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Wild in the Clubs: Sex Makes a Comeback

THREE YEARS AGO, the fabulous 5000 woke up to invites beckoning them to Palladium paja­ma parties (bring your own teddy bear), Area science fiction salutes, and Limelight “Down­town Divas” musical re­vues of cabaret singers and chanteuses singing songs like “Since I Fell for You” and “It’s Only Make Believe.” Today, they’re warmly in­vited to stripathons, fetish balls, “All-­Male Emporiums of Flesh and Fantasy” (with “realistic streetcorner action!”), and Lady Hennessy Brown squirting milk from her capacious ta-tas.

A slight change of mood? Tell me about it. Was it only two years ago that fools in little black dresses started lining up at Nell’s for the privilege of being snubbed by other fools in slightly more expensive little black dresses? Now the air is so charged with sexual shock that Karen Finley’s “Ooh, and I never touch her snatch ’cause she’s my granny”  — so em­barrassing to some in ’85 — is just a narra­tive slice-of-life, about as scandalous as a Shari Lewis and Lambchop routine.

All through the clubs, the air is tingling with a raunchiness that’s exciting as a subliminal force, but can turn creepy at the drop of a trou. The yearning masses who can’t have the sex they want because of AIDS come together at night and com­bust in a mood of horny suggestiveness, releasing all that frustrated energy in the ways that spring to mind through a vod­ka haze.

The club crowd — a young, creative mix of gays and straights with varying degrees of racial and cultural crossover — is start­ing to rebel against repression with little explosions of drunken, guilt-free pleasure. Compared to the wildness of past eras — ­like the revolutionary risk-taking of ’70s hedonism — the current stuff may seem tepid, since it’s usually trapped within late ’80s limitations of health and hygiene. But bubbling out from a funda­mentally traumatized club scene that as­sumed AIDS would end sex forever, it’s a rude reawakening.

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AIDS initially made all sex seem lethal, or at best joyless, and among many gays a kind of trench-warfare mentality set in­ — keep your head down till it’s over. Now that it’s been accepted that AIDS isn’t going to be over any time soon, some sort of sex is inevitably making a comeback. This comeback is fueled by the fact that a lot of straights are — not advisedly — convinced AIDS is staying within certain high-risk groups, so they can have any sex any way. With both safe and unsafe sex on the rise, ’89 promises to be the biggest year for libido in ages.

In this spirit, Rudolf’s new version of Danceteria, probably called Mars, opens this month to cater to unruly energy, and Frank Roccio’s Lift Up Your Skirt and Fly will soon surface as a nouveau plea­sure dome. “The AIDS epidemic really damaged people’s perception of not only sexuality, but sensuality,” Roccio, co­-owner of the World, told the Times re­cently, “and this will be a place where we can express that again, where you can come with your girlfriend or date or with whomever you feel safe.” The skirts are already lifted — it’s takeoff time.

Roccio talks as if AIDS were a thing of the past. But what he says reflects peo­ple’s sense — accurate or not — that the threat seems measurable now and not total. This point of view can be air-head­ed and grossly selfish (what, me worry?), but being “sex-positive” — pro-sex, as long as it’s safe — is something few AIDS activists would oppose (though they might argue with Roccio’s failure to put condom dispensers in the World’s bathrooms). As both straights and gays change their sexual attitudes, they’re fur­ther blurring the lines of gender and pref­erence: all kinds cheer for male and fe­male strippers with typical pansexuality. September’s ACT UP benefit at the World had porn star Robin Byrd present­ing semi-nudes of both sexes even though the audience was predominantly gay. Horniness is a great leveler.

It’s also a big draw. Susanne Bartsch’s Wednesday night club at Bentley’s is a tacky, ’70s disco version of a Berlin caba­ret, with acts like Lady Hennessy Brown; a troupe of obese sadomasochists; or Chi Chi, who blows smoke rings out of her vagina, titillating a crowd that’s always wearing either far too much or far too little. Larry Tee’s Celebrity Club, which took place every Wednesday at the Tun­nel and will probably resume at Mars, had a wet T-shirt contest that invariably resulted in some kind of lynch mob-style sexual assault, often provoked and en­joyed. Dean Johnson’s Rock’n’Roll Fag Bar at the World on Tuesdays not only has those BVD’d go-go boys strutting, posing, and playfully interacting onstage, there’s a new “Testosteroom” for J/O ac­tion if the boys get customers so hot and bothered they need a quick release.

Sometimes these scenes are hot and uninhibited and oh-so-playfully naïve. But there can be darker elements as well — undercurrents of rage and despair. And, whether charming or alarming, what we have here is inchoate rebellion. The return of wildness to the clubs is a reaction against repression.

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In America ’88, practically everyone to the left of Donald Trump feels a little helpless, with Bush’s election seeming to ratify the repression and malign neglect of the last eight years. Whether we drown in acid rain or shrivel under the newly cancerous rays shining through that gap­ing hole in the ozone layer, the boys at the top are too busy playing with $500 million fighter planes to pay much atten­tion to either problem. No one in charge is doing much about AIDS either, though a lot of homophobes are seizing on it as a chance to gay-bash. (Witness the rants of such disparate horse’s asses as radio “personality” Howard Stern, alleged po­litical columnist Patrick Buchanan, and supposed comedian Sam Kinison.)

Faced with the bleakness of the future, Americans seem willing to settle for tem­porary promises and inevitable long-­range dismay. Selling their tomorrows down the river translates into a subterra­nean anxiety that festers more and more scarily as each nightmare comes true. With everything going to hell, an “I’m gonna get mine while I can” mentality has come out in people — and the Repub­lican regime caters to this by promising to institutionalize selfishness, both do­mestically and internationally. In the process, they’ve institutionalized some­thing else — hypocrisy. We’ve had eight years of “Just say no” from people who don’t seem to have said no to anything in their lives (the possibility of putting Dan “Buy it for me, Daddy” Quayle in charge of the so-called war on drugs epitomized this).

It’s in the face of such hypocrisy that frustration has evolved into overt anger. A couple of enthusiastic partiers recently paid tribute to El Morocco — which is courting a younger crowd now, but is still a symbol of old society — by swinging from the chandelier and hurling a heavy, standing ashtray down the stairs. They were tossed out the door just as rudely as they’d flung the ashtray, but they’ll make it back — one of them had a burn-victim mask on and was unrecognizable. Of course, a mild trashing of El Morocco has its metaphorical possibilities — a gesture against elitism, a refusal to be wooed by tradition. But occasionally, things get a lot uglier. Unshaped by any coherent pur­pose (or, sometimes, even the most basic info), rebellion can turn into the thing it’s rebelling against.

THE SCENE NOW is one of club kids who don’t even have a “fuck the rules” men­tality — they don’t know any rules to fuck. Bursting with ignorant energy, willing to try anything in the name of a good time, they traipse around in their BVDs (the girls) or bras (the boys), squirting each other with Silly String, pathologically in search of fun. They manage to combine a youthful, energetic wholesomeness with a jaded sense of decadence, as typified by their major domo, 22-year-old Michael Alig. Alig’s birthday party last April at Tunnel featured a Mickey Mouse “moon­walk” — a giant trampoline-like air mat­tress — on which scores of kids gleefully bounced as if in Disneyland. But one of his other prize events was a Child Por­nography Ring party. He’s a walking par­adox of glad-handing hostility — giving you a big hello as part of his networking agenda, then pulling you down a stairway into a pool that just happens to be there.

Like him, the club kids are defiant, but mostly against whatever stands in the way of a fun evening or some free publici­ty. They’re also largely unconcerned with sexual definition. If many of them are gay, that’s partly for lack of the gay-disco scene young people came out into 10 years ago; today they enter the mixed world of clubs, where eccentricity is king, regardless of gender or sexual leanings. Their mentors are pleasure-seeking, mid­dle-aged entrepreneurs juggling 17-year­-old glamour-babe girlfriends and, when the kids complain about having to pay $5 to get into an AIDS benefit, ultimately deciding it’s wise to “pamper” (i.e., comp) them, because they’re just so “fabulous,” moral flaws and all.

The kids come from everywhere, from Soviet Georgia to Atlanta, Georgia, many living with their parents — or “backers,” as they like to call them — others living in apartments they pay for themselves by throwing parties for other club kids (owners pay fees of $500 to $1200 a night for this). Asked what they want to be when they grow up, they all answer, “Famous,” and they consider clubs cabaret show­cases by which to get there.

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For all the charged-up atmosphere, the kids are more likely to be narcissistic voyeurs and exhibitionists than ’60s-style orgiasts. Wearing Plexiglas hats that an­nounce their names in shiny letters, they’ve been described as being too “fab­ulous” to have sex — even if it weren’t for AIDS, there’s the equally debilitating threat that it might mess their makeup. But voyeurism isn’t messy, and so sex has become a public spectacle, self-consciously devoured by masses who are afraid to join in and not just because of stage fright. A scarce commodity, it’s gone from something people go to clubs to find to something people go to clubs to see. There’s so little sex to go around now, that whenever anyone has the nerve to have it, it makes sense to share it with hundreds.

The club scene is one of girls who­ — when they’re not wearing retro undies, garter belts, and other archaic sexwear that’s a bondage-freak’s delight — lie top­less on tables for photographer Stephan Lupino, who three years ago had to promise his firstborn to get people to strip, but now merely holds up his camera and waits for the C-cups to fly. It’s one of a 40-year-old store clerk succumbing to the club-kid spell, suddenly flouncing around VIP rooms in a Frederick’s of Hollywood G-string with an elephant trunk sprouting from the crotch. It’s one of a boy who recently ran through the World wearing next-to-nothing and screaming, “Look at me.” When a pro­moter approached him with an offer to get paddled onstage for $50, the kid jumped at the chance — a big break!

Meanwhile, the new sobriety continues to be just a hype, at least in clubland. The drug of choice is Ecstasy (MDMA), a euphoric, mild hallucinogen related to the MDA of the ’60s. “Every single person is doing Ecstasy,” says Alig, only a bit hy­perbolically. “The little kids are scraping every penny to find $20 to get it. It’s really aggravating when a club like Blood­bath has to close because all those kids are so cheap, but I see them inside buying eight hits of Ecstasy off whoever.”

The kids don’t do much coke — it’s ex­pensive, and besides, says Alig, “It brings Ecstasy down, so you want to stay away from that evil scourge.” They don’t do crack, either, Alig explains with his typi­cal elegance of thought and expression, “because it’s dirty and gross and only gross Puerto Ricans do it. It’s not fabu­lous. Ecstasy — even the name sounds fabulous. People don’t go around saying, ‘Eew, you’re an Ecstasy addict.’ ” But they do Essence, a new form of Ecstasy that costs two dollars more and is there­fore two dollars more desirable. Someone not on drugs walking into Save the Ro­bots can’t help feeling a bit like the only person not in on the punchline of a gigan­tic, communal joke.

The clubs wisely not only tolerate this sex-and-substance-charged frenzy, they throw events that cater to it. Two clubs have had Ecstasy parties recently, at one of which the kids lined up and demanded the promised goods, screaming “Ex, ex, ex!” like deranged halftime cheerleaders.

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But mostly it’s the libido being catered to with innovative eagerness. Practically every night at the World seems designed to capitalize on unfulfilled sex drives. A dirty dancing contest had a cigarette girl cavorting onstage with three boys be­tween her legs and one shamelessly work­ing the rest of her body. She won. More was being suggested here than actually happened, but occasionally real, caution-­to-the-winds sex breaks out in the middle of the scene anyway, because people real­ly are starved for it.

The club’s Lust party — a Sunday night gay fete which was only supposed to fea­ture two paid strippers posing onstage — ­turned into a wet dream come true as one stripper spontaneously started sucking the other one’s cock during a photo ses­sion in the club office. Within millisec­onds, there was a drooling audience, not to mention a Playguy magazine photogra­pher already in place with full lighting equipment. This was not going to be just a two-character production, though. A feisty, male Anita Baker lookalike promptly got naked and joined in the festivities whether they wanted him to or not, acting like a suckerfish with any­thing he could get his mouth on. A hunched-over guy near the heat of the action, meanwhile, was anxiously scruti­nizing this scene and panting with voy­euristic delight. “Get in there,” someone said jokingly, and, amazingly, he stripped down without so much as a second’s thought and did just that. From then on, you merely had to say “next” to attract a new customer and “timber” to watch an old one tumble. Overwhelmed and over­worked, the Anita Baker guy fell over and passed out, but someone threw a lame blanket over him — he may have been dead for all they knew, but hell, the show must go on.

True, it almost didn’t; it was a panicky moment when all the spontaneous com­bustion was spent and the sofa/stage emptied out, devoid of a second act. But Barnum — or at least Al Goldstein­ — would have been proud as the promoter and company coaxed a couple of pretty boy lovers standing around to start in by promising them free drinks and club star­dom. Another opening, another show.

And such performers they were! Lover one blew lover two, who hid his face with his hand, before all coyness went out the window and he started doing other things with his hand. When he came — outside his partner’s mouth — it got another hand (the crowd applauded). Anita Baker, somehow, was up and (after having apparently peed all over the lamé) getting a blow job in another corner of the room, but few noticed. All eyes were on another climax — a gay activist who was jerking off as the entire room counted down his blast-off, cheering the big moment as if it were the popping of a champagne cork on the stroke of New Year’s. “That was al­ways my fantasy,” he said, on leaving. “I have no regrets.”

Stuff like this, of course, used to hap­pen nightly in discos and in backrooms — ­darkened, pre-health-crisis clubs, where gays forged a new sexuality with commu­nal abandon. At the Mine Shaft in the ’70s, dozens gathered around the infa­mous sling to watch people get fist­fucked. In the balcony of the Saint, they push, push, pushed on the beat into ev­erything the disco song instructed them to. But except for a few hidden bastions of anonymous sex, that scene now exists only in transmogrified form in the safe sex clubs, the gay community’s conscious effort to resolve the need for sex with the need to survive. The rules at such places are the same as in the ’70s, except one­ — keep it safe.

The orgy may have broken the rules­ — whether oral sex is high- or low-risk is the subject of, well, hot debate. No one came in anyone’s mouth, and the big no-­no, unprotected anal sex, didn’t even come close to happening. But someone could probably deliver a sermon on the perils of pre-cum and gingivitis. When the rules break, it’s for any number of reasons: people are uneducated; they don’t buy the rules; they feel invulnera­ble; they feel doomed; they feel the risk is worth it; or the world is going to end anyway (the place, not the club). Ratio­nality and the pleasure principle have little to do with one another. Pushed down, tucked away, sex is popping back in brightly lit public places where it’s not supposed to be happening, out of the sheer force of inevitability; it’s Freud’s return of the repressed.

The Lust party, thrown by promoter Chip Duckett, was the second of a series of Seven Deadly Sin events (Brecht and Weill, anyone?). The series also included Gluttony, at which madcap partiers nib­bled and toyed with hundreds of obscene­ly sweet Sno-Balls, and Greed, at which a thousand dollars in singles was thrown from the balcony to a frantic crowd of money-worshippers. “You want food, sex, and money?” these parties seem to say. “Well, we’ll give them to you — but you’ve got to crawl for them.” Downtowners will eagerly do this as a spoof on Gekko-era greed — plus they need the money.

The Susanne Bartsch approach is less participatory and more esoteric — her au­dience doesn’t squirt milk, her star at­traction does — but it’s still very much a group experience, a shared exercise in pushing the limits. Instead of the straightforward musical talent of a few years ago, Bartsch is proud to present Lady Hennessy Brown with her legs wrapped behind her ears, stroking her thighs and privates with fiery torches (don’t try this at home, kids), and shoot­ing milk out of her tits at the clubbies, as if they were so many hungry kittens. (“A lot of men are offended when I squirt them in the face,” says Hennessy, “but most people love it.”)

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A trained dancer, Brown changed ca­reer course several years ago because “the nightclub crowd wasn’t receptive to the modern dancing technique. I had to make the switch to exotic.” The Bentley’s crowd is very receptive to exotic. Bartsch sets the mood with her blinding array of temporary tattoos, her Bo-Peep-gone­-berserk plethora of extensions, her mad­deningly loud whistle, and her scantily clad young boyfriend Ty Bassett, who’s the ultimate attention-getting accessory. (“When I first met him in Coney Island, I thought, ‘He’s a girl,'” she says, admit­ting she later changed her mind.)

The 37-year-old Swiss miss made the consoling leap into nightlife when she fell out with the backers of her Soho bou­tique — a marble marvel in which she showcased the work of Leigh Bowery, Bodymap, and her other favorite up-and­-coming British designers. Bartsch went from throwing Tuesdays at Savage — a retro disco, mirrored balls and all — to throwing Wednesdays at Bentley’s — a ret­ro disco with mirrored balls and a Bentley — always making a point of excess and exuberance, the opposite of the pseudo­-Victorian constipation that was threaten­ing to stifle New York nightlife. Being cool at Nell’s and M.K. had an all too literal meaning — no sex, please, we’re skittish (even on M.K.’s canopied bed). In Bartsch’s clubs, people are encouraged to scream, dance, rub each other, and make utter idiots of themselves in the pursuit of laughs. (Nell, never one to miss a trend, has lately taken to wearing Bartsch-style bodices and Voguing on tables.)

Regular folk who just happen to have an affinity for form-fitting attire, Bartsch and Bassett, like the club kids, combine wholesome warmth with sleazebag razzle­dazzle. Their employees and customers suit them well. Sequined and boa’d drag queens, oiled bodybuilders, and other col­orful, poised-on-the-brink, painted side­show escapees are the core crowd (and made for a dazzling, but totally redun­dant, Bartsch Halloween party at another sprawling disco, Emerald City). A fun-­loving bunch of young, often foreign de­signers, DJs, fashion victims, and lip-sync artists, they attract a large crowd of colorless but open-minded yups and bridge-and-tunnelers who revel in their manic style. Many of the Bentley’s core crowd are filled with anxiety about their place in the body politic, but even more don’t seem aware that there’s anything to be anxious about. The unaware ones just want to party to the max, seeing that it’s the frantic, fashionable thing to do. The others party harder with the sense that in America ’88, they’re being pushed off the map, and every moment brings them closer to the edge. But as with Bartsch, their trashiness is a surface display; in­stead of doing It, the crowd watches It, cheers It, and wears It, making themselves as sexually extreme-looking as pos­sible, either to-die-for or drop-dead ab­surd.

“I think I’m wholesome,” says Bartsch. “I just love letting go, it’s an important form of relaxation. I loved at the Copa [where Bartsch throws last-Thursday-of-­every-month parties] when Anthony Haden-Guest was go-go dancing forever on the go-go box, and Richard Johnson was dancing all night — he told me he hadn’t danced for 20 years. They let their hair down, and I’m so happy that I’m the place where they can do that.” She’s brought stripping to her clubs, she says, because, “I go to the Gaiety sometimes, and it’s so sleazy — you have to watch some old wanker jerk off, and it’s such a shame. It’s good to take sex out of the sleazy surroundings and put it in a trendy place where it’s also about watching bod­ies, but not for you to have a wank. Of course watching has become more impor­tant because doing has to be much more thought-out now. But that’s not the rea­son I brought stripping. I did it because some of these strippers are just so genius. I admire their courage to take off their clothes and say, ‘Look at my gorgeous cock, or ass.’ It’s an art form.”

Hennessy herself is, for all her shock value, supremely wholesome, the very im­age of nourishment. She told me she couldn’t show her mother my column de­scribing her act because the word dick was in another paragraph. The woman­ — a six-foot-one black Amazon goddess — is an endless fount. “I’ve lactated for 19 years,” she claims. “My well never dries up. It diminishes sometimes — like I’m not going to have a full supply to squirt tonight because I’ve been doing doubles [playing two clubs a night]. But I’ve just continued to flow all these years.” The mini-interview comes to an end when Hennessy asks, “Is there pay in this?” “No,” I say, “but it’s a big story.” “It would be even bigger if there was pay in it,” she seethes.

While Bartsch is play-acting as a dress-­up-and-explode club kid, the other sex-­cabaret ringmaster, Alig, is the real deal. Bartsch, for all her surface wildness, is a diplomatic businesswoman who frets whenever she thinks she may have acci­dentally hurt someone’s feelings. But Alig and the kids would be mad if they didn’t offend someone. They bring to the sur­face everything Bartsch is too good-na­tured to acknowledge — anxiety, fear, and hostility. Self-conscious, alienated voy­eurs, their constant freaking-out state cancels out any possible innocence. Let’s face it: with an unsafe-sex guillotine hanging over your head at all times, truly instinctive or childlike behavior isn’t a possibility, no matter how young you are. Sexual repression has fast-forwarded the club kids into adulthood, and they’ve re­sponded by turning it into a three-ring circus of escapist sexual entertainment.

Alig, who got his club start stripping for dollars and went on to throw Dirty Mouth contests, where the filthiest talk­ers won cash prizes, looks fondly back on that Child Pornography Ring party at the old Danceteria (he plans to recreate it at the new one, where he’ll be assistant di­rector). “You’ve seen them around, now you can buy them real cheap,” read the invite, which featured Alig tied up with five kids. “Yes, folks, where else but New York City can you place a price-tag on human beings? These fine, healthy, YOUNG souls will be auctioned off to the highest bidder to do with as you please.” At the party, people were able to buy dates with 16-year-olds with play money, the kids getting $50 from Alig to go through with the dates. “There was noth­ing illegal about it,” he says. “I was pay­ing the kids to go out with somebody else — that’s not prostitution. Of course I got paid by the club for throwing the event.” Alig is a master exploiter, but no more so than Ronald Reagan, whose ad­ministration relentlessly whittled away at various forms of aid to dependent chil­dren (there haven’t been so many home­less kids since the Depression), while cranking up public hysteria over their sexual exploitation. Alig, in his own jaded way, is trying to make fun of hypocrisy rule while desperately trying just to make fun.

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He was also one of the people behind Celebrity Club, which almost always went out of control, to the delight of many. The feeling in the air was always of a bored restlessness that the crowd would take to any extreme for some kicks. One night, Eve Teitelbaum, a poet, asked if she could just step across the stage for a second. They were the sorriest words she’d ever said, as the heat of the mo­ment sparked a pointless cat fight with the emcee, which turned even nastier as Teitelbaum was thrown to her knees and people flung shoes and other sharp things at her while Alig doused her with water. “She deserved it” was the popular consensus as Teitelbaum ran, sobbing, out of the club. “I can’t believe something like this would happen in the civilized world,” she said later, still burned.

The ugliest Celebrity Club came one night during the proverbial wet T-shirt contest — the peak of the evening, during which practically everyone seems willing to show his or her privates at the drop of a fly, and all the energy combust into a big boom. This time, a girl went from being pleasantly exhibitionistic to almost mass-violated. On the sweltering stage, in the glare of disco lights and hundreds of eyes, she started dancing and shimmying to the repetitive throb of house music, encouraged by the salivating crowd. “She was some dumb Jersey girl,” says Alig, “in tapered jeans with feathered, gross, brown hair. She got up onstage and people got carried away — she got carried away, literally. A lot of guys were grabbing at her until it wasn’t fun for her anymore. She started to say, ‘No, no, no’ over and over again. Of course that’s when everybody got interested and joined in. A few guys tried to fuck her in front of everybody. That’s when her boyfriend grabbed her and took her up the stairs naked.” This scene — like something out of The Accused — happened without any supervisor to put up even a feeble “No.” What about Alig? “I watched in horror,” he says. “I ran to get the security guards.” He’s joking. “Actually, I probably helped — not rape her, but push people away so they could get to her.”

On another night, Alig presented a T-­shirt winner with a bottle of cham­pagne — actually someone’s piss (he says it came from the drag duo Fashion Patrol; they say it was his) mixed with soda water for fizz. On yet another dazzling evening, one of the Fashion Patrol laid out a cat food buffet spread that everyone there assumed was paté, because, “There are a lot of illiterate people who will take for granted that they know what they’re eating.” This is the same pair that sang “Teenage Enema Nurse” and enacted the birthing process for their pre-Labor Day party. They’re also known for regularly mock-penetrating themselves with blunt objects, and recently caused quite a scene when they stole a bassinet with a type­writer in it from a street vendor, who ran after them with a chain screaming, “I’m going to get you fuckers.” In an upcoming movie called Strung City, one of them­ — Brandywine — gets chased by an old man wielding a huge wax dildo. “You have to create your own excitement,” explains Brenda A-Go-Go, the other one. “Club-­goers are coming there for a show anyway. I wouldn’t want to go somewhere and not see some sort of decadence — it helps the night go by.”

AMAZINGLY, and not a moment too soon, the clubbies are developing some sense of outrage, if not exactly what you could call a social conscience. What it is, in a historical sense, is nihilism. An edi­torial in the new issue of Project X, a club handout, reflects a kind of hyperreal paranoia that’s both mocking and grimly sincere. Politically, if not grammatically, correct, it laments that “Everything will move backwards very fast from now on, and you, wether you think it’s cool or not, you are going to be envolved.” The edito­rial notes that in the future, “Secret po­licemen, Undercover Agents, CIA min­ions and Neo-Guardian Angels may forcefully O-D undesirable people to in­crease drug-hysteria in the american press.”

Another editorial, by Alig, urges the kids to fight for their right to party and be different. To him, the fight is another act of spitting in the face of authority, done because it’ll help keep the party going. Alig was in the mass of people trying to break down the Christodora Building entrance during the Tompkins Square Park fracas last summer. But though he admits “it was a fun scene,” that’s not the only reason he got in­volved. “I’m all for the freaks,” he ex­plains. “I didn’t like the idea that the rich people were moving in and making the freaks leave. Those are the people who go to my clubs.”

Alig smirks that he wants to throw events at the new Danceteria where he’ll show partiers films of the police harass­ing gays and other minorities, “and then set them free in the streets to do vio­lence.” Though he once threw a party to which only HIV-negative people were in­vited (just his little joke, ha-ha), Alig has recently made noises in the direction of gay activism. It seems he was verbally abused by homophobic cops at a Tunnel raid, an event that startled him into an apotheosis he related to two daily papers.

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“People are so blasé and lazy,” he whines. “They don’t want to go out and pillage and burn police cars anymore.” Nostalgia for a more political time — or just for bigger and better thrills? Can the club kids tell the difference? Only know­ing the new craziness, they imagine that it was even wilder in the past. “That went on at Studio 54, didn’t it?” says Alig, meaning constant stripping and groping. No, dear, it didn’t. The ’70s sensuality was much more affluent and ap­proved, more of an anything-goes-be­cause-it-can than because-it-can’t. People didn’t wear underwear at all then; it just got in the way of the fun. Parts of the decor dropped hydraulically around them; they didn’t have to throw them down stairs. The only milk squirted was into a glass of Kahlua. The champagne was actually champagne.

In the last years of the Weimar Repub­lic, as the Nazis rose to power and a sense of panic and doom spread through the ranks of the socially marginal, a frenzied, anxious hedonism took over as well. To­day, society has its disposables, too, the multiracial, multisexual nonrich, who have no choice but to alternately fight for their lives and to go wild, to party out of control in a pressure cooker of fear and hostility. This mood is being nicely helped along by hate-mongers like Kini­son, who’s not all that different from Joel Grey dancing with the girl in the gorilla suit (yes, I studied at the Liza Minnelli school of German history).

The late-Weimar comparison may be stretching it — among other things, our economic mess is quite different from theirs — but closet alarmists like me are finding it hard to resist some parallels: a deceptive prosperity based on foreign funds; the rise of repression and censor­ship; the proliferation of teen suicides; the ostentatious flaunting of wealth by a handful of people as large numbers spiral toward poverty; the persecution of cer­tain minorities, who take the blame for all sorts of social woes. According to Pe­ter Gay’s Weimar Culture: The Outsider As Insider, the republic was also charac­terized by

excitement, in part from exuberant cre­ativity and experimentation, but much of it was anxiety, fear, a rising sense of doom … It was a precarious glory, a dance on the edge of a volcano. Weimar culture was the creation of outsiders, pro­pelled by history into the inside for a short, dizzying, fragile moment. 

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Strippers, Topless Transsexuals, And Club Kids: Where To Find Them

Whoever took the life out of the nightlife should have bashed it a little harder because it’s still out there and breathing, even if it’s got a bit of a hack cough.

A parade of gussied-up wackos, a hint of attention-craving misbehavior, and a thumping beat to vamp to is all we need—and they’re all out there in some measure or another. And they’re all legal, authorities! Don’t shut anything down, OK?

Let’s start at Le Souk Harem, a crazy Moroccan restaurant/hookah bar on LaGuardia Place, where the third floor recently hosted an Omar Alexander fashion show filled with old-style yet totally new zanies. (“I’m shameless,” a club kid informed me, introducing himself. I wanted to crow “So am I,” then realized he was Shameless. That’s his name.)

Scene character Jordan Fox was also there, with a much softer look than before; she’s transitioning. Meanwhile, another transsexual kept hiking up her outfit to reveal glowing orbs, which inadvertently added luminescence to the place so you could actually see the fashion show. I guess she’s Topless.

All the above and then some were at the first “Catwalk” party thrown by that one-woman Cirque du Soleil, Susanne Bartsch, at the reopened Marquee. Like the LES burlesque haunt the Slipper Room, this place is enjoying a second chapter based on its whole new look. Clubbies will come back to a club as long as they feel it’s been as renovated as they are.

The place is now huge but somehow tight, with narrow corridors and stairways leading to a crowded dance floor with the highest ceilings (and decorators, obviously) in town. The result would be a nice-size dance space, except that people have to boogie around the tables set up for the inevitable bottle-service crowd. So actually, it’s very up-to-the-minute. Dance around the tables, bitches!

The premiere Catwalk bash (motto: “Work that pussy”) was a love ball hosted by Bartsch and Patricia Field, two women with real love balls. The romantic tableaux on the upper railings were gorgeous, and the crowd was brimming with imagination, including the guy wearing a papier-mâché heart outfit that looked like a bowl of Corn Puffs. This almost made up for the post-Sandy Halloween we were cheated out of, when Bartsch had to cancel her bash at the Copa because the few people who felt like partying couldn’t even get there. This night, by the way, she was in head-to-toe gauzy fabric, looking like the glamorous victim of a white wedding. (Or, as she would say it in her inimitable accent, “vite vedding.” Or maybe “Conrad Veidt’s vedding.”)

Poetically enough, I was thrown out of a table at around 12:30 a.m. because someone was sweeping in to seize that bit of real estate and buy bottles. But the guy turned out to be DJ Danny Tenaglia‘s manager and a reader, so he insisted that my friends and I should stay and enjoy his bounty. And suddenly the bottle-service phenomenon didn’t seem that bad—though I was actually happier when I’d been thrown out because it made for a better item. In any case, the whole incident was a small-scale reflection of the evanescence of social standing in New York; in the course of 10 minutes, I was piping hot, then evicted, then king again.

You sit and order beverages at Robin Byrd‘s Saturday night show at the Cutting Room, where “the queen of pubic access” trots out specialty acts who are much more Lili St. Cyr than Vanessa Bazoomz. Far from the woozy porn stars on her classic TV-show episodes, these are up-to-date burlesque performers who are selling their craft rather than their wares. One recent night, stripper Amanda Whip impressively licked her own feet while lying on her stomach. (Think about it. But please don’t try it, especially in public.) The Glamazons sang a suggestive number while shimmying their plus-sized body parts. The male drop-in, Go-Go Harder, performed his elaborately funny “Rhinestone Cowboy” and “Hot For Teacher” numbers. (“I did children’s theater before this,” he explained to the crowd, to big applause.) Meanwhile, the Byrd was excitingly lesbianic all night. “I never met a breast I didn’t lick,” she remarked during the cast’s pre-“Bang Your Box” Q&A session. And she really put that motto to work, with lots of lip-o-suction action across the stage. But Byrd kissed Harder’s penis too, as the audience screamed “Harder! Harder!” Another highlight was the cable star telling the gussied-up dancer Calamity Chang, “What a great smell. I love the smell of latex.” Replied Chang dryly, “I’m having my period.”

For more sedate yet still vivid nightlife, try Amy Sacco‘s No. 8, which recently had a Donna D’Cruz-hosted Tommy Boy Records vinyl party on the upper level, a rec-room-style space where hundreds of albums defiantly fill the shelves. The invite said that if we brought some old vinyl, they might play it, but the DJ had no idea what to do with my 45 of the original glamazon, Divine, singing “You Think You’re a Man.” After 40 minutes of waiting, I grabbed the single back—it’s worth money—and fled. You think you’re a DJ?

Another drag-queen-deficient hangout, the NoMad Hotel’s restaurant, is so popular you have to call in three favors, blow five people, and sign a contract with a lower being to get a table. But it’s worth it for the civilized ambience and nice food. And if you order the chicken (for two), they proudly show you the whole creature before they hack it up. Like I said, civilized. I’m Shameless.

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Remember How to Dance, New York?

New Yorkers are going to have to learn to dance again. After being conditioned to just sit around and blab thanks to years of lounges foisted on us by the city’s no-dance-licenses-for-the-wicked restrictions, the gays are being cannonballed onto the dancefloor with xl, the glossy West 42nd Street club that’s begging them to cut a carpet (if not munch one).

The space—a sort of cross between G Lounge and Splash, attached to a soon-to-open gay hotel complex—will only work if people actually stand up and move their tuchuses around. But between all the zoning bullshit of the past 18 years, the reassimilation of gays into mixed events, and sex apps’ effect on nightlife (no need to go clubbing to get laid anymore), luring people to a dancefloor is almost like asking them to bareback. A lot of people will still do it, but it’s kind of crazy!

The club itself certainly has possibilities. As you enter, there’s a circular bar topped with two foofy floral arrangements, a mirrored inverted-pyramid structure prominently hanging from the ceiling like a growth. It’s Cabaret meets La Cage and a little too old-school gay, though the guys seem to like congregating there since most of them have been lounge-acclimated since coming of age. Strut down the long corridor, and there’s the main event—the dancefloor—which is sometimes packed and other times dotted with confused-looking people, though on one night I went, it was totally curtained off, so people could just stick to the inverted pyramid.

But almost as important to a gay club is the bathroom, which is down two narrow Star Trek–y flights. And it’s surreal all right. The row of urinals is positioned so low, you can easily glance around and see everyone’s business as you do yours. Even if guys don’t dance, peen-lovers will no doubt line up to go to this club just so they can look at all the noodles! But talk about mixed messages. Go one more flight down, and you’ll find that the stalls are rather smallish for sex, and besides, the cologne lady is ready to throw you the evil eye if you even try it.

The club’s VIP preview two weeks ago had industry people scoping the space—meaning the main floor—and that included teen idol Aaron Carter, the peroxided cutie who’s doing The Fantasticks not far away. “Why are you here?” I asked him, oozing charm. “It’s family and friends night,” Carter explained—but just then, a plus-size guy swooped in and frantically said something into Aaron’s ear, clearly saving him from my evil doings. A while later, Aaron left through the back door, followed by two girls who had suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Something I said?

The next Thursday at xl, the legendary Susanne Bartsch and Kenny Kenny premiered their weekly “42nd” party there, and in lieu of teen idols from the Snapple Theater Center, there were clubbies with sieves on their faces and Medusa wigs on their heads roaming the place side by side with the T-shirted gays. Kenny said he likes the club because you can go on the dancefloor without being knocked over. But the crowd didn’t seem that light in their loafers at first. The ones who dared to grace the dancefloor generally just stood there, staring at the go-go dancing tableaux of provocatively clad Valkyries and wood nymphs or taking in the seizure-threatening strobe effects. Later, Kenny had the DJ add bass and “play deeper” (“I learned that from Larry Levan”), and that drew some extra people, but most of them still just stood in some kind of immobilized rapture. Apparently, dancing isn’t like bike riding; it has to be totally relearned. Some occasional pandering via really obvious Katy Perry or Rihanna songs might have broken the ice, though as the night went on, things did get more festively physical and dancey-prancey, I must say.

And weirdly aggressive. A girl pushed into my photo op and spilled her drink all over the place. A guy vehemently pitched his line of hangover remedies to me and didn’t seem to care that I never have hangovers because I don’t drink. And someone who does drink kept following me and repeating: “I work for GMHC, and I have a story to tell. They have a horrible CEO.” Party!

Friday nights at xl bring Rockit, the long-running Tony Fornabaio/Brandon Voss event, and that crowd knows how to dance as intricately as they know who’s going to get booted off RuPaul’s Drag Race. At midnight, the place was already packed, and not just the inverted-pyramid area. There was a solid crowd on the dancefloor, and most of them were bobbing up and down and even serving an occasional fist in the air. The high-tech screen showing the bash’s logo in motion—a naked, steroid-y cowboy from outer space flying around on a phallic rocket—obviously provided artistic inspiration.

John Blair‘s JB Saturdays attract cavorting hordes, too, and in fact, every single night of the week there will bring something different, from show tunes to drag-queen shtick to Latin night to more drag queens. One night last week even brought someone screaming at a friend: “You are a horrible person! We paid for that shit, and you didn’t even give us any!” Well, at least no hangover remedies were needed.

So will the club’s elaborate, floral ambitions pay off? I don’t know, but even if Aaron Carter never swings by again, I’ll be there, third urinal from the left. Dancing.

musto@villagevoice.com

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FIELD OF LOVE

A couple of seasons ago, we were lucky enough to attend a fashion show in the home of Patricia Field, with a DJ in the kitchen and a runway that went throughout her stunning two-story place on the Bowery. So one can only imagine what kind of party the Sex and the City designer is capable of throwing in an actual venue. Valentine’s Day Costume Ball by Patricia Field gives us the chance to find out. This V-Day party and Fashion Week kick-off celebration, co-hosted by fashion publicist and reality-TV star Kelly Cutrone and downtown party icon Susanne Bartsch, boasts a fabulous costume contest (including categories for Sexiest Single and Sexiest Couple) and the chance to win a $4,000 shopping spree. And, before you think the admission fee is kind of steep, we should mention that there’s an open bar all night.

Fri., Feb. 11, 10 p.m., 2011

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A Neon-Colored Night of Freaky Fabulosity at Vandam

On Sunday nights down at the club Greenhouse, freakies mix with hot twinks in the glittery fishbowl known as Vandam, hosted by the immortal Susanne Bartsch and Kenny Kenny, who serve glamour like no other team since Barnum & Bailey.

Alex Geana recently donned his party armor and went into the tasty trenches just for you people, so the least you could do is take a gander and start copying the looks before they make it to WWD.

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Queer as Folk Star Goes Lesbian!

TV icon Sharon Gless is de-glammed but not devalued in Hannah Free, a film “about a lifelong love affair between an independent spirit and the woman she calls home.”

As the indestructible Hannah, Gless manages to sneak out of her nursing-home bed and go down the hall to visit her lady love, despite the rabid objections of the gal’s phobic mother.

Why are so many lesbians sick and in the same home? It doesn’t matter; Gless—best known from small-screen hits like Cagney & Lacey, Queer as Folk, and Burn Notice—charms as the crusty yet loving firebrand.

Here’s our recent phone chat:

Me: Hi, Sharon. Congrats on the movie.

Gless: Thanks! Two days before shooting, I did an Ed Harris movie where I played an old lesbian in a wheelchair: “You need an old lesbian in a wheelchair? Get Gless!” For Hannah, they tried to put old-age makeup on me. I smiled, and it fell on the floor. It was a very low-budget production—a labor of love, shot in 18 days. I love Claudia Allen’s writing and agreed to do it without even asking which of her plays they were filming.

Me: So how did they end up drabbing you down?

Gless: I saw the liver spots on my hand—I’m Irish—and said, “Draw liver spots on my face.” And they put on no makeup.

Me: It’s a far cry from the flashy mother of a gay that you played on Queer as Folk. That was fun stuff.

Gless: When I signed on to do the show, they wanted me to have my Chris Cagney hair. I said, “She can’t afford that hair color.” I brought in 17 wigs—pink, purple, lavender. They let me have the red one. And as the years went on, they cleaned her up—but never her mouth! Now it’s on Logo, which I don’t understand because they don’t allow sex scenes or the word “fuck.” They bleep it, so every time I open my mouth, it sounds like a truck backing up. I thought we’d come a long way with Showtime, but we’ve gone back.

Me: Well, let’s go way back. Is it true that Meg Foster—whom you replaced on Cagney & Lacey—was axed because she was considered too butch?

Gless: She was not butch at all. It’s just that she and Tyne Daly were too similar. There was no contrast between the two. They should have put a blond wig on her. There was some guy from TV Guide who called them dykes. There’s nothing wrong with being a dyke, but he said it in a bad, caustic way.

Me: Bad little homophobe. Were you always a gay advocate?

Gless: When I started in Cagney & Lacey, I didn’t even know what a feminist was. I learned so much about lesbians and their plight from my fans.

Me: Me, too!

And the gay divas kept coming like old lesbians in wheelchairs. The woman I call home, Liza Minnelli, appeared at the Paley Center’s showing of the TV version of her dazzling Liza’s at the Palace show (the one in which she bravely did a song from the point of view of a female impersonator and also joked about having had three closet-case husbands). In her post-screening chat, it came out that Liza turned down big money for a memoir because “my autobiography is in my songs.” And it’s in her energy, too. When actress Arlene Dahl—who seemed to think this event was a Q&A—called out from the audience, “What vitamins do you take?” Liza replied, “The usual ones. C and E and all of that stuff.” So there, bitches!

High on life, longtime impresarios Susanne Bartsch and Kenny Kenny wore matching powder-puff hairdos and Dalí mustaches as they debuted their Tuesday-night BonBon bash at the club Juliet, where the mirrored walls and sparkly snowflake ceilings make the perfect incubator box for their concentrated insanity. “We wanted to keep it low-key and relaxing,” said Bartsch as a man lit sparklers, a seven-foot drag queen toppled over, and Bartsch herself jumped on a platform and started bumping her bustier to the music.

In the crowd, burlesque star Dirty Martini said she recently went to France to shoot a documentary scene with Karl Lagerfeld. “He was fabulous,” she gushed. “Sweet and so talented. But he never took off his sunglasses. Maybe he’s a superhero with tasers for eyes!”

The blinding shafts of light over at Cherry Jubilee‘s Glammy Awards for clubbing excellence came from Peppermint‘s lavish act, which included fire-breathing dancers that made one alternately think “flaming queens” and “Great White.” Adding to the exciting sense of danger, Mimi Imfurst dressed as Anne Frank and lip-synched, “Knock three times on the ceiling if you want me,” and MC Sweetie remarked of the absentee Best Gogo Boy winner, “Get him out of the stall, knock the cock out of his mouth, and tell him he won.” While they searched for the dear lad, dancing diva Sahara Davenport‘s performance was so amazing it became clear that the girl belongs on TV—and conveniently enough, she’s going there, as a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race!

Moving on to Oscar bait, Brothers is a powerful drama about the line between heroism and immorality, as played out by two diametrically opposed siblings. Just as dramatically, the film’s machismo-obsessed dad, Sam Shepard, scared the bejesus out of me at a Monkey Bar lunch for the film. “Was it frightening to delve into such a dark character?” I asked him, routinely enough. “That’s a question?” Shepard replied, looking stymied. “Well, is your character acting out of his own insecurity?” I wondered, nervously switching gears. “That’s not really a question,” Shepard insisted, as I sweated cannonballs. Weighted pause. “Look, I don’t come at it from a psychological angle,” he tried to explain, “but from a storytelling angle. I’m not a method actor. Does that make sense?” I should have said, “Is that a question?” but I simply muttered, “Sure” and crawled back to my table.

And now, these aren’t questions coming at you—just some quick gossip bites, so don’t feel the need to answer: I hear Brooke Shields just had a meeting with John Kander and all that jazz. . . . Less felicitously, Chris Penn’s final movie, Aftermath, will not see the light of day, as crazed co-star Anthony Michael Hall is officially telling people. Some aftermath! . . . But other cinema ops appear to be popping up for scandal stars. Way back on October 8, I said on TV, “I think Levi Johnston would be great in a John Waters movie or in The Big Bang Theory.” Well, call me Mr. Magorium because Waters just announced that he wants Levi in his next movie! Big Bang folks, you’re next.

But the most cinematic development of the week was the battle royale for media attention conducted by Tiger Woods‘s top two mistresses, Rachel Uchitel and Jaimee Grubbs. Here’s the plot, as I saw it: Rachel got huge coverage swearing she’d never bedded Tiger, but a PR minute later, she got kicked to the curb in favor of the aptly named Grubbs, who whored out her soiled Gap dress—I mean her old phone tape—plus some truthful information. So Uchitel suddenly decided she did sleep with Tiger and planned a gala press conference to spill about how she was telling all for cash. But just as rapidly, she canceled the conference to negotiate a way higher amount, namely hush money. (I guess dough trumps fame, though Rachel usually strives for both.) All this as the wife was negotiating a bigger salary to stay with her slimy man for another season. Classy people, right out of Chicago. They’re the women I call trailer home.

musto@villagevoice.com

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Club Queen Turns Down Reality Show

Isn’t it nice that someone has actually turned down an offer to appear on television? In the age of reality TV, where people push their disintegrating families into your face for the glamour of it all, saying “no” is so very rare.

And yet longtime club goddess Susanne Bartsch just refused the chance to be in The Real Housewives of New York (which she cutely calls Desperate Housewives of New York). At the Isabel Toledo show at FIT, Bartsch told me she’d rather do something with intelligence and some meaning–and she’s working on putting that together as we speak.

I’ll have more in the next column.

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Is Beyonce the Antichrist?

I went to a gym! For a party! It was constant hostess SUSANNE BARTSCH‘s toy drive at her hubby DAVID BARTON‘s gym a few weeks ago, which brought together both charitable types and charity cases to benefit Smart Inc., which distributes truckloads of playthings to kids and teens with HIV. Thanks to the contributions of the downtown crowd, young PWAs are now overcome with RUPAUL dolls, Green Acres lunch boxes, and tons of liner and lip gloss. And thanks to the enjoyable insanity of the party, I got the priceless vision of a Chelsea guy lifting up his shirt to check his abs in the mirror (I guess to make sure they were still there) and JUN NAKAYAMA—the cute clubbie who wears towering blond wigs and gingham baby-doll dresses—sobbing nearby while looking into the very same reflecting glass. What was wrong, dear Jun? “My favorite faggot is having another fag hag,” she lamented between gasps. I hate when that happens!

Meanwhile, Bartsch and KENNY KENNY are continuing with their Tuesday nights at Room Service—the chandeliered, upscale-bordello-looking haunt, its booths equipped with phones that ring directly to the bar. (Well, who else would you want to call at 2:30 in the morning?) The night is growing in freaky allure, attracting something akin to the old Happy Valley crowd, but darker, louder, and distilled to just the eight-wigs-and-nine-genitals bunch. I’m the normal one, if that gives you an idea.


Up in mainstreamland
—i.e., Times Square—celeb photog PATRICK MCMULLAN had a holiday dinner at Hawaiian Tropic Zone, the newish restaurant which I assumed would be a kitschy, lei-laden paradise à la the late, lamented Trader Vic’s or Hawaii Kai. Wrong! It’s basically Hooters, Hawaiian-style, without a favorite fag hag in sight. The waitresses—a/k/a Hawaiian Tropic models
—serve you in skimpy sarongs and bikinis, their coconuts shaking as you wonder who ordered the tuna. The large wall of screens features similarly booby gals writhing on the beach, and they spring to life when the waitresses parade across the stage to urge you to vote for them (for what, I have no idea—Hottest Person Who Should Be Taking My Order?). But the food did come, and it turned out to be really exotic Hawaiian stuff like chicken, mashed potatoes, and cheesecake (though the wafer cookie on top of the bonbon is tropically—if not surprisingly—shaped like slinky female legs in the air). The lights, by the way, continually get brighter and darker to make you think you’ve got a brain tumor. Soon enough, you actually do.


My mind alighted again at a birthday party for Bronx social arbiter
RICHARD TURLEY at YUE-SAI KAN‘s house, which had DENZEL WASHINGTON charmingly mixing with virtually everyone, PATTI LABELLE belting “I Believe” by the piano as we all held on to our seats in astonishment, PATTI D’ARBANVILLE and me discussing the dangers of dried fruit, and DONALD TRUMP JR. and his wife, VANESSA, wondering what to call their upcoming child, the sex of which they don’t know yet. (My parents still don’t know.) “How about Rosie Trump?” someone sardonically noted, since this was the day O’Donnell and the Donald had their contretemps about which of them has the right to legislate morality in America. “Or, more simply, Butch Dyke Trump,” I genteelly interjected in that way that makes me so rarely invited above 14th Street. “Or maybe an African name with lots of clicking,” suggested Donald Jr., smiling. I’d say the couple still has some work to do.


Can’t get no satisfaction
The name Breaking and Entering has a good ring to it, so I went to a special screening at MOMA and found it to be an ANTHONY MINGHELLA drama about a break-in’s uncatastrophic effect on a relationship between two blonds. BIANCA JAGGER mysteriously ran out for a few minutes halfway through the film, but she broke back in, only to find JULIETTE BINOCHE‘s character blackmailing JUDE LAW‘s. “What a bitch, what a bitch, what a bitch,” Bianca murmured in a tizzy, as my part of the room grew a little tense with interest. A few seconds later, Bianca had one more thing to blurt: “What a bitch,” she repeated before simmering down. Point taken.

There’s no connection here whatsoever, but let’s pause and sum up all the Dreamgirls– related bitterness through the ages, shall we? No, really, it’ll be fun. First, Florence was bitter about her shabby treatment in the Supremes. Then DIANA, MARY, and CINDY
became bitter at each other. Then Diana was irked at the Dreamgirls stage production. Now JENNIFER HOLLIDAY is furious at the Dreamgirls movie version. And Diana turned down a role in the very same movie version. And BEYONCÉ‘s family members supposedly resent
JENNIFER HUDSON for being so good. And all this stems from an act based on airtight harmony. “Where Did Our Love Go?” indeed.

[

But won’t the sharpest fangs of all come out if Beyoncé wins an Oscar for “Listen”? She recently admitted on MTV that the song was already written when she joined in the process and that she didn’t add that much to it! (One hopes her contribution wasn’t just “by Beyoncé Knowles.”) By the way, I adore all of these gals.


Homo erectus display
Diva cinema is popping up in the most unexpected places. Night at the Museum is pretty undistinguished family fare, but there’s a cute gay moment when OWEN WILSON‘s figurine-come-to-life character tells his cohort (STEVE COOGAN), “I won’t quit you!” And earlier, Coogan had gotten into a snit and sardonically called Larry—the night watchman played by BEN STILLER—”Mary!” God, who writes family films these days—the people who did Reno 911? Well, actually, yes.

You also have to love the fact that in The Good Shepherd, MATT DAMON is in full drag and gets peed on (but not at the same time). And the weirdies have taken over prime time too. A promo for a musical episode of Scrubs has ZACH BRAFFgrabbing DONALD FAISON
‘s fisted arm and singing, “He was the first man inside of me!” (“I just took out his appendix,” assures Faison, only minimally subverting the fisting joke.)

Which reminds me of the most sizzling tired old gossip of all time: On Countdown With Keith Olbermann recently, I made a remark about the famous rumor surrounding a certain late TV star and a glass table. Since then, my computer has almost crashed from all the e-mails begging for raunchy details. Well, brace yourselves, freaks: Said actor would supposedly hire young guys to defecate on top of a clear glass table while he lay orgasming underneath it. Happy now? But three questions: Why not just skip the middleman and remove the freakin’ table? Was he that much of a wuss? And if every name attached to this rumor really enacted the activity in question, wouldn’t furniture outlets (not to mention paper-towel stores) be the most celebrity-packed places in christendom?

But back to high culture, if you don’t mind: The Coast of Utopia is so long that, by the time I got home from part two, a spider had spun a web over my door that said, “Some pig.” But it’s shaping up as vital, glorious theater—just the kind of stimulating, elegant epic worth leaving the house for, whether the characters are gabbing about feudalism, adultery, or chandeliers. It’s just sad that, looking around the Lincoln Center Theater, my wandering p.c. eyes strangely didn’t see a single person of color. There isn’t even anyone brown from the glass-table trick. I felt like I was at the world’s most high-toned Klan meeting.

Presumably a more diverse group is being sought by HBO, which is adapting the book When I Knew into a World of Wonder– produced flick about coming out. My own tale—knowing I was that way when I watched Tarzan—is in the book but won’t be in the film; they want complete unknowns, not just modified ones. So if you’re not known, closeted, or ashamed, it’s your turn to be an HB-‘mo.

No, wait! I need someone to come out and admit something much more important: Who’s the fucker who had the three balls to sell my new book’s galleys to the Strand? What a bitch, what a bitch, what a bitch, what a bitch. Well, you can make up for this tawdry act of indiscretion by showing up for my reading at Barnes & Noble (21st Street and Sixth Avenue) at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, January 9, and buying it back from me. And bring a toy too.


Web extra
Wait, I’ve got some more Dreamgirls bitterness for you. Next week Ill give you a fuller report about Jennifer Hudson’s concert at the Saint-at-large party at the Hammerstein Ballroom, but for now let me tell you that the big shocker was that she didn’t do her big number, “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going”! This is like if TONI BASIL sang for 40 minutes and didn’t do “Mickey”! Why in hell didn’t she sing it? “Because she can’t,” murmured a promoter. “It’s in her contract that she can’t sing that song till after the Oscars.” Gee, I wonder what kind of twisted internal campaign led to that insane little stipulation. And this from a movie in which Effie’s song is stolen for Beyonce to do.

[

Update: The Academy just decided that Beyonce is ineligible for a Best Song nomination for “Listen” because a maximum of three songwriters is allowed per song! Poetic justice? I don’t know, but I’d love to “listen” to her reaction.


musto@villagevoice.com

Categories
CULTURE ARCHIVES Datebook Events MUSIC ARCHIVES NEW YORK CITY ARCHIVES NYC ARCHIVES

Boo!

During Halloween week clubgoers got three really nasty tricks, with nary a treat in sight. On Halloween night, Avalon was abruptly shut down around 1 a.m. due to one of the spookiest laws in the city: The club’s cabaret license, which allows you to allow dancing, had lapsed. The nightlife nightmare was only beginning: The next day, celebrated nightspot the Roxy was seized by the state due to nonpayment of taxes. And just when you thought it was over, Happy Valley’s smile turned upside down when the East 27th Street spot was shuttered as part of a court battle with its landlord.

The latest misfortune to hit Avalon, forever known to clubbers of a certain age as the Limelight, adds to a long line of setbacks for the beleaguered institution—which rose to fame in the ’80s and ’90s, when Peter Gatien ruled clubland with an iron fist. Cabaret licenses citywide expired at the end of September, but the club’s mid-September temporary closure for nonpayment of taxes prevented director of operations Ricky Mercado and other club employees from getting inside the venue to obtain the documents needed to apply for the cabaret-license renewal. “There was no way to renew, because we couldn’t get the original forms out of the book until ten days after they shut us down,” he says. “It’s a long process.” After he could access his books again, Mercado spent the rest of September updating other paperwork before submitting for a cabaret renewal, which was finally received by the Department of Consumer Affairs on Thursday, two days after the shutdown. (It will take up 30 days to be approved.)

Mercado, a longtime nightclub operator who used to own Speeed and Opaline, took over Avalon’s operations four months ago. He says the paperwork snafu was made more complicated because the club technically has two addresses: 47 West 20th Street and 660 Sixth Avenue, both ofwhich appear on different licenses and permits. But even though the club had no cabaret license, says lawyer Robert Bookman—who represents both Avalon and the New York Nightlife Association—the police didn’t legally have the right to close the club that night. The proper procedure, he says, would have been to issue a summons and hold a hearing to determine whether or not the club was in violation: “It’s called due process.” NYPD assistant chief and spokesman Michael Collins says that police were within rights to shut Avalon down because the club was “dangerously overcrowded.” But Susanne Bartsch, who was cohosting the Halloween party with Kenny Kenny, says they had not yet clicked over 1,200 entrees—well under the club’s 1,557 capacity.

Outside Avalon that night, a line of police officers stood at the front doors while dejected revelers poured out of the venue, frantically dialing friends on cell phones to find their next destination. They may have eventually gone to Motherfucker’s Halloween party at the Roxy, which the next day suffered the fate Avalon did in September—a shutdown triggered by nonpayment of taxes.

David Casey, director of the upcoming movie about Motherfucker, learned of the closure when he went to retrieve some film equipment Thursday and found the place plastered with “seized” signs. The Roxy has been fighting financial problems for the past year—filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December 2005 and arranging payment plans to dig out of the hole but, according to a club insider, soon falling behind again. Numerous sources say the club has to cough up $300,000 to the state before reopening. (Owner Gene Denino and manager Jason McCarthy did not return repeated calls for comment.) Meanwhile, former employee Scott Aguiar, who’d promoted a Friday night party at the Roxy, says he and his team were “forced to move” to Webster Hall in the meantime, though he says Denino hopes to reopen by this Friday.

Though Avalon has since reopened, the Halloween incident calls into question the new partnership between city officials and clubs touted at September’s nightlife summit, which had evidently succeeded particularly in opening new lines of communication between club owners and police. As Bookman pointed out, the paperwork for Avalon was as incomplete at 2 in the afternoon as it was at 2 a.m. Why arrive to settle the dispute at the height of the club’s Halloween party? It’s just the kind of action that club owners have continually complained about.

Bartsch was distressed about the treatment she personally endured. When she went outside to meet her husband, David Barton, who arrived to help her close out the night, the police would not let her back in. Despite her repeated attempts to explain that she was a promoter and that her personal belongings were locked inside, they refused to allow her reentry. (She eventually snuck back in a half-hour later). “He was so disgusting,” says a despondent Bartsch of the officer who denied her entry. “The policeman was willing to send me into the night without a handbag, without money, without keys.” She pointed out the hypocrisy of these actions, considering that the city has been in such an uproar over women wandering the streets alone in the aftermath of Jennifer Moore‘s murder this summer, which took place after Moore was clubbing on West 27th Street. “They say they are trying to protect people, but it symbolizes how unreasonable they are,” she says. “They are just out to get the clubs.”

Mercado agrees: “It’s just like they are saying, ‘Nightclubs—get the fuck out of New York City.'”

Bartsch—like another promoter, John Blair—got hit with a double whammy: Her party at Happy Valley is over now too. Blair, in the oddest and cruelest sequence of events, recently moved his Sunday-night gay bash from Spirit (closed under the Nuisance Abatement law) to Avalon (temporarily shuttered over a cabaret license) to Happy Valley (closed in a landlord dispute). So he now finds himself without a home. Again. In this game of musical chairs, the chairs are disappearing fast.

Happy Valley is the latest to lose the struggle between real estate interests and clubgoing interests. According to a source, the East 27th Street landlord is selling condos in the building but is having a hard time moving units because prospective buyers saw that their future lobby is currently a club. Bartsch released an e-mail statement over the weekend announcing the demise of both her party and the club itself: “The owners of the club lost the lease in a court battle with the landlord.”

However, when reached by the Voice, co-owner Joe Vicari says, “We cannot comment on, confirm, or deny any of this at this time.”

The Roxy, which has been around for more than 20 years, also sits on land that’s increasing in real estate value by the day. It’s perfectly perched in the up-and-coming West Chelsea area, where developers are aching to put in condos and high-rises. “The community doesn’t want it anymore,” Aguiar says of the Roxy. “Nobody wants an eyesore of a nightclub there.”

Avalon has it still tougher. As a landmarked space, it is nearly impossible to modify— while the interior can be altered, the outside of the building has to be preserved. And even then, prospective buyers are hesitant to deal with the legalities of such a landmarked space. “The place will either be abandoned and deteriorate, or it’ll be a nightclub,” Blair says. “That’s the truth of the matter.”


flylife@villagevoice.com

Categories
NEWS & POLITICS ARCHIVES THE FRONT ARCHIVES

Selling Out

We’re not the types to take cash for coverage, but maybe Happy Valley should put us on the payroll since the club’s gotten more press out of The Village Voice than Paris out of Page Six. And here’s more still. I finally made it for Susanne Bartsch‘s much Musto-vaunted Tuesday-night party. Having never been to a Susanne Bartsch party in the ’80s or ’90s, I could only imagine what it was like back then. Actually, I didn’t have to—the party was a succesful retro homage where Richie Rich mingled with Joey Arias while Willi Ninja vogued nearby. Princess Superstar came for one reason, and she wasdetermined: “I want an Amanda Lepore doll!” The doll, designed by Jason Wu, had a party all for itself earlier at Jeffrey New York. Later at Happy Valley, someone nabbed one of the last remaining dolls for $1,500—with the proceeds going to the AIDS organization DIFFA. Amanda, you’re a doll.

Lepore, the real one, showed up fashionably later and—except for DJ Tommie Sunshine—looking around at the mix of Gatien survivors and the Ninja followers dancing in the basement to New York house circa 1997, it was as if the cabaret law, the smoking ban, and Ghouliani had never happened. It’s fun, but I asked Kenny Kenny, door doll (he’s not a bitch) and Bartsch’s co-host, can we get some new blood? And he said they’re hosting the sometimes bloody, very 2006 party “the Look” once a month. Thanks, dear, and thanks for the free bottle of vodka.

Which brings me to the next order of business: In light of the Page Six scandal, I thought it would be best to fully disclose everything anyone has ever given me. So thanks, Kenny Kenny, and thanks, Honey Dijon, for the $6 for a cab ride and for the 20-minute bitch session on the corner of Second and 5th.

Andrew Steinthal, publicist: Sent free Fabric mix CDs and chocolate for Valentine’s Day. The result—no coverage, but weeks and weeks of gushing e-mails about how much I like free Fabric CDs and chocolate.

Moby: Slept in his house for his New Year’s Eve party two years in a row, used his sauna, cooked on his stove. Saw New York writer Deb Schoeneman naked.

Deb Schoeneman: Let me look at her naked, so (plug alert!) will be covering her book 4% Famous about gossip columnists who trade favors. (Thanks, Deb. Call me anytime, hon).

The World FamousBOB*: Lets me touch her boobs, gets continuous coverage.

Murray Hill: Never given me nothin’. Cheap ass!

Thomas Onorato, door bitch: I wrote a piece about him in Spin, which was turned into a book by Glenn Belverio called (plug alert!) Confessions From the Velvet Ropes. Thomas also pitched an item to Page Six for a silly Lloyd Grove thing, but apparently a spaghetti dinner at Château Tricia on Avenue C wasn’t enticement enough for Richard Johnson. Also, lets me skip the line, feel important and powerful.

Larry Tee: Lets me play with his dog. Gets called King of the World.

Princess Superstar: Made me a latte.

Misstress Formika and DJ Adam: Sent me a bouquet of flowers. Negative reviews that never ran previously have since stopped.

Michael T: Gives me “candy” in the bathroom. Lets me lick his boots. Oh wait, that wasn’t me.

Justine D, Motherfucker: She’s pretty.

James Fucking Friedman: Provides weekly outlet to cuss in print.

Lyle Derek, promoter: Lifelong positive press for introducing me to Deborah Harry.

The MisShapes: Air kisses.

The Trinity: Walked me to the front of the line for the Heatherette fashion show in Miami. Result: They’re genius, bitches.

Carlos D: In exchange for never making the requisite Carlos D you-know-what joke, lets me drink all his beer.

Kevin Hedge, Shelter: Sent me a package of Kiehl’s products, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Every time I put the lotion on, I said to myself—no, not, “It puts the lotion on its skin”—”Shelter is the most amazing party in New York.”

And Tommie Sunshine, I’m expecting your monthly foot massage.