Like a mother who can tell when her baby’s wet, club owners know when it’s time for a change.
“You start to feel when the energy of the place is starting to dwindle,” says Sam Nazarian. Over the last four years, his SBE Entertainment Group converted Shelter’s decor six times; the last round included a name change, Privilege. How does Nazarian know when it’s time to go? “It’s instinct.”
Funny feelings might seem to be a fragile platform on which to build million-dollar makeovers. However, short of dosing their customers’ vodka-Red Bulls with Ritalin, planned obsolescence has become owners’ most efficient defense against the tyranny of club- hoppers’ fickle appetites.
“When the good promoters start bailing, the night slows down, and the crowds change, you know it’s time for a remodel,” says Brad Thomas, a promoter whose clients include Mood and Day After.
Republic, formerly known as Bliss, recently reopened after an eight-month makeover; what was an unfocused nightclub with food is now a more elegant restaurant-lounge, with what general manager John Paul Lorello proudly describes as “the largest wine wall on the West Coast.”
Another SBE club, Prey, shifted its interior from blood red to a Moroccan palace; it’s now closed as workers give it the feel of a 1950s Palm Springs living room.
Shereen Arazm spent six months and more than $1 million transforming what had been the stark Concorde into what is now Hollywood’s newest club, Shag. Among the improvements: glass-chip wallpaper and Moschino-inspired upholstery. But does the average clubgoer care about a Regency Period redo?
“No, but I didn’t design it for the average clubgoer,” says interior designer Traci Butler. “I designed it for the owner so she could land high-end events and parties.”
And, after just three weeks in business, the wager seems to have paid off. A half-dozen paparazzi lay in wait for Paris Hilton on a recent Monday night and Butler says the club has been deluged with daytime and after-dark private-party requests.
The club-flip concept isn’t new. SBE president Rezza Roohi credits old-school Gotham venues Limelight and Studio 54 with the idea, with Miami and Chicago following suit. Liquor laws are one reason L.A. has been a late adapter; with the East Coast enjoying later closing times, those club owners were confident that they could get a return on their design investments.
And, despite the storied histories of live-music nightspots like the Roxy, Whisky-A-Go-Go and the Viper Room, Roohi says club culture has been slow to take hold in L.A. “People would go to New York and get excited about clubs out there,” he says, “and then they’d come home and just accept that L.A. was L.A.” It’s only with Hollywood’s revival, he says, that owners have begun believing that their clubs were worth long-term reinvestment.
However, calling a club an establishment remains something of an oxymoron. After four years of Shelter/Privilege, SBE is planning to raze the site and start over.
“They did a good job aesthetically, but it’s still the same layout and you grow tired of it,” says Thomas. “There’s only so much lingerie that you can put on your girlfriend before you need a new girlfriend.”
Clubs get beauty sweep
What’s a facelift between friends? Variety Weekend takes a superficial look at the before and after of L.A. nightlife.
8117 W. Sunset Blvd.
650 N. La Cienega Blvd.
|Previous incarnation: Shelter (2003-2005)
Before: Six makeovers, ranging from Miami-white to construction site
After: Red suede upholstery, red and black wallpaper and cascades of red fabric tented over the dance floor
Patron quote: “I liked it better as Shelter, but it’s still cool.”
|Previous incarnation: Bliss (2002-2005)
Before: High Moulin Rouge
After: Fireplaces, waterfalls and 11-foot-long, white fringe-and-Murano glass chandeliers by Margaret O’Brien
Patron quote: “A complete 180 from Bliss – it looks amazing.”
1835 N.Cahuenga Blvd.
1439 N. Ivar Ave.
|Previous incarnation: Concorde (2003-2005)
Before: Stark and modern concrete
After: A retro-modern mix of crystal and leopard print, with full-length mirrors inside bathroom stalls
Patron quote: “Before I felt institutionalized (here). Now I feel like I’m in someone’s living room.”
|Previous incarnation: Sunset Room (1999-2005)
Before: Nightclub as dim, elegant, disco-balled drug den
After: Old-Hollywood cabanas surround a swimming pool that encircles a bar, capped off by a waterfall on either side
Patron quote: “It’s one of the most beautiful clubs in L.A.”