With mega dance den Playhouse and four more after dark destinations on the way, Elie Samaha and Rob Vinokur make a bid for their own velvet rope dynasty
Angeleno, October 2009
Sam Nazarian and David Judaken have already done it. Now a pair of would-be midnight maharajahs, Elie Samaha and Rob Vinokur, are building L.A.’s third club empire. Samaha, a veteran film producer (his CV includes Werner Herzog’s Rescue Dawn), is no newbie, having had a hand in numerous local haunts dating back to the Roxbury in the mid-’90s. And Vinokur, a Manhattan transplant who helped turn West Chelsea’s Crobar into a big-money biz, is similarly seasoned. But their July launch of the massive Playhouse in the old Fox Teatre on Hollywood Boulevard marks their first foray as true velvet-rope headliners.
Playhouse, which has already lured the likes of Leo and Lindsay, is a 750-reveler-capacity ode to Vegas-style debauchery, with multiple levels, acrobatic cocktail waitresses descending from the rafters, burlesque dancers in every corner and pulsating LED lights on constant rotation. Te pair is aware that a club so large can quickly burn through its allotted buzz, but are willing to take their chances. “The trend is going back to big nightclubs for people to have fun in,” says Vinokur. “People are tired of looking left and right to see who’s next to them.”
The $6 million gambit will soon be followed by the down-the-block Hemingway’s, a 3,000-square-foot, wood-filled lounge that Samaha and Vinokur tapped Johnny Zander to run (the detail-oriented designer-cum-promoter is the one who made the Green Door soar). Up next is an end-of-the-year redo of Nacional on Wilcox into the Studio 54-channeling 77, to be overseen by Allison Melnick, most recently of Apple. They’ll be followed shortly thereafter by the metamorphoses of the one-time Ivar as well as the currently derelict Vogue theater, another Hollywood Boulevard property.
All of which, of course, adds up to a significant bet, particularly in a financial climate where the ranks of customers willing to pony up $1,000 for a bottle-serviced table continue to thin. Samaha acknowledges the challenge, but believes he and his partner’s projects will beat the odds. “With the tight economy, we’re trying to create concepts that keep people in the club all night.” —Alexis Johnson