Party On!

After a long week spent fretting over possible blowback from the August 15 Ecstasy raid at Space 34, downtown Miami's megaclub, we're happy to report that all is well. For the throngs of moneyed club kids doing their part to transform the city's dingy urban core, the party continues unabated -- if perhaps a little less obviously.

It looked for a time as though we might be forced to rescind the prestigious "Best of Miami" award we bestowed on Space 34 earlier this year: Best Place to Roll on Ecstasy. "No other club in Miami is as synonymous with rolling as this legendary place, formerly known as Club Space," we gushed in May. "The reasons to come candy-flip here are as easy as its vast setting, where trance pounds nonstop from Friday night to Sunday morning."

Strangely, the club's management didn't appreciate the recognition. Instead of thanks we received a sniffy letter from Space 34's Fort Lauderdale attorney, Stuart A. Rosenfeldt. "Contrary to the implicit statements in that article, our client does not countenance the use of unlawful drugs on its premises," Rosenfeldt carped. "Indeed the principals of Space 34 make extraordinary efforts to keep unlawful drugs out of their premises.

"As evidence of the significant inaccuracies in your article, I would point out the following: 1) Our client does not play 'trance music' as described in your publication; and 2) our client is currently only open on Saturdays and has not ever been open from Friday night through Sunday morning as described in your publication. It is apparent that your publication failed to adequately investigate the facts set forth in this article. We demand that you retract the claims in that article so they are consistent with the content hereof."

Rosenfeldt's indignant puffery was deflated somewhat by the high-profile DEA bust -- on a Friday night. It netted eleven arrests (sixteen indictments total) for selling drugs inside the club, including two current and two former employees. Publicity like that tends to kill the party buzz fast, especially considering the arrests were made after a two-year undercover operation. But a quick trip to 34 NE Eleventh St. this past Saturday (okay, an all-night debauch) has reassured us that Space still deserves the title. While we confined ourselves to overpriced drinks, it was clearly evident that one lousy raid had done little to hurt business. The club was packed. Caffeinated cocktails and bottles of water palmed by sweaty, happy partiers flowed freely under the epileptic light show as DJs like Oscar G blended trademark combinations of house music. The red glow from dozens of Bacardi bat necklaces seemed to wink in time to the beats as their wearers bounced and swayed on the crowded main dance floor.

The liquid movements of many dancers, and the chemical shine radiating from their eyes, left no doubt that E was in the house. Close observers might have spied a few other telltale signs -- such as the twentysomething girl popping an unidentified pill in a downstairs bathroom, the barely legal youngster with the shit-eating grin having his crew-cut head rubbed repeatedly by his girlfriend, and the guy on the second floor near the VIP section searching the ground with a flashlight, then scurrying away as security came over to check him out.

His lawyer's protests notwithstanding, Space 34 owner Luis Puig is hardly unaware of the situation. "How do you keep 2000 people from doing drugs at a nightclub or concert -- make them all get naked, do a full cavity search?" Puig whined in a May 2003 Miami Herald article about pending anticlub drug legislation. "I can't hire any more bouncers. Pretty soon there's going to be more bouncers than people in my club. There's nothing I can do."

Lt. Rene Landa, who coordinates off-duty assignments for the Miami Police Department, acknowledges that Space's reputation was well known to the cops the club hired to maintain order outside its doors. After all, they've been out there for the past three years, watching the wasted stumble in and out. In just the last four months, according to department records, 42 police reports (not all necessarily drug-related) were generated from that address. "A lot of the cops knew about it," Landa admits. "This is why an investigation was started about two years ago. See, the thing is, with that type of crowd, the techno people, a lot of that crowd uses Ecstasy." Landa says there have been drug-related arrests at the club in the past, usually the result of bouncers bringing careless patrons and their pills outside and turning them over to the cops. "Mainly the cops are swamped with managing the crowd outside and making sure people are safe and on the sidewalks," he adds. "At four, five in the morning, it gets jam-packed out there." Landa notes that Miami police sat down with Space management following the bust to discuss "what we're going to do to make this place safer."

Club Space was the daring pioneer in the city's fledgling entertainment district when it opened on NE Eleventh Street in March 2000. Hugely popular, it began drawing thousands per weekend with its enormous, relatively unpretentious venue, plus a convenient 24-hour liquor license. Its success prompted relocation to a larger warehouse a block west, and a rechristening as Space 34. The new digs opened during the Winter Music Conference this past March.

During its incarnation as Club Space, the spot had a reputation as a great place to roll. It also became known for the apparent wink-and-nod relationship between aggressive bouncers and like-minded off-duty cops. In late 2001 New Times reported the allegations of several patrons who complained to Miami police internal affairs about being beaten up by overzealous cops outside the club. We haven't heard anything recently about this, but it does raise intriguing questions regarding the mindset of cops working off-duty shifts at nightclubs, essentially serving two masters whose interests may not always coincide.

And of course, back to the club's managers: Did they consider rampant Ecstasy use at Space an unavoidable cost of doing business, or perhaps something more integral to the whole operation? A DEA spokesman indicated to the Sun-Sentinel that club management's possible complicity may be "part of the ongoing investigation." And more might be learned when the small fry who got busted begin to consider their legal options. "One always has to consider, in federal drug investigations, that you never know where the path may lead you," offers DEA spokesman Jim Shedd in typical law enforcement crypto-speak. "There's an old expression: First one to the courthouse steps wins."

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