"If this place is so hard to get into, then what's he doing here?" asked 28-year-old Alex Van de Camp, gesturing to an overweight man standing just behind him on the front patio of Drai's, the white-hot new nightclub on the rooftop of the W Hollywood Hotel.
Van de Camp's two friends laughed uncomfortably. He had verbalized what generally remains unspoken in Hollywood: the Darwinian nature of the velvet rope. In this case, the strong and beautiful get into Drai's and the weak go to less-discriminating Sunset Strip bars like Saddle Ranch.
Opened earlier this month by Las Vegas night-life baron Victor Drai and partners Cy and Jesse Waits, Drai's covers more than 20,000 square feet and has a capacity of nearly 800. That doesn't make it a mega club by Vegas standards, but its arrival makes official a trend that has been evolving for several years now: Hollywood's embrace of over-the-top Vegas-style night life.
Drai's is just a short hike east on Hollywood Boulevard from three other large-scale nightclubs: the 38,000-square-foot Kress, the 33,000-square-foot Avalon / Bardot and the 13,000-square-foot Playhouse. It'll take an awful lot of skinny, pretty people to fill all that space. But Drai isn't worried.
"We already turn down two or three thousand people a night," said the 62-year-old French entrepreneur, who was once a Hollywood film producer and counts "The Woman in Red" and "Weekend at Bernie's" among his credits. "I think we can keep that volume up; I keep it up in Vegas."
But -- despite aspirations to the contrary -- Hollywood is not Las Vegas. For starters, you can't tote your plastic Eiffel Tower-shaped cup of fruity booze down the street with you, nor can you drink it in a club past 2 a.m. You also can't win $10,000 at blackjack and spend the rest of your night ordering $500 bottles of vodka for the wispy waifs you picked up at the topless pool at Caesars Palace.
This doesn't bother Drai either because Hollywood, like Vegas, is full of out-of-town visitors. Aspiring party people from all over Southern California flock to Tinseltown on the weekends hoping for a celebrity sighting or a taste of the glam life they see on "Entourage" and "The Hills."
These same people know and trust the Drai's brand, said co-owner Jesse Waits. "Forty percent of our market in Las Vegas is from Southern California," he said of the trio's Sin City holdings -- Drai's After Hours at Bill's Gamblin' Hall, Tryst at Wynn Las Vegas and XS at Encore. "It's a huge piece of our business."
But Hollywood is fickle, and the long line of perfectly coiffed aspirants waiting impatiently for the affirmative nod of a stoic doorman and a personal escort to an elevator that will soar them skyward to Drai's inner sanctum and its $65 carafes of sweet coco margaritas could very well head to the next hot opening a few months from now.
That's why pumping a staggering $15 million into building Drai's was a gamble worthy of a man known as one of the high rollers of Las Vegas night life. The uncertainty of the odds will only make the taste of victory sweeter, and Drai is betting that he can make Drai's last.
"There's no place as beautiful as mine in the city," he said of his club, which features a series of connected, plush, silver-and-gold banquettes -- Drai and others like to walk along the top of them to get to other booths. The room is decked out in tall, mirrored columns around which paid dancers in tiny, bottom-baring outfits writhe and pout; a custom DJ booth framed in smooth wood; a rollicking dance floor; a poolside bar; and luxe Moroccan-style cabanas and daybeds.
There is also a restaurant -- a polished French and Mediterranean steakhouse helmed by former Ma Maison chef Claude Segal -- that serves lunch and dinner before the club fires up at 10 p.m.
Drai's celebrated its grand opening just a few days ago, but it soft-opened a few weeks back. E! hosted its Oscar party there and the space provided the picture-perfect backdrop for a packed scene of glitz, glamour and semi-absurdity (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, who played the adorably awkward McLovin in "Superbad," was spotted hanging out with Audrina Patridge from "The Hills," while Crispin Glover stood nearby, alone and texting).
The following weekend saw the stampede of business that brought the faithful as well as the skeptical, like young Van de Camp. "The best places in Hollywood are the smallest places," said Van de Camp. "They should model their clubs after SBE and Hyde. When you get in, you feel important."
"Let's go to Hyde then," said his friend, 26-year-old Spencer Shreber.
"No, I can't get in," said Van de Camp.
As far as Drai is concerned, only the right people get into his club too -- just more of them.
"Twenty-five-thousand people from all over the world come to my clubs every week in Vegas alone," he said. "And now they're coming to L.A.," where "you have 200,000 girls who want to be around guys with money. It's that simple."
Drai's at the W Hollywood Where: 6250 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles
When: 10 p.m. to 3 a.m. Wednesdays through Sundays
Price: Cocktails $10 to $15; cover $20 without table reservation
Contact: (323) 962-1111, www.draishollywood.com