Britain's Peter Stringfellow Courts the Stretch-Limo Crowd with a Glitz Blitz Nitery

updated 03/31/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/31/1986 AT 01:00 AM EST

The limos are lined up outside the door, the (off-brand) champagne is flowing, and the flashily dressed near-somebodies are out in force; but as far as the paparazzi are concerned, Peter Stringfellow's $100,000 opening extravaganza for his new New York nightclub is a bust. "No Julian Lennon, no Cher," complains a slightly mangy Fleet Street import who is wolfing down Peter's salmon and rare roast beef. "I've got somebody called Regis Phil bin, but I don't know who he is."

Hungry for the "famous celebrities" who have been promised by Stringfellow's American flack, the Fourth Estate has stationed itself near the club's etched-glass doors, where it is falling upon slim pickings like Raquel Welch's husband and Sergio Franchi's sister. When bona fides like Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson turn up, there is a stir like unto sharks going after fresh meat: The video lights go on, the reporters close in, and the anxious photographers take frame after frame of the couple air-kissing their grateful host.

A tall, bottle-blond Brit wearing a leather tuxedo, orchid boutonniere and two earrings in his left ear, Peter Stringfellow, 45, claims to have spent $5.6 million to bring his nightclub to New York. In London he is known as a name-dropper whose clubs (the sprawling Hippodrome and the flashy Stringfellow's) attract the tattier titled party crowd and a modest assortment of rockers: Wham!'s George Michael reportedly has held forth at Stringfellow's; so have Viscountess "Bubbles" Rothermere, Viscount Althorp (Diana's party-boy sibling) and Lady Teresa Manners, whose group, Business Connection, is the major act on Peter's own Hippodrome Records.

If nothing else, the hyperambitious Stringfellow (who, as his press release tells it, rose "from the grimy steelworks of Sheffield to the glittering boulevards of London") has a slight talent for creating a stir. Out on East 21st Street, for example, indignant neighbors are picketing to protest his intrusion on their comparatively quiet turf. And Peter recently grabbed a headline or two in London when he lodged his own protest against a proposal by competing water-hole Limelight to invade the West End neighborhood that is dominated by his clubs. Sending one of his solicitors to the licensing hearing, he pointed out that the already strained parking situation would be exacerbated by another disco in the area. "I don't really think much of the Limelight," sniffs Peter. "It's not my kind of place."

His, it seems, is something more high-concept—a "state-of-the-art showcase for the rich and famous from all walks of life," in the words of that remarkable release. "I think what I'm trying to do with my place is be more glamorous than bizarre," he explains. "This is a place where, if you're wearing nice clothes, people can see them. It's comfortable, it's beautiful, and—let's face it—there aren't many beautiful clubs. Without being too egotistical, I think I'm the only one."

It's true that probably no other nightclub owner would have done it just this way: pink leather bar stools and banquettes; a glass dance floor with neon pulsing below decks; a Blooming-dale's-basement worth of chrome and mirrors, plus a dominatrix deejay in skintight white leather and a brace of dewy waitresses dressed as wet-dream ballerinas in cheek-baring white leotard stockings, garter belts and pert pink tutus that tilt suggestively in the back. The liquor flow is constant and the food first-rate; fully clothed waiters are passing silver trays of artful canapés, and the buffet table is bedecked with massive salmon, whole lobsters with pasta, lamb kabobs and ripe strawberries with Devonshire cream.

And Peter's guests are quite amusing, if one isn't heart-set on household names. Here is a Joan Collins knockoff in a scarlet taffeta gown with wide mink cuffs; there, a fairy tale princess in flowing gold lamé shot with sparkles. A minor socialite with a tight-tight face job is sitting under the little spotlights on the banquettes, showing off her Golden Door tan, and a male scandal-sheet reporter in paste jewels is reading palms over by the strawberries. There are an uncommon number of blondes, cocktail hats abound, and anorexia is as common as rhinestones. Women who resemble soap opera vixens are surveying the bosoms that are amply revealed in gowns seemingly designed by Nolan Miller for Barbie. As showy as they are, the froufrou females are nearly eclipsed by a single male peacock: a New York designer sweeping through the crowd in a furtrimmed red velvet cape tossed over a black cut-velvet tux.

One does spy an occasional Face: The ubiquitous Christopher Reeve is here; so are Nona Hendryx, Pierce Brosnan and the reigning Miss World, Hofi Karlsdottir. At a table by the dance floor (where 10 couples are twitching to The Power of Love), MTV veejay Nina Blackwood, in ill-advised polka dots, listens to a female companion bitch about the waiter who spilled a drink on her. Even Princess Stephanie is here, in absentia. After the live video hookup with String-fellow's London club goes off the giant screen, her royalness' rock video is shown.

In the end, however, it is Peter Stringfellow who steals the show. Playing the boozy, garrulous host, he has parked himself by the entrance, where he is kissing hands, whispering endearments and posing happily with everybody who is anybody. Talking to a reporter, he is unbridled hubris, and then some. "I want to count in New York," he is saying. "I want to be No. 1." Collapsing in fiendish laughter, he wipes away a tear and says, "What am I laughing about? I mean it. I'm a genius."

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