Tremble and Obey

At the cusp of tourist season, two monster nightspots take over

The new, enormous, retro South Beach-import club thumped as a crowd of 1,200 partiers kicked it to EMF's "Unbelievable." Four female bartenders in micro-skirts and scanty tanks hopped onto the bar top, danced in Coyote Ugly-inspired routines -- yikes! -- and poured shots down the necks of crisp-shirted partiers.

Two weeks later, in a very different scene just a few blocks away, Bob Marley's former band drew 1,700 hundred peeps to an outdoor stage. The band was greeted with winding hips, faint whiffs of ganja, and peace-loving fists in the air.

Together, these scenes -- which took place on September 16 and 28 -- mark the liveliest parties to hit downtown Fort Lauderdale in a long time. They were also the grand openings of, respectively, Automatic Slims (15 W. Las Olas Blvd.) and Revolution (100 SW Third Ave).

Just as 10,000 new condo and apartment units are remaking Laudydale's skyline, the arrival of these two megaclubs, on the verge of tourist season, will transform its nightlife. Slims' feel-good concept and Revolution's drawing power promise to anchor Fort Lauderdale's club strip, which stretches between the Poor House (110 SW Third Ave.) and Karma Lounge (4 W. Las Olas Blvd.).

A recent dash through Himmarshee's organically grown clubs revealed that not many people have the heads-up on the new wave of giants. When I questioned a couple at the near-empty Porterhouse (201 SW Second St.) on a recent Wednesday night, they looked over their shoulders with little curiosity and said they'd never heard of Automatic Slims. A dip into Dicey Riley's (217 SW Second St.) yielded much the same result. One blond girl, though, said, "Isn't that the Coyote Ugly place?"

"Not exactly," I said.

Automatic Slims does touch you there. The difficulty comes in trying to understand why. When you walk through the door, you are struck by an inexplicable feel-goodedness. This may have to do with the checkered-overall-wearing Big Boy statue holding a burger in the corner or the Easy Rider poster on the wall or the drive-in movie marquee above the main bar. Or it may stem from the Airstream trailer DJ booth parked on a white-trashed-out bed of Astroturf with a hand-painted image of the Grand Canyon in the background.

So cozy. So very "Jack and Diane" outside the Tastee Freeze.

Revolution, which had its grand opening last week, showcasing Desol and the Wailers, proposes to fill the painful cultural cavity left by the Edge, which closed at the same location in the mid-'90s. Like the Edge, which attracted people from across the region to its huge concerts and legendary raves, the place has definite drawing power.

About midnight on grand opening night, I approached a short, totally wasted blond man at the bar, who gave his opinion on Revolution: "I like it."

I lit up a smoke and tried to take the conversation a little further.

"Yeah, where do you normally hang out?"

His head dropped down to his chest, then bounced back up. "I don't like it when girls smoke," he said.

I sort of slipped away without his noticing. When I walked past the bar ten minutes later, the young man had drifted off to sleep, still upright at the bar.

Another music lover with dreads and pale, brown eyes was cooling it nearby with a bright look in his eyes. I approached him and told him he looked like a smart one.

He smiled and nodded, keeping his focus on the stage.

"It's lonely being intelligent, isn't it?" I asked.

He busted up laughing. "Oh man, I was just trying to explain that to someone."

He turned his attention back toward the band.

"So, the Wailers?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said, and nodded.

"Revolution, huh? You like it?"

"Yeah," he said, and nodded.

We understood each other well enough, and there wasn't much left to say. In fact, no one was saying much because everyone was dancing two feet apart, facing the stage, and jamming.

Tall, tough, but somehow sweet Mike Feinberg, the programming director for Revolution, was a little more forthcoming about the arrival of Automatic Slims and his own club. "People in Broward have had limited options for a long time. It adds variety to the landscape. The urbanization of downtown will make Fort Lauderdale a destination, which is better than a string of disassociated bars. It's good for everybody."

How did the people at Automatic Slims' grand opening feel about the new addition? The first man I addressed, who appeared to be in his mid-30s, was in full party mode, his sparkly brown eyes beaming out from beneath a straw hat. He opined on Slims. "Let me tell ya, it's unbelievable. We" -- he pointed to the short, blond woman -- "usually hang out at Round Up (9020 W. State Rd. 84, Fort Lauderdale) or at fetish parties."

Hmm...

He leaned toward me flirtatiously as he said, "But actually, this is different, very South Beachy, like the music is more sophisticated. When you got Jack Daniels pool tables," he said, pointing to the black-felt table tops, "you can't go wrong."

He kept looking at me kind of funny.

"Is this your wife?" I asked.

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