Swelter 18

Step right up and check it out, junk culture a go go, the side show that never ends. Girls in various stages of undress and whoredom, freaks up close and personal, mutant beings/club personalities way past the sloppy trappings of love, demanding only the quick fix of attention. It's a carnival without socially redeeming values -- easy, addictive, and ultimately debilitating. And once on the carousel, no one ever escapes completely. The only way out is to descend deeper and deeper into the vortex and pray for an epiphany, the omega point of disgust that will cure the compulsion. In the meantime, as with sodomy, the voyager is advised to relax and enjoy the trip, taking heart in the consolation that eventually everything in this life shall pass.

The Velvet opening on Thursday setting a bizarre life-imitates-clubs tone for the weekend, appropriately Blue Velvetian in scope: an unsettling potboiler of vulgarity, degradation, and transcendence, underscored by rampant sex and violence, the forever diverting polarities of bargain basement entertainment. The joy ride into Velvetville commencing with the perfectly valid Debbie Ohanian of Meet Me in Miami, the children's clothing line Fetal Attraction, and a soon-to-open bar/restaurant, occupying the former Gatti's building on West Avenue. Ohanian, as ever, totally nontrashy and on target with the theme, doing that "Isabella Rossellini business" in a blue velvet dress, offset nicely by her restaurant-in-progress. The revamped space a major leap from the High Beach frozen camp of the Gatti's era, light and determinedly fun, designer and fellow Armenian Chahan Minassian adding whimsical touches, starfish wall sculptures and the like.

Aesthetic gyroscope on an even keel, gearing up at a preopening cocktail party in a private home, the attitude set primed for another club assault: artists and party boys; college student Claudia Tapia putting together a band called Muck, honing her Henry Miller-inspired ode to South Beach, "Land of Fuck"; the terminally sophisticated Jennifer Rubell employing the great architect Morris Lapidus for her upcoming restaurant on Lincoln Road. Drinks and much trendy patter, the gang slowly moving on to Velvet itself, a welcome change from the old Torpedo days: film projected sculptural elements and go-go dancers around the main room, the kitchen converted to an art gallery/poetry area with velvet banquettes. All of us drawn, naturally enough, to the VIP/inner sanctum lounge, done up in blue walls, candles, and chandeliers, a refuge with sympathetic lighting and nonconfrontational music.

An interesting mix throughout the club, co-owners Greg and Nicole Bilu-Brier establishing a resolutely democratic door policy, the huddled pining-to-be-witnessed masses -- drag queens, horny heteros, hear-me-roar Sapphos, and everything else in between -- representing a truly ecumenical nightlife nation. The immigrant surge presided over by, among other ringmasters, Velvet partner Jimmy Franzo. An immensely likable club beast, given to comments on the order of "I can't tell you how much pussy we've all eaten to this song," Franzo even scarier looking than usual, his head shaved in a V-shaped pattern for the occasion.

The usual brain-functioning-only-as-a-life-support-system-for-gonad-production contingent on hand, as well as various social pros. Susan Magrino, the New York-based publicist with an uncanny knack for somehow turning up at all the right parties, even in Miami, promoting the new Casa Grande hotel/condominium and the Marlin's weekly Cinemapicnic, tired of the local penchant for "Versace and bell-bottoms." John Hood, the Bad Lieutenant of clubland, juggling a full plate over the weekend: celebrating a birthday at Les Bains, getting into a couple of nasty scrapes, composing a manifesto/flyer concerning his professional disassociation from the "certain-to-be-cool" Velvet. Novelist and club veteran Alexander Stuart in tow with girlfriend Sharong Chow, heading off to Love Muscle for another jam-packed evening.

Hipsterville entering a major over-it-all phase, a power failure shutting down the air-conditioning system, Ohanian commenting on the sudden sprouting of "crushed velvet" everywhere. The club steadily growing hotter and even more crowded, the center-will-not-hold maelstrom quickly inducing an urge to pass out, throw up, or failing that, die. Swimming through the multitudes, plunging into the streets and sort-of-fresh air, more bodies pressing against the ropes. On to dinner at Cafe Ma*ana A the middle-aged in attendance happy to be out most anywhere, the young beyond everything A Jennifer Rubell issuing the ultimate requiem for the decade: "The Nineties are already so boring, so over." The Latin-themed ambiance leading inevitably to talk of Cuba, Havana as the new nightlife wet dream, a city as yet unspoiled by people like us, destined to become another colonial outpost in SoHo's empire of style.

Strange brew, Friday the 13th on the hopelessly tainted South Beach, nocturnal emissions prowling like vampires. A brawl on Ocean Drive, four carloads of cops entering the fray, sexual nastiness everywhere, a lingerie-clad vixen telling a great story about a besotted Italian visitor to wonderland. The man diving into the gyrating crotch of a table-dancer, rudely awakened by an erect member springing out of panties and slapping him across the face. A businessman recounting a visit to Madonna's perfectly tasteful house, the great woman bending her mind to small matters, entranced by a particularly acrobatic dancer at the strip club Deja Vu.

"Lust" at Mario's, John Hood staying in character: "Me and the boys are like a B-movie, an old serial, and we're not auditioning for anybody else's movie." Promoter Michael Capponi adding an elevated note to the evening with a 4:00 a.m. reading from Charles Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil at a Postmortem/Bang party, the work relating to "the necessity of pain and its relation to art and beauty."

Winding down the trash tour with a Saturday night wallow in Coconut Grove: vital, offensive, thoroughly American. Drunken fraternity types in rugby shirts dragged along by their buddies, a Charles Manson look-alike squatting on the sidewalk, lecturing to a throng of skinheads, devout as the disciples of Jesus. A personal low point established with a beer at Hooters, an odd cross between a football game and a basement recreation room: perky cheerleaders-gone-astray waitresses and a pervasive real-men-eat-wood tone, the bathrooms adorned with bold declarations: "Most Men" and "All Women." The patrons delighting in the spectacle of assembled Hooters clanging plates as a birthday tribute, our newfound low-life companion, Hungarian politician Istvan Hegedus, horrified by the tribal rituals of junk fun: "Is this really what Americans call happiness?

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Tom Austin