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The Beautiful Ones

Tristan Simon started the swanky semiprivate craze with Candle Room and Sense, two clubs that have stayed hot for years.
Mark Graham

The bass pulses in my bones, causing my hips to thrust involuntarily to the beat. Most nights, this is not a particularly rhythmic activity for me; it's more of a seismic anomaly than a dance move.

Tonight is different. I'm poured into my best Italian suit. I'm recording urbane observations with an Olympus DS-330 digital voice recorder in my right hand. I'm sipping a Dewar's rocks with my left. I'm in Sense, one of Dallas' premier spots for the sexy and stylish. I have Shane, owner of an $1,800 suit and nightclub-tested repartee, acting as wingman. The crowd is beautiful, it's 1 a.m., and I am feelin' it.

Through the mad crush of nipped and tucked flesh, a hand emerges. From behind, a woman rubs my head from back to front, then rakes her long shiny nails across my neck.

I turn to find a young blonde with blue eyes and deep cleavage. It finally happened. After a week of chasing the Beautiful People around Dallas, trying to discern the pattern of their late-night migrations, one has finally emerged from the bush and touched me.

The look in her eyes suggests love or 10 beers. She smiles. I smile. She puts a finger to her mouth and giggles. I unleash my sexiest smile.

"Omigod, I'm sorry--I thought you were someone else!" she yells over the song.

I nod. She scampers away. I spot my wingman, who looks confused.

"She rubbed my head, dude!" I yell, pointing. "That girl!"

He raises his glass and salutes me. He knows that just because she all but ran from me when I turned around isn't the point. It's that for a brief moment I was a part of the show. I was onstage with the Dallas elite, a bit player in the long-running romantic comedy Dallas' Beautiful People put on nightly.

"When you put together your article, think of it this way," says Tristan Simon, founder of Consilient Restaurants, which owns Sense, Candle Room, Cuba Libre and Fireside Pies on Henderson Avenue. "What goes on at Sense and Candle Room, on some level, is a show, a theatrical production. We're there to put on the best show. When you think about all the seamless elements needed--lights, music, drinks, all the elements that make up that cool, sexy experience--we want you to come away wowed."

My moment, small and fleeting and mistaken as it was, didn't come easily. For a week I'd hit all the big-name clubs--Republic, Sense, Candle Room, Medici, Primo's, Nikita, Dragonfly--searching for the stars of Dallas nightlife. Along the way, I'd tried to persuade my friends--young, middle-aged, single, married, anyone--to join me in my anthropological quest to track Hotticus Erectus. I told them we would fit in seamlessly. I promised them we would be made to feel welcome.

All but one turned me down or ended up canceling.

Perhaps they knew I was lying. We don't fit in.

Monday

My wife watches me spend 30 minutes trying on different outfits. Which Target shirt, I wonder, looks least like a Target shirt?

This is important. In most cities, clothing is to cover your naughty bits or offer protection from sun and rain. In Dallas, clothing is a status symbol, like owning a Lexus SUV or a Calatrava bridge. I choose to go in all black, because it looks "nightclubby." Black is also slimming.

This is what happens when you're trying to keep up with people 15 years younger and 200 times wealthier. I assume the Beautiful People prep for their nights out by rolling in freshly picked lavender, then are dressed by bluebirds or kick-ass robots, depending on gender.

First, I head to Republic, in Uptown off McKinney Avenue. I've heard how hot this place is. A friend says his buddy knew a guy who went in there, and there were these two smokin' hot chicks just mugging down on each other, totally, like, porning it up. He had to make sure he was in the right upscale super-swanky spot. And then this person I don't know asked someone there who was or wasn't in charge, you know, whuz the dealio, yo? And this person apparently and allegedly said they like to bring in hot ladies to mug down because guys dig it. And I'm thinking, dude, my kinda place. Let's get this party started.

Turns out Republic is closed already. Biz must have been slow tonight. Not a good start.

After pointing out the best strip clubs to six British guys at The Loon--long story--I try to scare up trouble. The rest of the city is dead. In the West Village, Nikita is closed, too. At a near-empty Ferré, I watch a drunk couple fondle each other while I suck on a pineapple wedge soaked in vodka. Knox-Henderson, nothing. I cruise Lower Greenville. Dead. Avi Adelman's dreams have finally come true.  

Defeated, I stumble down the sidewalk to Terilli's, that Greenville Avenue bastion of good taste and sleek scenery. Ricki Derek, the Sinatra/Deano cover artist, is singing to four people, not counting waitstaff. I order another Dewar's rocks ($8) and watch Derek, who played at my good friend's wedding five years ago and who fought with another friend of mine over a girl 10 years ago. I've been in this city too long. I'm old. I'm kinda drinky. I've failed.

Tuesday

Coming up McKinney Avenue, I know tonight will be different. It's only 11 p.m. or so, and already the patio at Primo's is crazy-packed with sexy women and buff men. It's a blinding wall of straight white teeth, soaking in frozen margaritas.

First, though, I'm going to check out Republic, the newest supernova club for the power elite. I put on my best saunter as I try to fit in. Not easy. The talent on the patio alone is intimidating: The men are so good-looking I feel like rubbing their arms. With my chest. They all look like they just stepped off South Beach, tan and relaxed, wearing linen pants and sandals. The women have it all--money, clothes, looks, even tattoos on the small of their backs. They're like a new breed of classy tramp. I love that about them.

Inside, wow. We have beautiful bogies on radar. The interior is dark, with a Mediterranean feel. A DJ spins very loud music in the corner. Lord, I feel old. I need to get into this techno-beat vibe. I push my way through the crowd and order a drink. I try not to stare at the women. It's almost impossible. They're all gorgeous. The guys are muscled-up. Not only can they buy and sell me, they can kick my ass, too. Yeah, life's fair.

Gasp! That dude is wearing my shirt! It's a white button-up, Miami-style number I picked up at The Gap for just this occasion. But, c'mon, I bought it at The Gap!

"Excuse me, did you get your shirt at The Gap?" I yell over the music.

He stares at me, panicked.

"I don't know. No." He walks way.

Liar liar, pants on fire!

Time for a walk to Primo's. It's the kind of place where Beautiful People slum. Oh, there are good-looking folks here, sure. But these aren't the moneyed, the famous, the well-heeled. These are folks whose hotness depends in large part on the fact that they are 22 and under. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

I try to get to the bar, but there are too many people. I try to force it. I "get small," as my junior high football coach used to say, and slice through one layer, then two. It's still four-deep to the bar. This is effing nuts. I can't move. I can't breathe. There is no going forward, no going back. This is where I will die, waiting on a margarita.

And it's getting more crowded. Lord, the ladies with the flat bellies and shocking proportions just keep coming. They're like the clones in the last Star Wars movie, only with huge shiny breasts.

I turn to leave. I'm front-to-front with a young lass sporting unnaturally blond hair and mammaries that I assume hold milk, otherwise, seriously, how are they possible? Still stuck. We are so touching naughty regions right now. Technically, I think this is cheating.

"I'm sorry," I say.

"Whatever!" She takes a gulp of margarita.

I finally make it out and, on the way to get my car, notice seven taxicabs lined up across from Primo's, waiting for drunk money to stagger their way.

I'm headed to Candle Room, which, along with Sense, is one of Simon's semiprivate clubs. These two clubs, along with Medici, have launched the semiprivate concept in Dallas to great success. It makes those on the list feel important for getting on it, makes those not on it want to know how they can get on it. This is smart, and I'm not totally against the concept. I have good friends I'd like to keep off lists of bars I go to.

Before I hit Candle Room, I want to make sure it's late enough to really see what happens late at night. So I stop across the street at Barley House, one of my favorite regular bars and home to zero Beautiful People. How can you tell? Check the bathroom graffiti. There is none at places like Republic. Here you find witty remarks such as "Lick my cunny."  

I sit at the bar and order a beer. It tastes very good. Part of my enjoyment, though, is the environment. I'm having fun visiting swanky places, but there is a distinction. This is a bar for drinkers. Beautiful People and their near relatives, the Hotties, will drink. They will drink to get drunk so they can dance and party and, eventually, have sex. Drinkers drink because they like to drink. Getting drunk or having sex is just a bonus.

Next to me is a man quaffing a dark beer, possibly Guinness. He is taking notes on napkins. He looks Irish. I imagine he's a Pat Conroy type. A drinker, a raconteur, a man of letters and ale. One of the sort you'd never meet at these semiprivate clubs. I decide to listen in on his conversation:

"...It's been way far past that, see. They've probably got 'em now where, you know, it could be faster, but tied in to a central process, to a group, you know, that would have 30 or 40 bars on the network. You know, all your central processing off one server. I got some buddies that are on the cutting edge of those call-center deals. You know, where you're tied in to multiple listings? And if you've got groups of people who are untrained, you can..."

OK, then, Candle Room it is.

Outside, the line of cars is impressive. There is not only a Hummer, but also a Hummer limo parked in front of the valet station. Because Tristan Simon put me on the list, the velvet rope is opened quickly, and I enter.

The door closes behind me, and it's pitch dark. I hear the music blasting from somewhere down this long corridor. I walk slowly, alone, trying to let the bass beat be my guide.

Ah, here it is.

Nope. I'm in a broom closet.

A few dozen feet farther and I find it. I open the door and enter the fertile, drunken world of Dionysus. I'm swept into the orgiastic wave of grinding, dancing, drinking and general last-call desperation of the Beautiful People. It's past 1:30 a.m., and they are still coming in the door, diving into the sinfully rich waters.

They are all here: white, black, brown, doesn't matter. Everyone has perfect skin and a raging libido. Tuesday, I've decided, is pretty damn sweet. Especially compared with Monday.

I recognize some of the songs, but not most. Candle Room gets some unique club mixes, so they're a little ahead of the dance curve, but that doesn't mean 90 percent of the patrons don't know every word. (I do know that remix of 50 Cent's "In Da Club" by Beyoncé. "I'm the chick with the hottish Manolo Blahnik/Jimmy Choo kicks, killin' it, who you with?" Dat shiz is crunk.)

In fact, I don't know which playa sings the current tune, but as soon as he instructed the crowd to get off its collective ass, it obliged. One young woman has jumped onto the back of the seat next to me and is gyrating demonstratively. I decide to try a futile interview. It's so loud in here, who could hear me? But, I'm a journalist.

"HEY, COULD I TALK TO YOU FOR A STORY I'M--"

"WHOOOO!"

To quote Kent Brockman, "There you have it: Whoo."

Wednesday

Surely not much happening on Wednesday, right? Let's catch up on sleep.

Thursday

I'm trolling for BP. None to be found downtown. It's not quite midnight, but the streets are nearly empty. I cruise past Metropolitan, which is always hopping during happy hour, and it's pretty empty. Iron Cactus, the same. The new Umlaut makeover, Obar, doesn't open for a week (turns out Mike Modano will be at the premiere party; he's dreamy), so I head over to Deep Ellum, where I find--more nothing. There are some folks at The Bone on the rooftop, but, again, I know these people. The Green Room often entertains the fête set, but they don't seem to be there tonight, not en masse, anyway. I yawn. To stay awake, I see how many lines I can do from The Blues Brothers.

Finally, Nikita is open. (Tuesday night it was closed for a private party.) When it first opened, a wise friend of mine in his late 50s who is a season-ticket holder at the symphony and one of the most worldly men I know told me, and I quote, "That place is crawling with the most beautiful women I've ever seen in Dallas." Actually, he substituted another word for "women." You'll find the term in three places on the restroom wall at Barley House.  

As soon as I entered the chic environment downstairs at Nikita, I came across two of the most stunning, sophisticated women I'd ever seen. Problem was there were only about 20 other people in the bar. I've been in Nikita when it was fairly packed on a weekend night. But it seems to me that Nikita is a typical Dallas story: bar that is hot for a time, then, for reasons no one can understand, suddenly is not. It can continue for a while, but once a "hot" place falls out of favor with the BP, it rarely gets that status back. The Beautiful People are fickle little bitches.

Me, I like this place. The TV behind the bar is showing Goldfinger. It's not too crowded, but there's enough eye candy for a perv like me. But hip nightlife 'stablishments don't want me. They want folks bold-faced in Alan Peppard's column. Note to self: Any time the candles outnumber the people in a club, you're in trouble. I ask the bartender where the Beautiful People are. "Try Sunday night," he says. Sunday? If you're hoping the BP show up Sunday, are you still a hot spot?

I head back to Primo's. Wow. Empty. No repeat of Tuesday here. Republic, however, is once again full of the flava.

"A lot has to do with location," says Brandon Oxley, the manager at Republic, "but I think more so it has to do with the fact we have a more European atmosphere. It's unique for the area. After dinner, as the night progresses, we try to bring it to a hot rise at, say, midnight till 2 in the morning...it's when we draw the back-to-back crowd."

We have to stop the interview here because some woman just took a header off the curb. Even rich drunks have to watch their step.

I cruise Lower Greenville and don't see much happening. Not a lot of foot traffic, and the clubs are empty. I'm about to call it a night, but I need to whiz. I stop at J. Pepe's and, on my way out, notice that the patio at Kismet, the spot formerly known as Lone Star Oyster Bar, is pretty full. I can hear the music from my car. Probably should check it out.

Holy crap. I've walked out of my boring gringo world and stepped unknowingly into Latin night at Kismet. It's like a house party combined with a Miami Sound Machine video shoot. The most unbelievably curvy, toned, dark-haired, shakin' pieces of male and female ass are balled up into one hopping mass on the dance floor, which is basically every square inch of this place. I stand out, but I don't care. I've got my la raza on. Hola! Holla!

Outside, after a 15-minute joy ride through a sea of the best-looking crowd of men and women I've ever seen, I corner Beau Nazary, co-owner of Kismet Lounge and Cafe Izmir next door. He explains that Kismet has a different theme every night, so they get a wildly diverse crowd throughout the week. I barely hear him. I'm still on a contact high.

Nazary senses this. "What do you think?" he asks, grinning wide.

I just shake my head and point.

"I know. We have way too much fun in there. It should be illegal."

Or you should pay $20 per dance. Then have Laura Miller try to shut it down. That's how much fun it is in there.

Friday

I finally get my wife and a few friends to travel with me. We head to Iron Cactus in Pegasus Plaza downtown. Tonight, there's a decent scene brewing. It's not the "back-to-back" crowd, but it's a nice-sized group.

Bryan Moore, a bartender on the third floor of Iron Cactus, says the place has a professional after-work crowd early in the evening. "But it's a party crowd late. You've got all the people who live around here; they come rolling in at 10, 10:30, and they stay all night."

Unconvinced, I decide to ask a patron. An incredibly gorgeous patron who is wearing a blouse that buttons only at the back of her neck and flares out in an upside-down V so that her entire back (con tattoo) is exposed.

"Hi," I say. "The bartender tells me you know the scene pretty well, and I'm trying to find where the Beautiful People go during the week, and, heh heh, clearly you're one of them, so..."

She looks at me blankly. "I'm sorry. I'm from Mexico. I've been here five days."

As we leave, my drunk friend who can't hold his margaritas moons people on the street. I decide I'm doing better solo after all.  

After ditching the crew, I check my list. Suede and other Lower Greenville clubs are on it. Suede, like Hurricane Grill and several other clubs packed with college-aged kids, is more meat market than fête set. I wander down to Eight, where people are forming a line to get in.

It's not until I get inside that I realize the club is mostly Asian, with some African-American clientele thrown in. Everyone is sexy. Everyone has shirts unbuttoned to the navel. At this point, I'm confident I have the hairiest belly in the house.

"Move--move--get the fuck out of the way!" Some big white dude with a cigar in his hand pushes me out of the way, almost knocking me down. I see he's clearing the way for the huge security guy to escort some troublemaker out. Pretty cool scene here, but who was the jackass who shoved me?

After circling the bar and losing 40 percent of my hearing, I'm convinced the techno music has altered the beat of my heart.

Lump lump lump lump dump dump dump dump.

I run into someone I know and ask who the douche with the cigar is. The owner? The manager?

"He works for Bacardi."

I got bitched by a liquor rep. I am a wuss. I bolt. On my way to my car, I see seven cops sitting in a circle next to Whisky Bar, smoking stogies. I feel safe.

OK, this is my last chance of the night to find my prey. I pull into Dragonfly, the outdoor bar at Hotel ZaZa--proudly in my '98 Honda CR-V, thank you--and stroll in like I own the place. The man checking IDs gives me a nod. "What's up, G?"

Cool. I'm a G.

Then he knocks me down a peg. He looks at my license and laughs. "You just barely made the cut." Do we have to advertise that I'm older, not to mention uglier and poorer, than everyone here?

Now this place is styling. A pool, a waterfall, Truly Beautiful People of all races, all very drunk and trying to get the hookup. And the ambience, the décor, is fantastic. I'd call it a gypsy/Kama Sutra/opium den/Bangkok-after-dark motif, except Dallas Morning News critic Dotty Griffith called it that already. While I work my way to the bar for a Dewar's rocks, I talk to some guys scoping the ladies.

"You know the only way you can get these bitches to talk to you?" one says. "Go up to them and say, Are you wearing Prada?'"

Good to know.

At the bar, I'm listening to this very large, Shaq-ish gentleman put his line on a lady: "So whatcha doin', baby?"

Behind us, someone holds up an empty glass and yells, "Big Man Big Man Big Man Big Man!"

The aforementioned Big Man barks at the 'tender. "[Absolut] Citron, tonic and a lime!"

Something about that voice is familiar. So I turn around.

Oh, that's why. It's Jamie Foxx. With an entourage. Talking to female twins. With huge booties. Good for him.

I try to get to Mr. Foxx, the Terrell-boy-made-good, but his posse just shakes its collective head. No matter. What's he going to tell me? That he's BP? This I already know.

I notice several people glancing toward the hotel balconies, which overlook the bar. Because there is a beautiful naked woman on her second-floor balcony. You can't see her all the time, only when she moves around. And when she does, it is nice. I like the way these people live.

But the truth is the folks here at this hour (1:30 a.m.) are the same as the 22-year-olds at the college bars, the 37-year-olds at the Lakewood Landing or Old Monk, the kids in Deep Ellum. It's nearly closing time, so everyone is loaded, guys are copping feels, people are hitting on hot waitresses, girls' breasts are hanging out of their shirts. The only difference is their shoes are nicer, they air-kiss more often and, let's face it, they're bigger pricks.

Saturday

Tonight, I have Shane on my wing. Finally, a single man ready for battle. Not only is he wearing his Ermenegildo Zegna suit, but, to quote ESPN's Stuart Scott, he's rockin' the pinstripe.

Tonight we wrap it up with two big players in the BP scene: Medici and Sense.

Medici is a semiprivate club off Maple Avenue in Uptown, next to Il Mulino. Joseph Palladino opened it after visiting Sense and realizing the concept could work at an upscale Uptown establishment.

We're greeted at the door and shown inside. Once again, it's so damn dark in here. I hear music, but why can't I push this door open?  

Shane offers help: "That's an elevator. Can't push it open."

Once we realize this is an elevator and not a door, we are lifted to the second floor and walk into a very sophisticated experience. Dark woods, leather, dim lighting, a dance floor with two women on it, grinding seductively...

OK, time out here. I do not have the space to give full vent to my rant about straight girls going out and acting bisexual one night a week. Let's just say it's going on everywhere--college bars, nightclubs, country bars, upscale spots, downscale dives--and, ladies, you're playing with fire. That's all I have to say.

Palladino, who co-owns Medici and the steak house Nick & Sam's with Phil Romano, sits with us and is eager to talk about the challenges of keeping the Beautiful People happy.

"I think we maintain our base of customers, but, yes, the crowd here is fickle, and they do have the tendency to trend toward new places," he says. But I think the staff and relationship we have keeps them coming back. I'm trying to build institutions."

How important is it to have the right list of folks here?

"We get the stars coming in here," he explains. "Prince popped in here. When you come into the city and you want a classy bar, a place with attractive people, where people have money, recognition, this is where they belong."

We leave quickly to make it to Sense before it gets too late. When we roll up to the door, I notice that not only is my name in the gatekeeper's Palm Pilot, but my name is bold. (I later learn this means I'm a VIP. Nice.)

We enter. Thankfully, it's light enough I can find my way into the main room, which, true to form, is bumping and grinding. It's wall-to-wall with pretty people feeling the rhythm of the beat.

Shane speaks. "Shane's one-word review: ick!"

The club itself is super-sweet: a great vibe, cool nooks in which one can disappear and talk, warm décor. The "ick" is because it's so packed in here, there is no way we can get our groove on. Shane tries to fight his way to the bar while I look around. I think he's being overly harsh. Yes, for older folks like us, the laid-back atmosphere at Medici was nicer. But Sense is usually that way before midnight, and Simon knows his biggest problem right now is making sure Sense doesn't mimic Candle Room too much from 1 a.m. to 2 a.m. It's tough, because he's not someone who excludes by nature, so the folks on the list to get in can get outta hand.

"As far as exclusive businesses go, we're pretty damn inclusive," Simon says. "We genuinely like other people. And the culture and patronage reflects that."

But we'd probably like it better pre-midnight. Sense, compared with Candle Room, is supposed to be a little slower, a little more mature. For mature adults like Shane and me.

"You see that?" Shane yells. "I just saw Starsky and Hutch." He's right. Two decked-out posers in über-hip '70s gear, one with what appear to be sunglasses in a nearly dark bar, are striking a pose and smirking. "Look, there goes Starsky," Shane says. "Let's follow him!"

We giggle and squeeze through folks, after Starsky. Then I walk behind a girl on her cell phone, imitating what it must be like to be on a phone in a club so loud the bass beat could press your slacks. "HEY, BABY! YEAH, I'M AT SENSE. HEAR THAT? IT'S FUCKIN' ROCKING!"

OK, so maybe we don't belong there. We're too immature to handle a brush with the Beautiful People. But the truth is no matter the show they're putting on, they're just like us. They want a beat they can dance to. They want to look good, feel good, get drunk, get naked, have fun. And who doesn't?

They just look better doing it. And they can afford it. And they can go out four or five nights a week. But if it makes you feel better, you can tell yourself that money and good looks and style won't make you happy. Whatever gets you through the night.


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