The Suite Life

By J.A. Adande

It’s a Friday night in Los Angeles. Am I at the Laker game or the hot new club?


No need to choose anymore now that Sam Nazarian, the nightlife mogul of L.A., opened an edition of his Hyde Lounge inside Staples Center. No matter that it’s located 30 rows and three decks of suites away from the court, just a few feet below the $28 seats in the 300 level. This is the new coveted real estate. Instead of scattering around the building or choosing among the court-level Chairman’s Room or the Lexus Club high above the baseline, the beautiful people now have a central location to do what they do best: hold drinks poured from $400 bottles of vodka, send text messages from their Blackberries and bask in their hotness. Watching the game is an option, too.

“It’s L.A., man,” said Tim Leiweke, President and CEO of AEG, the company that owns Staples Center. “We finally, finally have a place that everyone else is staring at us, saying, ‘We want one of those.’”

As one clubgoer said, “You can’t do this at the Target Center.”

In the course of a $20 million updating of the 10-year-old arena this summer, AEG and Nazarian’s company SBE spent more than $1 million to clear out eight suites and line them with dark padding, comfy booths, long bars, full-length mirrors and a ceiling with panels that light up (kind of like the disco floor in “Saturday Night Fever.”)

Friday night’s Lakers-Grizzlies game served as the grand opening, with a red carpet outside the arena and coveted silver wristbands distributed to the 200 or so people who can fit inside the new club. How do you get a wristband? If you’re asking you probably aren’t getting one. You can’t buy them. You pretty much have to be in the SBE circle and get invited. I'm not even sure how I got my hands on one. I called someone who gave me someone's number to call. I left a message on that person's voice mail and received a call from someone else. That person told me to meet her where she would give me a wristband ... as soon as she got one from someone else.

For Leiweke, Hyde@Staples Center is an ode to the Forum Club that was the place to be at Laker games in their former home. Despite the various clubs for courtside denizens and suite-holders, “We didn’t have that kind of sexiness of the Forum Club,” Leiweke said. "That place reeks of sexiness. And it’s a demo we weren’t quite hitting. Now we’re hitting it.”

“What demo is that?” I ask.

“Wait till you see it,” is all he says. “It’s unbelievable.”

So just before halftime I duck into the tunnel, go down a hallway and take an elevator up to suite level C. There’s a rope, a podium and four people outside, all waiting to determine who’s in and who’s out (a couple of actors from a premium cable show didn’t make it past the rope on opening night). I hold up my wristband and get waved down to another woman. She’s busy texting away and doesn’t notice me for two minutes. But eventually the wristband does the trick, I’m past the rope, up to the large door and inside the club.

That demographic Leiweke was talking about? No other way to describe it than good-looking. I just don’t expect many of them to spend the evening discussing the merits of Ron Artest v. Trevor Ariza.

I glance at one of the menus set up in an empty booth. Cheapest bottle in there is Krol Vodka at $375. The price list tops out at $10,000 for a big bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne. Halftime hits, the club fills up. A guy tells his friend, “This place is dope, bro.” People still talk like that?

The only clue the third quarter’s about to start comes when the DJ lowers the volume on the dance remix of “I Love L.A.” Most people have their backs turned to the game far below, where the players are so small you can’t really tell that Allen Iverson has grown his cornrows back.

The place has a wow factor, but can it make money? They’re counting on bottle service to pay the way, but half the booths were empty during the game. And as one person observed: “These people don’t look rich. They’re hot, but they’re not rich.”

The biggest of the money men, the likes of Jeffrey Katzenberg, won’t be heading up there. Not their kind of scene. And the in-crowd tends to move on to the next hot spot in L.A. after six months or so.

But as long as the Lakers keep winning, Staples Center is going to be filled with the "right demo." And Nazarian insists Hyde@Staples Center is going to be here for a long time.

“The best of L.A.,” he calls it.

A synopsis of L.A., is more like it. And if you happen to come across a box score, that’ll work, too.