It’s questionable whether the Hollywood scene existed before Brent Bolthouse came onto the map twenty years ago. The entrepreneur is no doubt Los Angeles’ nightlife guru; so many L.A. nightclubs, hotels and restaurants just wouldn’t have come into fruition without him.
Bolthouse is the definition of creative genius, and he’s utilized his vision for iconic spots such as Hyde Lounge, Area Nightclub, Foxtail, Katsuya, XIV restaurant, and the SLS Hotel. Through the years, Bolthouse has planned parties for Mick Jagger, collaborated with Philippe Starck, had icons like Prince dancing on one of his tables at Hyde Lounge, and formed alliances with iconic chefs like Wolfgang Puck. Most recently, Bolthouse opened The Bungalow — a beachfront hideaway and creative meeting space at The Fairmont in Santa Monica. In collaboration with Studio Collective, Bolthouse created a spot that’s less like a bar, and more like a house party (which it apparently is, six days a week).
There’s really not much Bolthouse hasn’t experienced, which is why his interview was more like a tall tale seminar rather than a back and forth question and answer. The scary part is, these stories aren’t tall at all, but rather quite real, so listen in.
TNP: What would be your ideal food day?
Brent Bolthouse: "I like food but it’s not that important to me. I’d love to go to that little spot in Tokyo in the subway where Jiro Ono makes the crazy sushi. That would be fun. I’d go to India for Indian food. I’d love to go to the Middle East and eat some of their food because it’s so good, but it’s probably not so safe. Maybe next year. I don’t eat sugar so I won’t go for dessert."
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TNP: Could you tell me a bit about The Bungalow space, the vision behind it and how the project started?
"For years I wanted to do a place on the west side in Santa Monica, Venice, or even Malibu. When this [opportunity] arose, I had my first meeting with the owners of the Fairmont Hotel in the lobby. The Fairmont was always this awkward, business hotel that you’d come to for a corporate meeting or something. It wasn’t necessarily a place that was on the map as somewhere you go to on a social level. Maybe you had a friend that got married there, or something like that, but it was never like, “Let’s go have a drink there.” So, on the way over I’m thinking, “Where in the Fairmont is there a place like that?” I had to go and keep an open mind, because you always have to. And they walked me into the space and I instantly knew what to do here. I wanted to create a really great house party.
On any project I work on, I always create a kind of mythological muse. So, for this project, it was an amazing woman who lived most of her life in Paris, had a Riad in Marrakech in the old part of the souk, and a great loft in New York. She ended up retiring in California because she loved the Baja-ness of California and where we are. So, she took all of her life’s journey and put it into The Bungalow. This was her ultimate house. She was a modern Auntie Mame, who loved to entertain and have people over. So, we sort of thought about the things she’d have. The camp sign was her son’s camp sign he made for her when he was six. We thought of all of these things that could be part of the story. With all the tchotchkes and photographs I picked up in Paris, we always thought from her perspective. How do we make all of these things into this great house that she lives in? We hear it all the time from people that come here; they feel like they’re in a really fun house party, which is really what we tried to achieve. I think we succeeded at that, but that was the inspiration behind what we were doing. We wanted it to be very Baja California, very timeless in its design, and something that felt a little '70s but had a little modernity to it. I think the '70s was the birth of so many great things. It was an interesting time. So, that’s how the project was art-directed. That was my vision behind it."
TNP: In terms of creating timeless spaces, especially when it comes to nightlife, how do you create spots that aren’t just flashes in the pan?
"I think there are certain places that you want to create timelessness, and certain places you don’t necessarily want to create timelessness. Like when we created the original Hyde, it wasn’t meant to be timeless, but it also wasn’t meant to be indicative of one period of time. You didn’t go, “Oh, that was late 2000.” The design didn’t emulate that necessarily; it was more of an ambiguous, warm, beautiful, rich room, and people just liked it. This project [The Bungalow] was meant to feel timeless. You can go to some peoples’ houses and they can be from the sixties and '70s, but still feel great today because they were done well and they held up to the test of time. I think that’s what we try to do. This project was a bungalow; it was built as a bungalow, so we had those bones. It was really easy to make it feel like a house, and I think houses feel a little more timeless than bars do. I always say, “Great is good on Monday or Friday.” If you make something great, it’s still going to work whether it’s the worst day [of the week] or the best day."
"I have been lucky to have started off my career and have it be great from the beginning. And I built upon that. I had some failures, and I had some successes, but I always take the perspective (especially with a place like this) that I have to be here all of the time. So I want to create a place that I can be at a lot, and not be bored of. If you can do that, then there is the chance that a person will come once or twice a week, and is probably not bored either. I’m here four or five days a week and I’m not bored or sick of looking at it. All nights are different. One night we’ll have a band; one night there’s a special party for Prada. The people that are in here make it different."
TNP: How has the nightlife scene in L.A. changed since you first started?
"Oh my god, it’s completely changed. In some ways, it’s lost a little bit of its soul. When I started and Jennifer Rosero came on board a few years later, we sort of dominated the nightlife scene in Los Angeles. We would go into burned out restaurants or weird dive bars and turn them into these really hot places — and we did it on multiple nights. I was the first promoter to have multiple nights; LA was always a promoter-driven town, unlike New York at that time.
In L.A., you always had these owners who had this romantic notion of owning a nightclub because they’d made a little money, but they didn’t know what the hell they were doing. They didn’t put in good sound, or good lights — they did everything you wouldn’t do. So, we ended up bringing in our own sound system and our own lights, and making these little weekly fun parties on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday. So, if you went out in Hollywood in say 1995, you were probably going to one of my places. Some places were small and some places were big. We had a club that held 200 people on a Monday, and a club on Saturday that held 2,000 people. A broad spectrum of people would come, but there was still that core group of people that became friends with us, and they were just cool. And some of those cool kids ended up winning Oscars! It’s just kind of what happened. It was like a family.
There was no press and no paparazzi; we had a strict rule that no cameras were allowed. We would check purses, and make people go put cameras back in their cars. You made this environment where anything could happen. There was that excitement of no cell phones. So you couldn’t text your friends and say, “This party is lame, don’t come.” Or you couldn’t say “Oh this party is amazing. Come.” You would show up to Joseph’s on a Monday night because you didn’t know what was going to happen. The week before, Prince and Bono may have been dancing on the dance floor. (That happened!) You didn’t read about it in the papers. Maybe something crazy would happen and things would get out in the press but in general, a lot of people would come and they were invisible, they had a good time, and they felt safe — and that was always a topic of conversation among celebrity friends. They’d say they liked to come there because they felt safe. Come in the back door, leave, and nobody knew. There was no Page Six in L.A. In New York, you had Page Six and you had Patrick McMullan taking photographs of everybody and everything that was happening. It was awesome 20 years later, because you got to see documentation of what was happening, but in L.A., nobody did that. I think that celebrities have a different perspective when they go to a different city, as opposed to their hometown where they feel they want to be able to go to the supermarket, get some watermelon, and not be chased down.
In New York, or in Paris, it’s different. They’d go out and let their hair down a little bit more than in L.A. That’s how it used to be. I think Hyde was the line in the sand where everything really changed. When we did Hyde, we didn’t let media in. We had no press, we didn’t let writers in, and we wouldn’t let people have cameras in there. This was right before cell phones had cameras. It was right as TMZ was birthing, so they would sit outside Hyde every night, and get people coming and going. That is where, I think, it all really changed. You had a moment in time in that room where it was crazy. You had 10 booths and every booth was this amazing group of celebrities that were friends. Everyone knew each other. After that I think it all really changed, with that pinnacle of Britney Spears, Lindsey Lohan, Nicole Richie, and Paris Hilton — that pinnacle of insanity. That night that Britney Spears didn’t wear panties, there were a hundred paparazzi waiting for her on a Sunday night to arrive. No joke. And when they pulled up, three cars pulled into oncoming traffic and they all jumped out of their cars to get a picture. There were just abandoned cars on Sunset Boulevard. It was something I’d never seen before. They were going to run people over or abandon cars on the street; who does that? Celebrities now don’t go out as much as they used to, and there’s been a birth of the reality TV celebrity, which is this false, mythological character (that aren’t actually mythological characters but want to be). So they go out and they don’t mind it, but then you have some people that have built a body of work and they work really hard to get that kind of career and they stay home and they don’t go out. People are telling them, “Don’t go out. Don’t go to these certain places. It’s a bad look.” So you had all of that happen as a result of Hyde.
Now we’ve rolled in the era where any guy with a lot of money can be a celebrity. In the early nineties, if you got a table at our place then you were a friend who was maybe a celebrity. Or you were cool and we just liked you and thought you had a cool vibe, so we’d give you a table. Maybe there was a table full of models, and a guy with money that we let buy bottles. It was more done that way, and now it just seems like if you want a table at a nightclub in Hollywood and you don’t have $4,000 dollars, forget about it. On a Saturday night if you want to go out, you have to have four grand and that’s just what you have to do. But if you have that money then you can be treated like a rock star, which is again…really weird."
TNP: Do you like those changes to the scene?
"No, I don’t like that. Nothing is wrong with people having money to buy tables; I think that’s great. But I think that you can’t be treated like a rock star — or think that you’re a rock star — if you’ve never been a rock star. That makes zero sense to me. You know what I mean? I don’t understand that. I think that people who own nightclubs have to be careful to not get drunk on the money. I’ve done this for almost twenty-five years. I really like what The Bungalow is; I like this model and I’m super grateful that it’s successful. It’s not a bottle service kind of place, but we still generate money and people come back. Seven days a week we’re busy; it’s amazing."
"One hundred percent. This was my vision, and my design. Studio Collective is awesome; they helped me fulfill my vision. I really had my vision and 2,000 photographs of what I wanted, and they made that vision happen. They helped me curate it. It was more like a design partnership with them. I’m not a designer but I have a particular taste. All of the things in here, these quality things, we got them and focused on how they should be put together. Leslie Kale [of Studio Collective] has such a great eye, and she would shop and find stuff. I saw the Amor sign in a book, but it said Love, and my friend Britney was like, make it Amor instead of Love, which is even better. It still says love but in the Baja-vibe, you know?"
TNP: Going back to when you said you create a mythological muse for each project, can you give us more past ones? Was there one for Hyde?
"There wasn’t really a muse for Hyde. The muse for Hyde was built around Hyde Park in London, as a great place for music. Hyde was a place where I didn’t want to play Hip Hop, because Hip Hop was dominating the scene. So for the first couple years, we only played rock and roll. And that was what we wanted it to be. Hyde was named after Hyde Park, where so many famous concerts happened.
For Body English in Las Vegas, our muse was Keith Richards. We thought, if Keith Richards had a nightclub in the basement of his castle in England, what would it look like? How do we do that? We worked with Kelly Wearstler on that and that was the direction we gave her. It felt British. It felt like it could be a nightclub in Keith Richards’ house; we really wanted to make it feel that way."
TNP: How important is food to you at your venues?
"We have food here at The Bungalow, and Ray Garcia, who is the chef from The Fairmont and does all the food at Fig, makes amazing food. It was important to me to just have great tacos and amazing chips and guacamole, and we have both. That’s what I wanted it to be — simple. I think some places serve food because their licenses require it, so they don’t make it a priority. The great thing about here is that we open at 5 p.m. and we’ll be busy at 5 p.m.. By 6 p.m., every seat will be taken, people are enjoying the sunset and at that time people want to eat.
Sometimes when you go to a club at 11 p.m., the last thing you want to do is eat some food. In that way, I think places are swimming up stream a bit. You can’t do that unless it’s a supper club where you have a component that’s a restaurant, and then another that’s the club. I think The Roxbury is the only nightclub that ever did that successfully in the history of L.A., because it was a three-story building. You had a jazz club on the first floor, a restaurant that would fill up on the second floor, and then you’d go up to the third floor where there was a VIP room and you could go dance in a club. It was the only time that it seemed like a restaurant could actually work with a nightclub because of the way it was set up and the way it flowed. It was perfect."
TNP: What are some personal favorite spots of yours besides your own in LA and New York?
"I haven’t been to New York in a while. In New York, there’s always something going on. I’m friends with Noah Tepperberg, so whatever he’s got going on I’ll go to. I’m friends with Richie Akiva and Scott Sartiano and I’m friends with Mark Birnbaum and Eugene Remm — so, whatever they all have going on. These are all my peers and my friends and I’m sort of the old guy that’s been doing this longer than anybody. I always like to pop in and see them; they all do great.
I love Chateau Marmont. I go there all the time. Andre Balazs is a really old friend, and you always want to support your friends when you can. I really like Soho House for lunch and drinks. I think they did such an amazing job with the one in Los Angeles. I think it’s so beautiful. I love the new Nobu in Malibu. I think it’s one of the prettiest restaurants in maybe the world with that view, and the way they did it. It’s really nice."
"Santa Monica had it this year with The Bungalow, Shore Bar, and 41 Ocean. I think they changed the landscape. Now there are so many great places in Venice Beach, too. I think for Los Angeles, the west side is really up-and-coming. I hope there are more and more things coming this way, because there are such great people here.
Obviously the Arts District downtown in L.A. has changed a lot — as well as downtown in general. It’s certainly not where it used to be. In the '90s, before the Los Angeles Riots, we did everything downtown. Every party was downtown, every club was downtown, the great restaurants were downtown; everybody went downtown. You would go out on a Tuesday night and you’d see Jack Nicholson and Cher. Everyone was just out at a bar. We would do underground parties in warehouses and stay out until six in the morning. Then the riots happened and everyone went west. From the riots until now — that’s how long it took LA to recover from that moment in time. And now downtown is really starting to develop. I hear rumors of Café Gratitude going down there. Soon Mario Batali will have a restaurant down there. It will be interesting to see how L.A. embraces what the guys from the Ace Hotel are doing. I think the way they curate the shops around their hotels is a very interesting model. And, it must be a daunting task too — to negotiate your own lease, but then have a hand in 10 other leases around you with different landlords. We’ve been keeping an eye on downtown and waiting for an opportunity to arise. I’m excited about that.
For whatever reason, I’ve been spending a tremendous amount of time in Austin, which isn’t a new thing. Austin has been great for years, but I just feel like there’s more and more stuff happening with Formula 1, Austin City Limits, and South by Southwest. Austin’s gone to a whole other level of greatness."
TNP: Do you think the more spots there are the better? Or do you think it gets a bit diluted? Celebrities in L.A. don’t go to just one golden spot anymore, because there are so many options now.
"I think celebrities have stopped going out in L.A. for the most part. I do a party for Jimmy Fallon every year and two years ago I was there with Danny Masterson, and we were looking around the party (it was maybe 200 people, eighty percent celebrities), and Danny was like, “Do you remember this is what it was like?” You would go out on a Saturday night and there would be fifty celebrities in a room, from A-List celebrities to C-List celebrities, TV stars, movies stars, rock stars. It seems like now it’s only in those special moments, where, let’s say, Jimmy Fallon has an Emmy party that’s private, that he pays for, that nobody can get into. Those moments aren’t created anymore and they don’t happen in Hollywood. I think it’s the first time in a long time that Hollywood doesn’t have that. They’re going to Soho House; they’re going to Chateau Marmont; they’re going to places where they feel safe, and that takes a bit out of what has always made Hollywood magical."
TNP: Do you have one night in your entire career that was most memorable? What was it?
"In the early '90s, I was asked by Rick Rubin to do a party for Mick Jagger. I was looking for a house; I wanted it in a house and it had to be on a Friday night. It was the week when AIDS Project Los Angeles would do a big fashion show, with a big designer. That year it was Jean Paul Gaultier, and I was working on that project with APLA. Then I also had three nightclubs of my own going on — a Monday, Thursday, and a Saturday. I was doing a party for Luis Barajas, who owns Flaunt Magazine now. So, I get this call to pull a party together on Friday, and I’m just thinking, this week is crazy, but you can’t say no to Mick Jagger, right?
So, we do it and I find a house. I end up picking this house that a friend of mine, Victoria Sellers, has. I go to look at the house and I thought it was perfect. So, I go back to my crazy week and go back to the house Friday morning with my production team. This was before I did events, so it was like a 22-year-old putting this together. So, we’re putting the party together, and I start looking around and notice there are all these girls around the pool, some topless. Victoria comes down to introduce me to her roommate, and I realize it’s Heidi Fleiss. It’s her house. And at the time no one knew who Heidi Fleiss was, but everyone in Hollywood knew who Heidi Fleiss was. So I’m thinking, ‘Oh my god, I’m doing a party for Rick Rubin and Mick Jagger at the biggest madame in Hollywood’s house. It’s Friday, we can’t change it.’ It’s better to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission, so we went on with the party, and it was an amazing party. Everybody showed up, from Warren Beatty and Jack Nicholson, to Johnny Depp DJing. It was so crazy to get in. The Red Hot Chili Peppers had to climb the bushes and over the wall to get in. That was a super memorable night. The great part to that was, in Heidi Fleiss’s autobiography, they write about this party as her coming out party. They make it as this big thing in Hollywood made to embrace her with all these celebrities. And I remember reading that book and thinking, ‘What a lie!’ That party happened absolutely by accident.
I don’t think any of the guys there cared that it was a bunch of models that moonlighted as call girls, or playmates doing whatever they would do. It probably added a nice little layer to the madness that is a great Hollywood party. It was one of those nights where Prince could barely get in. It was the greatest collection of people and the party went all night. One of those magical nights where one realizes, 'Wow, this is a real Hollywood party.'"