A Dose of Feelgood

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.

Mash explained how the idea for Dr. Feelgood's came about. He and Jim Fazio Jr. — a golf-course architect and partner in the bar — had grown up together in Palm Beach Gardens. "Jim's ex-girlfriend was friends with Vince's ex-wife, who is from West Palm Beach." Even when their respective romances dissolved, the guys remained buddies.

When Mash started musing about opening a rock club, "Vince said, 'I want to be a part of it.' " Last year, when Mötley Crüe was in town to play a gig at Sound Advice Amphitheater, the men signed a business deal on the tour bus. They roped in other friends as partners: former University of Florida quarterback Bob Hewko; current Washington Redskins player Todd Wade; and Rodney Mayo, owner of Respectable Street and a dozen other South Florida establishments. The last two investors are Dino Baccari and Mike Mash III. ("They're well-known for partying," Cleve Mash quipped.)

Of course, you shouldn't expect the other members of Mötley Crüe to be involved. The guys will always be "a band of brothers," Neil says, but each does his own thing. Despite rumors of discord, he talks to Nikki Sixx often and keeps in touch with Tommy Lee by texting, he says. And guitarist Mick Mars? "When he's not on tour, Mick is a different guy. He goes and plays guitar — in his million-dollar bat cave."

Outside of the Crüe, Neil has launched his own brand of tequila, his own brand of wine, and a tattoo shop, Vince Neil Ink, located on the Las Vegas strip. He runs a "Mötley Crüise" at sea annually (this year's voyage, with stops in Key West and Mexico, has been sold out for a while now) and has appeared on a handful of reality shows. It was on Surreal Life that he became buds with Vanilla Ice.

"Did you ever see the episode where Tammy Faye Bakker wouldn't go to the nudist colony?," Ice shouted over the music thumping in the VIP. That's how he met Neil.

No slouch himself, Ice just returned from touring Australia and is getting ready for his new reality show, called Ice Academy, to be based on a defensive driving school with himself and Emerson Fittipaldi. Ice — AKA Rob Van Winkle — lives in Wellington with his wife, his two daughters, a kangaroo, a lynx, a monkey, a potbellied pig, and goats. During the week, he planned to take Neil boating out to Peanut Island.

Was he a huge Mötley Crüe fan? "Who wasn't?"

Just then, two bodyguards shouted, "Make way — Dennis is coming through!" Rodman — who lives in Aventura — strode up to the front bar, where he poured shots and good-naturedly pitched in to restock the bar with ice.

Bob Douglas, a bouncer, smiled at the scene. "We've needed this bar in West Palm Beach for years," he said. "People are really starved for old-school rock 'n' roll."

General Manager Rich Walker agreed: "If it's like this every Saturday, I'll be set for life."

Therein lay the question: How will it do after the opening-night extravaganza, when Neil, the star attraction, goes back to Vegas? (Cleve Mash says he expects Neil to be on the premises about once a month.)

Walker says the club will have specials like "In the Biz Tuesdays," "Bike Night Wednesdays," and continual celebrity promotions. DJ Sizzahandz is scheduled to spin on January 22, and DJ Riz — the resident DJ from Las Vegas clubs Pure and LAX — on the 26th. And during the day, Feelgood's is a full restaurant serving lunch and dinner. Helping matters along, Mash has developed a plan for other bars and clubs to open next door in the coming months — notably, a revival of the pool hall Lost Weekend.

No worries, fans say. "The Crüe was there for all of us in the '80s, and now we're here for Vince," says Cliff Keim, husband of our hooky-playing teacher.

Paul King, an engineer, was stoked. "They're bringing rock back to Clematis. You're gonna see a lot of bandannas." He added: "And hopefully some bikini girls."

Finally, it was time for Neil to take the stage. He stumbled out of a private bathroom, wine glass firmly in hand. (For the record, he says he hasn't done drugs in forever and has never smoked cigarettes. "I tried when I was 14. I didn't look good with a cigarette.")

Fans crowded him like a pack of paparazzi, snapping pictures with cell phones. Opening night, Neil said, was "very stressful," flashing his perfect white smile. "But as long as people like the club..."

For a moment, it looked as though he may have been too buzzed to pull off a concert, but he quickly snapped into showman mode. He thanked everyone for coming, even giving Mayor Frankel a shoutout. (All is forgiven. Neil called her a "sweetheart"!) His guitar player wore shades, the bassist a bandanna. They powered through "Looks That Kill" and "Smokin' in the Boys Room."

"Have fucking fun," Neil shouted by way of good night. "Keep fuckin' drinking! Keep partying! We're open for business!"

By the end of the set, half the crowd was making out, cocktail waitresses had ripped their fishnets, and the dance floor was flooded with spilled drinks.

As it should be.

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