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Regine's Last Stand

Her empire of nineteen discos has dwindled to seven, and her New York club draws more of the gold-chain set than of the glitterati. But for the 69-year-old Queen of the Night, the party is far from over.

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The ones in the men's pee-pee room are gone, too!" shrieks Regine, descending the curving oak staircase at Rage, her new restaurant-lounge on Park Avenue. Stuffed into a form-fitting black blazer, her once-winged red bob now a lacquered shell, the club's legendary proprietress crosses the peach-lit dining room very, very slowly and sits down on a leopard-print chair, brushing away the creeping leaf of a potted palm. "I own nightclubs for 50 years," she growls, "and never once have I seen someone steal the seat from a toilet."

It's six o'clock on St. Patrick's Day, way too early for Regine's Eurocentric regulars, but late enough that a few flushed New Jerseyans, continuing their libations, have found their way to her canopied door. One by one, they stumble past the white-and-red Andy Warhol portrait of Regine and down to the blue subterranean bar, where they perch themselves on wrought-iron stools, crumpling their green-and-white-striped hats on the marble counter.

Regine suspiciously cases her clientele with cat-green eyes. Which one of them made off with her expensive toilet seats, the shell-shaped Art Deco ones with glitter on top? "I am going to make a big inquiry," she warns, throwing up her hands. Her customers look at her quizzically, turning back to their apéritifs. Grinning madly, she lets out a deep, throaty laugh.

A decade after she shuttered her famous club in the Delmonico Hotel, stolen toilet seats are but one of the indignities that Regine has suffered in her attempt at a U.S. comeback. At her peak, the Jewish-Belgian impresario plastered her name on nineteen clubs in more than a dozen cities, including Paris, Monte Carlo, Rio de Janeiro, Saint-Tropez, Santiago, Cairo, Kuala Lumpur, London, and New York. A tireless entrepreneur, she built up an empire that included cafés, a prêt-à-danser collection, three perfume lines, a magazine, sponsored cruises on the QE2 -- even dancercise classes. In the early eighties, you could party at one of her clubs on three continents for 17 hours out of every 24. That is, if you could get in.

Like the supermodels who front for the Fashion Cafe, Regine sells her moniker to local businessmen; at one point, her endorsement was worth up to half a million dollars and her discos grossed close to $500 million per year. Even now, the mention of her name conjures up a Dynasty -era image of gold-plated glamour: champagne flutes, heaps of caviar, suspiciously titled playboys, and white stretch limousines. All around the world, there were ways to know you were at a Regine's -- the famously selective peephole, the flashing full disco sign, the gold membership cards in Cartier cases. The New York Post dubbed her "Queen of the Night," and in more expansive moments, she still refers to herself as the "Queen of Hearts, Clubs, and Diamonds." But in the nineties, thanks to changing tastes and bad business decisions, the queen, twice decorated by Jacques Chirac, presides over a fast-dwindling empire.

Nowadays, in addition to operating four clubs in France, she has one in Miami and another in Istanbul. But she spends the large bulk of her time trying to shore up her New York flagship on East 54th Street. At 69, she is still as exuberant and agile as a Veruka doorman: By day, she is constantly barking into her cell phone, practicing her Tae-Bo, and manning her own Website: www.serialclubers.com. Night after night, she slips on a gown and plants herself hopefully in a corner banquette at her mirrored club. She is never asleep before 4 A.M.. Fluent in five languages, Regine greets her guests with outstretched arms, a drink always at the ready for VIPs. These days, however, they are slow to arrive. The ones who do, like Nikki Haskell, Michael Douglas, Julio Iglesias, and Rod Stewart, are, like her club, remnants of an earlier era. Rage's highest-profile event of the spring season may be an 86th-birthday party for Anthony Quinn.


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