First impression of the All Star Weekend party scene? In a word, underwhelming.

Like, way underwhelming. Empty clubs, sparse crowds, and a really annoying, itchy embarrassed feeling creeping up my spine as I realize that the hype hasn’t reflected reality. Downtown Denver’s dead, and I’m hoping that the rest of the weekend will be better.

However. The night was not a complete loss; they may have been few and far between, but I managed to spot a few bold names, have a drink with Lil’ Jon (Crunk juice, baby!) at Club ‘Melo, and corner both former Mayor Wellington Webb and current Mayor John Hickenlooper at the same time for a quick chat at the bar at Bash. I also picked up some interesting tidbits of celebrity voyeurism and tabloid gossip.

Ready for the details? Here goes.

Thursday night, 9 p.m., Club Carmelo. We wait in the largely deserted parking lot at Club Carmelo (aka the Paladium nightclub), looking for Jane from Carmelo Anthony’s management group to show up with press credentials for the weekend. The Crunk Energy Drink truck is parked at the entry, unloading Lil’ Jon’s favorite beverage. We wander toward the door to check on Jane again, and one solitary girl in a miniskirt and suede boots inquires at the door as to when she can buy tickets.

Door Guy #1: “Are we selling tickets, or is this invite only?”
Door Guy #2: “I dunno. Are we selling tickets, or is this invite only?”
Door Guy #3: “Um, I’m not sure. Are we selling tickets, or is this invite only?”
Ticket Window Chick: “Yeah, but doors aren’t open until 10.”

This is where that embarassed itch begins. So far, Denver’s not looking too good on the organizational front.

10 p.m., Bash nightclub. Head into Bash, where former Mayor Wellington Webb and his grandson, NFL cornerback Jason Craft, are throwing a party. Once again, the club is empty. You can find a meter on Blake Street. This is officially getting weird. We order drinks ($6 for a Heineken, $3 for a water) and wait. Finally, Jason Craft shows up and we chat. He says he had a great year with the Saints, but drops in that he’s a free agent right now (listen up, Broncos!) and would LOVE to come back to Denver to play for the Broncos. His dream is to someday round out his career here in his hometown. As for the party? He shrugs. Fabolous is coming later, so is Webb, so are a bunch of his Saints buddies. No worries.

11 p.m., Lotus nightclub. Head to Lotus, where Wild On E! is scheduled to film the crowd, and the Yin Yang Twins are performing. The show has been pushed back to midnight because… guess. C’mon, just guess. Yep, the club is empty, except for a bunch of skinny white chicks who look like they come to Lotus every night. We pay $15 for a vodka tonic and a Red Bull. NBA inflation? I schmooze with the marketing gal for a bit, who is not pleased with the lame turnout. But the Yin Yang Twins had a fun time earlier in the day, when they chowed down at Mickey D’s before throwing some serious cash around at Cartier to buy bling. Seems odd to me, but whatever makes them happy, right?

Midnight, Bash. Back to Bash to see if Fabolous (or anyone fabulous, for that matter) has arrived. See Fabolous getting out of his car — a black SUV, very low key — and heading into the side door to the club. Inside, Webb arrives and is instantly accosted by glad-handers. His grandson Jason is there, with sister LaShonda, and brother Matt. It’s a family affair. I wait for an introduction to Webb, and finally get to talk to he and Mayor John Hickenlooper (who happens to show up too) alone for a minute. Hick is in his element at the club, smiling, casual. Webb looks extremely uncomfortable hangin’ at the hip hop club at midnight. Hick does most of the talking, joking about how different they are — he sucks at basketball, Webb was a star at UNC — but that they have a great relationship.

“This is the only city where you’ll find the former Mayor and the current Mayor hanging out at a nightclub at midnight,” Hickenlooper proclaimed. He’s probably right.

Fabolous finally takes the stage. The crowd tries to make some noise, tries to support. It’s still a pretty sad scene, with only a third of the club actually full. Over in the VVIP room, where I’m not allowed entry but can see into, one lone guy — a big, well-dressed black man who looks like a football player — is getting a lap dance and seems happy as a clam. In the just-plain-VIP room, it’s deadsville.

1 a.m., Club Sky. We enter Club Sky via Jackson’s Hole. No one checks for tickets or passes, and we head upstairs to see if Jadakiss is performing as scheduled. It looks like a hip hop club here; the hotties have their halter tops and stilettos on, the boys are wearing either pinstriped suits and snappy hats or jerseys and Jordans. Jadakiss is working the crowd, mic in hand. He’s singing along to his own songs, karaoke-style. At least he’s hanging with the crowd. He loves getting his picture taken, and the ladies all line up for their shot.

1:45 a.m., Club Carmelo. I’m officially getting tired now. One last stop, and I’m hoping for something to make the night’s club crawl seem more worthwhile. Now there are limos lined up outside the club, almost as numerous as the cop cars lined up everywhere. Inside, we find the VIP room and look in hopefully. Nope, no can do. We’re not allowed, but group after group of scantily clad, tipsy women trot past us. Hmmph.

Back to the bar. May as well have one last drink before the bars close. I pony up $8 for a Stoli Cran and soda. To my left, Andre Miller is parked at the bar, three chicks hanging on tightly. Have I found the party, finally? Sure enough, soon I look over and can’t miss LeBron James in his Cavaliers hat, towering over the crowd. He’s holding court in the main dance room, but he’s surrounded by three bodyguards and at least six bouncers. He’s underage, and playing in the All Star Game on Sunday, so obviously he’s not drinking. At least that how it appears. Same with Carmelo Anthony, holding court inside his entourage in another corner. I can’t quite get through the crowds for a closer look, and I really don’t care.

And then — I spot Lil’ Jon, hanging out in a semi-circular booth, mic in hand, playing the host role with relish. He’s accessible, happy, gettin’ his drink on. I sidle over into the pot-smoke scented space that surrounds him, and he flashes his famous diamond-studded grin at me. He tells me that his show at the Fillmore rocked but he’s just here now to hang out and chill. We drink to that, me in my plastic cup and he in his bling-encrusted goblet, with “Crunk Juice” spelled out in diamonds.

“What’s in the goblet?” I ask, knowing the answer.

“I’m drinkin’ crunk juice, baby!” Lil’ Jon shouts into his mic. So what’s in the crunk juice, exactly? He nods to a server, who hands me a can of Crunk Energy Drink. Then he looks over at the half-empty bottle of Patron Silver on his table and winks. It’s 2 a.m. and I finally feel like I’m hangin’ with the cool kids. Cheers to that.