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 Muffy, put down your bubbly. I think I see Puffy. Enterprising nightlife barons are melding two recession-proof businesses: bars and celebrities. After all, the public never tires of salacious Page Six sightings and vapid Sunday Styles copy. But are these exclusive boîtes as fabulous as the press releases would have us believe? Liquid City crossed the velvet rope to find out (a) who's actually buying these four-figure champagne bottles, (b) why the rich and/or famous are so easily seduced by the combination of Ultrasuede couches and blaring hip-hop, and (c) if we could catch a glimpse of Puffy so we could brag to our parents about it later.

Lesson No. 1: The people who buy the four-figure bottles subsidize everybody else's bar tab. If you get on the right guest list at LOBBY (330 West 38th Street, 212-465-2200), you could be rewarded with a stamp entitling you to free drinks and access to the upstairs Betsey Johnson-designed V.I.P. room. Otherwise a tangy apple martini will run you $12—a bargain, really, compared to the $3,500 bottles of Louis XIII cognac and $900 magnums of Cristal. (We noted that nobody was actually purchasing said bottles, although the soigné crowd did exude a certain Cruel Intentions 2 causticity.) But while affluent attitude abounded, there were no boldfaced names reclining on the sleek sofas. Which leads us to another point: We're not even exactly sure why this muted lounge is called Lobby, as it doesn't resemble any Courtyard by Marriott we've ever stayed at. Apparently the patrons just love hotels so much that they want to drink at places slightly resembling them (c'mon, the Soho Grand is so last year). Would we go back? Probably not, even if the drinks are free.

Lesson No. 2: Hip-hop is required listening at swank Euro joints. Like Lobby, ARSHILE (166 First Avenue, 212-358-7950) plays 50 Cent and Panjabi tracks, probably to lend the insipid displays of bling-bling an air of drama. Here, a magnum of vintage Krug champagne will cost you a whopping $1,400, but a crisp Armenian lager called Kilikia will do the trick for just five bucks. There's a certain low-rent aura to this new East Village club, formerly Izzy Bar, and its dark, downstairs V.I.P. lounge attracts a mix of models, hottie Ashton Kutcher, and about a gazillion guys in ironic trucker hats (we counted eight at the two adjacent tables alone). Italian Armenian owner Diran Noubar, who also runs a place in Paris, is a classy, cultured guy (who got us very drunk on good champagne), so we'll forgive the fact that he rather pretentiously lists his "early education" on his PR bio ("5 to 13 yrs old: Lyon, France"). Would we go back? We'd check out Gothic Sundays, when Noubar, the hottest guy in the club, spins moody '80s music by the likes of Bauhaus and Joy Division.

Hip-hop foray: partying at Arshile
photo: Cary Conover
Hip-hop foray: partying at Arshile

Lesson No. 3: The only sound that trumps hip-hop at swank Euro joints is jazzy-bordering-on-cheesy house music. With its futuristic plastic wall tubing and large sunken dancefloor, CIELO (18 Little West 12th Street, 212-645-5700) is the coolest looking of the new elite crop, and its intimidating door policy has already spawned at least one fawning New York Times profile. We visited a couple of months back when co-owner and DJ Nicholas Matar (a former resident at Pacha Ibiza) had a record-release party with lots of attractive Europeans and—what else?—an open bar. Which leads me to this shocking revelation: A night spent at a posh club can be cheaper than the local dive if you know the right people. Would we go back? We'd hightail it to François K's Monday-night Deep Space dub party, where, according to deepspacenyc.com, "There is no dress code or anyone at the door to judge your fashion quota before deciding to let you in." Now that's a novel idea.

 
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