Downtown's dead! It's alive! It's ...?

The same crowd always appears at a new nightclub. They may not be exactly the same people, but they all wear those trendy shoes, have great form-fitting black tops and expensive skirts and pants. They all seem to know one another, flashing their smiles, giving big hugs and air-kisses on cheeks.

Now that crowd has found Formosa.

Formosa doesn't have a sign out front. No neon lights. No flashy greeter. But scenesters travel in packs to brave the bleak streets and descend upon the downtown club. Formosa manager Blair Muessle says his little watering hole is an oasis in the downtown desert.

Just when downtown began to seem like a viable club-hopper destination, with Trinity and Über-chic Karma blazing the way, both vanished.

But before the know-it-alls could proclaim downtown dead — again — things turned around. While other clubs carved out hole-in-the-wall spaces off the beaten path, Level 3 rehabbed the hulking former Planet Hollywood eyesore, transforming it into a mega-crowd-pleaser with celebrities like P. Diddy (same in-crowd, different city) making appearances and a constant throng lining up for top-shelf DJ talent and featured guests.

Then, nearly two months ago, Formosa opened in Trinity's vacated space — and the glitterati flocked. Next on the horizon: a new club called The Mark, set to open its doors in Karma's former spot in July.

"People come from Buckhead and Midtown. Downtown is a destination place, and they're loyal customers," Muessle says of Formosa. "Our reputation seems to be the new underground place to be."

Which is just the right scent to put the trendsetters and their cohorts on the hunt. Muessle and Dewayne Walters, manager of Level 3, both say that promoting any club downtown is a challenge. The image persists that the area is dangerous and parking scarce. (Uh, have you tried to park in either Midtown or Buckhead on the weekend?)

The real hitch is the scarcity of venues in the area. Level 3 has nothing equivalent nearby. But two spaces stand vacant on either side of Formosa along Trinity Avenue. When asked whether neighboring clubs would pose a threat, Muessle doesn't hesitate. "I'd welcome it. I'd embrace it," he says. "Competition is good."

Formosa, 255 Trinity Ave. 404-222-9925. www.formosanitelife.com.
Level 3, 218 Peachtree St. 404-223-6451.

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