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Hollywood is getting a Las Vegas-style makeover

The recession has forced many clubs to scale back or go out of business. But new faces are rushing in, some with Sin City connections.

March 20, 2009|Charlie Amter

Don't look now, but in the middle of a recession, night-life players are doubling down, Vegas style, on Hollywood's return.

Despite a brutal winter that forced smaller area lounges to shut their doors (see Play, S Bar and Hush Lounge) and pushed several others to open fewer nights per week, several operators -- some from out of town -- are betting that Hollywood's season of discontent might be coming to an end soon. They're positioning new venues to catch the crowds if indeed things turn around.

So what will Hollywood look like as 2009 takes shape? More and more like Las Vegas, apparently.

In fact, some of Sin City's best-known night-life fixtures, Victor Drai and Cy and Jessie Waits (known as "the twins"), are together set to take over the rooftop of the W Hollywood by December to open what promises to be one of L.A.'s most scene-worthy hot spots by this time next year.

"The W Hollywood is destined to usher in Hollywood's second golden age of glamour and sophisticated night life at Hollywood and Vine," said Marty Collins, chief executive of W Hollywood developer Gatehouse Capital, from his home near Dallas this month. "The night-life experience planned will be on a grand scale. . . . Los Angeles is in for something very special."

It remains to be seen just how "special" the glass-walled club, tentatively dubbed Drai's L.A., turns out to be.

But the Waitses, who have made their name in Las Vegas helping to manage opulent, high-volume destinations such as Tryst and XS for Steve Wynn, plan to go all out to lure celebutantes to the forthcoming nearly 20,000-square-foot club (which was formerly set to be run by Pure Management Group).

"We really know how to take care of people, and we work hard," said Cy Waits on Wednesday. "We have a lot of L.A. regulars excited that we are coming to Hollywood."

But before the 11th-floor poolside destination debuts, several other players hope to ratchet up the Vegas-style sizzle in Tinseltown -- despite a playing field arguably already saturated with glitzy cocktail lounges and high-end clubs, such as the recently opened MyHouse and the struggling, though decidedly Vegas-esque Kress.

Elie Samaha, who helped bring Los Angeles the Roxbury and the Sunset Room, is such a believer in Hollywood that this summer he is opening a 12,500-square-foot lounge/club hybrid dubbed Playhouse inside the old Fox theater on Hollywood Boulevard.

"I've always believed in the neighborhood," the film producer and former Studio 54 doorman said from his office this week. "All the stuff going on at the Kodak [including another Vegas export, Cirque de Soleil, which begins a run next year] and Mann's Chinese is drawing more tourists than ever. It's no longer just about the locals in Hollywood, and the time is now for more development."

And though Samaha's track record as a film producer may be mixed (he helped produce one of the most notorious box-office bombs of all-time, "Battlefield Earth"), the Lebanese immigrant has a better track record of sensing night-life trends.

"When I opened the Roxbury in the 1990s, everybody was laughing at me and they thought I would last just six months," he said. "Playhouse is more special to me than the Roxbury even," he said of his long-delayed club. He and his partners have spent millions since last year renovating the old Fox Theater.

Like the forthcoming club at the W, Playhouse will feature Vegas-esque sizzle, with a monthly Cirque-type show featuring aerialists and the occasional gig by Sin City personality Jeff Beacher, known for his "Beacher's Madhouse" variety show that has drawn celebrities to its former home at the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino.

Some might argue that the "Vegasization" of Hollywood began earlier this decade, with slick clubs that cater to the lowest common denominator such as the Highlands.

The club above the Hollywood & Highland complex barely registers on most hipsters' radars yet rakes in serious cash every weekend (the multilevel venue recently came in at No. 19 on Nightclub & Bar magazine's list of the 100 top-grossing nightclubs in the country).

Smaller bars set for opening this year are legion, including the Essex, Boho, the Supper Club at the Vogue Theater, Public House, 45, the Lounge at Palihouse Vine, Halo and the Capital City Sports Grill. But not everyone thinks Hollywood can shake the stigma of seedy streets, despite the fresh cash infusion the big clubs like the Playhouse and Drai's L.A. portend.

"With Katsuya, Beso, the Kress and others, you've got some excellent dining and partying choices in Hollywood that match anything in Beverly Hills," says actress Lorielle New, a familiar face on the L.A. club scene. "The difference is that you still have a higher risk of getting mugged or robbed on the streets of Hollywood. That's not a good way to end an evening."

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charlie.amter@latimes.com

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