Uptown on a budget. The preview party for Art Miami '92, in a huge new space at the Beach convention center. Atmospheric harpists. The white wine crowd pretending an absorbing interest in the work when conversation wandered. Art people. Dealer Barbara Greene. Sculptor John Henry, in town for NFAA's "Arts Week." Valid person Bruce Helander gnawing on the high percentage of decorative galleries. Hipster New Yorkers in black. A group of autumn-of-my-life types studiously avoiding standing in front of Ed Ruscha's Elderly People. Nice time all around. Number-one fan, reminiscing about the Cats anniversary party ("There was food up the kazoo...") and how he once used our good name to crash a party - in New York. A name that hasn't been particularly effective here, even when lobbed about.

All that art, the mind reeling, a nice change of scenery with Pat Booth at the Booking Table reception in her honor, a party celebrating the publication of her "much anticipated" new novel Miami. Good title. Image conscious. Media friendly. Kind of like Ms. Booth herself, and a few other guests. A quick spray of Booth's potent "Miami" perfume, which one wag dubbed "Night in Hallandale," and on to other odds and ends. Joan Collins in Private Lives. "Starlust," the Silver Theme/Underwear Requested let's-all-be-men-together evening cruise coming up this Sunday, organized by Bobby Guilmartin and James Balzana. Brazilian percussionist/global music type Nana Vasconcelos at the Cameo, as part of the Miami Rhythm Intensive '92 seminar. A Wire party at the Butter Club.

Strolling down Ocean Drive, Jackie Mason, looking nervous that a certain ex-Hallandale-girlfriend-with-a-grudge might turn up at any moment. The entourage included a guy with a pencil-thin mustache - who looked exactly like something out of Broadway Danny Rose - and a young kid. Shaking hands, flirting with girls, a star: "What am I doing down here? Nothing special. Making a picture." Models everywhere. Soon the Beach will be like that Outer Limits episode in which the beautiful are considered ugly by mutant beings and are forced to work as slaves. Finally succumbing to the hype, a pit stop at Semper's Karaoke night with Tara Darling. The human element problematic (the introduction of that name didn't exactly inspire any standing ovations) but new-best-friend Tara perky as ever.

The next day, the Mother Lode of Fun, the Moon Over Miami Ball, the annual benefit for the Miami Design Preservation League. Cab Calloway. A fashion show courtesy of Irene Marie Models. Chairmanship duties ably handled by two personalities with real jobs, Richard "Mr. Glamour" Pollmann of Irene Marie and Michael Aller of the Miami Beach Chamber of Commerce. A committee list with all the right names: Cathy Leff, Barbara Collingwood, Morris Lapidus, Bernard Zyscovich, et al. Lincoln Road never more non-Mars-like. South Beach never more captivating.

A week at peace with the world, except for an unpleasant encounter with a mutant being who brings us up on charges of obvious anti-South Beach bias, random condescension, and general nastiness. Threats, the usual saber rattling. We'll make sure that the name that has, albeit unwittingly, graced some of the better parties in New York will be off the list. It's not a matter any more of you not liking the town, bud; the town doesn't like you. Never complain, never explain...but really. Been on the Beach, somewhat equivocally, since the Beach Poultry/Club Z golden era. And anyway, did the principals of the East Village in the Eighties worry about anti-Bohemian sentiment? Polite throughout, of course, like an idiot. If only we'd taken the hard-ball approach of our new publishing hero, Bob Goldie, of the heavy metal magazine Cut Throat: "A lot of crybabies bitched and talked shit...but I guess I should expect that kind of shit.... You don't like it? Fuck you!"

Encounters with downtown small change kind of puts you off the boil and in the mood for more expansive arenas of nightlife, like the Big Rooms, all flesh, feathers, and kitsch. The glory days of Frank, Dino, and Sammy romping up and down the Strip are gone, but the genre of pointless provocation just keeps rolling on and on. It's fun without repercussions or too much baggage attached, glitz without meaning, the old let-the-good-times-roll Miami, a glittering mirage where anything seems possible. High season and they're all over the place. To Life...A Celebration, a "Vegas-style" revue at The Newport. Jubilee '92, a tribute to Broadway at the Fontainebleau's Club Tropigala. The new La Cage cabaret show at the DiLido, with all the great stars of the drag universe: Bette, Tina, Cher. Every night an illusion is created at these shows - that on this night, of all nights, something is about to happen, that things just might get out of control. Nothing ever really happens, of course, but the shows are, as cultural historian Henry Geldzahler once wrote, "resolved masterpieces of schlock and glamour, rhinestones and diamonds." And totally irresistible.

But nothing ever beats Les Violins on Biscayne Boulevard, the old Copacabana on a shoestring. It is an amazing place, a swirl of intense, almost psychedelic color, kaleidoscope ceilings, leopard-patterned carpeting - a cross between a Vegas wedding chapel and "Let's Go Carnivale!" theme night. Les Violins has been immortalized by everybody from Louis Canales and Gary James (during the Avenue A days) to photographer William Wegman, who shot a series of Polaroid portraits there. But everybody, on and off the camp beat, gets the point. Somehow the room is at once as alien as the Casbah and as familiar as Ed Sullivan.

Over the years, some great visuals. Strolling violinists performing "Love Is a Many Splendored Thing." Fat cats with cigars grabbing the microphone from the entertainers and bursting into "Te Quiero Mucho," backed by ballistic percussion ricocheting off the walls in odd ways. Complicated 1958-style scenarios of lust enacted by patently disinterested performers: prim Latin Southern belles trapped on tropical islands by pirates, ravaged, and then suddenly willing to accept whatever sexual degradation fate deems necessary. And in an entirely separate category, Nelson Ned, a brilliant Brazilian midget who perfectly embodies the Latin love for perversity and sentimentality. The act - white dinner jacket, three-inch heels, a finale of "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah" performed before sparklers and "NN" spelled out in lights - is sublime. The room itself, unfailingly entertaining. We stopped by the other night to see the new revues, Viva Broadway and It's Mardi Gras, both solidly in keeping with the club's tradition of boffo entertainment values. Great stuff. Uptown, the promises of the night are sometimes kept.

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