For a successful party in L.A., add sun, water and chlorine
Summer is hitting L.A., and that means the return of DJ-driven, sun-soaked pool parties at area hotel bars.
Santa Monica’s newly revamped Shangri-La, the Hollywood Roosevelt, the Standard in downtown L.A., the Custom Hotel, the Mondrian Hotel and new player Drai’s Hollywood at the W all have poolside splash-outs taking place Memorial Day weekend, and all six are committed to actively cultivating regular pool parties this summer — catering to twentysomethings and thirtysomethings bent on showing some skin and extracting the most from their weekends.
That robust poolside scene, however, is not the massive moneymaker that it is in Las Vegas. And though the splashy soirees, which start during the day and sometimes last into the evening, are multiplying in Sin City and San Diego, the trend seems to be shifting downward in Los Angeles, where the volume has been lowered ever so slightly, leaving only a few players to dominate the local market (the Standard West Hollywood and Ritz Carlton Marina del Rey have decided not to host Sunday bashes this year).
Nightlife veteran Victor Drai, for one, plans to take advantage of the narrowed field.
“We’re already are doing huge numbers, and the weather has been bad,” says the Drai’s Hollywood owner of his popular “Drai’s Sunday” event, which began in April. The flamboyant 62-year-old says he sometimes takes in as much from his Sunday party as he does on a Saturday night — even though more of the club is open on Saturdays and more seating options are available. (Cabanas during Drai’s Sunday poolside are at a premium, renting for between $2,000 and $5,000 a pop).
“People who don’t have pools in L.A., they want to go out in the sun,” Drai said. “Vegas was the first [city] to do these parties because they have these great pools. But L.A. is starving for any kind of entertainment like this.”
Still, Drai’s L.A. parties, like those at other local poolside bars, operate on a much smaller scale than the 1,000-person-plus bacchanalian blowouts in Vegas. Further, not every local poolside scene is set to flourish this summer. Managers are increasingly forced to walk a fine line between providing an experience that lures free-spending “daylife” drinkers and not irking hotel guests who may not appreciate pounding house music on a Sunday afternoon.
“The most important thing for me is that every event we do doesn’t impact the guest experience, because they are my first priority,” said Hotel Shangri-La owner Tamie Adaya, whose hotel hosts a promoter-driven party dubbed “SPF” on Sunday.
The 46-year-old, like several operators in L.A., is hoping to throw events by the pool as an ancillary revenue stream while placating tourists who may find non-guests’ behavior a little too loud.
“It’s a very South Beach kind of place,” Adaya says of her poolside scene, which she likens to Miami’s Raleigh hotel. “You’ve got the sun, you’ve got the laid-back atmosphere, but you don’t have the crazy spring break feel.”
In fact, going all-in at an L.A. pool party doesn’t even mean you have to get wet. If there is one unifying theme that ties together L.A.'s pool parties, it’s an attitude of detached cool — as opposed to the ebullient hedonism that characterizes Vegas destinations such as “Rehab” at the Hard Rock Hotel.
Which raises the question: Is the pool itself even relevant — other than as an excuse to get everyone in swimwear?
Chris Holmes, the connected DJ and co-host of the long-running “Night Swim” party at the Roosevelt (where the occasional big name pops in to guest DJ, such as Radiohead’s Thom Yorke last year) says his crowd might be jaded, but they still are having a good time — and sometimes getting wet.
“It might be getting a little more refined than the first few years we did [the party], but people are still getting in the pool and having fun,” said the DJ, who is set to host a daytime party Sunday at the Roosevelt’s poolside Tropicana bar. “There were some pretty hectic nights last year.”
But “Wet” promoter Sam Gaglani, who has been throwing DJ-centric happenings poolside all over California for the better part of the decade, has noticed a trend toward quieter, more nuanced events in L.A. as hotel owners clamp down — making parties more about lounging than dancing.
“I’ve been doing these parties since 2002,” he says. “Back then, it was the wild West. Today, pool parties in L.A. are becoming much more exclusive and intimate. All these hotel pools in L.A. are now bordered by residential properties. Even the Standard downtown is getting noise complaints from loft owners lately.”
Gaglani hosts an edition of “Wet” Monday at the Standard downtown but has since set his sights on San Diego’s growing market, where his DJs can play louder and longer (“Wet” makes its Gaslamp district debut Saturday at the swank Se hotel in an all-day, all-night flesh fete).
And even though Drai’s Sunday event atop the W Hotel may be the must-attend local bash for sun seekers this year, the venue is becoming increasingly exclusive (the velvet rope and dress code are in effect even on a Sunday afternoon at Drai’s.
Still, savvy locals should have no problem accessing pools this summer: the JW Marriott’s poolside bar, Ion, launches a more sedate Sunday affair at L.A. Live beginning June 9 that doesn’t require expensive cabana reservations; a new popup club dubbed “Beachwood” goes off every Saturday in Hollywood for those seeking a hot tub cabana scene; and the W Westwood has also recently revamped its weekend poolside lounge into a concept called “Escape,” which features light installations, barbecues on Saturdays and a pool party every Sunday afternoon.
Swimming, of course, remains optional.
“Most pool parties, no one gets in the pool,” admits Adaya. “Maybe it’s an L.A. thing, but girls are so dependant on looking good they don’t want to mess up their hair.”
Still, she adds, with one foot in the pool, “It’s the perfect summer hangout.”
Selected Memorial Day pool parties
Where: 7000 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
When: Noon to 6 p.m. Sundays
Price: No cover
Info: (323) 466-7000
Where: 1301 Ocean Ave., Santa Monica
When: “SPF” party, noon to 8 p.m. Sunday
Price: Free with RSVP
Info: (310) 394-2791
Where: 6250 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood
When: “Drai’s Sundays” and Memorial Day party featuring DJ set by LMFAO, noon to 8 p.m.
Price: $20 cover, swimwear and appropriate dress code enforced
Info: (323) 962-1111
Where: 8639 Lincoln Blvd.
When: “Set It Off Sundays,” 1 to 8 p.m.
Price: Free before 2 p.m., $10 until 4 p.m., $20 after 4 p.m.
Info: (310) 645-0400
Where: 550 S. Flower, L.A.
When: “Wet” Memorial Day party, 1 to 8 p.m. Monday
Price: $20 at the door, RSVP encouraged at homemadela.com
Info: (213) 892-8080