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Into the Night

A Prelude to a Kiss

If you make the grade, you get into Deep, a Hollywood hothouse of uninhibited titillation.

July 22, 2001|MARIA ELENA FERNANDEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Step inside the iron gothic gates, past two large trees, and feel your inhibitions rise up and out. Dancers Erica Gudis and Jenna Stewart, decked in stylishly shredded lingerie, perform and arouse inside glass houses behind and above the main bar. The stuffed lion hovering over the entrance looks as if he's ready to pounce, much like the beautiful people jammed inside.

You've just arrived, and already you're in Deep: Hollywood's free-spirited, anything-goes (almost) nightclub on Hollywood and Vine, deep in the heart of La-La Land. A chic blend of European-style erotica and modern and retro furnishings, Deep is about excess and hedonism, truly titillating, madly decadent, deeply voyeuristic.

Inspired by the risque dance clubs of Amsterdam, Deep does not try to mimic the trends in other Hollywood hot spots, like the elegance of the Sunset Room and Las Palmas, or the gimmicks of the manicures and pedicures at the Beauty Bar to attract partyers. Instead, Deep evokes a sexual charge, a palpable allure of the forbidden, without crossing into the X-rated. It's a unique twist to a scene that continually pushes the envelope.

"What I wanted to create was a sexual alternative universe," says owner Ivan Kane, an actor-turned-entrepreneur who also owns Kane, a 4-year-old bar on Melrose and Gower. "L.A. nightlife has been defined by table hopping and being seen and posing and that kind of attitude. That may be beneficial to your career or your social agenda, but it's not about having a great time or having a sexual fantasy. I like to think of Deep as the foreplay for what happens at the end of the evening. My hope is that everyone goes home and makes love."

Kane's 9-month-old dance club, at the former site of the Brown Derby and most recently Jack's Sugar Shack, is unequivocally one of those in-the-know types of haunts (there's no sign on the door or anything to attract attention besides two very tall, attractive doormen). But there are guest lists, even one known as the NFU, an expletive-filled acronym that means heads will roll if that guest is not treated with the highest of regard. Hollywood's elite roster of guests includes Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Helen Hunt and Heidi Fleiss. In June, Steven Soderbergh, a close friend of Kane's, used Deep to shoot scenes for his remake of "Ocean's 11" starring George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts.

"The crowd is just as important as the design and the feel of the club," Kane said. "The club is nondescript outside so that you walk inside and go, 'Wow!' The crowd needs to be beautiful too. So we definitely monitor who gets in." Who got in on this Friday night is a potpourri of 255 models, struggling actors, movie executives, former professional basketball players, personal trainers, a few regular but very eye-pleasing folks, and the ubiquitous Hugh Hefner with six of his bunny girlfriends, who spend the night dancing and taking pictures with his disposable camera. (Hef says he digs the dancers and the lion, but the music most of all.)

"This club has L.A. taste, but it also offers the L.A. dream," says a perky brunet who gives only her first name, Elizabeth. "It has the mystery, the sex and the teasing. It also appreciates sexuality and women in general, and I really like that."

So Deep.

Want to go deeper? Join the party in the main room where a crowd of mostly white and African American 20-and 30-somethings mix. Damon Bennett, 33, and his buddy, Jay Trementozzi, 35, have just finished their "awesome" dinner and are sipping cocktails when Gudis and Stewart appear in the red-light district glass boxes above the bar. Gudis has Shirley Temple curls, to-die-for long legs, and sensual, burlesque moves that captivate both men and women. She can't see her effect, though. She is dancing behind two-way mirrors, staring at only herself throughout the 20-minute set.

"She's untouchable, and that's cool," says Bennett, of Newport Beach. "It's more about the rest of the people here. You can be standing here talking to a beautiful woman and then stare at another beautiful woman behind her. It definitely sets the mood. She's very seductive."

Gudis walks through a curtain and enters the box next door, where she dances and gyrates with Stewart. Now Stewart is sitting on a chair, with Gudis crawling underneath her toned calves. The two women stand again against a mirror. They move in closer, eyes gazing deeply, mouths wide open, hands on each other's backs and thighs.

Lights out! Just like that, the set is over.

"Aw, that's just wrong!" says Marc Nelson, who works with Bennett at the National Automobile Dealers Assn. in Costa Mesa. Nelson shakes his head and goes to the bar. Time for a cool, deep drink.

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