by: Alexandra Le Tellier
Note: This piece was originally featured on the LA Times, Metromix and the author’s website. You can also read it on her site here.
Shereen Arazm, a petite, bubbly brunette, could easily be mistaken for a Hollywood clubber at trendy venues such as Central, Shag and Geisha House. In fact, she’s the millionaire mogul responsible for their success. Factor in Pantera Sarah, a fierce politico by day and savvy club promoter by night, and Tricia La Belle, the owner of Boardner’s who also started the long-standing Goth night Bar Sinister, and it’s clear: The Los Angeles nightlife landscape is changing.
The nightlife business has long been a testosterone-heavy boys’ club—mostly keeping women on the dance floor or behind the bar. Of the 57 nightlife destinations affiliated with the Hollywood Hospitality Association, La Belle is the only woman with sole ownership of a nightclub. But there’s been a recent influx of women in powerful roles who are transforming the after-dark scene. Female DJs have broken down many walls. Before the age of digital music, DJ-ing was a physical job that required carrying heavy crates of vinyl to the clubs, which many women say was a turnoff. Now female DJs, once considered a novelty act, are running the turntables.
For Arazm, the doors to Hollywood didn’t swing open right away. In 2000, after losing a bidding war for a bar on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and breaking up with her boyfriend, she boarded a bus to L.A. with $600 to her name. She landed a job at Las Palmas, then Hollywood’s club du jour, and became one of the highest-earning bartenders in town. “I was busting my ass,” she says, “working 24/7 [when I realized] I should be running my own place instead of making these guys so much money.”
After two years behind the bar, she teamed up with her then-boss, Loyal Pennings, to open Concorde. The project took a year longer than expected, during which time Arazm slung drinks to make ends meet. The club’s first-ever event was an infamous Ben Affleck birthday party hosted by Jennifer Lopez. “It was out of control,” Arazm says. “Paparazzi were on the roof and paying the neighbors their rent for the year to sit in their window…to try to get a photo.”
Arazm bought out Pennings in 2004, and in 2005 transformed Concorde into Shag, a feminine haven designed by Tracie Butler, a close friend from the bartending days. (They used to cry before shifts because they felt frustrated waiting for their lives to really start.) Then Arazm brought on Pantera Sarah as a promoter to complete the sisterly trio, which has since opened Parc and Central. (Arazm and Sarah are co-owners.)
Regulars on the club scene know Sarah as an unflappable doorwoman. But her intimidating demeanor actually comes from a motherly instinct to protect. “You can tell by the way a man will speak to me at the door the way he’s going to behave towards women in the clubs,“ says Sarah. “If he walks up like he owns the place, he’s probably going to treat women like property.”
One would think, in the year 2008, that we’d be past blatant, clichéd sexism. Not so much. Arazm says she’s often mistaken for a hostess, and that people who don’t get past her velvet rope threaten to get her fired. On a recent night at her restaurant Terroni, a woman who didn’t want to wait for a table refused to believe Arazm was the real owner. Arazm’s response: “I am the real owner and that’s the real door.”
Arazm also owns Bella and Geisha House with the Dolce Group’s Lonnie Moore. Moore, who came off as a rabid sex addict in an episode of Bravo’s “Millionaire Matchmaker,” is currently embroiled in a civil lawsuit for allegedly raping a 19-year-old girl at his club Les Deux. He denies the allegations via his lawyer, Ronald Richards: “My client denies all groundless allegations in the complaint and is looking forward to exposing the fraudulent nature of these charges.”
And yet for some men in the club business, say many women, it’s like a “Revenge of the Nerds” scenario. “Guys who couldn’t get into the clubs open their own and get to be kingpin,” Arazm says. Of this general mentality, she adds: “It’s chicks everywhere. Two at a time. Suck my dick. Show me your tits.” Grace Liu, a promoter at Jimmy’s Lounge in Hollywood, agrees. “You’ll see men who weren’t really popular in high school get into promoting. Now they have women hanging all over them,” she says.
In addition to the behind-the-scenes-muscle that ladies are lending the Hollywood club scene, there’s a push across L.A. to make clubs more female-friendly. One way is to bring on female DJs who are in tune with what makes other women dance. “Since guys don’t dance with other guys, girls basically control the dance floor,” says Tina T., who splits her time between gigs in L.A. and Las Vegas. Winston’s resident DJ Michelle Pesce agrees. “A lot of people say that I can play to the female better,” she says.” Guys might be a little weirded out about playing songs like ‘Sweet Caroline.’ ”
Though female DJs are packing dance floors, there’s still a notion among male DJs that they only get booked because of their looks. “Being a female in the scene is extremely tough,” says Spundae DJ Fei-Fei. “You always have to wonder when you’re going to lose your spot,” she says.
Largely, women in the nightlife industry have had to work twice as hard to earn the same respect as their male counterparts, but are still called “bitches” for having the same no-nonsense attitude that earns men bonus points. SBE’s president of VIP services, Jen Rosero, is probably most harshly judged by clubbers. “You have to be tougher as a woman at a door so people fear you,” she says. For Rosero, who’s had a gun pulled on her, it’s a survival strategy in more ways than one.
It might seem, on the surface, that these women aren’t enjoying themselves as much as the men. But having seen too many nightlife titans distracted by a life of excess, Arazm prefers the role of businesswoman to that of party girl. “Men have different ideas on what they want to be known for,” she says. “You would never see me at my own club taking up a table, rubbing elbows. I would die before I sent a celebrity a bottle to meet them. I would die before I did a reality show.”
In an interesting twist, Arazm is now eight months pregnant and plans to continue her booming nightlife business while raising a family. “There are plenty of working moms, and I plan to be one of them,” she says. Then she adds, “I look at this as my career, not my way to meet guys or up my social profile.”
Alexandra Le Tellier is a thirtysomething multimedia journalist with a fondness for yentas, debate and cultural commentary. Le Tellier an editor, production manager, web content developer, writer, reporter and blogger with a voracious appetite for media, news, cultural trends, entertainment and getting the scoop before the competition. Alexandra has worked at the Los Angeles Times, Metromix and LA.com and has freelanced for publications including Variety and Los Angeles Magazine. Le Tellier is currently the Senior Web Producer for the Opinion Pages at the Los Angeles Times.