A scene of hustle and flow

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Lee and Amter are Times staff writers.

It was past midnight on an unseasonably balmy Tuesday in Hollywood and the queue to enter the Avalon nightclub stretched nearly half a block down Vine Street, with would-be revelers clamoring to get into a charity benefit in honor of celebrity disc jockey DJ AM.

Nearby, a cluster of fashionistas in skintight get-ups thronged the velvet rope of the Vice Hollywood “ultra lounge.” Similar scenes unfolded down the block at the swanky watering hole S Bar and the perpetually paparazzo-surrounded restaurant Katsuya. Available parking spaces were virtually nonexistent, and the streets pulsed with the hustle and flow of youthful carousing.

“It’s getting insane,” said Matt Colon, a night-life promoter who has been making the rounds here for the last decade. “It’s gotten so packed.”


Added electro-rapper Red Foo: “Hollywood is one of the hottest scenes in the world right now.”

A generation ago, Hollywood was a no man’s land after dark -- a wasteland of liquor stores, tattoo parlors and shuttered storefronts that offered few entertainment options.

Though that began to change in the early part of the decade, in the last nine months the neighborhood has seen a sharp rise in both its fortunes and its local reputation, galvanized by an influx of supersized nightclubs (like the Kress on Hollywood Boulevard), celebrity-filled restaurant-club hybrids and glitzy cocktail lounges.

Tinseltown, it seems, is riding high on night life, with developers coming in from New York, Las Vegas and San Diego to grab a stake in the new Hollywood. And the construction of flashy new venues doesn’t look as if it’s going to stop any time soon.

“People are bullish on Hollywood,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who, when he took office in 2001, got behind plans to transform Hollywood into a thriving entertainment district, pushing to encourage street life, reduce crime and foster new businesses.

“It’s a feather in everyone’s cap to have a place in Hollywood: people in the entertainment industry investing in nightspots, people who run clubs,” said Garcetti, whose district covers much of Hollywood.


Especially on weekends, thousands of people under 30 pour into Hollywood from as far away as the Inland Empire, Orange County and the Central Coast. Many come in search of the glamorous lifestyles they see depicted on such TV shows as HBO’s “Entourage” and the popular MTV reality series “The Hills,” or the inebriated celebrity infamy that plays out on and the pages of Us Weekly.

“There are so many clubs in the Hollywood area. The landscape has changed dramatically,” said veteran nightclub operator Ivan Kane, whose early ventures, such as Kane and Deep, began injecting life into the scene in the late ‘90s.

The current array of after-dark activities traces back to earlier urban renewal efforts in the area, notably the Highlands Hollywood nightclub. Launched in 2001 on the top level of the Hollywood & Highland retail complex, the 30,000-square-foot multilevel venue helped usher in an era of Las Vegas-esque “destination nightspots,” clubs built with high-end amenities and overwhelming scale.

The Highlands never quite caught on with clubland’s movers and shakers, but it certainly set the stage for Hollywood’s upstart super-club the Kress. Since opening this summer, the 38,000-square-foot restaurant and nightclub has been the site of such VIP events as TV Guide’s Emmy Awards after-party and a gala held by rap mogul Jermaine Dupri to honor the Black Entertainment Television Awards. Spread out over five floors, the Kress occupies a historic building formerly home to Frederick’s of Hollywood.

Kress owner Mike Viscuso spent two years and more than $25 million refitting the building with an octagonal bar, refurbished marble walls, six $100,000 chandeliers, an ornate champagne lounge and a sushi bar. “There’s nothing like it in L.A.,” Viscuso said, gesturing at the club’s panoramic view.

Viscuso, who is credited with helping transform San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter into a night-life mecca, is hardly the only club major-domo under the assumption that size matters. This winter, a glammed-out 13,000-square-foot mega-club called Playhouse is set to open at the site currently occupied by the Fox Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. It’s the latest venture from night-life impresario Robert Vinokur, who operated similarly scaled venues in Miami and New York.


“We’re going to blend the fun of Miami clubs with the sophistication of New York,” Vinokur said. “But we’re still working off the Hollywood theme in that we’re ushering in a new era of Hollywood glam.”

The Kress and Playhouse face stiff competition from established mega-clubs in the neighborhood.

The recently revamped Vanguard is 20,000 square feet, and the Avalon boasts 33,000 square feet of party acreage, including its just-opened lounge, Bardot.

Then there’s the threat of recession, which has the potential to hurt larger clubs that depend on “bottle service” -- an expensive trapping of many upscale nightspots in which patrons can buy bottles of liquor instead of ordering individual drinks -- to offset operating expenses. (Entrance fees range from no cover to $25, depending on the venue and event being promoted.) But to hear it from civic leaders and club owners, even in an era when the Dow plunges below 9,000, people in Hollywood still seem to want to party like it’s 1999.

The number of “47” licenses, classified as restaurant liquor licenses, issued in three Hollywood ZIP Codes by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has nearly doubled to 23 this year from 12 in 2007. And that’s on top of the approximately 135 bars and restaurants already in the core area bordered by La Brea Avenue to the west, Vine Street to the east, Franklin Avenue to the north and Melrose Avenue to the south.

“Good economy or bad economy, I’m still buying in Hollywood,” said the Kress’ Viscuso. “Real estate is still selling for $800 to $1,000 a square foot. Downtown, it’s less than half of that. And all the synergy from these major developments -- the W [hotel and residences], Cirque du Soleil coming to the Kodak Theatre, the lofts, the other hotels coming in -- it will keep Hollywood alive.”


The next large-scale venue in Hollywood? A poolside rooftop club at the W Hollywood managed by one of Las Vegas’ best-known night-life fixtures, according to a representative of Gatehouse Capital, a private real estate equity group involved with the W Hollywood project (set to open late next year or in 2010).

According to Garcetti, president of the City Council, the main challenge facing the neighborhood is having too much of a good thing after dark. “I announced a year and a half ago that we didn’t want any more new clubs,” he said. “You can only have so many, because they poach one another’s clientele and all of them begin to suffer.”

The city is now trying to encourage growth in non-night-life businesses -- retail, art galleries and more restaurants like Katsuya and the celebrity-owned Beso at Hollywood Boulevard and Ivar Avenue.

In other words, the kind of manicured establishments more typical in West Hollywood or on La Cienega Boulevard between Melrose Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard than the seedy Hollywood of a few years ago.

“To sustain a successful neighborhood, you can’t be shuttered by day and have an explosion by night,” Garcetti pointed out.

Such concerns weren’t high on the priority list for Valerie Stead, a 25-year-old dressed in black spandex pants, a white shirt and a leopard-print bra. On a recent Tuesday, she hit the nightclub Les Deux with three friends.


“The music is always good here, and I like the open space,” Stead said on the club’s patio. “There are people from all over the place in Hollywood -- that’s what makes it cool. We like the glamour.”




New kids in town

Attracted by Hollywood’s increasing popularity as an after-dark destination for the under-30 set, entrepreneurial promoters are betting big on the neighborhood with a host of venues. Despite the economic downturn, expectations for continued growth remain high.

Avalon / Bardot: A 33,000-square-foot multipurpose club that holds rock shows during the week and electronic music events on weekends. The exclusive lounge Bardot atop the Avalon features a separate entrance and has already entertained such celebrities as Kate Hudson, Liv Tyler and Ryan Gosling. The Avalon opened in 2003, but Bardot opened in September.

Bar Delux: The latest venture from Adolfo Suaya and designer Kristofer Keith (Spacecraft), Delux is an Art Deco cocktail lounge featuring elegant chandeliers and a massive emerald stained-glass mural. Opening mid-November.

Ecco Ultra Lounge: L.A.’s first “green” nightclub, this Cahuenga Boulevard lounge features energy-efficient LED lighting, organic cocktails and “waterless” urinals. Early-arriving Prius owners get free valet parking. Opening to the public this month.


Katsuya / S Bar: Twin pillars of nighttime fun at Hollywood and Vine. Katsuya entertains late-night cravings for sushi from the likes of Jay-Z and Katherine Heigl. The adjacent Philippe Starck-designed S Bar appeals to the cast of MTV’s series “The Hills.” Opened in October 2007.

The Kress: San Diego Gaslamp Quarter club kingpin Mike Viscuso’s first Hollywood foray is a massive, Las Vegas-style multistory night-life destination with a ground floor restaurant, basement nightclub and rooftop lounge. Opened in July.

Playhouse: Robert Vinokur’s 13,000-square-foot nightclub inside the Fox Theater on Hollywood Boulevard at Wilcox Avenue will present top-name DJs from Europe and have a 24-hour modern diner. Due to open in mid-December.

Source: Times reporting