IT’S SATURDAY NIGHT in the new Hollywood, and terrazzo sidewalks are bearing the kind of foot traffic they haven’t seen in decades. Velvet ropes and ursine men with shaved heads, ear buds and clipboards mark the territory of such mobbed Walk of Fame nightspots as Basque, Mood and Geisha. The aroma of burnt mesquite and sautéed garlic wafts over streets that not too long ago were perfumed by more pungent odors, a time when “Hollywood nightlife” meant a few decaying dives owned by the shadowy impresario Eddie Nash. Still, all is not happiness curbside. As one grim-faced man emerges from a Vine Street parking lot this Saturday, he’s asked how much the lot’s attendants are charging.
“Forty, fifty — anything they can!” he says, his voice buckling with contempt.
And, as if on cue, the metallic slap of a signboard reverberates at the Avalon nightclub’s parking lot across the street, as the price goes from $20 to $40. It’s a ritual repeated without warning throughout lots just north of Hollywood Boulevard. In response, a competing lot on the other side of Vine now also jumps from $20 to $40. Farther away from the Hollywood and Vine vortex, prices for club parking are lower but will still strike some out-of-towners as high.
One clubber, waiting in line to get into Rokbar on Las Palmas Avenue, is joined by a friend who’s just parked nearby.
“How much?” the first guy asks.
“?‘That be 20 dollah!’?” his friend answers, impersonating the immigrant valet he’s just paid.
“The way the lots operate is that [attendants] charge between $10 and $35,” says a Hollywood Boulevard club manager who wishes to remain anonymous. “They can start at $10 but if they see a Bentley roll in it shoots up to $35.”
“I’ve lost business where people who came to my club drove away when they saw the parking price,” says Bobby DeLeon, the owner of the Day After nightclub. “If someone feels ripped off once, they’re not coming back — not just to the clubs, but to Hollywood. They wonder if they’re getting charged extra for parking because they’re black, or white, or a woman, or because they’re driving a Porsche. They come into my club angry, and I’ll have to sit them down and buy them drinks because they’re upset.”
Meanwhile, musicians unloading their equipment in alleys have to be on guard against overaggressive tow-truck drivers, who have also been known to drive off with band vans, as well as the cars of club employees who parked with a lot’s daytime shift, unaware that the night crew has fingered their vehicles for removal.
Back on Vine, the conga line of cars heading toward Avalon from the 101 freeway is on freeze-frame. On Hollywood Boulevard by Improv West, two girls in a white Olds have rear-ended two guys in a Mercedes SUV, and now it’s the Day the Earth Stood Still for westbound traffic as the men get out to survey the damage with forensic deliberation. A cop car is stuck half a block directly behind the accident but may as well be parked at a drive-in for all the progress it’s making.
TINSELTOWN’S NIGHTLIFE RESURGENCE ?has set off unforeseen brushfires of controversy. Residents decry the explosion of liquor licenses (about 100 within 10 central blocks, and more than 450 for all of Hollywood); urban planners bemoan the opaque, uninviting façades of shuttered nightclubs that confront daytime tourists; longtime business owners worry about the disproportionately large number of these new clubs to the scarce inventory of midpriced family restaurants. By far, though, the most acrimonious debate involves traffic and parking. On some weekend nights visitors sit gridlocked in their cars — especially on Hollywood and Cahuenga boulevards, and Highland Avenue.
Most of tonight’s swarms of young people who are handing their car keys to valets appear passive and accepting of the new status quo. To them, this is what sophisticated nightlife entails: squads of red-jacketed valets double-timing it up Vine, fleets of tow trucks plying the boulevard and its tributaries — but above all, parking costs that rival the price of concert tickets in some cities. Mike Sabet, who owns Unified Parking Service, operates about 500 parking spaces in Hollywood, including the main lot adjacent to Avalon and one on Cahuenga across from White Lotus. He says high parking prices simply don’t faze today’s clubgoers.
“Early on in the evening,” Sabet says, “we get a few complaints — maybe from family people who want to go to the Wax Museum. But club people have to pay $100 to get in, and they give Avalon’s bouncers another $75 to get to the head of the line. That kind of crowd doesn’t really mind paying.”
Paul Stevenson is a director of Parking Company of America (PCA), which owns about 70 slots in Hollywood. “You have economic factors driving it,” he says about the rising cost of parking. “We have to pay lot rentals, employees, taxes, workers’ comp and insurance, which has ballooned over the last five or seven years. Then we have to pay a 10 percent city tax on every parked car. Most parking companies do not own their land, so you have competition to lease the lots [and that also] drives up the price of parking.”