"I should be on the guest list," says the gent with hardly a glance in Gilbert's direction.
"I'm sorry, after 12, people on the guest list pay $5," Gilbert explains in a placative tone.
The customer swivels to look the doorman in the eye for the first time. "I'm with Paisley Park," he sniffs, his gold necklace reflecting the headlights of passing cars.
"I'm sorry, sir," Gilbert repeats firmly but patiently. "People on the guest list have to pay $5 after 12, otherwise it's $10."
A woman in a spaghetti-strapped cocktail dress approaches the entrance with two blazer-clad men in tow.
"Happy birthday," Gilbert says as she sashays through the velvet ropes. She blows him a kiss.
Another patron has come out of the club for a breath of fresh air. Gilbert delicately removes the glass from her hand. "You haven't been towed yet, but you should move your car," he advises.
"Thanks, Gilbert," she says with a pouty Chanel smile. "It's my daddy's car."
It's clear what privileges people pay for at Plastik, the weekly Thursday night party hosted by local promoters Nabiel, Martel, Sabastien, and Behrouz: name recognition, to feel elite.
"I've been working here about four months," Gilbert says, "but I've worked with Martel and Nabiel in the past. It's all about being professional, courteous -- and always giving the ladies priority." He denies entrance to two attractive young men in flannel shirts. "This is a dress club," he admonishes.
As with most beautiful-people hot spots in L.A. and New York, there's always a line outside of Plastik, no matter how empty or full the club is inside. Gilbert refuses to discuss the trendy club practice of "holding the line," that is, to keep people waiting to foster an aura of exclusivity, but suffice to say that few of these patrons are complaining. After all, it's more important to be seen outside Plastik than inside anywhere else.
In the swank interior of the recently remodeled Big Heart City, women in satiny miniskirts and men in Armanis linger around the free oyster bar. Martel himself decides who gets into the coveted VIP room, separated from the house by a couple of polished pillars. The array of carefree partiers this evening includes Julian Lennon who, with the help of his entourage, works on a liter of Jack Daniel's.
Tonight's featured entertainment is what Sabastien calls "a scandalous winter fashion show" sponsored in part by Queue modeling agency. The dance floor has been transformed into a catwalk, and a parade of sleek, well-toned models strut their stuff under the white glare of the spotlights. Even professional models, though, can't compete with the Calvin Klein poses of the men and women in the audience.
"I, too, am a model," a square-jawed man with a lush accent reveals. "I am from Florence." He mistakes the event for a beauty contest; when he finds out that I'm not a judge, he quickly escapes our conversation.
Like most Plastik clientele, Michael, a 27-year-old "German Scorpio" who runs an import business named Eurotrash, attends Martel and Nabiel club events almost exclusively.
"I go to Release [at 1015 Folsom] on Saturdays and Eleven every Wednesday -- I know one of the promoters," he adds, as if that fact should explain everything.
"Everyone knows one of the promoters," remarks a lass in a halter top; she then adds the Leopard Lounge on Sundays at Blue's to the list of Martel/Nabiel-run nightspots.
"It's nice to see people in their 20s and 30s dressing up," proclaims one bartender. "Sometimes, when they're all coked up, they get impatient, but they're not afraid to spend money. They just like to be taken care of."
As I'm exiting Plastik, I pass Mr. Paisley Park.
"Did you pay to get in?" I ask, knowing he had.
Rolling his eyes, he turns away from me: "Of course not. I never pay."
By Silke Tudor