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The mayor is openly gay! They've reduced police corruption! The restaurants don't serve attitude! And there are reasonably priced condos available! No, I'm not exactly talking about the meatpacking districtit's Providence, Rhode Island, the cobblestone-streeted capital city that just sent me on a press junket to sample its brownish hues and kooky contradictions.
A few years ago, you could supposedly shoot a cannonball down the heart of town and not worry, but now there's some vida in Providence, from the people scarfing down freshly made raviolis on Federal Hill to those ogling the ocelot-print earrings in the Kenneth Jay Lane show at the RISD museum and on various crazed drag queens running around town from midnight to 2 a.m.
Mayor David Cicillinereplaced a guy who ended up in jail for almost five years on a conspiracy charge, but who still puts out a marinara sauce, has a radio show, and is well liked for having launched the last renaissance. Cicillinewho looks a little like Tom Cruise's porn-star target Kyle Bradford, but more dignifiedhas also gotten more thumbs-up than middle fingers and gladly told us about it in an informal chat at City Hall. Did he turn the city around? "Absolutely!" Cicilline said, laughing. "Who would ever deny that? It's like redesigning the airplane while it's in flight." And while you're a big gaythough Cicilline told me that didn't become an issue in his campaign. "They focused on the important issues," he said, "like crime and education. That says a lot about the people in Providence." (Well, I'm from New York, so I focus on people's sex lives.) His city, he added, is "inclusive and embracing" and offers more than just lip service or tolerance. "Who wants to be tolerated?" he said, sensibly. "Like you're an annoying sound in your car."
For entertainment that night, everyone of all sexualities drove their cars to strangely congregate around the town's three interconnecting rivers for WaterFire, a ritualistic experience at which large bonfires are set in stationary pods all along the water. "This is idiotic!" I screeched, but after floating through the scene in a motorboat, I found it surreally beautiful and didn't even mind the embers shooting at my face like hot pokers.
A quickie nightlife tour brought us to some real flamers at the energetic dance club Mirabar and the nearby boî te Dark Lady, about which someone had confided, "It looks like Liberace's buried under the bar." (That was intended as a warning, but it's exactly what propelled me there.) The atmospheric joint had a show of drag queens who can't sing very well but don't seem to know it, and damned if I was gonna tell them. (I admit I may be bitter; when the drag MC announced, "A huge celebrity is in the house!" I moistened my lips and prepared to mount the stage, only to have her then say, " Frenchie Davis!") But I did love Sasha, a 63-year-old cross-dresser in the crowd who wore an ensemble that his very understanding wife got him, down to the shoes and probably the ocelot earrings. See you again, Providence! Thanks to you, Rhode Island rode me all night long!
In New Yorkwhere Providence is a restaurant with $41 rib-eye steakswe gathered around the rivers of Svedka at the Paper magazine Nightlife Awards at Spotlight Live, which brought together all the open-bar servers and aficionados of our fine city into a giant heap of fashiony frolic and ironic self-congratulation. Host Perez Hilton told the crowd, "Fifty pounds ago, I was one of Paper's 'beautiful people.' With success comes food and drugs. I'm not doing drugs, but I am doing food." I tsk-tsked as I downed buckets of the evening's delightfully chic hors d'oeuvrescotton candy and caramel popcorn! Also providing sustenance, someone from the Box cracked that his club is the best place in town to get coke. (He mercifully didn't mention the rapist stationed outside.) But Andre Jthe pencil-thin black gender expressionist with a wig and a full bearddidn't need any help, seeing as he was jumping out of his skin over his French Vogue cover in a Burberry Prorsum trench coat alongside model Carolyn Murphy. The next day, Andre (who works for Pat Field and whose ringing voice could wake the dead) told me how that break happened, Lana Turnerstyle. "Stylist Joe McKenna saw me walking in the East Village and commented on my ensemble," he related. "He was on the phone with Bruce Weber and said I needed to meet Mr. Weber. A few weeks later, I headed to Montauk to shoot. The reaction the cover is getting is wonderful. People are talking around the world. My idols are now looking at me. People are shocked. It's time for the world to meet Andre J!" Come on, world, say it: "Hi, Andre!"
A ton of people who'd be big in France turned out for Halloween, which is generally a holiday for amateurs, but at least in New York we have the most professional amateurs in the world. The night provided a zingy back and forth between Susanne Bartsch's colorfully deranged witches' bordello bash at Avalon and the sexy Satyricon party thrown at the Metropolitan Pavilion by Josh Wood, Patrick Duffy, and the crew from the soon-reopening-in-a-new-locale Mr. Black. The latter event had swarms of hot guys in togas and one Anna Nicole Smith in clown makeupa pretty good balance, though I ended up hanging in a corner with the Anna Nicole guy all night.