By HILDY MEDINA
The Garden of Eden is hot.
Last Wednesday night, during one of the slowest times of the year for nightclubs, the place was filled to the brim with nearly 500 clubgoers from wannabe actors in Army pants and wafer-thin models in spaghetti-strapped dresses, to lawyers and realtors in Armani suits.
“L.A. hasn’t had a nightclub like this in a long time,” said Steve Weiss, a 32-year-old real estate developer from Santa Monica. “It’s sophisticated, it has an attractive upscale crowd and it’s clean. It has the potential to be really huge.”
And yet, across Los Angeles, scores of well-established night spots in far more upscale neighborhoods were sitting all but empty on Wednesday night.
Nightclubs, perhaps more than any other business, live and die by their image. If a new club cannot succeed in generating a “buzz” among the young, hip and well-heeled, it’s doomed.
That kind of buzz seldom just happens; it has to be created. And it doesn’t come from advertising or other traditional marketing techniques. It is a function of guerilla marketing, an underground process of personal connections, psychology and sheer schmoozing ability.
People like Weiss are precisely the kind of customer the club seeks to attract, said Garden of Eden owner David Judaken. But in order to get them in the door, promoters first have to attract the people with whom people like Weiss want to mingle.
The idea is to generate word of mouth; if patrons come to the club and find it loaded with fashion models and other desirables, they’ll tell their friends.
Judaken, a 27-year-old South African emigre and former club promoter, began hyping the Garden of Eden while assembling a core of investors to raise the $2 million to open the club.
“I would just whisper in people’s ears,” he said. “When it opened, people were like, ‘Oh that’s the project you were talking about a year ago.’ ”
Last summer, he and a small entourage of friends went through extensive mailing and phone lists of the kind of people they sought to attract. On the lists were modeling agencies, talent agencies and high-end retailers in places like Sunset Plaza and Rodeo Drive.
The next step was to invite people to invitation-only grand-opening parties. For most businesses, making your customers feel unwelcome is a bad idea; for a nightclub, it just makes the place seem more desirable.
“Los Angeles is about supply and demand,” said Alan Nathan, who heads the Garden’s promotion division of about a half-dozen staffers. “Once they can’t get in, they want to come back and they will.”
Detour magazine threw a party celebrating young Hollywood. Among the guests: most of the cast of “Friends,” Clint Eastwood’s daughter, Alison Eastwood, and Freddie Prinze Jr., son of the late comedian of “Chico and The Man” fame.
It was by invitation only, but that didn’t stop several hundred uninvited clubgoers from lining up on the corner of Hollywood Boulevard and La Brea Avenue and begging to get in.
This “velvet-rope” approach began more than two decades ago at New York’s Studio 54, where celebrities from Mick Jagger to Andy Warhol were seen regularly.
But just attracting celebrities isn’t always enough to bring in the crowds. Another key is hitting the streets.
“I’ll go into a place on Sunset Plaza and give the manager some invitations,” said Nathan. “I tell them, ‘Please invite some of your patrons, we’ll take care of them.’ ”
Mid-week is generally a slow time for nightclubs. But there are plenty of people in L.A., especially in the fashion and entertainment industries, who don’t work 9 to 5 jobs and getting them to the Garden of Eden is a high priority for Judaken.
He recently hired outside promoters to attract a Wednesday-night crowd the beginning of the week for the Garden of Eden, which is open Wednesday through Sunday.
But he wasn’t impressed by their performance; until last week, the club seldom brought in more than 150 people on Wednesdays. So he instructed his in-house staff to take charge.
The club’s promoters approached one of L.A.’s biggest modeling agencies, Next Management Co., about having a private party. After getting the go-ahead from Next, Judaken’s staff began sending out invitations and placing hundreds of phone calls to get “filler” essentially, the masses to come down to the club.
At 9 p.m. last Wednesday, a trickling of young people, dressed in the latest Prada-inspired wear and looking like they just came from a fashion shoot, began coming through the front door.
They headed directly to the VIP area, an upper-level bar that overlooks the entire nightclub.
Upstairs, Judaken played host to some of the most beautiful people in the city, continually setting down his drinks to hug and kiss his patrons.
By 11:30, the Garden of Eden was pulsating with music from the ’70s.
Last week’s huge crowd proved that the club’s promotional efforts have been successful, at least for the short term. But will they come next Wednesday? Can the club continue to attract large crowds?
“This is a hell of a business,” said Judaken. “Until this thing operates effectively, until it’s on automatic drive, my work is never done.”