The Last Dance

The socially acceptable hour of midnight had passed at the farewell party for Club Nu, the exalted mega-disco on Miami Beach, and the marvelous ones had come to pay their respects and be part of nightlife history. Andrew Delaplaine, former owner of Scratch and current publisher of Wire, parked himself against the bar - directly opposite a plush booth where he once had a memorable evening of high jinks and cocaine - and delivered a pronouncement: "This is the tattered debris of Miami Beach society. Every ex- and current club owner in town has come out tonight to pay their respects to the Turchin brothers. There's my crowd from Scratch, Jeffrey Cohen from the old China Club, a gang from Woody's. You've got Tom Bellucci from the Island Club. Mario Alayon from Garage South Beach - he's just the promoter, of course, the Turchins are the money men. Everybody's here."

Delaplaine sipped his drink, smiled ruefully at the memory of the cocaine era ("We've all gotten smarter since then"), and continued, "This place got the Beach off to a jump-start four years ago. It was really the only place to go, but it's interesting that it never became part of the future, the mainstream of South Beach clubs. The future is Warsaw and places like Hombre. And Garage South Beach is going to go head to head with them until the big boys from New York come down. But this place, all that high-style stuff and pseudo-posing, is like Mae West in her 80s - a pale shadow of her former self, still thinking she's hot stuff when it's been over for 60 years. But I'll tell you one thing, a lot of talent came through this room."

Everyone, even those on a goof jaunt, had to concede that the room had seen a lot of action over the past four and a half years, and had set a new mark for in-your-face sensory overload: It was too big, too much, all the time. The flyer announcing the final, end-of-the-era party provided some reminders, listing an expansive roster of "gone but not forgotten" names: event coordinator Norma-Jean Abraham, veteran publicist Woody Graber, arts promoter Howard Davis, photographer David Vance, hair stylist Rocky Lyons, and "...Zoli, Irene Marie, Danny G., Joe Z., Rodolfo, Tattoo Lou, Damian, Luke, Glowear, Lou Rawls Jr. and anyone who has outstanding tabs, our city fathers and police department, all drug dealers and undercover agents."

A separate press release issued for the final bash was even more eclectic, and the roll call of people who had performed at Club Nu, or just passed through, was pretty impressive: the Escape Club, Concrete Blonde, Indigo Girls, David Bowie, George Michael, Thomas Dolby, Psychedelic Furs, and the quintessential Club Nu personality, Mr. Let-the-Good-Times-Roll himself, Rod Stewart. With Nu's typical who-gives-a-shit candor, the release also recited a wide array of low points: dancing bears, dancing dogs, Tiny Tim, Zippy the Chimp.

There may have been plenty of low points, but the Club Nu boys did have great timing and instincts. And family pedigrees. The three Turchin brothers - Tom, John (the club's front men), and Robert Jr. - are the sons of Robert L. Turchin, Sr., one of the Beach's old-line developers, responsible for projects such as the Doral Hotel and the South Bay Club building. Rick Carino, son of the late Anthony Carino of Carino's restaurant on upper Biscayne Boulevard, was brought in as a partner and director of food and beverage. It all had a neat symmetry.

In the retelling of the saga, the brothers began as visionaries and civic benefactors, living out another Gold Coast saga, hometown kids made good, the disco version of A Star Is Born. As Tommy Turchin, director of operations, puts it: "This area was so depressed, people thought we were stark-raving mad. But we came from a development background and we knew that property like this, right next to the ocean, was undervalued. We believed that Club Nu would help to bring the Beach back to the way it was. We wanted to assemble a world-class place, using our ideas and dreams, from show business and Broadway. We scoured the landscape for concepts. We were thinking very big."

Literally. Right off the bat they leased a landmark with enormous square footage and maximum publicity value - the old Embers restaurant on 22nd Street, which had been vacant for about six months. Built in 1948, the Embers was a show place, one of three classic high-Beach stomping grounds, the others being the Forge and Joe's Stone Crab. Several investors were lined up (John Turchin puts the figure at "less than a handful"), and things got rolling in the summer of 1986. At one point Phillipe Juneau, ex-husband of Princess Caroline of Monaco, was supposed to be brought in as a partner, but apparently there was some misunderstanding about his role. According to John, "He wanted us to pay him $200,000 to use his name. We had to explain that we needed money, not names."

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Tom Austin