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Is the smell of success really sweet? Or is it spicy?

You have to wonder. Because every November, when that smell of success wafts over Buffalo, it smells an awful lot like . . . like . . . well, like Jovan musk.

You remember Jovan. In the '70s, it permeated every leisure suit. And it drifts back to Buffalo, like Brigadoon, every year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving -- because that's when the Buffalo Convention Center plays host to the World's Largest Disco.

The disco party doesn't enjoy the cache given to the Allentown Art Festival or Taste of Buffalo. But it should. After all, it has lured the Travel Channel. It has made the front page of the Wall Street Journal. It's one of Buffalo's loudest social and economic triumphs.

Over the years, too, it has raised $500,000 for charity, mostly Camp Good Days and Special Times.

But the charity contribution is pretty much an accident, admits Dave Pietrow-
ski, the Orchard Park guy who organizes the disco do.

Normal people want to raise money for charity, and so they think up an event. Pietrowski put the Partridge Family before the bus. He wanted to hold the event, so he looked around for a charity.

He had enjoyed holding parties since high school. "I started throwing dances at St. Joe's. We averaged 800 people when I started, 1,200 when I stopped," he boasts.

Even after he'd married and nailed a good job in the insurance business, he went on partying. He held, for years, the summer Conesus Fest for Charity, which involved burning a piano on a beach, with a pianist named Mr. Sluggo pounding away till the very last minute.

And he loved the idea of a big, ridiculous disco, complete with a gigantic dance floor and '70s celebrities. He was inspired by a huge disco party held downtown in 1979 (when disco really was hot), to benefit the United Way.

Once he got the mirror ball rolling, things fell into place. The World's Largest Disco, named for that glorious 1979 event, has been going now for 11 years straight. It has played host to the Sabres' "French Connection," the Hanson Brothers from "Slap Shot" and a whole bunch of Bradys. It has been wild.

There was the night when Deney Terrio, of "Dance Fever," came strutting out -- and someone sent a full cup of beer flying, drenching him. (OK, maybe you had to be there).

Another year warranted the unique headline: "Man Bites Guard at Disco Party." (Pietrowski has since stepped up security).

Last year's bash saw two middle-aged men come to blows over a coat-check quarrel. "I'm standing there thinking, 'I'm 40 years old. I want to go home,' " Pietrowski sighs.

But it's all good, sequined fun, and it has sold out almost every year, even in 2000, when a massive snowstorm hit. "We limit it to 7,000," Pietrowski says. Drive downtown on the big night, and you'll see all kinds of people out sporting Afros and polyester suits.

This year's party takes place at 9 p.m. Nov. 27 and features Peter Brady, Lucy Ewing from "Dallas" and Potsy Weber from "Happy Days." Call 635-8668 for info.

And rejoice: Pietrowski's dream has helped put Buffalo on the map. It means business -- for hotels (300 rooms at the Hyatt were reserved this year for revelers), limo companies and retro clothes stores. It's good for downtown, too, Pietrowski points out. "I get calls saying, 'I haven't been downtown in so long. What do I do?' " he laughs.

Isn't it funny? Sometimes, the true visionary in our midst can be the guy holding a beer.

And sometimes, we're so busy scanning the horizons for a miracle that we ignore what's right under our nose.

Smells good, doesn't it?



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