us just underneath the Art Deco marquee.

Tonight it's SMAC Entertainment's The Show -- easily the antithesis of Paid Attention, but the pop and underground feud is not ours to resolve. We just want to unwind.

Mr. Mauricio pushes the mega-watt system to the limit with thumping mixes of radio-friendly thuggery for the tourists and locals alike. Women hang around by the bar waiting on a knight in shining polyester to come and whisk them away with a drink in hand. Suburban gals with sweaters wrapped around their waists aren't quite sure how to primp for the local boys. They'll do just fine if they remember all of the courtesies that momma taught 'em. Besides, fresh girls from out of town are a must-have for any slick club pimp. Pounce on 'em now before the other hunters smell their fresh scent.

Out on the dance floor the professionals have rounded up a few lasses and make with getting jiggy to a modern-day anthem from Clipse -- "Hey, it's just a day in the life club nights/One of the reasons I love life ..."

The night gets older and the bubbly flows faster. Out-of-towners ape the manners of the beach party veterans. Depravity ensues. Beneath the glare of the old Cameo Theater's 1938 marquee the show must go on. Gonna cost you a few pennies more than ten bucks, but you can still wander across the decadent nightlife stage.

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Lee Williams