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.

"Yes," he said.

She nodded.

I took my drink to one of the couches to start a new conversation.

He walked back over to me and said, "My wife thinks you're cute."

"So you guys are swingers, I gather?"

He pulled out his membership card from Trapeze (3666 W. Commercial Blvd., Fort Lauderdale), a notorious swingers club.

Adieu. In great haste, I made my way over to Kevin, a 25-year-old redhead guarding about eight beers on a stool.

"I'm holding these for my friends," he said, "but you can have one."

Sweet. Over my first sip, I listened to him opine on Slims. "I think it's about fucking time they had a place like this. It's such a breath of fresh air. It's not trying to be a hip-hop club. It plays rock music in its own style. It will succeed because it's different."

Slims co-owner Mike Coner, a 26-year-old who's hot as a speeding bullet and insists that I include that he's from the Quincy area of Boston, breaks it down for me in his office while the Steve Miller Band's "Space Cowboy" plays in the club. "The concept is 1960s Googie architecture, from an era when America was happy and people had money. We're Americana without a bunch of flags.

"This is an upscale version of a dive bar. This is a place where we want people on the furniture. Boaters get off of their yachts and they're wearing shorts, and some places won't let them in. We want them here. Some guys wear Dickies" -- he points at his own pants -- "and they look nice, but some places won't let them in. We want them to come here."

On with the deliberate business plan. "We have three markets in my opinion: the 35-plus Harley-Davidson crowd, club kids, and the skater and surfer crowd. Like we have 'Stoked Thursdays' and we're going to bring in Dick Dale and Pepper. We want to do the whole B-list celebrity thing. I'd like to bring in Pee Wee Herman."

Automatic Slims has plans to expand beyond Fort Lauderdale, bringing locations to Orlando and Las Vegas.

In describing his target partiers, Coner explains recent economic changes: "Before 9/11, you had all these 22-year-old kids who were pulling in $60,000 a year. Now, a lot of people 24 to 28 are unemployed. So, our crowd is more like 30 and 31, '80s kids, rock 'n' roll kids."

As Revolution finishes its final internal renovations, the new club will cater to those with a rock hankering as well, with upcoming shows by Social Distortion, Death Cab for Cutie, Coheed and Cambria, and so on and so on with the fabulous acts that you want to see.

On Friday night, its second night open, Automatic Slims pulled a crowd of 700, and as 4 a.m. approached, the party wore down with people sleeping on upstairs couches, a few games of pool, then ended in a way that perhaps no Ft. L party has ever ended before: with Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline."

It's all like: Feel good, Lauderdalians; now go the fuck home.

With two giants stomping across Himmarshee's horizon, what's to do but tremble and obey?

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