A Dose of Feelgood

Vince Neil and friends bring back that old feeling to West Palm

You knew these words were coming.

"West Palm Beach, are you ready to roooooock?"

How else would the warm-up band kick off the opening-night party for a bar owned by Vince Neil?

Inside the brand-new Clematis Street club Dr. Feelgood's last Tuesday, it was as though the city were blessed with its own private Surreal Life. You just needed perseverance to see it unfold.

First step: scoring an invitation to the private party. Next: sliding past long lines, a slew of cops, and velvet ropes at the door. The crowd was so thick, you had to suck in your gut to slip through. Men, shaking their fists to a Bon Jovi song, may have accidentally hit you. You might have been elbowed by the dudes playing air guitar.

After fueling up with a drink from a mohawked bartender, good luck getting past the giant green snake sculpture — it spewed smoke! A couple of young indie-rock kids looked as though they might suffer blunt-force trauma to the head, what with Judas Priest ripping through the speakers.

In the back of the club, the ceiling dropped low. VIP section.

Never had you met bouncers so immune to both press passes and female advances. Many tried; all failed. The security force was bionic, and a second set of velvet ropes was so unyielding that not even the club's manager could order them lifted. There was only one way to sneak through: a connection (which New Times, fortunately, had nailed).

You might have felt victorious once you made it into VIP in the company of former Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler and Washington Redskins player Todd Wade. Until you spied — in the direction of flashbulbs and clinking glasses — the holy trinity of local celebrities: Vince Neil. Dennis Rodman. Vanilla Ice.

Behind yet another velvet rope.

It had been years since the ropes had been in full effect on Clematis Street. But now... three layers of them?! Business in the city's once-lively downtown corridor had tanked over the past decade, due to crime and construction. Much of the blame was laid on city government. But earlier in the night, spies said, Neil could be seen hugging Mayor Lois Frankel — on a red carpet, no less! Had there been a red carpet in the city before? Ever? You could practically hear the tide turning. All seemed forgiven.

Behind the third and final rope, in the extra-VIP section (penetrated only because Somebody Important's ex-brother-in-law had enough of a buzz to let in the riffraff), Ice graciously posed with fans for picture after picture. Rodman chomped on a cigar. Neil blinded people with the diamonds on his gold watch. His jewelry must have cost more than the building.

Whatever these guys' collective career highs and lows, this night, they were definitely A-listers. The hungry crowd would sacrifice ten Paris Hiltons for a single Vince Neil.

True, Neil has developed a healthy paunch, and his blond tresses may have met their fair share of bleach. He has admitted to plastic surgery. But he flashes a thousand-watt smile. The man' s dentist must be awesome. The audience didn't notice his flaws.

No one wanted to say it aloud, but it's true: There had been skeptics. Would people still hit up a bar built around leather and motorcycles (with faux snakeskin booths, a DJ station in the front end of a '57 Chevy, Mötley Crüe albums on the walls, and one of Neil's own Count Kustoms choppers propped up near the bar)? Would anyone fault Neil, with his dark past (he killed a passenger in a drunk-driving accident in 1984), for getting into the liquor biz? And mostly: Wasn't Neil's heyday long past? I mean, quick — name a single one of his solo songs.

But love is not measured in record sales. Neil, like Rodman and Ice beside him, clearly has something — a little je ne sais quoi — that inspires loyalty. Nostalgia? A larger-than-life personality? The sense that he's true to himself?

Hard to say, but people love them some '80s rock 'n' roll.

Longtime fan Tracey Keim needed so badly to be at the club that she took the day off from school — and she's the teacher. "I called in sick tomorrow," giggled Keim, who drove from St. Pete with her husband, Cliff. Complimented on the sexy top that revealed her substantial cleavage, Keim referenced her days as a Crüe groupie: "This is the first time I've been around Vince Neil and had my shirt on!"

Überfan John Scalia could be overheard talking about his Doberman, named Mötley. The dog died, and Scalia bought another dog. Named him Crüe.

Jackie Phillips doesn't look old enough to have been attending concerts in 1985. But the Crüe, she said, was her first show. And her love for Vince Neil had not gone out of style.

"It's not cheesy," she said of his venture. "It's progress." A bartender at neighboring E.R. Bradley's, Phillips conveyed what everyone working downtown has been saying: "There are big hopes this will revitalize Clematis."

That might be a lot of pressure to put on Dr. Feelgood's eight co-owners, but one of them, local impresario Cleve Mash (who also owned the site's previous incarnation, Monkey Club), says he'll take it. Revitalizing nightlife will be a group effort, Mash said: "But we're happy to step up and do whatever we can to make it happen. You can definitely feel the momentum swing, people wanting to be downtown again." There are even plans to open another Feelgood's in Las Vegas, where Neil has lived for the past 12 years.

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