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On the Town With Kato

By Michelle Goldberg

'Thursday night is definitely Kato's night," said Johnny Zane, the dance-studio owner of Dance House. And indeed it is.

Kato, a club promoter and aspiring musician, is streaking around a Surface magazine soiree at the Limn Gallery on the corner of Townsend and Fourth, shoving fliers into hands for a party he's throwing in honor of shoe guru John Fluevog. The Surface event is a slightly cut-rate version of a scene from a Jay McInerney novel--equal parts artists, models, Euro-trash and pretty city freaks--and Kato is whirling like a Tasmanian devil, kissing, hugging, shouting out to all of them, loving and networking, his pink shirt and red pants a rosy blur.

"We're gonna meet the Armani model! Philip!" he motions and keeps moving. "There's Leora! One of the best designers in the city! Jesse! He's one of the best photographers! There's Martel from Sushi Groove! Sebastian! He puts on parties and I want to throw this flier in his face!"

"It's all plug away, names, names, people, people," he says. "I like to meet people. I like to kiss. It's more about connecting, it's more an energy thing than just to get out and fuck. I love people, people that are creative. There are people here from fashion, music, corporate, digerati. I love people that are making history!"

In one corner, throngs of girls with long, hennaed hair, calf-length skirts and ankle-strap heels clutch free Tanqueray and tonics and clamor for party favors--complimentary bags of Hair Fudge shampoo, conditioner and pomade. Kato moves through them and manages to snag one. "He's like a big kid," says Hope Sandoval, the singer of Mazzy Star and an old friend of Kato's from L.A. "When we got here, the first thing he said is, 'I want the bag! We're gonna get free stuff!' "

The Limn Gallery is just a brief stop before Kato heads to his own party, Royal Jelly at Liquid on 16th Street. He's got an entourage--besides Hope, there's David, who's making a documentary and is following with a video camera; Bruno, a Parisian expat in a suit and tie; Cassie, a pretty blonde waitress; Hope's friend Raphael; and Eric, a Silicon Valley publicist with an M.B.A. from Harvard.

While the Limn Gallery is big, white and airy, Liquid is a hot, dark hole in the Mission where everyone seems to leave the grungy bathrooms in twos. When we get there, though, it's pretty early and not too mobbed. DJ Chris Orr is spinning mellow house and mixing it with old-school ephemera like Grandmaster Flash's "White Lines." Kato dashes up to two nondescript boys. "This is Solar and John Howard! They throw the Sunset parties! These guys are the bomb!" Then he's off again.

He returns with a drink, a frothy concoction in a martini glass that tastes like an Orange Julius. He created it just for Royal Jelly, he says. It's called Kato's Lick. Soon he's running back across the floor carrying a ladder, because the lighting is wrong. He installs a single green bulb that casts a cool beam onto the dance floor, then disappears again.

"Kato is one of the most exciting people in San Francisco," Zane says. "Royal Jelly is one of the best parties. The people are all smiles; the bartenders are always copacetic. Intimate house music parties like this are a new thing in San Francisco." Zane also appreciates the older crowd. "There's not a lot of bridge and tunnel. A lot of times house attracts teenagers, and that's fine, but they belong at the big raves."

By now, the club is filling up and getting hazy with condensed sweat. The dance floor can't be more than 15 feet long, but dozens of people are crowded onto it. A banquette along one wall is littered with the tired, the drunk and the completely blasé. Zane looks around and says, "I think this is where the drag queens come when they're out of makeup."

Kato's Lick: Equal parts tequila, amaretto, drambuie, grapefruit juice and orange juice. Shake with ice and then pour into a cocktail glass.

Royal Jelly, Thursdays at Liquid, 2925 16th St., 415/431-8889. Limn Gallery, 415/977-1300.

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From the November 1997 issue of the Metropolitan.

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