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The kings of clubs

Sam Nazarian and Brent Bolthouse deal a new hand for L.A. clubbers.

June 01, 2006|Steve Baltin | Special to The Times

IN the conference room of Sam Nazarian's West Hollywood offices sits a poster board map of Hollywood and environs. Dotted with the names of past, present and future hotspots such as the Meridien, Katsuya, Hyde, the Abbey, Shelter, Privilege and Prey, it looks like a Sunset Strip board game -- with the room's occupants commanding the bulk of the properties.

"They're definitely the great Monopoly players right now," former Roosevelt Hotel nightlife matron Amanda Scheer Demme says.

Nazarian, a tall, gregarious man joined in the room by new partner Brent Bolthouse and Michael Doneff, the company's marketing vice president, estimates that by the end of 2007 SBE will own 17 food and beverage establishments. His affiliation with Bolthouse, 36, the highly regarded promoter with the A-list Rolodex, gives the company formidable clout on the see-and-be-seen scene.

"A lot of people think we just own a couple of clubs together and we were thinking about maybe buying a couple of hotels, but it's a pretty big infrastructure here," says Nazarian, delivering his words at a jackhammer's pace. "We're really looking for the first time ever [at expanding from] downtown to Santa Monica."

In addition to the recent purchase of the Abbey (previous owner David Cooley stays on as a partner in the West Hollywood hangout), SBE is signing a four-venue deal downtown with the Anschutz Co., the holding firm for AEG, which manages Staples Center.

It's all part of Nazarian's objective to make L.A. an SBE playground for adults. Imagine: You're staying at Le Meridien in Beverly Hills (which will be renamed after its reopening in 2008) and you want to go out to dinner or for a night on the town. Your room key becomes a ticket to any SBE destination -- it gets you in the door and lets you put your tab on your hotel account. Numerous SBE clubs and eateries simply become extensions of the Meridien, which is planned as the first of the company's five-star hotel brand.

Is it SBE's world, and we're just partying in it?

Seems that way already on most nights. "Right now Sam Nazarian has a majority of the hot clubs, so we usually head over to one of those," says Christian Corben, who as an executive at Sunset Strip restaurant Katana understands L.A. hotspots. "I would say Saturday night at Privilege, get a table in the corner; it's nice. Thursday night at the Lobby is fine."

Indeed, at West Hollywood's Privilege on a recent Saturday night, the crowd in the parking lot is dense, and VIPs are whisked off to a side entrance to avoid the mob and paparazzi. Inside the venue, a few hundred beautiful people wade through two smaller rooms to an outdoor patio that doubles as a dance floor. It affords a view of the sofas in the roped-off VIP section, so patrons can engage in some celebrity-spotting.

At the intimate new Sunset Boulevard lounge Hyde, which has a capacity of between 100 and 200, a who's who of Hollywood -- including frequent Bolthouse guest Paris Hilton, and some behind-the-scenes players -- relaxes on luxurious furniture framed by wall-length mirrors. It's a Tuesday.

SBE's celebrity clout makes such venues the destinations of choice. "We see the bankers who come in from Wall Street and they're like, 'OK, the deal is great. But let's go out. We want to see Paris Hilton,' " Nazarian says. "It's pretty powerful to be able to have [those] relationships with celebrities."

Nazarian landed on the club scene in 2003 when he and partner Reza Roohi (president of the company's restaurant group) purchased Shelter. "[It] really was picking up the best licenses we could first," he says. "That's what we did with Shelter and Prey, Lobby and North."

His background as a behind-the-scenes real estate investor puts him in sharp contrast with Bolthouse, who for 17 years has been the reigning L.A. nightclub king, a guy who continually has packed nights wherever he's lent his name.

As a clubgoer in L.A., Nazarian was well aware of the Bolthouse mystique. "Growing up in L.A., obviously the Bolthouse brand is a huge brand," Nazarian says. "I remember nights I was outside Las Palmas and waited an hour. I had never really spoken to Brent; the first time we really spoke was at his club [Body English] in Vegas, but obviously you understand that the following's huge. That I knew."

BOLTHOUSE seems the perfect name and face for SBE, a burgeoning empire that includes seven nightclubs-restaurants, two hotels and even a nine-picture film production deal with Lionsgate.

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