Sake It to Me

Another New Year is on top of us. Dropped down on our unsuspecting sunbathing bodies like the dead weight from Father Time. You've scribbled down pages of self-improvement resolutions knowing full well that, like that ridiculous flowered shirt Mom gave you for Christmas, they will be discarded shortly. You've outgrown it already. Stuffed as usual from the holiday gorge. Ripe with visions of possibility, but rotten with the reality: This is just another dreary day. Roughly seventeen days from now all diets, career goals, and plans to kick the smoking habit will be little more than memories dried up like a lime in last night's shot glass.

But before you forget about all those resolutions, take some time to remember 2002. In clubland the last calendar year left age spots and other reminders that hard-core nightlife dulls the sparkle of the young and supple -- or at least of the wealthy and medically enhanced.

The dance-tired hold on to those special moments that served as late-night drinking chatter. The fab invite-only parties. The VIP couch shared with Sammy Sosa. The theme parties that came and went. That one time on the way to Club So-and-So when P. Diddy's entourage shoved you aside like a sack of feathers -- and you smiled. The dance on the table that led to that embarrassing crotch shot on the floor. Ah, the memories are prized.

Every New Year strikes a melancholy note for us all, as we look back at the good, the bad, and the vile. So in an effort to work on self-improvement and add variety to the general nightlife experience that has become a haze of pseudo-socializing over the years, Clubbed moves west of Lincoln Road to what resembles some form of culture. Ascension to that Zen level of social oneness and alignment. The perfect night out.

"Culture" has become Clubbed's way of broadly defining anything not related to a DJ. It's hard to find, but you can convince yourself that you run across it from time to time if your drink is strong enough. The often-exaggerated stench of vanity oiled over with cheap cologne can be sickening, so to avoid the regular clubland "in search of" we hit up Wednesday night at Doraku's Tha Raw Dish -- one of the many spoken-word events sprouting up throughout South Florida. Cultural even?

This peripatetic outing gives Clubbed an opportunity to make a new bartender friend. You can never have too many bartender friends in the 12:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m realm. Cultural quest or no, light doses of hard liquor always make it easier to deal with the faces of the all-too-hip. New friend Adrian is enumerating the finer points of fruited sake. "The pineapple soaks up the sake and it has more alcohol in it than the drink," he advises.

Wonderful. Better toss two big chunks this way.

Adrian is one of those rare gems in this world of nameless nightlife nomads who might actually be a nice person. But in the relentless and unapologetic world of fleeting moments of notoriety and copulation as sport, it is hard to suppress sarcasm. What's not to like about a guy with a thousand liquor recipes shaking and stirring to help you forget the misery that is your social life?

"Do you want to try the blueberry?" he asks.

Clubbed obliges.

This routine plays out over and over and faster and faster, rounding the assortment of fruit. On to the grape. Next the raspberry. That's one we haven't sampled yet, right?

And suddenly it's all so clear. The never-ending experience is transformed. The early-dinner gathering at Doraku consists of a young WASPy couple with early-dating giggles (the sounds of innocence), a few neighborhood barflies surveying the scene and lending liquored-up smiles to the barkeep, and a thirtyish lesbian couple who are keeping pace with the newbies and their displays of tender affection. Adrian and his sakes have no doubt touched their lives in some magical way, just like they have Clubbed's, to reveal joyous possibilities in the New Year. Love thy neighbor and all will be wonderful!

Around 11:00 p.m. the kitchen closes and our verbal conductor, Punch, allows the assembled wordsmiths to hit the microphone and address the finer points of -- whatever. A lanky, Philadelphia-bred brethren with long, tightly grown locks, Punch also doubles as the evening's comedian and philosopher. In KRS One-style he offers, "The poetry is free, but the drinks cost money." A few shots of hot sake open up an unseen entertainment value in this evening. Comedy, politics, and hip-hop. All the things you would come to expect from a sushi experience.

Well, maybe not, but this guy is funny.

"See, brothers come up in here sometimes with that first poem that they wanna spit." He pauses for effect. "That's the 'get pussy poem.' You know the one where you come on and do your best Darius Lovehall 'I wanna touch you in places' joint."

Like a dreadlocked Richard Pryor, Punch walks that fine line between intelligent political commentary and sidesplitting satire. Or is it the sake? Maybe he and Adrian are in cahoots.

Maybe if not for the sake, listening to Mugsy (an affectionate nickname given a diminutive poet due to his "height deficiency" à la NBA player Mugsy Bogues) and his rather inane ramblings on the many colorful ways of saying penis and vagina (bush, chocha, punany, dong, schlong, wong) would be offensive. Without sake, the open-mike freestyle session followed by the "4:20" break would seem a little cliché at best.

But Adrian, the sake, and Punch's engaging hosting held Clubbed's penchant for nightlife wandering in check long enough to hear Mugsy say, "With all the words that we have for penis and vagina, there is only one word for love."

There is a peaceful silence.

Then a roaring applause.

Maybe 2003 will be filled with love.

Or maybe it's still the sake actin' up and we'll outgrow the fuzzy feeling in the morning and toss it like that ridiculous flowered shirt.

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Lee Williams