NY Mirror

Despite that war thing, free restaurant tastings have kept coming in droves, and I've felt it impolite to say no to any of them—how would that have helped liberate Iraq? As a result, I can now rummage through the barracks of my mind and stomach and dig up the wondrous whoring highlights. There was Bao 111 (so insistently fabuloso it doesn't even have its name on the door. Young, loud, cramped, and you get the whole fish staring at you. The dishes without heads are better); Capitale (a glitzy gamble. An elaborate former Bowery Savings Bank, snazzily restored, in the middle of welfare hotels and vegetable stands. Sumptuous ambience in which to nibble on bison with chocolate oil, but fucking freezing when I went; you'd think the bonfire of the vanities would have thrown off some heat); Tuscan (a unique experience in fussy love. A waiter takes away your glass, another one puts it back, and then a third comes along to angle it. But the vittles are fine and the chef's mom's a doll—she table-hops!).

Morton's (heart-attack food, but well worth croaking for. Before you order, the waiter does a breathless 10-minute presentation, introducing you to each possible steak and potato. "Hi, steak." "Let's have lunch, potato." A sample lobster, with taped claws, squirms before you. You wonder if all the crustaceans submit résumés for this display job); Patroon (steak Diane and bananas Foster are flambéed right at your table by a charming Frenchman. Those aren't drag queens, they're specialty dishes. As the only man not in a suit, you're glad the flames help block your ratty sweatshirt); Ciao (a touristy bistro, not dissimilar to that old "Bellissima!" place on SNL. You expect a phallic pepper mill grinding in your face); Taja (gyrating navels, couscous up the wazoo, and a campy waiter who swears Madonna told his friend, "My brain's bigger than my talent." But not as big as my tummy, honey. Belch!!!).

Mass destruction also hasn't stopped movie premieres, where you get truckloads of free food—but not until you've sat through some excruciatingly well-meaning psychodrama. There was just such an event for the roman-à-cleft-chin It Runs in the Family, though as the Douglas clan inadvertently wallow in more and more of their real-life dysfunctions, the flick does develop a certain fascination. In fact, when Michael Douglas got caught cheating, I was dying to turn around and catch Catherine Zeta-Jones's expression. (I bet she was beaming, thinking "Ka-ching!")

People I Know has far less bearing on any reality—and provided me with no free food whatsoever—though I did titter when squalid publicist Al Pacino says, "This is not a room, it's a vagina," and starlet Téa Leoni answers, "And how would you know what a vagina looks like?" This is the movie a columnist was touting as a big Oscar contender when it didn't even have a release date. I hear that was a ploy to try to get the turkey a release date, and now that it's finally gotten one, Thanksgiving's come early this year. Double belch!

There was a massive dinner after Thank You, Beverly!—a Lincoln Center tribute to coloratura legend Beverly Sills—but I was only invited to the cocktails and show portions of the evening, and was totally fine with that. (Motherfuckers!!!) Anyway, the event was slick and high-toned, though Mayor Bloomberg awkwardly used aria titles to salute the honoree ("It was 'Un Bel Dì' when we met") and at the end, we were all made to stand and—to the tune of "America"—sing, "Oh, Beverly, how cleverly . . . " I'm definitely getting a new agent.

To prove my incredible range, I'm now going to segue from an ex-opera diva's administrative send-off to a tag sale of racy goods at a closed s&m bar. (Damn, I'm good.) A sort of Lincoln Center for institutionalized pain, the L.U.R.E.—it stands for Leather Uniform Rubber Etc.—was a popular Meat Market fetish haven for nine years, starting way before Stella McCartneyand Belgian restaurants made the neighborhood really kinky. The richly atmospheric nipples-and-poppers palace was recently shuttered, a victim of the gentrified area's skyrocketing rents and escalating post-9-11 insurance rates. (The smoking ban would have killed it too; L.U.R.E. clients were incomplete without smoldering cigars, especially the ones put out on their foreheads.)

Last week, the joint sold off its artifacts, which specialized in tough-guy posturing and leathery lust, though a surprising number of them dabbled in wispy angel-wing imagery. (The paintings of flying dicks make you long to be an air traffic controller.) S&m paraphernalia has never been so sentiment-drenched; we stood there nearly sobbing over stuff like the historically hurtful St. Andrews bondage cross with chains, though I wasn't broken up enough to bid on it. At least if the place turns into another Belgian restaurant—the kind that gives tastings—there are probably waffle irons already on the premises. (PS: Last week, Sex and the City shot outside the L.U.R.E. space—Samantha lives upstairs—and will allude, I hear, to how the nabe's changing face is providing less sex in the city.)

Proof that nostalgia is what it used to be came at the Museum of Television and Radio, where producer Bob Bookerpresented a dazzling bunch of clips from his splashy '70s TV specials. After an Elvis Presley segment, Booker told the crowd, "The good news is that last week Lisa Marie sold one and a half million albums. The bad news is they were her father's!"

The good news for me was a recent offer to host a benefit dinner for some new "lukemia" (sic) society. The bad news was the follow-up message, which asked, "How do you feel about leukemia? I guess I should have asked you that the first time." (Gee, I guess I don't like it.) The organizer also noted, "I am looking for a doctor who will be able to give an informative speech about the causes and effects of leukemia. If you know of anyone, please let me know!" OK, so a leukemia society needed a nightlife columnist—who doesn't know white blood cells from white clam sauce—to help find a specialist to grace their big fundraiser? Something smelled rotten here. I bailed and went right back to club events that help no one.

But that only found more problems. As I left the gay bash Beige last week, a bunch of incongruous-looking people were trying to get in, a particularly tacky woman telling doorman Derek Neen that she goes there all the time. Neen didn't buy that—it reeked of four-day-old fish—and besides, the place was so crowded, he had to draw the line somewhere. The woman shrieked something about how no straight people were allowed in and the whole gang instead bounced into Swift next door for some pints. I followed them right in like a maniac, because the guy the woman was attached to happened to be internationally famous race-car driver Jeff Gordon! (Not one Beige-er had even recognized him; it's not an ESPN type of place. I only knew his face from reading The Enquirer.)

"I'm his girlfriend," the woman forcefully explained to me when approached. "I'm in the fashion business and we were meeting my stylist and we didn't know it was gay night. Because of my business, Jeff has to deal with that all the time." I bet he does. The driver nicely muttered something about how the club seemed fine anyway, and I split like a race car.

Meanwhile, my sources spotted that Trading Spaceshunk over at the East Side Club the other night. I'm sure he was just there to spruce up the decor and make the room into a vagina.


musto@villagevoice.com

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