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INTO THE NIGHT / STEVE HOCHMAN

The Curtains Rise on Depp's New Club

August 18, 1993|STEVE HOCHMAN

The Scene: Opening night of the Viper Room, the cozy Sunset Strip club co-owned by actor Johnny Depp. The Klieg lights, limos, parade of decadent fashions and popping paparazzi . . . were all somewhere else Saturday. Well, the paparazzi were there--drawn apparently by false rumors of Madonna--but left wondering how to get the tabloids interested in shots of Jim Jarmush and Dennis Hopper. This invitation-only bash was a refreshingly low-key affair featuring great music (including a hot set by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) and a great cause (The evening raised $14,000 for the Starlight Foundation, which works with seriously ill children).

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Who Was There: Depp and Viper partners Chuck E. Weiss (a musical fixture at the Central, the site's prior incarnation) and Sal Jenco; young individualistic actors Mary Stuart Masterson (Depp's "Benny & Joon" co-star), Crispin Glover and Rebecca De Mornay; a coterie of non-traditional directors, including Julian Temple, Quentin Tarantino ("Reservoir Dogs") and Tim Burton (Depp's director in "Edward Scissorhands" and the just-started "Ed Wood," a saga of the early-'50s underground schlock film auteur) ; Christina Applegate, Julianne Phillips and Patricia Arquette.

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Tunes: In addition to Petty and band--making their first appearance in two years and nearly blowing the walls down with a set of mostly new songs--there were sweet, ironic songs from Evan Dando of the Lemonheads, fervent gospel-flavored rock from Maria McKee, wobbly Irish folk-based tunes from former Pogues front-man Shane MacGowan, and seedy Hollywood blasts from Weiss and his band, the G.D. Liars. Time ran out before Depp's own band, P, featuring Depp, Jenco, old pal Bill Carter and Butthole Surfers singer Gibby Haynes, could take the stage.

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Munchies: Tortilla chips, pretzels and salsa in plastic bowls. That was it--and not a complaint was heard. Try that at your typical Hollywood do.

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Ambience: "I really love the idea of clubs from the '20s, '30s and '40s," said the zoot-suited Depp, proudly noting that gangster Mickey Cohen once owned the locale and Bugsy Siegel used to hang out there. "Like long slinky dresses, gin fizzes and witty banter?" asked one attendee. "No wit, I don't want any wit here," Depp retorted wittily. "Except for Mistress Heidi--is that what they call her? No, Madam Heidi. She's the only one who can be witty."

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Attitude: This was an exclusive event, but Depp says he doesn't want to have the elitist policy that marks many clubs. At the same time, he wants the Viper Room to be a place where famous people "won't feel like they're on display."

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Decor: Depp's done up the place in dark Deco (all black save for green sconce fixtures and the Havana twilight moon scene painted behind the corner stage), and given it a period logo, a top-hatted half-snake/half-vamp on a pair of black dice.

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Quote: "It's better than 'Cats,' " declared Burton, who admitted that he doesn't have a lot of experience on the club scene. "I always have trouble getting into places. That's why I don't go out much. Who wants that much rejection when you get it in your professional life already?"

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