It was past midnight on an unseasonably balmy Tuesday in Hollywood and the queue to enter the Avalon nightclub stretched nearly half a block down Vine Street, with would-be revelers clamoring to get into a charity benefit in honor of celebrity disc jockey DJ AM.
Nearby, a cluster of fashionistas in skintight get-ups thronged the velvet rope of the Vice Hollywood "ultra lounge." Similar scenes unfolded down the block at the swanky watering hole S Bar and the perpetually paparazzo-surrounded restaurant Katsuya. Available parking spaces were virtually nonexistent, and the streets pulsed with the hustle and flow of youthful carousing.
"It's getting insane," said Matt Colon, a night-life promoter who has been making the rounds here for the last decade. "It's gotten so packed."
Added electro-rapper Red Foo: "Hollywood is one of the hottest scenes in the world right now."
A generation ago, Hollywood was a no man's land after dark -- a wasteland of liquor stores, tattoo parlors and shuttered storefronts that offered few entertainment options.
Though that began to change in the early part of the decade, in the last nine months the neighborhood has seen a sharp rise in both its fortunes and its local reputation, galvanized by an influx of supersized nightclubs (like the Kress on Hollywood Boulevard), celebrity-filled restaurant-club hybrids and glitzy cocktail lounges.
Tinseltown, it seems, is riding high on night life, with developers coming in from New York, Las Vegas and San Diego to grab a stake in the new Hollywood. And the construction of flashy new venues doesn't look as if it's going to stop any time soon.
"People are bullish on Hollywood," said Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who, when he took office in 2001, got behind plans to transform Hollywood into a thriving entertainment district, pushing to encourage street life, reduce crime and foster new businesses.
"It's a feather in everyone's cap to have a place in Hollywood: people in the entertainment industry investing in nightspots, people who run clubs," said Garcetti, whose district covers much of Hollywood.
Especially on weekends, thousands of people under 30 pour into Hollywood from as far away as the Inland Empire, Orange County and the Central Coast. Many come in search of the glamorous lifestyles they see depicted on such TV shows as HBO's "Entourage" and the popular MTV reality series "The Hills," or the inebriated celebrity infamy that plays out on TMZ.com and the pages of Us Weekly.
"There are so many clubs in the Hollywood area. The landscape has changed dramatically," said veteran nightclub operator Ivan Kane, whose early ventures, such as Kane and Deep, began injecting life into the scene in the late '90s.
The current array of after-dark activities traces back to earlier urban renewal efforts in the area, notably the Highlands Hollywood nightclub. Launched in 2001 on the top level of the Hollywood & Highland retail complex, the 30,000-square-foot multilevel venue helped usher in an era of Las Vegas-esque "destination nightspots," clubs built with high-end amenities and overwhelming scale.
The Highlands never quite caught on with clubland's movers and shakers, but it certainly set the stage for Hollywood's upstart super-club the Kress. Since opening this summer, the 38,000-square-foot restaurant and nightclub has been the site of such VIP events as TV Guide's Emmy Awards after-party and a gala held by rap mogul Jermaine Dupri to honor the Black Entertainment Television Awards. Spread out over five floors, the Kress occupies a historic building formerly home to Frederick's of Hollywood.
Kress owner Mike Viscuso spent two years and more than $25 million refitting the building with an octagonal bar, refurbished marble walls, six $100,000 chandeliers, an ornate champagne lounge and a sushi bar. "There's nothing like it in L.A.," Viscuso said, gesturing at the club's panoramic view.
Viscuso, who is credited with helping transform San Diego's Gaslamp Quarter into a night-life mecca, is hardly the only club major-domo under the assumption that size matters. This winter, a glammed-out 13,000-square-foot mega-club called Playhouse is set to open at the site currently occupied by the Fox Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. It's the latest venture from night-life impresario Robert Vinokur, who operated similarly scaled venues in Miami and New York.
"We're going to blend the fun of Miami clubs with the sophistication of New York," Vinokur said. "But we're still working off the Hollywood theme in that we're ushering in a new era of Hollywood glam."
The Kress and Playhouse face stiff competition from established mega-clubs in the neighborhood.
The recently revamped Vanguard is 20,000 square feet, and the Avalon boasts 33,000 square feet of party acreage, including its just-opened lounge, Bardot.