http://www.observer.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,359707,00.html New York's Ecstasy scene goes upmarket
Ed Vulliamy in New York Sunday August 27, 2000
In the depths of the Filter 14 club, most people know what Chandler (not his real name) does for a living - and what he does not do. He does not sell drugs to ravers, teenagers or tourists on or anywhere near the premises. He sells only by appointment and only people who supply a business card and the number of a bleeper or a mobile phone. He is a new kind of dealer for a new kind of clientèle, and selling only a single kind of drug: Ecstasy.
The meat-packing district has been an Ecstasy supermarket for several years, but there are no more grubby plastic bags, no more hustlers in the clubs. Everything is more discreet. This is the part of town where the smell of stale blood gave way to wafts of marijuana from the cavernous clubs that opened as the sun set over New Jersey and the Hudson.
But now the scent is of haute cuisine from the kitchens of upscale eateries like Rhone and Pastis.
There is a new kind of night owl, too: dot.com cyber-yuppies, lawyers, media types, music industry executives, advertising people. People who have to get up in the morning, but still want to do drugs, even on a Thursday.
Their recreational drug of choice is that which is no longer the property of raves in warehouses over the other side of the Hudson and East Rivers, the happy pill the authorities trying to stem the tide now call Agony.
On the stage at Filter 14 a woman in lace and leather is having oral sex, possibly simulated, with a bodybuilding hunk. Chandler is admiring 'how her ass works' when his bleeper vibrates. It's a call from a contact he knows well, one of a group moving on from a meal at Rhone to a nearby club called Hell with a vivid red interior. Chandler tells the client, a banker, not to come 'any-fucking-place near'.
Later, down in Hell, the group is pretty easy to spot. Some very rich, very young people from a brokerage company are having a farewell party. 'Yes, we'll be at work in the morning,' shrieks a girl called Tracy. 'That's what is so cool about this stuff.'
A slightly older man called Ray has a couple of hits in his wallet, but is planning on 'keeping them back for a weekend in the Hamptons'. Ecstasy, says Ray, is 'in the 2000s what coke was in the '80s and '90s. It's do-able. You can get a buzz and you can work next day, better than if you'd had a night of whisky sours'. There's an Ecstasy circuit of upmarket locations: Joe's Pub on Tuesdays, the Limelight on Fridays.
Chandler sells stuff with names like 'Mitsubishi', 'Motorola', 'Calvin Klein' and 'Nike', by which different kinds of Ecstasy are known.
Ecstasy is capturing the non-rave US market for all the reasons that have been seen in Europe: it is 'clean', touchy-feely and relatively safe by comparison to its Class A cousins (America has not yet had the wake-up call of a Leah death).
But the most cogent reason for Ecstasy's capture of the non-rave market is that, compared to heroin and cocaine, it has been easier to import and is as easy to buy, at between $20 to $30 a hit, as a packet of cigarettes.
Most of it comes through the two New York airports, JFK and Newark. 'Ecstasy is a much neater business than cocaine or heroin smuggling,' says Raymond Kelly, the Commissioner of US Customs. 'You can invest $100,000 as a distributor and get $5 million back'.
Recent arrests have shown that Israeli crime syndicates account for more than 50 per cent of the traffic. There have been suggestions that they are protected by the Russian mafia, the most powerful criminal empire in New York. Dutch smuggling rings are also importing enough MDMA - Ecstasy's base compound - to manufacture millions of tablets.
But others are joining in, using ever more elaborate smuggling techniques. Men have been found wearing skin-tight body suits under their regular clothing, in which thousands of Ecstasy pills were hidden.
The authorities see Ecstasy spreading socially and geographically. 'The drug is as common in the Bronx High School of Science as it is in haute couture high fashion', says one Customs official.
Back in Hell, the leaving party goes on. Tracy has been asked by the bouncer to do up the buttons of her blouse. 'It's delicious, even if a man just pours water on your skin,' she insists. And it's only Thursday, a whole working, banking day to go before the weekend.