Ladies of the night: How a few fierce women are revolutionizing the club scene

Shereen Arazm, a petite, bubbly brunette, could easily be mistaken for a Hollywood clubber at trendy venues such as Central, Shag and Geisha House. In fact, she’s the millionaire mogul responsible for their success. Factor in Pantera Sarah, a fierce politico by day and savvy club promoter by night, and Tricia La Belle, the owner of Boardner’s who also started the long-standing Goth night Bar Sinister, and it’s clear: The Los Angeles nightlife landscape is changing.

The nightlife business has long been a testosterone-heavy boys’ club—mostly keeping women on the dance floor or behind the bar. Of the 57 nightlife destinations affiliated with the Hollywood Hospitality Association, La Belle is the only woman with sole ownership of a nightclub. But there’s been a recent influx of women in powerful roles who are transforming the after-dark scene. Female DJs have broken down many walls. Before the age of digital music, DJ-ing was a physical job that required carrying heavy crates of vinyl to the clubs, which many women say was a turnoff. Now female DJs, once considered a novelty act, are running the turntables.

For Arazm, the doors to Hollywood didn’t swing open right away. In 2000, after losing a bidding war for a bar on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and breaking up with her boyfriend, she boarded a bus to L.A. with $600 to her name. She landed a job at Las Palmas, then Hollywood’s club du jour, and became one of the highest-earning bartenders in town. “I was busting my ass,” she says, “working 24/7 [when I realized] I should be running my own place instead of making these guys so much money.”

Metromix: Ladies of the night

After two years behind the bar, she teamed up with her then-boss, Loyal Pennings, to open Concorde. The project took a year longer than expected, during which time Arazm slung drinks to make ends meet. The club’s first-ever event was an infamous Ben Affleck birthday party hosted by Jennifer Lopez. “It was out of control,” Arazm says. “Paparazzi were on the roof and paying the neighbors their rent for the year to sit in their window…to try to get a photo.”

Arazm bought out Pennings in 2004, and in 2005 transformed Concorde into Shag, a feminine haven designed by Tracie Butler, a close friend from the bartending days. (They used to cry before shifts because they felt frustrated waiting for their lives to really start.) Then Arazm brought on Pantera Sarah as a promoter to complete the sisterly trio, which has since opened Parc and Central. (Arazm and Sarah are co-owners.)

Regulars on the club scene know Sarah as an unflappable doorwoman. But her intimidating demeanor actually comes from a motherly instinct to protect. “You can tell by the way a man will speak to me at the door the way he’s going to behave towards women in the clubs,“ says Sarah. “If he walks up like he owns the place, he’s probably going to treat women like property.”

One would think, in the year 2008, that we’d be past blatant, clichéd sexism. Not so much. Arazm says she’s often mistaken for a hostess, and that people who don’t get past her velvet rope threaten to get her fired. On a recent night at her restaurant Terroni, a woman who didn’t want to wait for a table refused to believe Arazm was the real owner. Arazm’s response: “I am the real owner and that’s the real door.”

Metromix: Ladies of the Night

Arazm also owns Bella and Geisha House with the Dolce Group’s Lonnie Moore. Moore, who came off as a rabid sex addict in an episode of Bravo’s “Millionaire Matchmaker,” is currently embroiled in a civil lawsuit for allegedly raping a 19-year-old girl at his club Les Deux. He denies the allegations via his lawyer, Ronald Richards: “My client denies all groundless allegations in the complaint and is looking forward to exposing the fraudulent nature of these charges.”

And yet for some men in the club business, say many women, it’s like a “Revenge of the Nerds” scenario. “Guys who couldn’t get into the clubs open their own and get to be kingpin,” Arazm says. Of this general mentality, she adds: “It’s chicks everywhere. Two at a time. Suck my dick. Show me your tits.” Grace Liu, a promoter at Jimmy’s Lounge in Hollywood, agrees. “You’ll see men who weren’t really popular in high school get into promoting. Now they have women hanging all over them,” she says.

Metromix: Ladies of the Night

In addition to the behind-the-scenes-muscle that ladies are lending the Hollywood club scene, there’s a push across L.A. to make clubs more female-friendly. One way is to bring on female DJs who are in tune with what makes other women dance. “Since guys don’t dance with other guys, girls basically control the dance floor,” says Tina T., who splits her time between gigs in L.A. and Las Vegas. Winston’s resident DJ Michelle Pesce agrees. “A lot of people say that I can play to the female better,” she says.” Guys might be a little weirded out about playing songs like ‘Sweet Caroline.’”

Though female DJs are packing dance floors, there’s still a notion among male DJs that they only get booked because of their looks. “Being a female in the scene is extremely tough,” says Spundae DJ Fei-Fei. “You always have to wonder when you’re going to lose your spot,” she says.

Largely, women in the nightlife industry have had to work twice as hard to earn the same respect as their male counterparts, but are still called “bitches” for having the same no-nonsense attitude that earns men bonus points. SBE’s president of VIP services, Jen Rosero, is probably most harshly judged by clubbers. “You have to be tougher as a woman at a door so…people fear you,” she says. For Rosero, who’s had a gun pulled on her, it’s a survival strategy in more ways than one.

It might seem, on the surface, that these women aren’t enjoying themselves as much as the men. But having seen too many nightlife titans distracted by a life of excess, Arazm prefers the role of businesswoman to that of party girl. “Men have different ideas on what they want to be known for,” she says. “You would never see me at my own club taking up a table, rubbing elbows. I would die before I sent a celebrity a bottle to meet them. I would die before I did a reality show.”

In an interesting twist, Arazm is now eight months pregnant and plans to continue her booming nightlife business while raising a family. “There are plenty of

working moms, and I plan to be one of them,” she says. Then she adds, “I look at this as my career, not my way to meet guys or up my social profile.”

Sidebar

Meet the ladies of the night
Some of the fiercest women in the nightlife scene

Tricia La Belle
Meet Tricia La Belle. Not only is she an outspoken director of the Hollywood Hospitality Association, the Boardner’s maven is also the only female who has sole ownership of a Hollywood club. Is she as enamored with celebrities as her neighboring club owners? “A celebrity’s name doesn’t mean anything to me,” she says. “They have more money than God—to come in here and pay for the services that I provide to them—then to come in and insult me and ask me to give it to them for free when this is what I do for my living—” That tough attitude is one of the many reasons we heart La Belle. Click in for more women revolutionizing L.A.’s nightlife scene.

Shereen Arazm

Claim to fame
Became a major player in Hollywood’s nightlife and restaurant scenes by opening venues such as Shag, Central, Parc, Bella, Geisha House and Terroni.

What inspired you to open a bar?
“This is so cheesy, but do you remember the movie ‘Tequila Sunrise’ back in the day? I was like 15 or 16 when I saw it. Michelle Pfeiffer owns a restaurant. I saw that movie and was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I want to do that job.’”

Michelle Pesce

Claim to fame
Salt-n-Pepa’s Spinderella taught Michelle how to DJ, inspiring her to ditch her career in publicity and become an A-list female DJ at exclusive venues such as Winston’s.

What’s one thing your male fans should know?
“Guys will come up and try to touch my turntables, which is a no-no. Such a no-no. And they think I’m going to be like ‘hee hee hee.’ Um, no! At first maybe I was little nicer, but like, you just don’t touch the turntables at all.”

Jen Rosero

Claim to fame
As Partner and President of VIP Services at SBE, Rosero is known as the toughest door person in town.

What are you thinking when you’re working the door?
“If I was a chef, I would want to make really interesting food with different flavors and tastes, and I think ultimately what makes a great night and a great club is putting together a bowl of mixed fruit. I don’t think that having all the same fruit is too interesting. It’s very important to look at what’s in front of you and mix it up.”

DJ Rap

Claim to fame
Named the No. 1 female DJ in the world by Shejay, DJ Rap runs two record labels: Propar Talent and Impropar Talent.

What’s your take on DJs who look like porn stars?
“I think it’s sad. It’s one thing looking sexy. It’s another thing getting gigs because you’re DJ-ing half naked. That’s not what I call a real DJ, and I don’t think anyone who really respects the art of DJ-ing and craft of making music really feels they count. That’s what’s sad. I’m sure they want to count. I think there’s a market for it, but I will never play on a bill where those girls are because I want to be taken seriously as a credible artist.”

Eve Falcon

Claim to fame
Plays progressive house, electro, tech and breaks.

How do you approach the decks?
“Whether I’m playing a mega club like the Avalon main stage or a small club in Milwaukee, I like to make an emotional connection with my dance floor.”

Pantera Sarah

Claim to fame
Fierce politico by day, tough club maven by night.

How do you always get the right crowd?
“I don’t have anybody that works for me. I do all of my phone calls myself. I do every e-mail individually. I don’t belong to Stun. The mass blast e-mail is impersonal, and I don’t do that because whenever I get one of those mass e-mails, I delete it. I don’t want to feel fliered to; I want to feel invited when I go somewhere.”

Rashida

Claim to fame
When she’s not touring with Prince, the Purple One goes clubbing at her parties like Kiss ’n’ Grind.

Do you have a DJ strategy?
To move women, that’s the goal. Women run the party. If women are there, dudes come.

Jenn Laskey

Claim to fame
Her flair for merging art and dance with nightlife earned her a top position at 86 as director of special events.

Do you think being a woman gives you an edge?
“It’s a bargaining tool—using a combination of looks and intelligence to get what you want.”

Reid Speed

Claim to fame
New York drum-and-bass, breaks and electrohouse DJ who now lives and plays in L.A.

Why are there so many more female DJs now?
“The technology has made music and DJ-ing more accessible to everyone. A few years ago, you had to physically get your hands dirty and carry your records. Looking through records at a store, you’d break a nail. It’s so much easier to get the music now.”

Ana Dim Mak

Claim to fame
Director of marketing for the Dim Mak record label by day, resident DJ at Pash and 86 by night.

How would you describe your DJ style?
“Essentially, I start out the sets with all the songs that get stuck in my head when I’m not DJ-ing. Then one song reminds me of another song because it’s, say, the guitar player’s solo act; then the next song is by that guitar player’s favorite band and it’s about lemonade; then the next song has the word ‘yellow’ in it because yellow reminds me of lemons. It’s kind of like an OCD version of a musical six degrees of separation.”

Tracie Butler

Claim to fame
Tended bar with Shereen Arazm at Las Palmas before designing Shag, Central and Parc.

What’s your design strategy?
“I always make sure my designs are inviting, sexy and warm. Everything has to have continuity and flow. With Concorde [now Shag], it felt like a garage or a government building. Now it’s layered, blingy—a lot of crystal.”

Fei-Fei

Claim to fame
A resident techno and trance DJ at Spundae.

Why do you think DJ-ing is a boys’ club?
“Perhaps it takes a certain tenacity and ruthlessness that might intimidate some people. Maybe the traveling and nightlife lifestyle doesn’t appeal to many women looking to settle down. Perhaps the technical aspect of it intimidates some. Being a female in the scene is extremely tough, and you always have to wonder when you’re gonna lose your spot.”

Valida

Claim to fame
A Wet ’n’ Wild model who also DJs and books talent at the Standard Hollywood.

Why do you think it took women so long for women to become club DJs?
“We’re a little shy. We’re not as pushy as men. It took time to blossom. We’ve had enough time to hone our skills as well. Women are more careful. They won’t start DJ-ing until they’re really ready and comfortable.”

Grace Liu

Claim to fame
Promotes PYT Fridays at Jimmy’s Lounge.

Why do you think guys get into the nightlife business?
To get laid. You’ll see men who weren’t really popular in high school get into this promoting thing…Now they have all these women hanging all over them.

Louisahhh!!!

Claim to fame
Emerging DJ and part of the Staccato DJ duo with Gina Turner.

How would you describe your sound?
“Acid disco house is what I gravitate towards musically, but ‘the sonic equivalent of neon unicorns battling the evils of the world’ is probably more accurate.”

Gina Turner

Claim to fame
Emerging DJ and part of the Staccato DJ duo with Louisahhh.

Do male DJs give you attitude?
“Automatically, guys don’t think we know what we’re doing, and then at gigs I’ll end up being tech support. Even when I’m working at Turntable Lab, guys will automatically ask another guy for help. One day, when I was working with Louisahhh, this guy was condescending: ‘Do you even know about DJ-ing?’ Louisahhh said, ‘No, my vagina didn’t eat my knowledge.’”

Theresa Fatino

Claim to fame
Chief creative officer for SBE Entertainment Group.

You work from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Do you ever get to go out to the clubs?
“I don’t go out all night. My effect on nightlife is on a strategic level. My role is about setting up these people with the skills and infrastructure they need in our nightlife business.”

Daisy O

Claim to fame
Model-turned-DJ who toured on Gwen Stefani’s “Harajuku Tour” before becoming a resident DJ at Teddy’s on Fridays and a talent-booker at the Custom Hotel and Palihouse.

What’s your take on MP3Js?
“I don’t hate on ‘selector’ DJs—ones who don’t mix, just play songs. You don’t have to be a turntablist to be considered a good DJ. Music is meant to be shared, and I am all for fashion designers, models or doctors having a go.”

Mikiala

Claim to fame
DJs with Daisy O as part of Ladies Love and is in heavy rotation at Temporary Spaces.

Are women really judged harder than guys?
“The owner of Crimson came up to [Daisy O and me] and said, ‘You guys are so good.’ He was expecting us to be bad […] The bar is set lower for girls. If you are good and you’re a girl, you get double the props.”

Dana Hollister

Claim to fame
Opened 4100 bar in the ’90s and now owns the Brite Spot, Cliff’s Edge and a handful of Downtown properties with her best friend, Elizabeth Peterson.

What inspires you to open bars?
“It’s really all about the love affair with building. I fall in love with things that are forelorn and really want to see them come back.”

Lady Sha

Claim to fame
Throws charity club events with a promotion team at LionessLA.

Are your parents supportive of your DJ-ing?
“They’ve stopped asking me if I’m going to go back to med school.”

Anne Lee Huffman

Claim to fame
The awesome promoter behind Awesometown and Blow Up L.A., a semi-regular club that pops up in warehouse spaces—and sometimes gets shut down by cops.

Is there a rivalry between female promoters?
“I think Scarlett Casanova is my main competitor at Hang the DJs, but I still book her as a DJ when she’s available, so there is a kinship. I think it’s because we all respect each other for being able to make it because it is more male-dominant.”

Ellei Johndro

Claim to fame
The party photog behind Shadowscene, best known for documenting Anne Lee Huffman’s parties.

How would you describe your photography?
“My style is split-moment photography, catching that off-guard, but all-telling moment—that quick glance, single second in time that tells a whole story.”

Scarlett Casanova

Claim to fame
Promotes indie/Brit-pop party Hang the DJs at the Echo.

Why’d you start this night?
“I honestly never planned on becoming a club promoter. I’ve just always been a socialite. I thought it would be a great idea to gather up all my favorite DJs and put on an amazing one-night event free of mainstream music and snobs…I believe I brought in around 600 people on my first night.”

Syrena

Claim to fame
Producer/DJ who started Selectress, an online community for female DJs.

Why did you launch Selectress?
“It’s a project for me to elevate the presence for women—a place to promote themselves. I always wanted a mentor when I was starting out. I didn’t necessarily to learn from a guy and have the pressure that he might hit on me. Promoter dudes are like, ‘I’ll get you a gig if you go out with me.’”

Samantha Ronson

Claim to fame
In between DJ gigs at Industry events, Mark Ronson’s sister gets caught in the middle of Lindsay Lohan drama.

What do you think about the influx of women in the nightlife scene?
Dial tone. [Ed. note: We tried for months to reach Ronson, but her manager was always on the other line when we called. Uh huh.]

Published in Metromix on February 27, 2008. Learn more about my work at Metromix.

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Author: Alexandra Le Tellier

I am a journalist specializing in editorial strategy, storytelling and audience development within the digital and social space.