Karma Is Dead

It seems that a new nightspot opens every month in Broward County. The pace lately -- hastened by the popular Seminole Paradise's Gryphon and Pangaea, Park Sports Club, and Tequila Ranch -- has been exciting. But when you take a look around downtown, people are still partying like it's 1999. It's a posse-centered scene, usually split by gender. Sometimes, you get a nice mixed crew of people who look as if they've made a concerted effort to get out of the house for the first time in months.

You rarely spy the scene-savvy lounge lizard, schooled in the art of holding a martini like it's lucky to be in his hands, people-watching with a discriminating eye, and listening to the music instead of just hearing it. Maybe that seems like an urban poser thing to do, but it strikes me as a more interesting way to pass an evening than to be squished with your cocktail jammed against your collarbone amid a hundred sweaty people who've never read a book.

When the going downtown gets intolerable, I get to Karma Lounge, or at least, I used to. The retro, urban, chic, European-style lounge closed its doors a couple of Saturdays ago, two days before Valentine's Day. Coincidentally, that night, after shouldering through hundreds of people in the courtyard of Riverfront, a number of them women exposing their bellies and the tops of their breasts to the chill night air, I popped into the club for a late-night chill session with a couple of friends.

The curtains sectioning off the white-couch VIP section were wide open. And flopping there was not a problem, because at 2 a.m. on a Saturday, only about 25 people were in the club. The signature prickly-pear martinis were as pink as ever. Projected on the wall was an interesting visual of an enormous tree with its roots coming up through the soil. It was curious atmosphere stuff. Ambience.

One thing was strange. The dance music was pounding so loud, it seemed as if the managers wanted people to leave. All the while, you couldn't help but wonder: How long can this place continue to operate with so few patrons?

Not long, it seemed.

DJ Justin Pipon called New Times the next Monday and dropped the information that the owner, Mario Di Leo, had sold the club. "I knew he was going to sell it," Pipon said. "I'm good friends with him."

Pressed for details, he explained: "The reason he opened the place was because he owned Canyon. He used to pull the table out of the center of the room there to have dancing." Then Di Leo decided to open a place where people could just listen to music, Pipon said. "[Karma]was just a lounge, a place for people to hang out and drink. After about mid-2004, I think he got to the point where he was going to get married. He got into it [running Karma], but then he got bored with it and really wasn't worried about going out and partying and stuff like that."

Opened in January 2003, Karma Lounge spent a year and a half as one of Fort Lauderdale's hot spots with British DJ Paul Head, renowned as a high-energy house mixologist, drawing crowds. It seemed to mark a new level of sophistication on the scene. But the longevity of something like that lasts about as long as you can keep a Himmarshee girl's breast in a halter-top.

DJ Sean Weeks, a drum 'n' bass DJ who spun at Karma's Wednesday D'n'B Basic and at the monthly Traffic party, conjectured about why the club went under. "It was a combination of things," he said. "Competing with Automatic Slims. It's new. They would have lines going down the street over there. There was no cover there. You know what I think is the biggest thing that is a problem? The casino [Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino]. That took a lot of business out of the downtown area. And Karma didn't have girls on the bar dancing, dollar beers, or some shit."

Following up on this info, I went to Art Bar to ask people about Karma closing and left with the impression that, when it comes to a scene centered on refined shmoozing and dance music without lyrics, the average clubgoer in this town isn't interested.

Art Bar was loaded with people, from the front to the back of the club, where a man was body-painting a skull onto the back of a built young man in blue jeans. In the center of the floor, seven men in dress pants and button-downs swayed to Ice Cube's "Today Was a Good Day" while the DJ cut in to talk over the song, a little too much perhaps.

On the periphery of the dance floor, I bumped into a young, brunet woman named Melissa who described Karma in a way that made it obvious she had no idea what venue I was talking about. Here's what she said: "Karma was great. The upstairs VIP was not hard to get into. They didn't measure drinks. They put on a show behind the bar."

OK, sure, but I don't recall a show behind the bar in the former moody, one-story club.

But J-Kwon's irresistible jam "Tipsy" was coming on, so the conversation was over and my attention drifted to a tall, skinny, rhythmless, 30-something woman dancing with a short, roly-poly man with moves.

When she sat back down at the bar, I approached the woman and her friend, who said they had never been to Karma. "It was kind of far away from everything. Real estate was their problem." But wait a minute. Wasn't Karma right around the corner from Art Bar?

I took my query to a handsome, blond fireman taking in the scene from a barstool. He said to call him Frank. His take on Karma was more aggressive. "That place sucks 'cause I don't know anybody who hangs out there. If anybody wanted to hang out there, they'd still be open. And I don't like the name."

That must be it. The place closed because Frank didn't know anybody who hung out there.

His opinion on Art Bar ran to the other extreme. "It's the best place in Fort Lauderdale to hang out, so everybody comes here."

DJ Weeks dished on Karma's fate: "I think they had a good run for two years. I believe they sold it to some kind of a sports bar. The last thing we need is another one of those." (Karma owner Di Leo never got back to us about the sale.)

Pipon gave a jaundiced scenester's assessment. "Fort Lauderdale is never going to be like South Beach. It's never going to be like New York. People would go in there [Karma] to take a piss and walk back out. That's Fort Lauderdale. I think it's sad that this town had such a cool place to go and people just didn't respect it."

So now, when the weekend scene gets jammed as a soccer riot, some of us will have one fewer place to unwind.

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Courtney Hambright