Byline: DAVID MONTGOMERY - News Staff Reporter
Edition: FINAL
Page: E1
(Copyright 1993)

LEANING SELF-consciously against a smart bar gives one an excellent vantage point to watch a dance party and think about why Buffalo is not a cyberpunk city.

It was in just such a pose that Chris Alan and many of his customers recently took in the orgiastic tribalism of the Artists and Models Affair. The thumping techno music. The neo-1960s fashions. The incredible new perfume that suddenly all rave women are wearing.

But what is a smart bar? Go ask Alan.

A smart bar, Alan explains, is where you buy smart drinks. Smart drinks are fruity concoctions with a hint of grit. The grit is amino acid powder, a smart drink's main ingredient, which is mixed with orange juice and cranberry juice. These legal, non-alcoholic energy cocktails are supposed to activate your brain and metabolism, make you want to participate in physical activity all night long.

Alan calls his bar the Mental Jackhammer Smart Bar.

"You can work out for four hours and not sleep; your mind will still be hyped," he says of Fast Blast, one of four available smart drinks.

The other three drinks are Smart Start, Brain Boost and Memory Fuel.

"I've gotten really weird dreams as a result of Memory Fuel," Alan says.

After chugging an ice-cold Smart Start, one does feel a definite tingle, as if something were caressing the inside of one's skin.

"Smart drinks are just as much a part of the atmosphere as sound and lights are," says Tony Billoni, producer of the Artists and Models Affair. "But I don't fool myself: If I didn't have a real bar at Artists and Models, we'd be a bunch of artists sitting around and looking at each other. This is a town that likes its (alcoholic) drinks."

So it's an uphill battle for Alan, who is the chief distributor of smart drinks in the region.

Alan seems perfect for this work. He's 20, a former computer hacker from Niagara Falls who writes techno music with his friend named DJ X-O-Tec on a sampler at home. He once ran a computer bulletin board named after a character in "Neuromancer," William Gibson's seminal cyberpunk novel. Selling smart drinks, Alan hopes, will help him pay for college. But he still has to work weekdays at Burger King.

Smart-drink suppliers like Alan have become minor underground heroes in other regions, fueling all-night raves in cities like Toronto and quenching the thirst of thousands of kids. The craze has spread so wide and so deep that even the editor of the New Republic recently named his two favorite flavors -- Fast Blast and Memory Fuel. In some places, smart drinks are already on their way to becoming passe.

Meanwhile, Alan has been able to introduce smart drinks in only two local clubs -- the Pleasuredome in Niagara Falls and the Edge in Buffalo. After several month of sales, he is just approaching the break-even point on his $4,000 investment in ingredients and other expenses.

He should be doing better, shouldn't he?

That's what Alan and his customers are contemplating as they continue to lean self-consciously against the Mental Jackhammer Smart Bar.

Then, under the influence of two consecutive Smart Starts, a theory begins to emerge. It is communicated wordlessly, because the techno uproar has made verbal communication impossible.

The theory is this: Smart drinks are more than just a fad that came late to Buffalo and had trouble catching on. Smart drinks are supposed to be the beverage of the cyberpunk generation.

Cyberpunk: An interlocking matrix of buzzwords and trends gives cyberpunk a modicum of meaning. Smart drinks, smart drugs, 13th Gen, rave (dance) parties, techno (machine) music, virtual reality, computer hacking, electronic intimacy, etc. Think of the new television series "Wild Palms" as cyberpunk for grown-ups.

When one of these fads fails, the whole trendy matrix collapses.

This is what has happened in Buffalo. The raves are small and infrequent. The DJs need to catch up with what's happening in Toronto and Europe. The designer drugs are impossible to find. Computer bulletin boards cost too much by Buffalo standards. Techno has been unplugged while alternative, classic rock and reggae reign in local clubs. And so on.

In short, Buffalo reality is never virtual.

The other night a man who said he was a go-go dancer from Guelph, Ont., ordered his first smart drink at the Pleasuredome.

"I've tried those little pills," he said. "I wanted to see if smart drinks would work."

One wishes Chris Alan the best of luck earning his college tuition. But one can't help thinking maybe it's a good thing that Buffalo is not the kind of city where smart drinks would catch on quickly.

Art: JAMES P. McCOY/Buffalo News Chris Alan concocts smart drinks at the Artists and Models Affair. {color}

This page last updated 01Jan00

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