Economy takes its toll on South Beach's celebrity New Year's

A war. A stock market crash. A real estate bubble turned toil and trouble. Let's just say 2008 hasn't exactly been a party.

Except there's hope on the horizon. And that's enough reason to dust off your dancing shoes and usher in 2009 with proper pomp, no?


Well, how about the fact that those over-the-top, celeb-choked, crazy-expensive New Year's Eve parties that characterized South Beach in recent years have been beaten down to size by the tanking economy. Which means you can get your groove on at some of the most upscale venues on both the Beach and the mainland this New Year's Eve without feeling like you've been roughed up before you've landed your first midnight kiss.

Your bill will be less of a buzz kill at the Raleigh Hotel this year, where New York party diva Susanne Bartsch will offer a ''Burlesque New Year's Eve'' complete with performers in eye-popping costumes for $150 per person, including open bar. Last year, Mandy Moore hosted for $250 per person.

At the Setai up the street, dinner and four songs by Jennifer Hudson went for $1,000-$1,500 per person last year. If you went without dinner and without Hudson, general admission to the courtyard festivities set you back $500 per person, open bar included.

This year, the Setai is keeping things, um, real, with dinner at $750 per person. General admission, with open bar, is half last year's price. The Setai isn't boasting a celebrity draw, but it does promise a ''surprise celebrity guest,'' whatever that means.

For a mellower eve, there's still a fair number of celebs hosting or performing: Diddy at Fontainebleau's LIV nightclub ($300); Lindsay Lohan and squeeze Samantha Ronson at Mansion ($200); John Legend at Privé ($150); Chloe Sevigny and rapper T.I. at the Gansevoort ($225); The Roots at the Florida Room ($350); a Victoria's Secret model at Set ($250); a crew of Playboy Playmates at Karu & Y ($150).

But according to nightlife insiders, celeb appearance fees -- which for an A-lister could be $100,000-plus just to grab a mike and count backward from 10 in previous years -- have dropped. And DJs, who came to expect huge paydays on New Year's Eve, are having to settle for a regular night's wage at many venues.

''Agents are calling around offering their stars at discounted rates. In the past, agents didn't call around, you called them,'' says Maxwell Blandford, marketing director for The Forge, where the price of partying on New Year's Eve is the same as last year: $350 per person for a four-course dinner, which includes one bottle of Veuve Cliquot champagne per couple and entrance to the adjacent Glass nightclub. If you want to skip dinner, you can get into Glass for $50, drinks on you.

''Even local DJs were charging five times their regular fees for New Year's. But this year, they know not to even bother,'' says Blandford, who as usual, didn't book a celebrity host for The Forge.

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