THE CHAIN GANG
Byline: Marcy Medina
LOS ANGELES — First came the artists. Then the writers, stylists and a handful of deejays. Now the West’s promise of sun, celebrity and space is luring droves of New York entrepreneurs intent on capitalizing on the major revitalization under way in Hollywood and Las Vegas.
“The hassles of opening a night spot in New York have gotten so inordinate that it’s a real disincentive to search for new venues there,” said David Rabin, an owner of New York’s Lotus, who opened V Bar in Las Vegas’s Venetian hotel in February. “Entrepreneurs are throwing their hands up and going, ‘Why fight? Why not go to an environment that’s welcoming?”‘
Los Angeles and Hollywood, in particular, have rolled out the welcome mat in unprecedented fashion. Elizabeth Peterson, senior project manager for Bally/Taylor Associates, one of about six firms here that expedites the paper work required to open a bar or a similar business, estimates upwards of 300 bar applications pending in the city at any given time.
“Right now, we have about 14 projects in the Hollywood area,” she said. “If you want to take a franchise forward, L.A. is the key.” Peterson, whose company helped bring TriBeCa’s Knitting Factory to Hollywood last year, added, “But, it’s also the most jaded audience in the world.”
Angelenos consume less alcohol, she observed, so bars have to be fresher and more service-oriented. “You have to look at other ways of getting revenue,” said Peterson.
Paul Devitt imported Beauty Bar, his kitschy beauty parlor boite, which offers manicures, martinis and rock ‘n’ roll, to Hollywood last year after successful turns in New York and San Francisco. “I knew Hollywood was having a resurgence and the timing was perfect,” said Devitt. Late this summer, he will inject some competition to the area when he opens another concept bar, Star Shooz, around the corner in a former wacky wig store on Hollywood Boulevard.
Resembling a Fifties shoe salon, the club will serve cocktails and sell vintage LaRose shoes (a favorite brand of Marilyn Monroe and Joan Crawford) in a deal he struck with another Gotham enterprise, the vintage boutique Cherry.
“I like the idea of diversifying a bar into more than just drinking,” said Devitt, who, along with Deb Parker, also founded Barmacy and the now-defunct Notel Motel in New York. “And what do women like more than beauty products? Shoes.”
Even the once desolate downtown is catching up. Hotel mogul Andre Balazs plans to bring a Los Angeles branch of NoHo’s Bond Street to The Standard Los Angeles, slated to open later in the year. A few blocks away, Chelsea’s Passerby (the bar attached to Gavin Brown’s art gallery) has added a West Coast address adjacent to a new gallery called Pageant.
“The beautiful thing is that there are so many bars and clubs opening in the immediate vicinity that you’re getting an East Coast vibe that you couldn’t find before,” said Manhattan native Ivan Kane, owner of the Hollywood clubs Kane and Deep. Kane is reciprocating by opening a Deep in New York.
Compared to Manhattan and Las Vegas, rent in Hollywood remains reasonable. Devitt pointed out that on Cahuenga Boulevard — the site of Beauty Bar and several others including the Sunset Room and the Room — monthly rent averages $1.25 per square foot. On Hollywood Boulevard, it’s double that. “Compare that to New York, where it’s anywhere from $10 to $110,” he said.
While Los Angeles may be ideal for smaller entrepreneurs, Alain Bally of Bally/Taylor Associates noted that Las Vegas is the province for those with major cash flow. “In Vegas, the price of admission is substantially higher. An 8,000- to 10,000-square-foot club in L.A. would cost $1.5 million to $2 million. In Vegas it would be $5 million.”
But those who have the capital are reaping the profits. While a 2,000-square-foot bar in Hollywood grosses anywhere from $15,000 to $30,000 per week, V Bar, according to Rabin, is pulling in over $50,000 a week in a 2,500-square-foot space. “Because of business conventions, we’re doing numbers double what a similar space is expected to do in New York,” he said.
But the figures are relative. One source estimates that real estate at prime hotels on the strip like the Venetian, where Rabin plans to install a Lotus, can run $75 to $100 a square foot. “Vegas is a dream city in our business,” Rabin insists. “It’s such an incredibly busy market, with an unlimited tourist and convention customer base.”
In many cases, a bar’s bi-coastal clientele — including celebrities-about-town like Britney Spears, Leonardo DiCaprio and George Clooney — ensure customers for new arrivals. “It’s nice to be able to go from coast to coast and know you are going to get the same kind of vibe in a particular bar,” said Kane. “It’s like a familiar brand.”
Jeff Gossett, who closed the New York Moomba shortly after opening a larger version in West Hollywood, agreed.
“Moomba in New York was filled with L.A. people all the time and our brand was definitely recognized out here. It’s a mature, elegant clientele and there just happen to be celebrities.”
As for whether or not the L.A. opening was any smoother, Gossett admitted, “It’s hard wherever you are. This business is one of the toughest. It’s a live show every night and you always have to be at the best of your game.”