Smoke & Mirrors: The Hot Club You (Probably) Can't Get Into
Paul Sevigny and Armin Amiri open up for the first time about L.A.'s anonymous A-list nightspot with the toughest rope in town.
This story first appeared in the March 9 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The top after-dark destination in the city at the moment, which also happens to be the most under-the-radar, is a rebuke to L.A.'s clubland status quo. There are no bottle-service tables, themed nights or marquee promoters. The bare-bones decor was executed on a shoestring budget. The set list mostly eschews contemporary hits for golden oldies. And in the age of camera phones, Twitter and TMZ, astonishingly little has leaked about it -- until now.
New York City nightlife impresarios Paul Sevigny, the noted DJ (and brother of Chloe Sevigny), and actor Armin Amiri (The Wrestler) are the partners behind the project. Called SMOKE & MIRRORS -- but don't expect to see a sign -- it has been ensconced since late last year in the tucked-away, lobby-level former Purple Lounge space at The Standard hotel in West Hollywood. If you don't get there before 10 p.m., it pretty much takes knowing the owners to get in. Recent visitors have included Harvey Weinstein, Zoe Saldana, Mickey Rourke, Kirsten Dunst, Sean Penn, Rose McGowan, writer-director Terry George and Lana Del Rey.
Smoke & Mirrors is the follow-up to last summer's raucous pop-up club Paul & Andre in Hollywood, which lured everyone from Sean Parker to Kelly Osbourne. Sevigny ran it until early October with Andre Saraiva, the French graffiti artist and owner of Parisian velvet-roper Le Baron. It was known for its Fort Knox-worthy door policy, 4 a.m. closing time and insouciant disregard for the city's smoking ban. The new place continues its predecessor's tradition of funneling patrons through an unflatteringly lit commercial kitchen on the way to the dance floor, all in keeping with the down-low sensibility.
The one keeping that floor packed is crowd-favorite resident DJ Myles Hendrik, who made his name at Amanda Scheer-Demme's exclusive L.A. club Teddy's. His repertoire is heavy on throwbacks including The Beatles and The Shirelles. "Myles seamlessly crosses genres and eras like no one else," says Smoke & Mirrors visitor John Christopher Pina, a music video director whose credits include Kanye West and John Legend. "He plays for a very savvy audience in this sweet way. There's no too-cool vibe to the songs. It's music you wouldn't necessarily expect in a room like that."
Sevigny and Amiri, gatekeeper of New York's Bungalow 8 in its heyday, have known each other for years. Sevigny's notorious Beatrice Inn was a few blocks from the West Village club Socialista, which Amiri once owned. "People would think we were competitors, but it was never like that," says Amiri. "Paul would call me to say he just got raided, giving me the heads-up. He just believes in nightlife."
Smoke & Mirrors' mere presence in the heart of the painfully touristy Sunset Strip -- in a hotel regarded as a bit past its trendy prime -- itself has been seen as contrarian. "It's a space everyone said nobody would go to," says Sevigny, "which makes it interesting."
The 110-capacity club's sparse interior consists of a DJ rig, a long bar, a piano, mirrored walls and black leather banquettes. The focal point -- as if to say, "Fine, here's your bling" -- is a pair of old-school disco balls. "This place is practically designed with Scotch tape," says Amiri with a laugh. Adds Sevigny, alluding to the sorts of places opened by the likes of Sam Nazarian's SBE club conglomerate: "Why spend $2 million on decor and then have to sell your club out to pay for it? It's the people inside who matter, not the f--ing decoration."
From the slightly gauche location to the purposefully louche vibe, the partners' choices are meant, if anything, to narrowcast its appeal. "We're not here to capture everyone in Los Angeles," says Sevigny. "We're here for a few thousand people who get it."
WHAT TO DRINK: Smoke & Mirrors brought in Damian Windsor, the mixologist best known for his work at The Roger Room on La Cienega Boulevard, to assemble the club's cocktail list. It includes, from left: the tequila-and-crème de menthe Mockingbird, the gin-based P. Tang and the whiskey-built Banana Shrub.
Two About-to-Open Bars With Serious Buzz
This season's two most eagerly anticipated bar openings, POUR VOUS (5574 Melrose Ave.) and JUNIPER (6541 Hollywood Blvd.), are the work of Mark and Johnny Houston, the twin brothers behind a trio of swarmed alkie halls over the past few years: Havana-inspired rum bar La Descarga, where Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were recently spotted; the renovated Piano Bar, a favorite of Jeremy Renner; and Harvard & Stone, where cast members from Glee have been found taking in the faux boiler room aesthetic. Pour Vous, expected to bow by early March, sits on hallowed L.A. nightlife ground: Ivan Kane birthed the neo-burlesque movement with his Forty Deuce at the address, and before that, Sean MacPherson ran his seminal dive Small's K.O. there. Now it's a Midnight in Paris fantasy of French Art Nouveau and Art Deco design, oysters on the half shell and champagne. Projected to open before April, Juniper resides in a renovated Victorian cottage that once was Janes House, a school that famously enrolled the children of Cecil B. DeMille, Charlie Chaplin and Douglas Fairbanks. It already has hosted Jonah Hill's New Year's Eve party and a pre-Grammy bash featuring a performance by Mark Ronson. The bar will offer ragtime piano music, turn-of-the-century decor, a gin-based cocktail menu by in-demand L.A. mixologist Steve Livigni and a tightrope walker ambling above the courtyard on Friday and Saturday nights.