Dancing to beat of spy chic
Just call it the Sam Nazarian experience.
After three years cultivating hotels and restaurants as the head of famed hospitality firm SBE, Nazarian has returned to the Los Angeles club scene this week with his new West Hollywood club Mi-6 -- named after the British Secret Intelligence Service (a.k.a. MI6) and meant to conjure the sleek luxury of the James Bond movies.
“It’s good to be back,” Nazarian laughs inside of a black custom Mercedes-Benz Sprinter minibus, which SBE uses to shuttle VIPs from the SLS Hotel of Beverly Hills to any of his growing stable of area properties, which includes clubs Area and Hyde, as well as the restaurants Katsuya and XVI, both of which are partnerships with designer Philippe Starck.
The scene that trailed Nazarian from the club to the minibus was worthy of HBO’s “Entourage”: A phalanx of publicists, handlers, a videographer and even a waitress with a tray of sushi paraded through the crowd straining to get inside. Many called out Nazarian’s name, and he stopped to greet some guests before hopping inside for the interview.
“It was very important for me to focus on the SLS and Katsuya, because I wanted them to be world-class establishments,” he says. “So I stepped away from night life for three years. Now I’m ready to take the L.A. club scene to yet another level of sophistication.”
It’s hard to see anyone other than Nazarian pulling off something as ambitious as Mi-6. It’s in the old Foxtail space, wedged in between two institutions: music venue the Troubadour and restaurant/lounge Dan Tana’s. The klieg light-saturated red carpet crush of willowy models, discreet celebrities and swarming paparazzi is exceedingly conspicuous on this generally low-key corner of Santa Monica Boulevard.
“We’ve developed a really good relationship with the city of West Hollywood, which is the only way we were able to pull this off,” says Bill Tremper, SBE’s vice president of sales and marketing. “They already know us through our partnership with the Abbey Food & Bar right down the street.”
“I realize it’s especially competitive in L.A. night life right now, with fantastic new clubs like Playhouse, H.wood and MyHouse,” Nazarian says. “But I believe I have something special to offer the scene. I’m working with the company MomentFactory, who produce unique multimedia environments. They did the visuals for the Nine Inch Nails tour last year, which was outstanding. What they did inside Mi-6 is really impressive.”
The fruits of MomentFactory’s labor aren’t easy to see: massive (and hidden) mirrors that double as video screens and switch between the two at intervals. The dark, three-story club was so packed that just moving around was akin to a high-fashion rugby match with the entire roster of actors on the CW network. DJs pumped a mix of Top 40 hits while tattooed waitresses brought huge bottles of alcohol festooned with sparklers to tables on the first floor. The lighting system has the ability to emit a wide array of color schemes at the push of a button.
“Competition is always a good thing. It forces innovation, better pricing and more amenities,” says James Sinclair, former club owner and now the president of night life specialists OnSite Consulting, commenting on Nazarian’s new club. “In the end, it benefits the consumer.”
Where Nazarian has a real advantage, says Sinclair, is his solid portfolio.
“Unlike someone whose entire life is invested in one location,” Sinclair explains, “Nazarian has enough profitable ventures that he can close a place for a few months while he decides what to do with it. His is a hugely mitigated risk.”
Back in the minibus, Nazarian rattled off a slew of upcoming projects, including renovating La Cienega club Halo, SBE’s recent acquisition of stalwart Malibu restaurant Gladstone’s and the impending launch of a club Hyde space inside Staples Center.
“It’s all about creating world-class establishments,” Nazarian reiterates before wading through the crowd outside of Mi-6. “I brought a level of sophistication to the Sunset Strip with XIV, which people said couldn’t be done. The SLS Hotel won best achievement in design from Virtuoso magazine, putting us next to establishments in China, Dubai and Italy. Being responsible for helping make Los Angeles part of that conversation is extremely gratifying.”
Where: 9077 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood
When: 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesdays and Saturdays
Price: Varies according to night; call ahead
Contact: (323) 655-8000, www.sbe.com