The Statue of Liberty is climbing the ladder leading into the disco ball. Yes, Junior showed up, as promised. Look at the way he mans the turntables, toggles the dials, adjusts the equalizers—totally geeenius! Susanne gives him a kiss, thanks him for coming. He looks down on the dance floor with the gravity of an air-traffic controller. From this vantage, you notice something else about Happy Valley: the absence of a VIP area, no encaged B-list celebrities being gawked at like creatures in a petting zoo. “The whole celeb thing is getting on my nerves,” Susanne vents. “It’s gotten to the point where people don’t even care about the décor. You can give them a toilet—if there’s a celeb there, it thrills. I like Brad Pitt, I’d like him to come, but it’s not going to make my event, you know? I know famous people. I never use them. It’s not my style.” That said, she is pleased to note that John Waters recently reserved the space for a party, and the other night, Ashley Olsen’s people called up—same with Lindsay Lohan’s—making cryptic inquiries about when might be the best time to stop by. But that is the effect, darling, not the cause. “To me, it’s about uniting,” she says, “about rejuvenating, saying everything goes.”
Creating such an environment is easier said than done. The club gives Susanne a budget of just under $5,000 a week to produce the event, and from that she pays her doormen, the D.J., security, her constantly changing stable of co-hosts like Amanda Lepore (the surgically enhanced “muse” of photographer David LaChapelle), and herself. She convinces all of them to work for a fraction of their regular fees. “One thing about Susanne,” says Happy Valley owner Joe Vicari, “she’s very good at keeping costs down.” Still, the club lost close to $20,000 during the first month of Susanne’s parties, before word got around and Tuesday night took off. Now they do a brisk business at the bar, netting between $10,000 and $20,000. But the party is more about branding than boosting the bottom line. For the club, the publicity generates crowds on weekends, when Happy Valley reverts to the typical cover-charge, bottle-service model. For Susanne, whose real money comes from planning corporate events, the party is a reminder to fashion and media people that she still has the touch.
From the D.J. booth Susanne stops by the bar and grabs a bottle of water, sipping it in quick swigs, then heads up to the balcony. She used to drink a beer or two when she was out, but no longer. As for drugs? “I’m a bit of a pussy, really,” she says. “I’ve had a line of coke here and there, but it’s not my thing. If I smoke pot—well, I think it’s good for sex, this is true. But I’ve always had a good sex life, so I don’t really need it.”
Upstairs, she makes her way to the neon cage above the dance floor, recently vacated by Half-Naked Afro Man. She steps inside. It’s two in the morning now, and people are still piling in. “This, really, is what I love,” she proclaims. “I love to dance!” The shiny happy souls down below look up and cheer, catching the invisible kisses Susanne blows at them. Look, there’s Amanda Lepore! And Michael Musto! And there, on the oversize stairs rising in the middle of the dance floor, is a pudgy, middle-aged man in battery-powered sunglasses who—right here, right now—is in the only place on Earth where he feels at home! It is exactly the sort of moment that Susanne craves. The sort that causes a psychosomatic flashback to 1989, when she threw what she still considers her crowning achievement: an aids benefit called the Love Ball that raised $400,000 and introduced a then-unheard-of dance called voguing. “Madonna came, and next thing you know, there’s the ‘Vogue’ video,” Susanne is fond of saying. But incidentally initiating a fad is not what lingers in her mind. What she remembers is something more intangible, a feeling she’s still chasing. “I stood there on the stage and felt like a transistor radio,” is how she phrased it the other day, though she could have been describing herself right now, as she looks down on all her sated children at Happy Valley. “I put my arms out, and I felt all the energy of the people flowing into me and then back out. There was so much love. It was beautiful.”
Speaking of love, at three o’clock David Barton shows up, as he does every Tuesday, to “support what I do,” as Susanne puts it. Barton takes her hand, and they make their way into the middle of the dance floor, bouncing up and down to New Order. Later, standing by the bar, he looks on as she climbs the oversize stairs and dances above the crowd. “I never stopped being fascinated by her,” he says. “I like anything that’s larger than life, you know? That’s my gym, my whole life.”