The scene on the plush roof deck of the SLS Hotel at Beverly Hills on a recent afternoon speaks volumes about the business of Sam Nazarian, the nightclub owner-turned-hospitality magnate.

Only a handful of guests lounged in cabanas around the pool or sipped cocktails at the rooftop bar of the chic all-white hotel Nazarian opened amid the economic crisis late last year.

Times are slow and it’s not only the SLS exhibiting symptoms.

Nazarian’s SBE Entertainment Group has canceled plans to build a 1,000-room tower at its Sahara Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. And for the time being his plans to turn SLS into a global hotel brand are on hold because financing is more difficult. Side ventures, such as his movie production house, are quiet.

Without doubt, the last 18 months have been a period of retrenching for the 34-year-old Nazarian, who, before branching out into bigger things, made a name for himself with such L.A. hotspots as Area and Hyde Lounge, where patrons didn’t think twice about dropping $400 for a bottle of Grey Goose vodka.

But in these recessionary times, the “new frugality” is real. Nazarian has laid off 50 people at his L.A. headquarters – nearly half his corporate staff – and he’s gone back to his bread-and-butter business of celebrity nightclubs.

“We are having our tough times just like everybody else. Right now, we are looking to fortify and live to fight another day,” said Nazarian, who sat down last week for a lengthy interview on a veranda of his 297-room La Cienega Boulevard hotel, which despite its name is just outside Beverly Hills. “What I started to realize 18 months ago is: focus on the things you are great at.”

Indeed, while Nazarian’s outsized ambitions have gotten a reality check because of the economy, his hospitality company has been busy the last few months.

The company has purchased two Hollywood nightclubs – Nacional on Wilcox Avenue and Halo on Cahuenga Boulevard – giving it six L.A. clubs and a firm grip on the local scene. Earlier this month it announced plans to open a second Hyde, this one inside Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. The $1.3 million lounge will debut at the start of the National Basketball Association season, and operate during sporting events and concerts. It will cater to courtside seat holders and suite owners, serving menu items from SBE’s trendy and pricey Katsuya and XIV eateries.


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