A burlesque dancer stands over the bar at the Emerson Theatre, a space designed… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)
Paris Hilton arrives at Hollywood's new "it" club, the Emerson Theatre, amid a blinding barrage of camera flashes. The crowd outside pushes in around her, "Day of the Locust" style, before the club's doors swallow her whole. The hangers-on are left pressed up against the velvet rope that separates celebrity, wealth and status from their opposites.
Past a coat check and up soft carpeted steps Hilton and other privileged club-goers, including Vin Diesel, Paul Oakenfold and Dallas Austin, emerge at the top of a sweeping grand staircase that leads to a writhing dance floor. From there they can regard the entire room, including a number of raised stages upon which burlesque dancers clad in fishnet stockings, silky lingerie and elaborate feathers roll and twist their hips languidly to thumping rap and hip-hop music cranking from the DJ booth.
This is SBE's latest club, and it's located in the space known for high-profile former club incarnations including Garden of Eden and Syndicate Hospitality's MyHouse. When Sam Nazarian's SBE bought Syndicate a little less than two years ago, Nazarian became the most powerful operator of clubs on the West Coast with a total of 12 venues. With Wednesday night's unveiling of the Emerson, Nazarian and his night-life crew, including Senior Vice President Costas Charalambous and marketing and entertainment director Remington Moses, have proved once again how skilled they are at turning around massive concepts that Hollywood's party elite want a bite of.
Hollywood is fickle, however, and what's hot often becomes what's not in a matter of months. With the Emerson, SBE hopes to shift that trend somewhat by providing an unexpected roster of entertainment each night, including dance, music and live performances. That's why it opted to call the club a theater.
"Everything we do in this business is a show," Moses says. "That applies to both the people participating in the experience and the people-watching that goes on while you're there. It all adds to the element of debauchery in this night-life madness."
Debauchery and sex take center stage at the Emerson, where the outfits of the female customer base are far more scandalous than those of the paid burlesque dancers. Painted-on dresses that terminate at the upper reaches of the thigh, sparkly stripper heels, garter belts and necklines that plunge to the point of no return define the general look for women, while men opt for dressed-down suits or jeans with velvet jackets.
Plush bottle-service booths and tables are situated arena style around the sunken dance floor, and every now and again a line of female employees wearing costumes plucked from the pages of a Frederick's of Hollywood catalog parade to the tables with pricey bottles of illuminated booze. Cameras flash and a wave of Facebook status updates washes across the sweaty room as confetti drops from the ceiling and two towering jets of smoke erupt on either side of the DJ booth.
The space is designed to resemble a Prohibition-era burlesque club with lots of elaborate gold trim and wrought-iron railings. Long strips of vintage-style Edison bulbs with LED capabilities line the ceiling and provide a constantly shifting light show.
Moses refers to the concept as vintage-modern, or "old world with a new-world twist."
The new-world twist is provided by the ubiquity of smartphones, which separate patrons from the experience before them. Real-time information is filtered, uploaded and digitized before it is regarded, a process that leaves participants a bit cold.
Still, as the night wears on and the cumulative blood-alcohol content of the room reaches critical mass, self-consciousness erodes and some very spirited dancing begins to take place. It's within this revelry that the real magic of Hollywood club-going arises — when a room unites to a single beat and people begin to forget themselves.
"Why doesn't a theater grow old?" Charalambous asks. "Because the theater is always the same, it's the show inside that changes."
At the Emerson Theatre, that show is very much the spectacle on the dance floor.
The Emerson Theatre
Where: 7080 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.
When: 9:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., Wed. and Fri.
Price: No cover
Info: (323) 525-2453; http://www.emersontheatre.com