February 2010

Drai for Night

  • Cy Waits
  • Victor Drai
  • Jesse Waits

The heart of Hollywood will really pound when Victor Drai’s rooftop club opens its doors
by RAHA LEWIS / photographs by PATRICK HOELCK

Victor Drai is no stranger to L.A.—or the club scene. For six years beginning in 1993, Drai’s eponymous restaurant on La Cienega served up such specialties as spicy tuna on crispy rice, french fries, carrot soup, tuna salad and Chilean sea bass. In 1997, he took his nightlife vision to Las Vegas, opening Drai’s on the Strip. When Steve Wynn sought someone to helm the club scene in his twin hotels, Wynn and Encore, Drai became the mastermind behind Tryst and XS, which opened in August 2005 and December 2008, respectively. This past New Year’s Eve, every table in both clubs was sold—for between $5,000 and $50,000 each.

And now Drai and his partners, identical twins Jesse and Cy Waits—the two-man nightlife think tank that helped make Tryst and XS must-hit destinations—are poised to do the same for Drai’s Hollywood, perched atop the new W Hotel at Hollywood and Vine and set to open at the end of February.

“We have a huge business. I couldn’t have done it without them—impossible,” Drai says of the brothers Waits. He considers the twins family. “Partners for life,” Jesse confirms.

“There is a recipe to what we are doing,” Jesse adds. It starts with Victor Drai’s motto: “You have to have uniqueness in your field, whatever it is.”

The overall vibe for the club is classy and sexy: Silver, gold and brown snakeskin- embossed couches are surrounded by bold columns lined with gold mirror tiles and red-shaded gold lamps. There’s a rooftop pool flanked by palm trees and cabanas (with an additional outside bar, of course). Adjacent to the bar is an outdoor balcony with a killer view of the Hollywood sign.

Lighting? Drai is obsessed with it: “I think lighting is 90 percent of the club,” he says, “and I am nuts about each fixture: where it goes, the color it gives. I’m insane!” No detail is too small: A trip to the ladies’ room, which can be a rude reality check in some venues, is like a trip to a parallel universe where you’re the star of your own feature film and this is your decked-out trailer. It’s a girly girl’s dream—pink down to the last ceramic tile, with a white leather door.

Drai’s approach to the famous is straightforward: Make sure everyone, including luminaries, is comfortable. “Celebrities like that we don’t sell them out. We don’t make phone calls; we don’t cut stories,” Jesse says. The proprietor honed this concept in Las Vegas, where his clubs have hosted everyone from NBA players to senators to international royalty. Since we know you want to know, there is a private room on the ground floor, but in Drai’s experience, stars “want to be with the crowd—otherwise they’d stay home.”

Drai runs his clubs like a business, not an über-exclusive hangout. “We want people in our clubs,” he says, “and I’m very conscious of the guy who paid $20 and will buy one drink the whole night. I want him to have as good an experience as the guy who spends $20,000.” And unlike a lot of clubs, the hoi polloi won’t be invisible. The doormen at Drai’s Hollywood will let as many regular folk as possible into the 1,000-capacity club. The secret to gaining entry: courtesy and politeness. “We don’t want jerks or bad attitudes,” says Jesse.

“You could have all the money in the world and be an asshole,” Cy notes, “and then we don’t want you. That’s not good energy.” But Drai and the Waits brothers are frank about the aesthetic of the clubgoers: Style counts.

“We prefer fashionable attire, so anything less than fashionable...we don’t want in the club,” Cy adds. “But if we are going to turn you away, we are going to turn you away nicely.”

And the formula for sustained success? The three agree it’s important for Drai’s management to stay in house. Many owners don’t want to be part of the operations or client relations, so they hire outside people, who eventually leave to pump up their next space, taking the buzz and the crowds with them. But Drai’s top tier is like part of the family. And then there are the all-important deejays: Before Drai and the Waits brothers turn over the task of choosing music, they want to make sure it’s hot and, says Cy, “still hot tomorrow.”

Like everything else, L.A. nightlife has mirrored the city’s popular culture—from the glitterati who frequented Ciro’s and the Trocadero in Hollywood’s Golden Age to the acid-drenched light shows of the ’60s to disco to punk and the shiny pop polish of the ’80s to the grunge-rock scene of the early ’90s.

Recently, to get into the hottest clubs, you had to be part of an ultra-exclusive clique that has no official list or members. But change is in the air for partying Angelenos in the second decade of the 21st century. Cy’s promise: “Every element will be way ahead of the curve—way ahead of L.A.”