The Tea Room at h.wood
The Tea Room at h.wood is an exclusive one-room club within an already exclusive nightclub. Like a glammed-out Russian nesting doll, it is tucked inside the stolid concrete frame of h.wood, which is located at the far end of the Hollywood & Highland complex in the tawdry heart of Hollywood.
It cracks its doors only on Wednesdays, when a rush of sultry young women and slender young men with intricate tattoos wait in line for admission. Very few will get in, however.
The Tea Room, which is owned by night-life veteran Loyal Pennings and a duo of driven 29-year-old entrepreneurs named John Terzian and Brian Toll, trades inaccessibility for its hot-spot cachet.
It’s called the Tea Room because it serves “prohibition tea,” which is basically alcohol-infused tea, out of tea pots, just like some speak-easies did during the 1920s.
The tea idea came naturally enough.
Back when the Tea Room was just a storage room for h.wood, Cher came to the club on a regular basis.
“She doesn’t drink and she always wanted tea,” Terzian says.
Fortunately, one of his investors, Sameer Gupta, owns some tea plantations in India.
Soon, the men had opened the storage space as the Tea Room.
Gupta, who they call their “tea chef,” infuses the liquids with alcohol-based magic, including varieties made with bourbon, rum and tequila. He has even created a special h.wood blend.
The idea is to eventually open as a traditional tea room during the day and to keep it raucous and exclusive at night.
On a recent Wednesday, the evening began to pick up steam around 11, when the doorman engaged in a spirited smack down with a friend of Terzian’s. The fight didn’t last long, but it brought a satisfying sense of bad boy-laced danger into the room, an ephemeral quality mostly lacking in today’s milquetoast party scene.
At midnight, Paris Hilton sauntered in and hugged Terzian, who wore a long black jacket and made the requisite rounds of the tiny room, kissing his customers’ cheeks, shaking hands and checking on the bar.
“We cater to our friends and family. They are our loyal patrons, they feel comfortable in places that are unique and homey and not trying to be some flashy thing,” says Terzian.
To that end, Terzian points out that rather than hire a showy designer to outfit the Tea Room, he raided his family’s belongings.
“Most of the decor is from my grandmother’s house,” he says. That includes the old-fashioned silverware, a number of teapots and some 19th century keys that are framed behind the bar. The rest of the room is decked out in worn velvet couches, leather booths, dim crystal chandeliers and a glitter-covered piano where former “American Idol” contestant Adam Lambert (that’s “Glambert” to you) once played.
And that’s much of the allure of the Tea Room: Terzian and Toll know all the right people.
On the night that Hilton showed up, so did Katy Perry, Rose McGowan and James Van Der Beek.
Terzian and Toll grew up in L.A. Toll went to Beverly Hills High and Terzian to Harvard-Westlake; after that, they attended USC, where they started separately promoting parties and events. Things took off from there. Terzian began working for DJ AM’s business manager when AM co-owned club LAX with Pennings. Toll worked as the promotional director for that club.
Together, Pennings, Terzian and Toll (operating under the moniker “the h.wood group”) are now working to transform LAX back into Las Palmas, the legendary Hollywood club that was dismantled to create LAX in the first place. It’s part of a greater business plan that Terzian calls “going back to basics.”
“We’d rather embrace the past and give people something they’re comfortable and familiar with,” says Toll.
And that is exactly what they’re going for at the Tea Room.
Although new, the space emulates a fancy friend’s living room -- granted, a living room where Paris Hilton perches on the lap of a well-dressed man in shiny sneakers while party people dance around the two with committed abandon.
In Hollywood’s living room, anything goes. If you’re on the list, that is.