1. Archive

The elite meet here for after-the-Games games

The eye is drawn first to the stretch limo Humvee rumbling at the entrance.

Next you notice a gleaming pack of Harleys lined against the curb.

And then you see the line of hungry-eyed patrons stretched around the block _ each praying to make it past the platoons of doormen, self-important Generation X'ers wired for battle with headsets, pagers and cell phones.

This is the House of Blues, ground zero for the one Olympic sport that awards no medals: social climbing.

Here on Luckie Street, in a converted Baptist church, you'll find on display many of the contradictory currents shaping these Olympics.

"Unity in Diversity," reads the banner over the House of Blues stage as Jim Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and John Goodman ham it up as the Blues Brothers.

But this crowd is overwhelmingly white and prosperous. They're young money managers wrapped tight in red suspenders. They're perfumed debutantes exhaling jets of cigar smoke. They're some of the best-known Olympic athletes.

This place was built by the creator of the Hard Rock Cafe as a shrine to art rooted in poverty.

But only the elite and connected can ascend to the warren of salons on the fourth floor. Lesser mortals are bounced back to the second floor or even worse, street level.

At 4 a.m. Sunday, a dozen or so winners of the evening's social clawing event gathered behind the closed and guarded doors in the upper-most suite.

Scottie Pippen, resplendent in a simple black vest and slacks, reclined on a window sill overlooking Centennial Olympic Park. He sucked on a Don Asa cigar, taking in the room through eyes that revealed absolutely nothing. He did not, however, appear to be lamenting the Dream Team's apathetic performance the evening before against Argentina. Two willowy young women, dressed in beepers, tiny leather backpacks and not much else, vied for his attention. A couple of grim-faced body guards stood close by.

"Gimme three feet, gimme three feet," they'd say to anyone who strayed too close to Pippen's airspace.

On the other side of the room, fellow Dream Teamer Charles Barkley and track legend Edwin Moses talked about doing some business in Africa. "F--- yeah," Barkley said. "Let's get together."

A few feet away, lost in the cushions of a billowing couch, a round little man snuggled between two women.

"Yes, I'm enjoying the Games very much," said the prince of Malaysia.

This place did not exist in Atlanta until only a few days ago.

Hard Rock Cafe founder Isaac Tigrett built it in less than two months as a favor to Atlanta Mayor Bill Campbell, who thought Atlanta lacked a social focal point for the Games.

The House of Blues has more than filled the gap. The 62,000-square-foot building is an amazing spectacle _ a cross between a Seattle java joint, the Grand Ol' Opry, a Mississippi juke joint and a World Wide Web site.

The floors, walls and ceilings are covered with mismatched rugs, scraps of tapestries and hundreds of pieces of American folk art. The furniture is Victorian and Gothic. In case anyone wants to go on the Internet, networks of high-powered computers glow in many of the salons, some rented out to corporations at costs running into several hundred thousand dollars for the Games.

"My son is a strange boy," drawls Tigrett's father, 84-year-old Tennessean John Tigrett. "I was dead set against him doing this. He's gonna spend about $8{-million, and he'll be lucky to break even."

A smiling Asian woman walks past. Her three pigtails make her look a little like Pippi Longstocking. In fact, John Tigrett says, she's billionaire Nina Wang.

"She owns most of Hong Kong," Tigrett said of Wang, who is building the world's tallest skyscraper there, the Nina Tower, reportedly for cash.

In another salon, John Tigrett's granddaughter, Augustus King Tigrett, is composing e-mail to the Rolling Stones' web site. She's about 10 years old. She's heard that one of the Stones has a crush on her babysitter.

Is this true? she types, then hits "send" like a pro.

A little later, TV star Drew Carey sails in, looking casual in his T-shirt, shorts and hi-tops.

Carey indulges a young Budweiser honcho who seems to assume a friendship based solely on the fact that they met once before at some corporate shindig in Phoenix.

"Yeah, sure I remember you," Carey says, unconvincingly.

Suddenly a young woman plows forward.

"Hi Drew! You don't know me! I'm a nobody!" she bursts out. "I'm just your basic middle-America, anonymous nobody. But I just want you to know that I love your show. I think you're the best. I love you."

Carey is gracious. "Hey, don't feel bad, I'm from Cleveland," he says before a bouncer gently guides the interloper away.

In another salon, TV sportscaster Pat O'Brien sidles up to the bar, whips out a thick wad of $20s, and orders a drink.

Two young women, Atlanta lawyers with the right connections, approach from his blind side. O'Brien obliges their requests for photographs, and then suddenly sees his escape.

"Hey, David!" he calls out.

Baywatch star David Hasselhoff glides past with a blonde woman whose skin is so tight it looks like it has to hurt. O'Brien drafts the Hasselhoff entourage into a private room where Edwin Moses is holding forth.

Standing watch at the door is Davis, a callow, wide-eyed 19-year-old who says he got his job through a friend of a friend whose brother knows someone in the Tigrett family. Davis now has his hands full with a couple of British broadcasting producers, who insist on being allowed in to seek an interview with Moses.

Davis gamely tries to hold his ground, but these BBC guys know how to go for the kill. "Hey, we're the BBC. Nobody turns down the BBC," says one of the producers, Hepburn Graham, whose perfect name alone probably got him the job.

Davis finally agrees to ask Moses to come to the door. Moses, one of America's most revered and respected athletes, a two-time gold medalist who was considered a strong candidate for lighting the Olympic flame, saunters over. Graham asks him for a five-minute interview in the morning.

"I'd have to charge you a small fee," Moses replies with a grin.

"How small is a small fee?" Graham asks.

"Very large," Moses says, still grinning.

Graham starts to protest _ "But we're the BBC . . ." _ when Moses cuts him off faster than you could jump a hurdle.

"Hey, I got a family to feed," Moses says. The grin remains fixed, even as the BBC guys accept defeat.