When the exclusive British club Soho House opens in spring of next year, it won’t just be the West Coast debut of the internationally known members-only establishment.
The nightspot’s opening will mark a milestone in something that would’ve been wholly unnecessary five or six years ago: the rebirth and re-imagining of the Sunset Strip.
Restaurants, bars and live event venues on the famous West Hollywood boulevard have been eclipsed in the last few years by a slew of hip competitors that have opened a few miles east in Hollywood, which has been enjoying a booming night life scene due to the ongoing redevelopment there.
So now the Sunset Strip is trying to get its mojo back. It is undergoing a renaissance of its own, thanks to the addition of upscale establishments including Soho House West Hollywood, which, it is hoped, will attract an A-list entertainment crowd to the top two floors of a skyscraper.
Strip business owners and West Hollywood officials are excited about drawing back 20- and 30-somethings to the legendary boulevard.
“Sunset is going to blow up again,” said Edward Kim, owner of Miyagi’s, an Asian-themed restaurant and bar on the Strip. “Everyone is saying the crowds are coming back, and that we are bringing back the best crowds from Hollywood.”
Businesspeople hope the new arrivals and renovations will spawn more. Kim, for one, is about to start a complete renovation of his establishment.
“When you have a business like the Soho House arrive, other businesses want to position themselves nearby, whether it’s another nightclub or upscale restaurant,” said Brad Burlingame, chief executive of the West Hollywood Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Along the Strip, a 1.3-mile stretch between Havenhurst Drive on the east and Doheny Drive on the west that is lined with more than 150 retailers, nightclubs, bars, restaurants and hotels, there’s evidence that a revitalization is under way.
At the Grafton Hotel, restaurateur Greg Morris is preparing to open an Italian bistro called the Olive on Sunset, for example. Nightclub promoter Guy Starkman is finalizing plans to open a bar at the site of a sushi restaurant, Blowfish Sushi to Die For.
“A lot of interesting things are going on,” said Lee Maen, a partner in Innovative Dining Group, which owns and operates several upscale restaurants in Los Angeles including Sushi Roku. “And West Hollywood has been proactive in helping make that happen.”
He’s referring to West Hollywood’s plan to spiff up the street scene. A six-month project that’s about to get under way includes repaving the street, repairing sidewalks, and adding landscapes and medians. The Strip’s facelift is scheduled to begin in January with $5.4 million in city funding and an additional $1.1 million from the federal stimulus package.
“I think it’s been about eight years since certain portions of the boulevard have been paved. There’s a need,” said Todd Steadman, executive director of the Sunset Strip Business Association. “Once the project is completed, it will give it a nice new feel to the Strip.”
The boulevard has long been a destination for the beautiful and the trendy.
The Sunset Strip forged its reputation for glamour in the 1930s and ’40s with nightclubs such as Trocadero and Mocambo. It was the setting for the late-’50s TV show “77 Sunset Strip,” and it was a breeding ground for 1960s rock ’n’ roll thanks to such venues as the Whiskey A Go-Go.
Its popularity continued. The Rainbow Bar & Grill and the Chateau Marmont are symbols of 1970s decadence. In the 1990s, the House of Blues opened and the trendiness of Skybar at the Mondrian and other hotspots was well known. Police had to chase cruisers away in order to keep traffic flowing.
However, the spotlight now shines brighter on Hollywood, where trendy nightclubs packed with young actors, celebutantes and professional sports stars draw overflow crowds most nights.
“We know the marketplace is becoming more competitive,” Burlingame acknowledged. “But the Sunset Strip is iconic and world-renowned, and there are stakeholders who want to take advantage of that to the maximum degree.”
The Soho House Group, which operates private clubs in New York and London, is building Soho House West Hollywood on the top two floors of Luckman Plaza at 9200 Sunset Blvd. The 18,000-square-foot space on the western edge of the Strip, near its border with Beverly Hills, will include a rooftop dining area and reflecting pool, and offer guests 360-degree views of downtown Los Angeles and the Hollywood Hills.
When the West Hollywood City Council approved the plan in August, it faced protests from Beverly Hills residents who pointed out there’d be an old problem: The club’s celebrity clientele would bring paparazzi, traffic and noise to the area.
As SoHo House prepares to open, renovations will be under way at Miyagi’s. Kim, whose family took over Miyagi’s four years ago from restaurateur Larry Pollack, showed renderings of the redesigned space to the Business Journal late last month. The plans will result in the popular nightspot taking on a more contemporary look, with clean lines and a Zen sensibility.
Other restaurateurs will offer different types of atmospheres.
The Olive on Sunset will open to the street with the goal of creating a sidewalk café experience. Morris, known for his La Cienega Boulevard establishments including Spanish Kitchen and Oak Fire Pizzeria and Pub, is planning to open the Olive on Sunset on New Year’s Eve. He took over the space that was occupied by Boa Steakhouse & Lounge at the Grafton.
Starkman, the night life creator who’s best known for such trendy L.A. spots as Guy’s and Guy’s North, is finalizing plans for a bar in the former space of Blowfish Sushi to Die For. Starkman, whose late father, Isaac Starkman, founded Jerry’s Famous Deli, took over the 5,600-square-foot space of the trendy sushi joint after the restaurant closed last year.
“Reinvestment in the Sunset Strip is definitely occurring from business owners and the city,” said James Sinclair of hospitality consultancy OnSite Consulting.
Meanwhile, Boa Steakhouse & Lounge moved to the ground floor of the Luckman Plaza, home to the new Soho House.
Maen, who runs Innovative Dining with three other partners, said moving Boa to a larger space on the Strip has resulted in a boom in business despite the weak economy.
“It was a great way to reinvent the concept,” Maen said. “There is more space to do what we want with private dining rooms and a bar.”
More recently, Michal Gans opened the Den of Hollywood in September across from Miyagi’s on the eastern edge of the Strip.
The Den offers more of a restaurant and lounge atmosphere in an effort to appeal to L.A.’s younger crowd.
“It’s a new concept that we developed to make it feel like you are coming into your den; it’s relaxing,” Gans said. “There are no velvet ropes and lines and stuff like that. It’s a place to kick back and have comfortable food and drinks.”
With big plans for the Sunset Strip under way, Hollywood isn’t resting.
Champions of Hollywood said the neighborhood is still maturing despite the wild success of efforts to revitalize the area. The next evolution is expected to come with the addition of more upscale eateries.
As a result, industry insiders anticipate that there will be some heightened competition with the Strip.
“There’s definitely the perception that Hollywood is now a hot street,” said David Judaken, chief executive of Hollywood consulting firm Syndicate Hospitality Inc. “And the restaurants are vital for that forward momentum.”
Judaken’s Syndicate opened East on Hollywood Boulevard, a restaurant and lounge, in October. So far, Syndicate has invested $3 million in the 3,000-square-foot space that offers customers an outdoor feel thanks to a large skylight that spans a portion of the roof.
Notable restaurants include Beso, co-owned by “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria, and Katsuya, night life impresario Sam Nazarian’s flagship, have already moved into the neighborhood.
New restaurants have recently come on line in Hollywood, including gastropub Stout and upscale sports bar Capital City Grill along the Cahuenga Corridor.
When the W Hotel opens its Hollywood outpost in January, it hopes to bring back some of that old-school glamour with French bistro Delphine.
However, Sunset Strip backers point to the trendy nature of Hollywood’s night life scene, while they are looking to attract a clientele that wants a delicious meal and relaxing vibe.
“I grew up coming to the Strip and feel strongly that we should take care of it and make it the best we can,” Maen said. “I want it to be for the locals.”
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