The nightclub industry is dog-eat-dog even during the best of times, but in L.A. recently, some promoters are throwing in red meat. In an obvious but hard-to-beat bid to lure fickle clubbers to their high-dollar bottle service tables inside beautifully rendered bars, club owners are turning to former Playboy pinups and adult-film actresses to help get bodies in the door.
When local DJs or the ubiquitous "bikini fashion show" fail to pull in the masses, an edgy flier featuring a racy adult star can cut through the clutter on Facebook and Twitter, where the battle for club-goers' attention really takes place long before slinking past velvet ropes at night.
It's a trend that's been growing for the better part of a decade, even before the digital flier trumped its printed predecessor, but lately it seems to have reached sex-soaked saturation levels in Los Angeles, especially in Hollywood (one promoter is even offering "lap dancing go-go dancers" for his Thursday night weekly party at Kiss lounge above Beso restaurant).
Some casual clubbers might be wondering if the nightclub has turned into the strip club.
"Sensual models, Playboy playmates and porn stars pique interest," said Playhouse co-owner Robert Vinokur, whose Hollywood Boulevard club recently hosted a touring version of a Playboy club party and will toast the birthdays of Penthouse pets Taylor Vixen and Isis Taylor on Oct. 28 in an open-to-the-public event.
"We know that sex sells," he added.
The men who turn up at relatively pricey venues such as Drai's, Ecco, MyHouse, MyStudio, MI-6, Wonderland and other L.A. clubs, however, are not the same solo men who turn up at area strip clubs, no matter how many scantily clad women appear on the clubs' spicy fliers.
In fact, Vinokur says that the crowd at events featuring adult talent usually defies conventional wisdom and is composed mostly of women. "When we did our Playboy party, the crowd was 60% female," he said.
"Lots of women want to show themselves as 'worthy,' " he added. "They think they can be the next Playboy girl. It's more of a vision how they can be part of Playboy."
Jack Steven, a local promoter who has thrown parties featuring Playboy-associated names at nightclubs such as Bar210 in Beverly Hills, echoes the sentiment.
"When a playmate has her birthday, she'll have her friends there. Obviously, that's a lot of attractive people in the house that draws not just guys, but women who also know there might be paparazzi there. Women associate themselves with what they're around, and they want to prove they are on equal footing [with adult models]."
But not all women see it that way.
"I go to a club to be surrounded by people I'm interested in," says Zandra Palmer, a 24-year-old actress who frequents Hollywood clubs on occasion, "and I can't imagine being into people who are psyched about Playboy girls."
For adult stars, these club hires and nights of free bottle service are a welcome development, as their income levels have dropped while doing video work the last five years.
"This is a branding thing for me," 27-year-old Kina Kai said during a hosting gig at Hollywood club MyHouse earlier this month. Kai is a relatively minor player in the adult world who now just runs branded adult websites bearing her name, but the work at MyHouse was easy: All she had to do at the event was let her face be used in a flier and host a section of the club. "I've been paid anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000 just to show up — that's my fee," she said while nursing a glass of Champagne. But Kai received no payment at the MyHouse event Aug. 6 — just free liquor.
"I do it for the networking too," she said, before adding that she plans to host two events for her birthday early next month at clubs Colony and the Kress.
Larger stars in the adult space won't show up for free at a club — there's too much money involved. Jesse Jane pulled in $5,000 to $10,000 last year at the annual "Porn on the 4th of July" event at Chicago's Crobar nightclub, according to promoter Joshua Kerbis, a director for Ala Carte Entertainment in the Windy City. He also flew her in and paid her expenses just so the club could have her on the flier. L.A. is no longer the leader in porn star appearances, insiders say, as much of the club action has shifted to other cities such as Vegas.
"It's well worth it," Kerbis noted. "The social media thing has taken these girls to new heights, and every event we've done has been larger and larger each year because porn has become so mainstream now," he said. Kerbis added that this year he hosted Sasha Grey (star of Steven Soderbergh's "The Girlfriend Experience") for his July blowout at Vision, a large club more known for DJs from Holland spinning than hosting porn stars with tens of thousands of Twitter followers.
So are reality stars out and porn stars in at nightclubs from L.A. to Vegas to Chicago?
Not necessarily, according to one promoter.
"It's all about the power of their social network," says SuperstarsVIP.com's Pete Guttenberg, who works with Kai as well as other adult stars on occasion (he helped promote Vivid's 25-year anniversary at Opera last year and also hosted a party for reality star Tiffany Pollard, aka " New York" from VH1's "I Love New York" at the same club in 2009).
The bottom line is that hosting adult actresses doesn't always bring in big crowds. No amount of skin will save a club that isn't hitting, or that has run its course.
Hollywood's Les Deux, a club known for catering to XXX stars and having events tied to "the industry" in the last few years, shut down last month.
It might not always work, but if recent nights in Hollywood are any evidence, at least a certain swath of reliable clubbers don't seem to mind dancing next to the porn star next door.