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The return of the Roxbury

It's not on the original site, but it maintains the original snob appeal. 'We turned down 400 people last week, and we had a great-looking crowd,' owner Elie Samaha boasts.

January 21, 2011|By Charlie Amter, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • The Roxbury, the legendary Sunset Strip dance club, is returning. This incarnation is opening in Hollywood in the old Ivar space. Romantic phrases from famous authors adorn the walls.
The Roxbury, the legendary Sunset Strip dance club, is returning. This… (Michael Robinson Chavez,…)

Few L.A. nightclubs loomed as large in the public imagination as the Roxbury during its near-decade-long reign on Sunset Boulevard. From the late 1980s to 1997, it was one of the West Coast's premier celebrity playhouses, hosting newsmakers such as Madonna and Tom Cruise. The spot was permanently seared into America's visual vernacular thanks to Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan's 1998 film "A Night at the Roxbury" (even though the club scenes in the comedy were shot inside the Mayan downtown).

Now, one of the original partners in the club has rolled out a new version of the Roxbury a few minutes' drive east of the original Sunset location.

"Back in the 1990s, all the action was in West Hollywood, but now Hollywood is the hub for all the clubs, so we just moved the name to Hollywood," explained Elie Samaha via phone this month. Samaha, one of the partners in the original Roxbury, has brought back the name to conjure the best of times and graft them onto the space that once housed the Ivar club near Hollywood and Vine Street.

"When I did Roxbury in the old days [on Sunset], I didn't have very much money to spend. This time, 20 years later, it's different," said the film producer, who also co-owns several nearby nightspots.

The new Roxbury, which officially opened Jan. 14, is different indeed.

The club's stellar design screams "club," yet sensual touches sprinkled throughout the 5,000-square-foot space by designer Gulla Jonsdottir soften the industrial feel. Faux-leather black roses cover walls; circular booths face a circular bar with rotating leaf-like steel structures above bartender stations. Neon cursive script lines the sides of the bar (one is a line from "Love Sonnet XVII" by Pablo Neruda), while Beatles song lyrics adorn the inside of see-through circular plastic-and-glass tables (meant to be danced upon by tipsy twentysomethings).

I-beams jut out from the ceiling alongside exposed air ducts. The result of Jonsdottir's build-out looks early 1990s, when the original Roxbury was at its zenith, yet the bar still feels contemporary.

On the night of Jan. 14, it was a bit like the glory days. Britney Spears took in the scene from her mezzanine-level perch while Paris Hilton held court nearby. Kobe Bryant was in the house for a New Year's Eve event, and Reggie Bush was there last week.

Louis Carreon, the man behind the celeb-soaked Monday night at Teddy's in the Roosevelt, is one of several promoters the Lebanon-born nightclub owner hired to turn the new Roxbury into a must-attend venue. The club is open only on Friday evenings (a Tuesday night weekly begins in earnest soon). More nights are to be added in the months ahead.

Samaha promises more celebrity-filled nights, hinting at several big Grammy weekend bashes at the venue. Carreon and general manager Chris Kasteler, meanwhile, will have their hands full at the door Friday nights.

"The Friday door will be really tight," Carreon promises. And just like the old Roxbury, he boasts, "We're not letting in the average club kids" and that "people will be nervous" at the door (the original Roxbury was known for its discerning doorman Eric Huerta).

For Samaha, exclusivity at the beginning of his new club's hopeful reign is all part of building a new Hollywood legend.

"We turned down 400 people last week, and we had a great-looking crowd, which is very important," he said. "I don't care who you are, if you're a guy and you only have one girl with you, you're not getting in. If you have three or four with you, you're welcome."

Predictably, not everyone is happy Samaha has decided to bring back the Roxbury.

"It's a kick in the teeth," says Chris Breed, owner of nearby nightspots in Hollywood such as La Vida and one of the original co-owners of Sunset Boulevard's Roxbury.

"It's kind of a disappointment to me that just one partner can bring back the Roxbury, because it will never live up to the original," he sighed.

Samaha, for his part, feels he's paying homage to the past his own way — by forging boldly into the future.

"It's a very unique club," Samaha says of his latest nightlife endeavor. "People can go to other clubs in Hollywood, but there is nothing like the Roxbury."

Roxbury

Where: 1661 Ivar Ave.

When: Fridays, late

Price: No cover, but be female

Info: (323) 469-0040; www.roxburyhw.com/

calendar@latimes.com

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