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CityWalk gets a night life Infusion

A dressy crowd gathering for DJs and dancing? Bottle service for $400 and up? No, this isn't Hollywood. The Universal City entertainment district gets a branch of Infusion, a night life draw in San Francisco.

August 05, 2011|By Charlie Amter, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • Lights hit the dance floor as the new Infusion Lounge comes to life at Universal CityWalk.
Lights hit the dance floor as the new Infusion Lounge comes to life at Universal… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

In a recession that's forced large malls to reevaluate leases and diversify offerings to the public, Universal CityWalk's most anticipated new tenant this summer isn't a restaurant but an upscale nightclub.

Infusion Lounge L.A., which held a "first look" open-to-the-public preview event last weekend preceding an official opening Aug. 18, is the chain's first outpost outside of San Francisco, where the original Infusion Lounge has been making consistent money on dancing and bottle service since 2009 — right through the recession.

"We're poised to do over $6 million in 2012," said one of the club's partners, Christopher Rosas, of their Union Square-adjacent location in San Francisco. He was visiting the new location in the "night life district" of Universal CityWalk.

"That's a number we hope to hit here at Universal by 2013," he added, noting the SoCal location holds a greater capacity of nearly 900 people.

The interior at Infusion L.A. is slick (think softly glowing red hues, black lacquer woodwork, a DJ booth designed by a Hong Kong architect and chrome details), but the setting is a curious departure for Infusion, considering that the brand cut its teeth as a decidedly urban nightclub located on the edge of San Francisco's gritty Tenderloin district. Rosas is confident, however, that it's a perfect fit for Universal.

"I view this as an urban environment," he said. "It's a concentrated group of shops, restaurants and entertainment venues in a small area."

But can the bi-level lounge cut it in a competitive Southern California market where dozens of similar and perhaps more innovative high-end clubs are available to wealthy patrons in nearby Hollywood?

In spite of the somewhat "uncool" location, a few destination clubs are doing well in a mall-type setting. Some booming clubs in Vegas are located in shopping areas and locally the large lounge at Hollywood & Highland, called the Highlands Hollywood, was ranked by Nightclub & Bar magazine as the 43rd best club in the country this year in its annual "Top 100" list, estimating revenue between $5 million and $10 million.

Rosas, a Los Angeles native, thinks he and his partners (Rosas also co-owns a chain of small boutique hotels in the Bay Area) have a unique opportunity to fill a gap in an underserved market.

"It's an area that's underserved for clubs," he says of Studio City and the surrounding area. "Not everyone wants to drive into Hollywood," he added.

"We're here to raise the profile of CityWalk."

"The addition of Infusion Lounge, with its powerful appeal to sophisticated and cutting-edge club-goers and industry professionals is a perfect fit for CityWalk," Larry Kurzweil, president of Universal Studios Hollywood (which includes Universal CityWalk), said last week in an email to The Times, "and a great addition to the mix of world-class attractions here at the 'Entertainment Capital of L.A.'"

The previous tenant, the Rumba Room, closed earlier this year after catering to the Latin community for a decade.

With bottle service that starts at around $400 here, Infusion aims to attract an upscale crowd. "You have to be cognizant of your crowd," said L.A.-based night life consultant Jeffrey Manno of the Outlier Group. "Regardless of the concept you have, visibility is key."

Accordingly, Rosas is making one big play for attention: a giant, smoke-breathing dragon statute positioned outside the club aimed to pique pedestrian interest.

"The dragon will spit CO2 out of its mouth every 15 minutes or so," he said. The attraction will sit on a small patio overlooking the courtyard where Johnny Rockets and other restaurants are located.

"We struggled to find our market in San Francisco for [the first] six months," the fast-talking Bishop Montgomery High graduate said. "I think we'll struggle here for that same six months, but we will find our crowd."

The dragon may help put Infusion on the map, as will a lineup of DJs and chart-topping artists. In San Francisco, Infusion snared some big names over the last two years, booking everyone from pop-leaning electro-rappers LMFAO to R&B-turned-dance-diva Kelis for shows.

Rosas and his company, DKR Partners, are making big bets on Infusion: a Vegas location and another near LAX are also in the planning.

But nothing is a given in this economy: Rosas learned the hard way when, earlier this year, he pulled the plug on a small lounge called the Office in West Hollywood after bar receipts failed to match expectations.

Prospects seem brighter at CityWalk, despite the fact it doesn't seem quite as luxurious, design-wise, as some other Hollywood hot spots. The more relaxed door policy should help.

"I believe in getting everyone inside," Rosas said (anyone can get "on the list" via Infusion L.A.'s website). "We're not a Hollywood club."

Infusion Lounge

Where: Universal CityWalk (2nd floor), 1000 Universal Studios Blvd. Suite 208, Universal City

When: 7 days a week: happy hour 6 p.m.-8 p.m., club hours 10 p.m.-2 a.m.

Price: Free at happy hour and before 11 p.m. if on guest list (spots available via club website), $20 after 11 p.m.

Info: (818) 308-1330; la.infusionlounge.com

"Fashionable" dress code enforced

calendar@latimes.com

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