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THE SUNDAY PROFILE

The Life of the Party

He closely guards his mailing list and doles out the white-glove treatment--without sucking up. That's how, at 26, Brent Bolthouse stays atop the night life pyramid.

February 25, 1996|IRENE LACHER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Brent Bolthouse, an overlord of the L.A. party scene, came by some of his expertise the hard way. In an earlier life, he was a wastrel youth in Joshua Tree, proprietor of a really ugly addiction to crystal methamphetamine.

"I just partied a little too much," Bolthouse says. "A lot too much. I partied more than people should have to party or should party. Then I came to L.A. to get sober."

Go figure.

For a while, happiness was pumping gas at Judy's Mobil in Sherman Oaks, which turned out to be Life University for Bolthouse, by then an 11th-grade dropout. He was just happy to be alive, and while he reveled in staying on the planet he also learned a very important lesson: Empires stand and fall on how you treat people.

"It's just unbelievable to see how people treat people, you know, and if you're cleaning someone's window and you missed a spot and they're tapping on the window, it's like, 'Are you really serious? Is your life that miserable at your home that you're bugging me about the spot on your window?' "

Conversely, treat people well and the doors of paradise fly open.

That is not a lesson lost on the beneficiaries of Bolthouse's current largess--not motorists but movie stars who like to cash in on the perks of fame, not the least of which is white-glove treatment by a smooth young club promoter. Their heat has helped Bolthouse vault to the top of the night life pyramid, masterminding myriad clubs, among them Papa Willy's, regular nights at the Viper Room and the House of Blues as well as the peripatetic Saturday Night Fever, at 4 years old practically Neolithic in club time. And of course, the Bolthouse je ne sais quoi enticed the Madonnas of the world to call Babylon for dinner reservations from their car phones--before the restaurant's 15 minutes ran out.

"He's pretty much at the top," says club promoter Bryan Rabin, who runs Cherry at the Lava Lounge. "I think Brent has a corner on young Hollywood. They'll get special treatment, but they won't be fawned over. Brent won't be brown-nosing them to death. He treats them as an equal. People don't want the red carpet rolling out and people pawing all over them. It's so unattractive."

Oh, yes. The window tappers from Sherman Oaks, especially the pretty ones, are still waiting--on the wrong side of Bolthouse's velvet ropes.

Indeed, nice may get you there. It doesn't necessarily keep you there. And some say that at 26, Bolthouse is a shrewd businessman with a strong drive for control.

"The one thing I learned about Brent is he's very protective of his mailing list," says Steve Valentine, who briefly handled publicity for Babylon. "That's really the key to his longevity. At one point I was needing to do a charity event for one of the owners [of Babylon], and he was not very cooperative. I think he really likes to keep control of his lists, which he's honed over the years. I've often found his demeanor a little difficult to deal with.

"I think maybe because his attitude was somewhat arrogant, somewhat not willing to share or not really wanting to do anything but his own vision [that it] probably helped him create that mystique."

Now the Bolthouse mystique has moved east to Hollywood--not the glamour capital of the mind but the grunge pit at Ivar south of the boulevard. At 1605 1/2 Ivar, on the spot where once thrived a transvestite bar and various incarnations of nightcrawlerdom, a new club springs eternal: Bolthouse's latest venture, the daily party at the Opium Den.

Not that you should take him for a druggie.

"We're not selling opium here," Bolthouse says with all the crispness someone in black leather and six tattoos can muster.

Tell it to the judge.

"Someone from Hollywood vice came by the other day. I don't know if they just came by for a random [check] because they do that. I didn't really talk to them, so I don't know if that's about the name. . . . I guess you expect to get some slack from it, but we couldn't think of a better name, and I think this place is like an opium den."

But only the nicest sort of opium den. The kind, say, girls would like.

"What makes clubs work is women, and if women don't feel comfortable in a place, it's not going to ever work, because no guy is going to come to a bar with a bunch of guys. So the girls need to feel comfortable, and if they feel comfortable, then the guys will come. Then if there's cute guys, cute girls will come. If there's cute girls, guys will come."

The old Gaslight has been transformed into a Bolthouse comfort zone with a new 30-foot teak bar trimmed with gold beads and a sound system imported from a Boston club. When live acts perform, a curtain is pulled back and the intimate lounge metamorphoses into a venue for everything from acid jazz to country.

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