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Who's That Girl?

"Ingrid Casares" rings no bells? Try INGRID CASARES, boldfaced friend to the famous; reluctant lesbian icon; Madonna's best pal; Miami nightclub queen. So why is New York giving her such a hard time?

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One day last fall, Ingrid Casares was having lunch at Balthazar with a friend, the model Kara Young, who used to be married to photographer Sante d'Orazio, and nightlife publicist Lizzie Grubman, the daughter of the powerful music-industry lawyer Allen Grubman. Casares, who co-owns Liquid, a spectacularly successful nightclub in Miami, was in the business of trying to open a Liquid in New York and had employed the awesome connections of Lizzie Grubman on the advice of her model friend Veronica Webb, who told Casares, "She's young and hungry."

That she happens to be the daughter of Madonna's lawyer no doubt also recommended her. Casares's friend Tommy Mottola, who happens to be the head of Sony Music and Mariah Carey's ex, had told her that she should surround herself with the best lawyers, accountants, and publicists in town if she wanted to open a nightclub in New York, because "you're going to be under scrutiny for the rest of your life by the nature of what you do." So Casares hired the law firm of Fischbein, Badillo, Wagner, Harding, who also happen to be Donald Trump's lawyers. (Trump happens to be a friend of Casares's and, as it happens, once dated Kara Young.) Ingrid Casares, one can plainly see, has taken the axiom "It's all about who you know" -- or, in her case, who you happen to know -- to new levels of hyperconnectedness.

One of the benefits of having lots of superfamous, superconnected friends is that when you have a party or, say, a nightclub, your friends come and the press dutifully reports that your party or your club is superexclusive, thereby creating a powerful, self-perpetuating desire in people to get in. Call it the Studio 54 principle. And if anyone has ever been positioned to be the next Steve Rubell, it is certainly Casares. Take her birthday party at the Kit Kat Klub on May 27. Among the 400 guests: Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Calvin Klein, Sandy Gallin, Jann Wenner, Tommy Mottola, Madonna, k. d. lang, Amber Valletta, Kevin Aucoin, Russell Simmons, Andre Harrell, Heavy D., Ed Burns, Stephen Dorff, Ian Schrager, Eleanor Mondale . . . for Christ's sake, were there any civilians? Liz Smith reported on the party but then wrote, surprisingly, "Actually, I hope Ingrid threw herself a smaller celebration somewhere. It must have been hard to feel cherished by pals or contemplate your life during the frenetic bacchanalia that occurred on Wednesday. On the other hand, bacchanalia is Ingrid's life as a club owner and friend of the famous. So she probably loved it."

Casares, whose attempt to take over Les Poulets on 22nd Street had failed the month before, was buoyed by the turnout and said at least once that night, "See? Shouldn't I have a club in New York?" On the phone a few days later, she patted herself on the back once again: "I was disappointed about Les Poulets, because my heart was set on it. But after having a birthday party like that, I'm feeling better. I had everyone coming up to me saying, 'If you want us to go before the boards so that we can have more parties like this, we'll talk for you.' "

Casares has since been offered the chance to take over several other clubs, including Studio 54, which she turned down. Meanwhile, she's not exactly slacking. She and her partner, Chris Paciello, have several projects either up and running or in the pipeline, including Joia, a successful South Beach restaurant that opened earlier this year, and Liquid Lounge, which opens in Palm Beach this fall. She's managing D.J. Victor Calderone, Madonna's latest remix swami. And she's got a deal in the works to do a coffee-table party-advice book in the hope that she'll become, says Grubman, "the Martha Stewart of nightlife." Even as far as New York is concerned, Casares is sanguine. "I'm definitely still looking," she says. "It's now a matter of, out of all the offers, finding the right one, the perfect one, the one that's going to happen, including the right community board, the right area of town, so it's a process of elimination."

The other thing Casares wants to eliminate -- and that Lizzie Grubman was also intent on dismissing at lunch -- was the notion that she's nothing more than Ingrid Casares, Madonna's friend.

"Everyone knows we're friends," said Casares. "I mean, M's a human being. She needs friends, right?"

"It's not all about Madonna," said Grubman.

"We got the Madonna thing out of the way," said Casares. "Okay? What else?" Casares's and Grubman's cell phones whistled into activity. While Grubman barked orders into hers, Casares chatted with Tommy Mottola: "Hi, honey. Dinner? Yeah, it'll be you, me, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Rosie O'Donnell."

Funny how Ingrid Casares's life just happens.

Ingrid Casares sprang from the late-eighties South Beach renaissance and onto the gossip pages around 1991 as the original "gal pal," a snickering, winking term assigned to her and her new friends Madonna, k. d. lang, and Sandra Bernhard, the latter two of whom she had dated. Since then, her photograph has appeared with such frequency in the tabs and party pages of magazines -- usually sitting next to Madonna at either a fashion show or a basketball game -- that her face and her look (a sort of butch Audrey Hepburn) have become instantly recognizable to nearly everyone who reads, or reads captions, anyway. Still, the question remains: What does Ingrid Casares actually do?


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