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Late, Late Show : At the new after-hours clubs, the party lasts until long after sunrise. But police say some club-goers keep the beat with the help of drugs.


Only last year, the hours between bar closings and Sunday services in L.A. belonged to dance-till-you-drop "ravers." It was a new generation's late-night dance-party scene, envied by club-goers throughout the world and hyped in newspapers, newsmagazines and TV tabloid shows. Where else could thousands party in an amusement park till 5 a.m.?

But gangs, thugs and new drugs invaded all-night raves, scene watchers say. So a lot of the young people packed up and went back to the 'burbs. "I feel like I'm a minority now," says one raver-in-retreat.

What's left of L.A.'s rave scene are about a dozen after-hours joints from Santa Monica to Downtown, serving several hundred die-hards. Some look classy, others look like drug dens, most cater to the 18-and-up crowd. Some rave veterans say after-hours clubs are too extreme even for them. "Everyone's on speed, violent and packing (guns)," says former rave organizer Lou Rittenhouse. "I don't go out anymore."

"A majority of the places cater to young (people)," says Los Angeles Police Sgt. Marty Cotwright. "There's drugs and all kinds of other activities."

At Abyss, a dark-and-deep club in the rough-and-tumble Rampart district, some young club-goers make the bathroom their first stop. Scoring and snorting speed is their mission, say some club-goers. "The more you do," says 23-year-old Cindi (not her real name), "the more you stay up, the more you dance."

Here, Saturday night starts happening at 1 a.m. Sunday with a $7 cover charge and a pat-down search in the shadowy storefront. Young women, backpacks in tow, enter the bathroom two at a time. Then it's on to the dance floor, where two black rooms rock to clockwork beats. "Concentrate/On the music," the track says in a hypnotizing loop.

But nobody appears to be getting sleepy. Some are peaking on speed ("tweaking," they call it), and soon they'll be coming down ("sketching"). When the night ends at 10 in the morning, they can always aim for Sketchpad, a Sunday after- after-hours dance club down the street. It's known to go as late as 3 a.m. Monday.

Abyss co-owner Louis Rincon acknowledges that drugs are used in his club, but he says he's trying the best he can. "We've been weeding them out," he says. "We catch people doing drugs and it's 86--they're out."

A few other spots are also trying to distance themselves from the drug culture. Does Your Mama Know, a 21-and-up affair on Sunset Boulevard, has a dress code, a hefty cover charge ($10) and a bar that opens at 6 a.m. The result is a "mature and positive" crowd, says resident DJ Tony Largo. "We constantly have to have our hands on the pulse," he says, "because if we don't, it could turn into a tweaker club in the matter of a week or two."

Promoters at Hollywood's Public Space disallow dancing, showcase mellow music and close down at a conservative 4 a.m. It keeps the speeders at bay, they say. "We don't have a real tweaking crowd," one Public Space promoter says.

Abyss, housed in a funky hotel circa 1912, usually runs midnight to 10 a.m. on weekends and caters to those 18 and older. It's often open midnight to 7 a.m. Sunday through Thursday. Lately, though, the schedule has been off and on. The police recently shut the club down, seized sound equipment and cited owners for a lack of a dance hall permit. "There's been dancing and all other forms of entertainment, and they don't have proper permits," says Cotwright, who supervises area vice officers.

When informed this week that Abyss is open again, Cotwright said: "I guess we'll have to go back in there then."

Abyss owners say they have most of the needed permits except for the hard-to-get dance hall permit. "We're trying to do things the right way," Abyss co-owner Lee Ballenger says. Then he echoes partner Rincon: "We try to deter drugs as much as possible."

But club-goers John, 18, and Tina, 21 (not their real names), say they regularly sell speed there at $20 a pop. On a recent morning, young people line up for the white stuff. John says "Do it fast and don't get caught" is his motto. The 18-year-old says he can clear $400 in profit on a good night at some after-hours clubs. "It's a crazy life," he says.

Speed (formally methamphetamine, usually found in crystal form locally) has extended the hours of what started as a dance-till-dawn craze. The after-hours scene sometimes goes 24 hours straight, much longer than most raves. And the 10- to 12-hour effects of speed can last much longer than rave drugs LSD and its psychedelic cousin MDMA (known as "ecstasy"). Those who take speed at after-hours clubs don't seem to drink alcohol, and most after-hours spots don't serve it.

UCLA drug expert Ronald K. Siegel says the cocaine-like speed can make people irritable, paranoid and violent. "We can dispute the relationship between any drug and violent behavior," he says. "The one exception is methamphetamine."

And unlike LSD and MDMA, it's addictive.

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