The Club Scene, Running on Full : After Phoenix’s Death, It’s Business (Almost) as Usual at L.A. Hot Spots

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Greg Braxton is a Times staff writer; Heidi Siegmund is a frequent contributor to Calendar

“ALL I WANNA DO IS ZOOM-A-ZOOM ZOOM ZOOM AND A BOOM BOOM!” blared the bone-shaking speakers at Roxbury.


“JUST SHAKE YOUR RUMP!” responded the mass of twentysomething men and women hopelessly jammed on the dance floor in a wavy sea of unstoppable motion.

Elsewhere in the trendy Sunset Strip club, members of the young Hollywood show-business scene, ranging from torn-jeans-clad rockers to models in their low-cut best, huddled in a roped-off area. The air was thick with the combined odor of cigarettes, beer and steamy sweat. Outside, a line of shivering young people gazed hungrily at the entrance, hoping for the magic nod from the doorman that would admit them into the blaze of the happenings.

At the same moment, just blocks from the Roxbury, dozens of other “scenesters” crowded around the entrance to another chic club, the Viper Room. But they were not waiting to get inside. They stood in religious-like solemnity, gazing at a crude shrine of candles, empty beer bottles, flowers and amateur poetry that paid tribute to actor River Phoenix.


Late Saturday night had just evaporated into early Sunday morning. It was almost exactly a week to the minute since Phoenix collapsed outside the Viper Room and died in a seizure clouded by speculation about drug use. The club, out of respect for the actor, closed its doors last week but was to reopen early this week, possibly tonight.


In the first weekend after Phoenix’s death, the scenes at Roxbury and the Viper Room presented a stark contrast in moods among devoted Hollywood club-hoppers frequenting the stylish clubs visited by the hip, young, rich and famous. Once again, an untimely death had thrust an unwanted spotlight on the young Hollywood fast lane.

But it was apparent by the weekend that the party was not over at clubs citywide--from the velvet-lined exclusive Beverly Hills environs of Tatou to the funky Hollywood earthiness of Dragonfly and from the after-hours underground vibe of Sanitarium to the West Hollywood reggae-and-soul groove of LunaPark.

“Nothing’s changed,” said Cliff Cantor, a co-owner of Dragonfly, as he surveyed his crowded club Friday. “Look around. Nobody’s talking about it. The people who go out and do drugs are doing them, and the people who aren’t, aren’t. That’s it. Business as usual.”

Cantor continued: “The week started out on a really glum note. But it’s really reassuring to see that people aren’t going to wallow in remorse. . . . The positive thing about the whole club scene is that clubs are a celebration of life, and life goes on.”

Traffic on the Strip was as gridlocked as ever. The Whisky was full of its usual rocker crowd. The crowd for the disco-flavored “Saturday Night Fever” at C n’C, also on the Strip, stretched into the parking lot. Rumors about Phoenix continued to circulate but seemed to be of little concern at the packed clubs.

On Saturday night at Small’s, a tiny club on Melrose Boulevard that attracts an upscale, dressed-down Hollywood clientele, Carol Channing, who is in her early 20s, reflected on the incident while maneuvering through the standing-room-only crowd.

“People are pretty jaded about the whole thing,” Channing said. “I mean, we’re sad, you know? But what are you gonna do?”

“Order another drink,” quipped her male companion, muscling his way to the bar.

Rudolf, who uses only one name, the vice president and creative director of T.L.A. Restaurant Corp., the company that owns Tatou, said the sophisticated customers visiting his nightspot were also not focused on Phoenix.

“They’ve probably never seen movies of his,” he said. “He did some way out stuff --'My Own Private Idaho’ and all that. The young Sunset Boulevard crowd is very different from the folks who come here.”

At Sanitarium, an after-hours club with an “invitation-only” format, Max Napolitano, 22, a UCLA pre-med student, said, “River Phoenix was a very good-looking man, with a lot of potential, who took it too far. He lost sight of what’s really important.”

Said Dragonfly-goer Dave Gibson, 23: “He seemed to be more of a Hollywood guy who got a little bit too fast, too soon. This is the only drug I take,” he said, tapping his beer. “And this,” displaying the grape Tootsie Pop he was devouring.

Inside Roxbury, 23-year-old Isis Nile said, “River Phoenix was not smart. He should have been doing other things to make him happy.”

As for whether Phoenix’s death would help decrease the use of drugs in the Hollywood fast lane, Nile said, “Hell no! This is L.A.”

In front of the Viper Friday night, Colleen Brooks, 19, a film studio student at Orange Coast College, echoed Nile’s sentiment. “Some people die from drugs and others don’t. I don’t think this will make a difference.”

Napolitano concurred: “This happens. It happens too often, people are immune to it, and they think it’ll never happen to them.”

“What a waste” was the most commonly uttered phrase among those in front of the Viper early Sunday.

Meanwhile, the frenzy at Roxbury intensified. The speakers boomed the disco anthem “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now.”