Swelter 27

As with the more respectable strains of journalism, the lifeblood of pop reportage is information, from mere frippery to the legitimately sordid. It's a definite learning experience, this industry of darkness, and felicitously enough for those obsessed with half-baked truths, loose lips -- set free by liquor, hubris, and general foolishness -- come with the territory. And so columnists go railing into the good dark night, catty and chatty, spewing venom and jollity alike. The Johnny Appleseed of the 411, sowing and reaping items within the rich loam of gossip, struggling to stay light, flexible, and amiable, the essential qualities to being tolerated by society.

First stop on the grovel-and-gravy train, Lincoln Road, a midzone staging area between domestic stupefaction and the dirty little secrets of clubs. No doubt as a result of job-related stress, descending into a fugue state of aesthetic unacceptability -- swigging from a liter bottle of soda and muttering aloud as the tony universe unfolds. At da Leo Trattoria, interior designer Ton Luyk taking a night off from cozy Coral Gables, playfully dismissing his fellow diners and archly observing, "I must have peed myself to sink to the trash I'm dining with." On a bench outside the Van Dyke Cafe, function functionary Sasha Slapin ("Darling, why can't you be more like Suzy?") and his earnest Hungarian protege debate the glitz-versus-reality question. The endearing Slapin, who seems to be everywhere, invited or not, rhapsodizing about the world's most famous Hungarian. "You have to read Zsa Zsa Gabor's memoir One Life to Live. What an ego, what a witch, what a survivor."

A long lurk around the Sterling building, and, of course, there's landlord/local aristocrat Micky Wolfson A citizen of Miami Beach, Italy, and the world A in tow with the usual assortment of royals and scholars, the well-bred and the just plain amusing. The master of publicity-can-be-subtle assiduously cultivating a grand success for the upcoming Wolfsonian museum gala on Armistice Day weekend, an epic in the making with private dinners, ceremonies, block parties, and the inaugural exhibition, "The Arts of Reform and Persuasion, 1885-1945." As is customary with Wolfson, a bit of pointed preamble ("My God, you look like a walking alternative paper tonight") meandering into his highly palatable propaganda. In an ideal world, all hypesters would be required to take Public Relations 101 from Wolfson.

"Have you gotten your invitation for the Propaganda Ball Street Party yet? Gianni Versace has lent his name -- if not his house or money -- as chef de protocol, and perhaps there's a place for you as chef de decorum. The block party is for people like us; my friends from Europe, who enjoy that sort of thing, will be going to those $1000-a-plate affairs. Now what I'd like to do is get those new people you know -- Madonna, Sylvester Stallone, Cher -- to do the recorded narration for the museum tours. Mr. Stallone could read in Italian, and Gloria Estefan would be wonderful for the Spanish version. Oh, and we should get that other famous Latin singer -- no, not Julio Iglesias or El Puma, that other one -- to do something. Wouldn't that be singular? Quite right, celebrities are the new first families of Miami, the new royalty, and isn't it remarkable how this city withstands all these changes and still stays afloat? Rather like an overweight child in a small boat, forever flailing around and capsizing, eventually righting itself and bobbing along through all kinds of weather."

With that, Wolfson off to other conversational opportunities, and I'm questing for sympathetic atmospheres with loose dress codes. Down to 821 for a cocktail or two, encountering a scholar of pornography, agog and erect before the new horizon of erotica -- the sophisticate talking about crotch shots of Brad Pitt circulating on the Internet and the new gay lifestyle accessory, a discreet local firm that provides nude male housekeepers. In other new-order news, the berhip Metropolis magazine currently shooting an issue on South Beach, just missing the bell curve of chic. And then a chat with a pioneer of the old order, all about the glory days of the Palm Bay Club: "Everyone who was everyone was there, even the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. And it was all from publicity -- without press, that place would have been a Holiday Inn with a green roof in a bad neighborhood."

On to World Resources for something of a sociosexual segue, with late-breaking movieland items drifting in. Baz Luhrmann of Strictly Ballroom fame shooting in Miami sometime in November, the director mounting a strictly modern version of Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio. Strange days indeed: In this town, love customarily withers before the first light of dawn. A movie production crying out to be shot on South Beach, Nick Gomez's Ill Town -- heroin addiction plagues three generations of a dysfunctional family -- currently shooting in Lake Worth instead, a boring little burg that would drive anyone to smack attacks. Liv Tyler, the daughter of Aerosmith singer/former heroin addict Steven Tyler, starring; like Daddy, young Liv's quite the hot property lately. Two years ago, as a struggling ingenue, she was all sweet accessibility in the VIP room of Les Bains. Now, if I were to say anything faintly untoward in her presence, she'd probably have me arrested as a stalker.

Saturday evening and all's quiet on the South Beach front. Inclement weather tends to scare off the amateurs, and the presence of a police convention keeps the ultraviolence droogs down to a steady drizzle. S.O.B's morphing into Temptations, new management and new attitudes, going Latin-a-go-go with the bands Puertorican Power and Grupo Macambila. On lower Collins Avenue, Michael Mitchell in development for the Vault S.O.B.E., an enormous dance palace set to open in early November. Mitchell, a Washington, D.C., native who's doing the club with his wife Sara, renovating a historic bank building that dates back to the days of Al Capone as a celebrity client. Looking to the Vault's future, Michael Mitchell cranking up the engine of commerce: "We're mixing bare industrial looks -- like the original bank-teller bars -- with Renaissance-style paintings and plush sofas, going for a trendy European feeling. The market is so different here, like night and day.

Camera crews showing up later on Ocean Drive for a restaurant opening, the most debased form of social interaction known to mankind. But then the restaurant in question is the newest Mezzaluna, made notorious by the O.J. Simpson technicolor freak show A attorney Ellis Rubin and gay divorcee Barbara Storer being the only remotely famous people in attendance.

The scraps-and-flash tour winding on to Max's South Beach, chef Kerry Simon looking forward -- the Max's team scouting for spaces in Las Vegas -- and behind as well. A year and a half down the road, and Simon's still in litigation over his eight-month stint at Debbie Ohanian's Starfish, money matters tending to focus one's interest indefinitely. Farther up Washington Avenue, a boutique hotelier still smarting from the recent How Can I Be Down? hip-hop convention: "The staff people were perfect guests, but these rap stars were unbelievable -- dropping their pants and smoking joints, leaving their mopeds parked in the lobby. One room had vomit in the shower stall, blood stains on the floor, and someone had taken a shit in the closet." Now, that's really hardcore.

No fool in the face of a losing proposition or a slow Saturday night, opting to take dinner with quiet money on Sunset Island, the Brooke Pallot princess-for-a-day birthday celebration. Fabulous trash being my usual milieu, all the nice normal people a tad discomfiting, though repeated trips to the buffet table eased the stranger-in-a-strange-land alienation. And fortuitously enough, fellow social survivor Arthur Page -- the last gentleman in Miami -- turning up, awash in cheap nostalgia: "What happened to all those private affairs of the Eighties, where no one ever knew or cared who the host was? In those days we all lived by the cardinal rule, 'A fool and his money are a great party.'

KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tom Austin