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NIGHT LIFE

A blockbuster at Playhouse in Hollywood

The $6-million venue's 'soft' opening draws a crowd so large that LAPD clears Hollywood Boulevard.

July 10, 2009|Scott T. Sterling

"You come to L.A., expect to see something new," sighs Gilbert Stafford. The night life icon and reigning doorman of highly anticipated new Hollywood mega-club Playhouse is discussing the club's opening night, which attracted such a large crowd that the LAPD came and swept the street, sending away hordes of dejected clubbers.

"While it was a big surprise that so many people would come out, in hindsight what did we expect?" Stafford continues. The longtime doorman has been a fixture at clubs in Miami and New York before being handpicked by co-owner Rob Vinokur to helm the velvet rope at Playhouse. "We had no idea we'd done so well in the hype department."

The buzz on Playhouse has been building for years, with longtime L.A. club stalwart Elie Samaha and his Muse Lifestyle Group pouring more than $6 million into renovating the old Fox Theater space into a full-blown Vegas-style club.

"For a soft opening that was one hell of a party!" roars Samaha from his office this week. "I've seen lots of clubs come and go in this town, but L.A. has never had a high-energy dance club like Playhouse."

"We haven't even shown what we really have up our sleeve," chimes in partner Vinokur during the same call. "Our bartenders are the Cirque acrobats, and the waitresses have special choreographed shows during the night. We're going to keep adding more and more production. It's not just about a DJ but a complete show. We're bringing Vegas to L.A."

Among those additions will be the opening of Sweet Love Hangover, an open-all-night diner that will cater to clubbers after a long night of partying that Samaha says should be open by the end of the month.

"It will be open until 9 a.m.," explains Samaha. "It's important for us to provide a complete evening."

The tensions of opening such an ambitious club during an economic downturn are not lost on the pair, who recognize that such an endeavor is far from a sure thing.

"It was a huge risk. No one's ever spent this kind of money on a club in L.A.," Samaha says. "But you're not going to get the kind of opulence that we have for less than the $6 million we invested."

"The economy is rough, but this is a distraction," Vinokur insists. "This is where you can leave your troubles behind, let loose and enjoy yourself."

"When times are tough, People like to go out and be social. It's like the movie business," adds Samaha, who produced films including "Van Wilder 2: The Rise of Taj" and the Richard Gere vehicle "The Flock."

"All I can say is that I wish everyone had gotten in," says Playhouse promoter Allison Melnick of the club's opening night, which doubled as her 38th birthday party. "I just tell people a famous quote from Madonna that rejection is the greatest aphrodisiac. I even got shut out at one point. I went outside to get some friends in and got chased around the block by cops for not clearing the street."

Melnick moved to Muse after a stint at West Hollywood lounge Apple, after what she calls a "difference of opinion" with her business partners.

"The opportunity to work with Muse was just too good to pass up," she insists. "I'm from the East Coast and have been missing that crazy, late-night vibe. With Playhouse, we stay open until 4 in the morning, which is perfect for an insomniac like me."

Melnick is also excited to talk about Muse's next venture: turning clubs Nacional and Holly's into a new lounge called 77.

"We're calling it 77 after the year 1977, taking it back to the days of Studio 54, CBGB's and 'Saturday Night Fever,' which is what got me hooked on night life in the first place. We're taking over the corner around Hollywood and Wilcox, and everyone's invited."

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scott.sterling@latimes.com

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Playhouse

Where: 6506 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood

When: 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays

Price: Cover varies depending on night; call in advance

Contact: (323) 656-4600; www.playhousehollywood.com

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