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Brent Bolthouse gambles on Trousdale

The impresario hopes his new West Hollywood lounge strikes a chord with L.A.'s changing cocktail crowd.

March 05, 2010|By Charlie Amter

In 2009, night-life impresario Brent Bolthouse was an established name at local hospitality heavyweight SBE, the company that brought Los Angeles popular late-night scenes at restaurants such as the SLS's Bazaar and lounges such as Hyde Sunset -- a name that was synonymous with celebrities behaving badly just a few years ago.

For the record: An earlier version of this article omitted the name of Trousdale partner Darren Dzienciol, which has been added.

Bolthouse, with an assist from celeb website TMZ, helped make Hyde hot when it launched in 2006, and he parlayed his success at the tiny lounge (and his work at SBE) by appearing a few times on the MTV reality show "The Hills," where he was known to twentysomethings who follow the show as Heidi Montag's "boss."

But his status as one of Los Angeles' best-known night-life personalities seemed to teeter on the precipice late last year, when Bolthouse parted ways with the boss at SBE, chief executive Sam Nazarian.

The split inspired speculation as to whether Bolthouse still had what it takes to pack a nightclub. This weekend, after months of radio silence, he's facing his first test, when he and partners Guy Starkman and newcomer Darren Dzienciol open their new West Hollywood lounge, Trousdale, in friends-only previews (it officially opens Tuesday). There's little doubt the launch will be well attended; Starkman and Bolthouse have Rolodexes to fill the place. The big question is what happens later, in the wide-open summer clubbing season.

Insiders say that Bolthouse's departure from SBE might have had something to do with the WeHo club Foxtail, which Nazarian has now converted into his new club MI-6 and which was Bolthouse's final ambitious endeavor with SBE. Foxtail got big hype but was mostly a flop. (A representative for Nazarian did not return an e-mail for this article, but Bolthouse says he and the Iranian American entrepreneur are still friendly).

"For me, the spirit of entrepreneurship wasn't there anymore," Bolthouse said of his last days at SBE as Foxtail flamed out. "When that went away, it was hard to go on." Bolthouse declined to detail any unfinished projects at SBE, saying instead, "Sam has his vision and I have mine . . . certain people work better in groups and certain people work better solo."

The split has left the event producer, DJ and promoter doing what he does best: hustling.

"What I know how to do is build brands," Bolthouse said. Hyde lounge, a brand he helped build by curating a good-looking crowd ( Paris Hilton and Avril Lavigne were fans), may no longer be first on TMZ's must-stalk list, but the name is still associated with "cool" to exurbanites -- new Hyde franchises have since opened at Mammoth and inside Staples Center.

Hyde's cooling embers cast a nice glow on the 40-year-old's new venture but also create big expectations in an increasingly competitive marketplace for discerning drinkers.

"In my mind, Trousdale will be similar to what we did with Hyde," Bolthouse said of his new lounge, which boasts marble pillars, exposed black-painted pipes dangling from a raised ceiling, a massive chandelier and multiple booths that line the perimeter of the main room in an understated setting similar to favorites of the WeHo bottle- service set such as Crown Bar.

Starkman, the majority partner in Trousdale and a known quantity in L.A. night-life circles as the former owner of Guy's on Beverly Boulevard, said he's confident. "I'm a big fan of Brent's," he said. "He brings 20 years of experience to the table."

He also brings sobriety, which is probably a necessary quantity for a man who forges relationships in bars.

"I've been sober most of my adult life," he said between bites of salad last week at a West Hollywood restaurant. It's a glimpse into the private life of a man who has to live constantly in public and to live the contradictions he finds there. His Twitter page, for instance, displays the cover from Eckhart Tolle's "A New Earth," which counsels against displays of ego, while his Twitter feed itself contains its share of id-driven industry hype. The soft-spoken promoter, who by his admission rarely checks out buzzing boƮtes anymore, has a keen nose for good business partners such as T-Mobile, who have tapped him to produce events in the past.

That acumen caught Nazarian's eye in 2005, when he decided to partner with Bolthouse rather than compete against him. Now, Bolthouse is up against SBE again -- going after the same demographic of free-spending thirty- and fortysomethings who can drop $1,000 or more on a night out with friends.

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