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For a select few

AV, Tosh Berman and Matt Bendik's new club on Cahuenga, isn't after big crowds. It aims to be cozy, comfortable -- and exclusive.

May 04, 2012|August Brown
  • The DJ booth and the chandelier in the middle of the main room of AV.
The DJ booth and the chandelier in the middle of the main room of AV. (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles…)

It's only a few days before the new Cahuenga-area nightclub AV is set to open, and co-owner Tosh Berman is still futzing with the decor. "This silver pattern on the walls isn't working. I'm gonna replace it," he said, surveying his new domain while dressed in an all-black get-up and military haircut that made him look like a successful model/ninja.

He picked up a chestnut-colored leather couch cushion embossed in a dandyish paisley pattern. "These are detachable, I wanted them to be able to come off at night. You see girls in heels dancing on this and you're just like, errrgh." He grasped his head in mock frustration.

That's the kind of place AV is shaping up to be as Berman and business partner Matt Bendik plan their latest frontal assault on Hollywood clubland. AV, scheduled to open Monday, is an exercise in intimate aesthetic details and crowd engineering -- with the accepted caveat that drunk women in dagger-like heels are going to climb the furniture.

AV follows in the wake of a style shift that has seen several other Hollywood clubs such as Agency, Pour Vous, Smoke & Mirrors and Writer's Room go cozy and exclusive -- essentially killing the Paleo-Heidi Montag era of thumpy Vegas-style megaclubs (a style that even Vegas is avoiding lately).

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday, May 05, 2012 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 50 words Type of Material: Correction
AV nightclub: An article in the May 4 Calendar section about the Hollywood nightclub AV said its management team was a partner in the restaurant Mezze. One of AV's owners, Matt Bendik, used to be partners with an original investor in Mezze but is no longer involved with the restaurant.

For Berman and Bendik -- both scene veterans with bar and hotel properties in Cabo San Lucas, Hawaii and L.A. -- AV is their solution to the Prisoner's Dilemma of nightclubbing, where you want to wow crowds inside while rebuffing the teeming hordes at the door.

One enters the former Spotlight space (a famously rough-and-tumble gay bar; AV bears no trace of it) off Cahuenga Boulevard down a small hallway and into the main room. Seating is spare but luxe -- those couches come with phone-charging docks -- and multi-tiered to facilitate grinding on your beau without leaving your table.

Two competing visual schemes vie for attention. One is a charmingly rustic light bulb wall synced to the top-end Funktion One DJ rig. The other (if you don't count the hostesses in R-rated wedding dresses) is a series of wall-mounted screens projecting animated mock-fine-art images, where an Edwardian-era portrait subject slowly reaches out and smacks his neighbor. The bar area is strictly utilitarian, and there's a large smoking patio ringed with trees and warm lighting.

It's stylistically promiscuous, with nods toward ravey visual decadence, Chandler-esque vintage Hollywood and au courant close quarters. But it draws on pretty much every strain of night-life design that's working in L.A. right now.

"Like Picasso said, all great art is stealing," Bendik said. "But AV will be the premiere boutique. All those other places are missing components. We'll have the best demographic, the hardest door. It's much more three-dimensional."

Bendik has reason for brashness. His Hollywood venture Voyeur set the template for how alpha males parted with their seasonal bonuses for much of the late aughts. If you went to a bar with almost-naked aerialists any time since the financial collapse, you can thank Bendik.

But as Voyeur became successful, he found the place's topless sadism (and the crowd it drew) feeling almost like a self-parody.

"I just had a different vision than the partners. I wasn't enjoying it," he said. He jokes that AV is an acronym for "After Voyeur," and the new room does walk back from that club's gaudiness. He has an apt partner in Berman, who projects a Steve Jobs-ish mix of Cali-zen vibes and corporate throat slitting (and who occasionally made tabloid rounds for dating 2008 Playboy playmate of the year and AV collaborator Jayde Nicole).

AV is the first rung of what they hope will be the continuing expansion of their hospitality management firm Avarus, and they already count Cabo's Pink Kitty and the well-regarded WeHo Mediterranean restaurant Mezze in their stable. A wood-fired Italian joint and a hotel are planned adjacent to AV.

L.A.'s night life is still in flux after the late-aughts crash, split between low-key craft beer hangs and clubs going so exclusive they might as well be house parties.

AV is an attempt to do two contradictory things at once -- stir up the frenzy of a Hollywood megaclub while keeping the population comfy, contemporary and curated. Monday nights, helmed by the mercurial promotion team the Alliance, will be the crucible for claiming Cahuenga as its own.

But then, if anyone knows what L.A.'s alpha-wolf demimonde want in a night out, it's Bendik and Berman.

"The best concepts are all about what we would want as clients," Berman said. "We go out, we travel, we fire bottles. We built this space because we needed it."




Where: 1601 N Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood

When: Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays, 10:30 p.m.-2 a.m.

Price: no cover; beers $5 and up, cocktails $11 and up


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