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Nightclubs Diversify, But Under Same Roof

1994 FORECAST: Trends and Ideas for the New Year. One in a series.

January 06, 1994|JEANNINE STEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Are Angelenos really trading night-life for cocooning?

Hardly, say the city's restaurateurs, club owners and promoters, who claim the only cocoons they see are the ones that produce butterflies.

The new year will bring more and varied places for clubbies and night owls to while away the midnight hour, everything from megaplexes to intimate venues featuring live music to interactive events to clubs catering to an extremely specific clientele. It promises to be anything but boring, and promoters say club-goers will get more bang for their buck.

The entertainment megaplex is the night-life buzzword for 1994. Under one roof, patrons have their choice of restaurant dining, dancing, listening to live music, bar-hopping or even attending the theater.

We've already seen the idea in places like Renaissance in Santa Monica and Tatou in Beverly Hills, upscale club/bar/restaurants where jackets are sometimes required and the evening progresses from room to room, atmosphere to atmosphere.

Elie Samaha, who owns the tried-and-true nightclub Roxbury on Sunset Boulevard, has just purchased the Carlos 'n' Charlie's building across the street with plans to turn it into a maze of restaurants, a dance floor and a theater that converts into a space with a "Cotton Club-type feel, with dancers onstage and jazz music." Samaha plans to infuse the complex with an Asian theme.

Practicality is a driving force here. Samaha says: "If you're there with somebody and you want to dance and he wants to hear jazz or hang out at the bar, you can do that. It's a different feeling you're giving to people, more entertainment in one place. With Roxbury across the street, you're creating a major energy.

"When you go out," he explains, "you don't want to drive around too much. If you hit a few places, you're spending $20 on parking alone."

Philip Cummins, managing partner of the recently opened Renaissance, agrees.

"People are staying closer to home for safety reasons," he says. "The freeway at 2 a.m. is a scary place. . . . And people are working harder for their money these days, they're going to bed earlier and getting up earlier. They've got to compress their fun into fewer hours, so they're going to have to go to an entertainment spot like Renaissance, or the Beverly Center."

Most people might not associate malls with a busy night-time scene, but the Beverly Center is an exception. Upstairs are the movie theaters, on the street level is the tourist-drawing Hard Rock Cafe, the new Westside Billiards Cafe and a California Pizza Kitchen. Opening soon across the street will be another Jerry's Famous Deli. The center plans more ground-level venues, says marketing director Evette Caceres, who describes malls not as main streets, but as "entertainment destinations."

"When the center was built 12 years ago, the creators envisioned it as an entertainment complex. We've seen a lot more people walking in that area, so we have made a concerted effort to create more excitement at street level."

But not all forms of night life come in big packages.

"People are looking for more sedate club experiences," says Tod Breslau, a partner in the restaurants Cha Cha Cha and the new Spanish-themed Cava in the Beverly Plaza Hotel.

Breslau, who cut his clubbing teeth at Vertigo and the Stock Exchange, adds, "There's always going to be the just-out-of-high-school-and-college generation that's going to want to go to the dance discos. . . . When you're young you go to the clubs, and then you move into the dining mode, and then you go to the ballet, and then you die."

He adds, "People want to go to a place where they can sit and listen to live music that's not heavy metal at a club on Sunset. L.A. has always lacked the kind of live music scene that other cities like Philadelphia and Chicago have, where you can pop into a bar or pub and listen to some great local music without it being a big ordeal with a doorman and a guest list."

With that in mind, Breslau this month will transform Cava's second level into a " '90s Ricky Ricardo-type of club," where patrons who come to hear a house orchestra with a bandleader won't be hit with a cover charge or a drink minimum. "We'll have different guest acts each weekend, and we'll concentrate on '30s, '40s and '50s Latin jazz, with some flamenco."

Another believer in the downsizing of night life is Jimmy Medina, who, with partner Bryan Rabin, hosted Prague, Highball and other one-shot roving affairs.

"I think that the days of having big, huge nightclubs are over," Medina says. "The small clubs are going to be coming back."

Not only that, Rabin adds, "but they're going to become much more interactive and visual." Translation: Expect to see fewer clubs that offer merely drinking and dancing and more themed and fantasy events, like the super-model theme nights incorporated at Prague.

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