It’s questionable whether the Hollywood scene existed before Brent Bolthouse came onto the map twenty years ago. The entrepreneur is no doubt Los Angeles’ nightlife guru; so many LA nightclubs, hotels and restaurants just wouldn’t have come into fruition without him.
Bolthouse is the definition of creative genius, and he’s utilized his vision for iconic spots such as Hyde Lounge, Area Nightclub, Foxtail, Katsuya, XIV restaurant, and the SLS Hotel. Through the years, Bolthouse has planned parties for Mick Jagger, collaborated with Philippe Starck, had icons like Prince dancing on one of his tables at Hyde Lounge, and formed alliances with iconic chefs like Wolfgang Puck. Most recently, Bolthouse opened The Bungalow – a beachfront hideaway and creative meeting space at The Fairmont in Santa Monica. In collaboration with Studio Collective, Bolthouse created a spot that’s less like a bar, and more like a house party (which it apparently is, six days a week).
There’s really not much Bolthouse hasn’t experienced, which is why his interview was more like a tall tale seminar rather than a back and forth question and answer. The scary part is, these stories aren’t tall at all, but rather quite real, so listen in…
What would be your ideal food day?
I like food but it’s not that important to me. I’d love to go to that little spot in Tokyo in the subway where Jiro Ono makes the crazy sushi. That would be fun. I’d go to India for Indian food. I’d love to go to the Middle East and eat some of their food because it’s so good, but it’s probably not so safe. Maybe next year. I don’t eat sugar so I won’t go for dessert.
Could you tell me a bit about The Bungalow space, the vision behind it and how the project started?
For years I wanted to do a place on the west side in Santa Monica, Venice or even Malibu. When this [opportunity] arose, I had my first meeting with the owners of the Fairmont Hotel in the lobby. The Fairmont was always this awkward, business hotel that you’d come to for a corporate meeting or something. It wasn’t necessarily a place that was on the map as somewhere you go to on a social level. Maybe you had a friend that got married there, or something like that, but it was never like, “Let’s go have a drink there.” So on the way over I’m thinking, “Where in the Fairmont is there a place like that?” I had to go and keep an open-mind, because you always have to. And they walked me into the space and I instantly knew what to do here. I wanted to create a really great house party.
On any project I work on, I always create a kind of mythological muse. So for this project, it was an amazing woman who lived most of her life in Paris, had a Riad in Marrakech in the old part of the souk, and a great loft in New York. She ended up retiring in California because she loved the Baja-ness of California and where we are. So she took all of her life’s journey and put it into The Bungalow. This was her ultimate house. She was a modern Auntie Mame, who loved to entertain and have people over. So we sort of thought about the things she’d have. The camp sign was her son’s camp sign he made for her when he was six. We thought of all of these things that could be part of the story. With all the tchotchkes and photographs I picked up in Paris, we always thought from her perspective. How do we make all of these things into this great house that she lives in? We hear it all the time from people that come here; they feel like they’re in a really fun house party, which is really what we tried to achieve. I think we succeeded at that, but that was the inspiration behind what we were doing. We wanted it to be very Baja California, very timeless in its design, and something that felt a little seventies but had a little modernity to it. I think the seventies was the birth of so many great things. It was an interesting time. So, that’s how the project was art-directed. That was my vision behind it.
In terms of creating timeless spaces, especially when it comes to nightlife, how do you create spots that aren’t just flashes in the pan?
I think there are certain places that you want to create timelessness, and certain places you don’t necessarily want to create timelessness. Like when we created the original Hyde, it wasn’t meant to be timeless, but it also wasn’t meant to be indicative of one period of time. You didn’t go, “Oh, that was late 2000.” The design didn’t emulate that necessarily; it was more of an ambiguous, warm, beautiful rich room and people just liked it. This project [The Bungalow] was meant to feel timeless. You can go to some peoples’ houses and they can be from the sixties and seventies, but still feel great today because they were done well and they held up to the test of time. I think that’s what we try to do. This project was a bungalow; it was built as a bungalow, so we had those bones. It was really easy to make it feel like a house, and I think houses feel a little more timeless than bars do. I always say, “Great is good on Monday or Friday.” If you make something great, it’s still going to work whether it’s the worst day [of the week] or the best day.
What advice would you give people opening nightlife spots? What’s the trick to longevity?
I have been lucky to have started off my career and have it be great from the beginning. And I built upon that. I had some failures, and I had some successes, but I always take the perspective (especially with a place like this) that I have to be here all of the time. So I want to create a place that I can be at a lot, and not be bored of. If you can do that, then there is the chance that a person will come once or twice a week, and is probably not bored either. I’m here four or five days a week and I’m not bored or sick of looking at it. All nights are different. One night we’ll have a band; one night there’s a special party for Prada. The people that are in here make it different.