NIGHTS ON THE CIRCUIT: Birth of an Empire

Having a Ball at a brand new Room

Xania Woodman

Friday, August 26, 11:30 p.m. "So, what do you think?" At a club opening, it's the obvious icebreaker. But it can also be a trap. I'm not a nightclub critic, I'm a nightlife writer and there's a big ol' world of difference between laughing about the time I fell over a cocktail table at Lure and passing judgment on someone's brainchild. I create a diversion and help myself to a bar dinner of martini olives. It buys me a second or two to formulate an answer. Chewing thoughtfully on my pilfered snack, I scan the room one more time from top to bottom, considering the night, and searching for any exit, be it literal or figurative.

Earlier in the evening, we had parked nearby and approached on foot, partly because I'm allergic to valets and partly because I never remember to carry cash for tips. I didn't party at Utopia, the former occupier of Empire Ballroom's lot, so if I hadn't been with some people who had, I probably would have wandered into the Ginseng BBQ. It looks like that's where we're heading until we arrive at the warehouse-looking structure and its ramped entrance. No neon sign indicates where we are, but the velvet ropes and presence of suited men with clipboards says it all.

Unlike the Vegas clubs with LA owners, LA flagships or an entirely LA door staff, familiar faces abound, like VIP door host Brian Hart of Rain, Seven and the Rainbow Bar and Grill fame; and VIP host manager Paulie Iserino, who hails from Venus, Vivid and Tangerine. Also right there to greet his guests is General Manager and Director of Operations Sal Jenco, whom many might remember as Sal "The Blowfish" Banducci on the show 21 Jump Street, as well as Johnny Depp's partner in LA's Viper Room. Jenco has enlisted a nearly all-local staff for his new venture, right down to Friday's resident, DJ Scotty Boy.

Entering the freestanding club, a long hall gives way to a soaring ceiling with a second-floor balcony a la Body English, all chocolate- and cherry-hued. One of two stairwells brings us upstairs to one of the Ballroom's five bars, where I consume one of two glasses of white wine. Eight cushy cabanas peer down at the dance floor, more VIP booths, a concert stage, and the rather large dance floor. Dangling above the hardwood is a "smart" chandelier, a massive crystal piñata (again, reminiscent of Body English), overstuffed with flashing lights and tons of high-tech electronics.

In the downstairs hall leading to the restrooms, an inconspicuous door is wide open and leads to the back VIP room, dim and lit with candles. The walls alternate between exposed brick and a carnelian-flocked fabric that makes me want to rub up against it and get a good static charge going. The VIP room is unguarded, allowing everyone a chance to check out the flocking, at least for tonight. The overall vibe of the small room is very LA, and even the music, provided by LA's DJ Coyote, reminds me of my time in the City of Angels.

One of the bartenders says much of the bar setup arrived just hours before the doors opened, including the liquor, soda guns and just about everything else. This can make for a stressful night but the staff looks calm and pleased to be serving such a large crowd. The official grand opening isn't until mid-October so there's plenty of time to settle in.

Around 11 p.m., Lit performs, and even though I'm not so impressed with their post-teenage angst and how high their cheekbones are, I am wowed with the stage and the L'Acoustics sound system. Like a mini House of Blues, the stage can be seen from just about anywhere in the club except the restrooms, and a well-placed plasma screen could solve that problem. The lead singer lunges and sneers and looks ready to dive into the thick crowd if it wouldn't mean an abrupt end to the song and a chance he might not get paid. He stays on stage and the crowd continues gathering at his feet.

The sheer size and versatility of a space able to host everything from an internationally worshipped DJ to a live rock band to a private catered function is admirable and much to the club's advantage. I envision awards shows, plays, acoustic performances and charity balls, not to mention the unending flow of tourists on weekends and locals on a properly publicized local industry night. Yeah, this place has a chance.

"So what do you think?!"

"Good olives."

Xania Woodman thinks globally and parties locally. And frequently. E-mail her at
[email protected].

Xania's Hot Spots for Labor Day Weekend

Friday, September 2

Pure: DJ Mark Ronson

Tangerine: J Lo Swimwear party

Saturday, September 3

Ice: DJ Paul Oakenfold Part I, with Fergi and Faarsheed

Orleans Arena: Pimp 'n' Ho Part I

VooDoo Lounge: Rise 'n' Shine Afterhours Part I, with DJs Faarsheed, Joey Mazolla and L1

Vivid: Visions, with DJs Phaness and Gumbee

Sunday, September 4

Hard Rocks' Rehab: DJ Scotty Boy

Ice: DJ Paul Oakenfold Part II, with Halliwell and Michael Fuller

Rain's Skin Pool Lounge: Pimp 'n' Ho Part II

VooDoo Lounge: Rise 'n' Shine Afterhours Part II, with DJs Scotty Boy, Javier Alba and L1

Empire Ballroom: DJs Kid Capri, Finesse, Camilo and Big Ben

Monday, September 5

Whiskey Beach: Las Vegas Prom, with the Sublime Remembered Tour, benefiting the Shade Tree Foundation

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