Here are my 2010 predictions for L.A.’s nightlife scene in today’s Los Angeles Times.
Who and what will change L.A.’s after-dark scene in 2010? And why?
1. The end of the velvet rope
“With the tougher economy, staff will have to recognize that bars are an extension of the hospitality industry, so all customers must be treated really well,” says 213 proprietor Cedd Moses, owner of downtown bars such as Seven Grand and Tony’s Saloon. Already we’ve seen bouncers loosen up: Rather than avoid eye contact with clubbers unwilling to give the “$100 handshake,” they’re making small talk with patrons and smiling. It’s not just about how hot or new the club is anymore, it’s about personal relationships, which is why you’ll see promoters working the room to thank people for coming out.
“We opened so many clubs in such a short time. And we killed them,” says Adolfo Suaya, who owns a number of properties in Hollywood, where he’s watched club businesses often spiral to a quick demise. “2006, 2007, 2008, 2009: Every three months we opened a new club. We didn’t give it a break. There aren’t that many people” to go around. His prediction for the future: easy, hole-in-wall neighborhood joints.
Lonnie Moore, whose Dolce Group owns trendy after-dark destinations such as Les Deux, couldn’t agree more. “We’re going after a jeans-and-T-shirt-type guy,” he says of his next project, slated to open in Hollywood in March. “I think you’ll see a lot of downsizing, from bigger clubs to smaller bars, from bottle service to beer bottles.”
2. Communal drinking
“Punches are going to be the big trend for 2010,” says Erick Castro, the general manager of Rickhouse in San Francisco, a city where cocktail currents often begin. “It’s symptomatic of the slow-food movement.” The Edison downtown has already jumped on the punch bandwagon, as has the Varnish, which incorporated punch in its New Year’s Eve party plans. At Copa d’Oro, head barman Vincenzo Marianella prepares several punches, including the 2010 made with Sazerac rye, sweet sherry, elderflower liqueur, fresh lemon juice, organic pear juice and Prosecco. Each bowl costs $75 and serves 10 people. It’s a bit like Jungle Juice, the college cocktail that gets mixed in a small trash can, only so much more refined.
3. The Houston twins
Although Johnny Houston has partnered on several successful night-life venues, he’s always preferred to stay behind the scenes and out of the press. That would still be the case were it not for the many projects he’s working on with his brother, Mark, formerly in commercial real estate. Now it’ll be impossible for him to fly under the radar.
Together, the twins, 31, recently revamped Piano Bar from a dingy Hollywood hole into a casual interpretation of a Bourbon Street bar. “We have complimentary barbecue and blues on Sunday,” says Mark, who hopes their bars will foster community in oft-neglected neighborhoods. “We’re taking seedy old dive bars and cleaning them up.”
Their next venue is much farther off the beaten path. The twins’ still unnamed Cuban rum bar, slated to open Jan. 10, will inhabit the old Blacklight at 2nd Street and Vermont Avenue, which was known as a transvestite hangout. “We want to bring people to Havana,” says Mark of the bar, which will have live salsa bands and a sophisticated cocktail program, care of a superstar (and still off-the-record) bartender.
Then will come the Stone, with a classy-yet-brothel décor, and after that a ’50s-’60s lounge in the space formerly known as Forty Deuce. Eventually, the Houstons also plan to have a food truck (they already bought the Airstream trailer, which will serve Cuban food at the opening of the rum bar) and a boutique hotel on the Eastside.
4. House music
House music is nothing new, but hearing those speedy beats in trendy Hollywood nightclubs is. “Club owners control what the DJ plays,” says promoter Jamie Barren, explaining why hip-hop had been favored: “House and trance are associated with drugs, and that affects bar sales. People listening to that music want to drink water and Red Bull.” But with the Black Eyed Peas, Pitbull, Flo Rida and Shakira using electronic samples in their songs, it’s impossible to keep house music out of the clubs.
And since clubbers can’t get enough, the owners have started to change their tune, asking DJs to play house intermittently throughout the evening and not just toward the end of the night when people are already tipsy. It’s not very hard to integrate house with hip-hop, says DJ Zen Freeman. “Commercial hip-hop artists have sped up their songs from 70 to 100 beats per minute to around 120 to 135 bpms.”
But it should be noted that this shift marks the end of an era, says Freeman, tipping his hat to “the forefront DJs” Z Trip, Mark Ronson and the late Adam Goldstein (better known as DJ AM), who dominated the A-list club scene conceiving hip-hop and rock mash-ups in the 2000s.
One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, no more? Although tequila won’t fade from popularity, a similar spirit will finally rise from obscurity. “Tequila is essentially a mezcal that comes from one particular varietal, the blue agave. But there are around 18 other types of agave distilled in Mexico, half of which are used to make what we call mezcal. Mezcal also is distilled using different production techniques,” explains Eric Hiss, a travel and spirits writer and co-founder of global lifestyle website wandermelon.com. “It’s much more hand-crafted.” Hiss would know: He tracked down the spirit in Oaxaca, Mexico, and learned of its distillation process, which hasn’t really changed over the course of about 500 years.
Why mezcal, and why now? Accessibility is one. Ron Cooper, founder of premium mezcal brand Del Maguey, has brought the spirit to the U.S. from remote villages.
Respect is another. “People with sophisticated palates have really gravitated to it,” says Hiss. That would include celebrated chefs such as José Andrés of the Bazaar and bar owner Cedd Moses, who’s opening Las Perlas, a mezcal tasting room in the historic Santa Fe lofts, early in 2010.
Don’t expect sour mixes and salt rims. This earthy spirit has a smoky flavor and is best sipped neat.