Summer is hitting L.A., and that means the return of DJ-driven, sun-soaked pool parties at area hotel bars.
Santa Monica's newly revamped Shangri-La, the Hollywood Roosevelt, the Standard in downtown L.A., the Custom Hotel, the Mondrian Hotel and new player Drai's Hollywood at the W all have poolside splash-outs taking place Memorial Day weekend, and all six are committed to actively cultivating regular pool parties this summer — catering to twentysomethings and thirtysomethings bent on showing some skin and extracting the most from their weekends.
That robust poolside scene, however, is not the massive moneymaker that it is in Las Vegas. And though the splashy soirees, which start during the day and sometimes last into the evening, are multiplying in Sin City and San Diego, the trend seems to be shifting downward in Los Angeles, where the volume has been lowered ever so slightly, leaving only a few players to dominate the local market (the Standard West Hollywood and Ritz Carlton Marina del Rey have decided not to host Sunday bashes this year).
Nightlife veteran Victor Drai, for one, plans to take advantage of the narrowed field.
"We're already are doing huge numbers, and the weather has been bad," says the Drai's Hollywood owner of his popular "Drai's Sunday" event, which began in April. The flamboyant 62-year-old says he sometimes takes in as much from his Sunday party as he does on a Saturday night — even though more of the club is open on Saturdays and more seating options are available. (Cabanas during Drai's Sunday poolside are at a premium, renting for between $2,000 and $5,000 a pop).
"People who don't have pools in L.A., they want to go out in the sun," Drai said. "Vegas was the first [city] to do these parties because they have these great pools. But L.A. is starving for any kind of entertainment like this."
Still, Drai's L.A. parties, like those at other local poolside bars, operate on a much smaller scale than the 1,000-person-plus bacchanalian blowouts in Vegas. Further, not every local poolside scene is set to flourish this summer. Managers are increasingly forced to walk a fine line between providing an experience that lures free-spending "daylife" drinkers and not irking hotel guests who may not appreciate pounding house music on a Sunday afternoon.
"The most important thing for me is that every event we do doesn't impact the guest experience, because they are my first priority," said Hotel Shangri-La owner Tamie Adaya, whose hotel hosts a promoter-driven party dubbed "SPF" on Sunday.
The 46-year-old, like several operators in L.A., is hoping to throw events by the pool as an ancillary revenue stream while placating tourists who may find non-guests' behavior a little too loud.
"It's a very South Beach kind of place," Adaya says of her poolside scene, which she likens to Miami's Raleigh hotel. "You've got the sun, you've got the laid-back atmosphere, but you don't have the crazy spring break feel."
In fact, going all-in at an L.A. pool party doesn't even mean you have to get wet. If there is one unifying theme that ties together L.A.'s pool parties, it's an attitude of detached cool — as opposed to the ebullient hedonism that characterizes Vegas destinations such as "Rehab" at the Hard Rock Hotel.
Which raises the question: Is the pool itself even relevant — other than as an excuse to get everyone in swimwear?
Chris Holmes, the connected DJ and co-host of the long-running "Night Swim" party at the Roosevelt (where the occasional big name pops in to guest DJ, such as Radiohead's Thom Yorke last year) says his crowd might be jaded, but they still are having a good time — and sometimes getting wet.
"It might be getting a little more refined than the first few years we did [the party], but people are still getting in the pool and having fun," said the DJ, who is set to host a daytime party Sunday at the Roosevelt's poolside Tropicana bar. "There were some pretty hectic nights last year."
But "Wet" promoter Sam Gaglani, who has been throwing DJ-centric happenings poolside all over California for the better part of the decade, has noticed a trend toward quieter, more nuanced events in L.A. as hotel owners clamp down — making parties more about lounging than dancing.
"I've been doing these parties since 2002," he says. "Back then, it was the wild West. Today, pool parties in L.A. are becoming much more exclusive and intimate. All these hotel pools in L.A. are now bordered by residential properties. Even the Standard downtown is getting noise complaints from loft owners lately."
Gaglani hosts an edition of "Wet" Monday at the Standard downtown but has since set his sights on San Diego's growing market, where his DJs can play louder and longer ("Wet" makes its Gaslamp district debut Saturday at the swank Se hotel in an all-day, all-night flesh fete).