This summer, two of Los Angeles' best-known nightlife players go head-to-head, opening new clubs just blocks apart in a big push for their share of the increasingly competitive Hollywood market.
Last month, SBE's Sam Nazarian and Syndicate Hospitality's David Judaken each rolled out separate high-profile venues aimed at a similar upwardly mobile audience: Nazarian debuted his company's Hamptons-inspired club the Colony on Cahuenga Boulevard, while Judaken unveiled his latest streamlined space, MyStudio, on Hollywood Boulevard.
Both mean business. The big winner will be the one that can hold the interest of fickle clubgoers, who have an ever-expanding spread of Hollywood haunts where they can drop their weekend dollar.
Both are also seducing night owls this month via "slow reveals" with top promoters the Alliance, which is running once-a-week events at each venue.
"We believe everything is about location and operator," said the Alliance's Josh Richman, the tastemaker who has worked with Judaken in the past and is now working with Nazarian for the first time at Colony.
"These spaces look nothing like the old places," he said. "We wouldn't ask our crowd to come down otherwise."
Still, detractors have already taken their best shots at both clubs on local blogs — at the design, at the idea of launching more clubs in this economy, even at the club owners themselves. But demand for new quality nightspots has so far outstripped cynics, and Nazarian in particular is bullish on Hollywood.
"Hollywood has become L.A.'s answer to [ Manhattan's] meatpacking district," Nazarian said, sitting on wood reclaimed from a Canadian farmhouse inside his near 700-capacity club.
"With Playhouse, MyHouse, Drai's, MyStudio, Las Palmas and the rest there is a lot of new products in Hollywood … we're very conscious of that," he continued.
Nazarian's not slowing down, either: Not only is SBE pouring money into this space, formerly known as Halo (a VIP lounge within Colony is still forthcoming), but the CEO is expected to soon announce another Hollywood-centric deal to manage and operate what's now known as the Palihouse Vine Hotel on Vine Street, also with a lounge component.
But for now, Nazarian is concentrating on his Cahuenga corridor club, which he called "iconic." That might be a bit of a stretch for a bar adjacent to the Greyhound bus terminal, which has been through three iterations in the past three years. But he hopes Colony at least becomes known for its beach house décor.
The indoor/outdoor space features counterintuitive interior touches (by New York-based icrave) for the area such as wood shutter sliding doors, a small boat with cushions suspended by chains at waist level and hammock-style rope draped over the central small pool in the patio area.
It feels more Malibu than Hollywood; more Mariah Carey than Katy Perry. So far, that hasn't stopped throngs from dropping by on Friday evenings.
All of this has Hollywood's reigning king of clubs, David Judaken, in a competitive, yet generous frame of mind.
"Sam is the other operator in L.A. who is investing substantial money to deliver something unique to his guests," he said.
"Colony looks like a well-thought-out venue and I'm sure he is going to enjoy all kinds of success in Hollywood."
Judaken has had success in Tinseltown, and his new club, MyStudio, benefits from his insider knowledge of Hollywood's lunar ebbs and flows gained via years of experience with connected promoters.
For years, the South African émigré has enjoyed earnings in Hollywood that Nazarian coveted (Judaken once helped quash a large proposed SBE club on Hollywood Boulevard via rallying area residents in opposition) — catering to clubbers since the late 1990s, before Hollywood drew wealthy Westside socialites via clubs such as Garden of Eden (now his MyHouse) and Mood (now MyStudio).
Judaken sees the competition and has raised his game.
"We took Mood from a Balinese contemporary to a more fashion forward, dynamic space utilizing a lot of black with hints of gold," he said.
"Designers like Chanel and Gucci were used for design inspiration, but more than anything, it was our approach to an artist's studio from the 1970s. So we wanted it to have a bit of a retro feel," he added.
The end result is an expertly executed club featuring studded black leather pillars, elaborate chandeliers, oversized industrial fans and library bookshelves with oversized coffee table art books. The 4,500-square-foot room feels effortlessly urbane with a glimmer of glam straight out of a Lady Gaga video (MyStudio has already pulled in names such as Jamie Foxx and Paris Hilton since it bowed in late April) and is wowing even the most jaded L.A. scenesters.
But creating celebrity-driven buzz is no longer enough to sustain a club in Hollywood, according to Judaken.