But Regine isn't worried. "America is what feels the best for me, for my character, for my mind," she explains. "In America, you can make a comeback anytime you want." Her latest attempt began two years ago in Miami, where she opened a club she named Jimmy'z, after a favorite old haunt. Rage debuted in New York this winter. On the club's opening night, old friends like Reinaldo Herrera, Ivana Trump, and Ron Perelman came in droves, though few bothered to follow the mandated silver-only dress code. By 11 p.m., the place was so packed that the fire marshal closed it down. "What's it like in there? Is it the way it used to be?" trilled Dominick Dunne as he waited outside the velvet ropes. The answer, it seemed, was no. Some said Regine had fallen behind the times. Others insisted the times had fallen behind her. "With all this ridiculous Giuliani stuff, Regine didn't get a cabaret license, and I think there was disappointment about that," says nightlife veteran Carmen D'Alessio. "People expect dancing from Regine."
Not long ago, celebrities and socialites jostled one another to pose for pictures in her foyer. These days, old friends like Joan Collins are slow to return her calls, and dismal turnout may force her to discontinue lunch at the restaurant. No matter. She plans to turn Rage into an upscale chain, expanding it to Houston, Dallas, Boston, and Chicago, and will open a new Regine's disco in midtown within a year. Soon, she says, she will open a boutique hotel chain and produce a Broadway musical about her father, The Light of Belleville. "Every morning, I wake up with something else I want to do," she explains. "I am a survivor."
But first she must survive New York. Regine chokes up when she remembers how effusively she was greeted here in 1976, when she opened her club, Regine's, in the brief period between the waning of El Morocco and the waxing of Studio 54. "Everyone said, 'You're crazy to open in New York; the whole place is going to go plop in the river,'" says Regine. She signed a fifteen-year lease anyway, and from the first night, her place was a smash success. "I am the one who saved this city from bankruptcy. I made it happy again," she says. "New York owes me."
When her New York club closed in the midst of the early-nineties recession, Regine retreated for a while to Europe, where she lived in Paris and Gstaad with her second husband, Roger Choukroun, a onetime computer engineer eight years her junior. She has one child from her first marriage, a son who was raised by his father. Over kirs one night at Rage, I read her a quote she gave to New Yorkmore than twenty years ago: "My work is my passion above all. I never loved a man that way. If Roger was ever the cause of my not succeeding, I would leave him and he knows it." Does she still feel that way? "Yes," she says. "Absolutement."
"People at my age are ready to die, but I am like a night flower. I bloom only after midnight," declares Regine a few days earlier. It's noon, and the queen is sitting in a spare York Avenue apartment, shouting over a noisy humidifier. Naked under a frilly pink robe, her thin red eyebrows not yet penciled on, she looks pale and strangely childlike. "I come home at eight in the morning, say 'Hello, bed!,' and my bed says, 'Hello, Regine!' Then I fly to Paris on the Concorde." She laughs so heartily that her little Maltese, Melodie, takes to the foot of a plastic-covered couch in fright.
As much a celebrity as most of her patrons, Regine has always cultivated her life story carefully. Spend an hour with her and she will regale you with tales of the twelve-foot pet boa constrictor given to her by Federico Fellini, the weeklong fasts she undertakes before opening a club, her abilities as a judo master and turbojet pilot. To this day, she visits three different psychics to rid herself of the unwholesome residue of her nocturnal pursuits: "I meet 400 people every night," she explains. "I'm the one in the middle. Everyone thinks something about me -- maybe good, maybe bad, I don't know -- but they're all thinking about me. So I like to be clean."