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Tom Whitman, looking trim and muscular, walked up to the bar at the opening of his brand-new Saturday-night party Cherry Pop in the West Hollywood nightclub Ultra Suede, and ordered a short glass of Red Bull with a splash of vodka. It was still early, but DJ Josh Peace blasted Top 40 songs across the empty dance floor; blue and red lights slashed through a soft haze that floated into the main room; and the words Cherry Pop pulsated on several wide-screen monitors throughout the club. Whitman, considered one of the most successful club promoters in L.A.’s gay nightlife scene, owns an e-mail list of 10,000 people and had no fears that the evening would turn into a bust. Inside a cramped and humid dressing room, go-go dancers were getting ready to twist, thrust and shimmy. Whitman himself wore a brown-and-tan-checked newsboy cap over his shaved head and was dressed in Diesel jeans, a skinny red tie, Prada boots, a dark J. Lindeberg vest and a vintage white T-shirt printed with a red image of a human heart and lungs.
“I expect 750 to 800 people,” he said. “It isn’t too crazy now, but by 10:30, people will start to show up. By 10:45, the place will be packed. It will be just totally wild.”
Cherry Pop is Whitman’s follow-up to his previous Saturday-night event (called Popular!), at the Here Lounge a half-block away. But after two years in that space, with capacity crowds of gay men and women overflowing into the street, Whitman decided to move to this larger Robertson Boulevard space and rename his party.
“It was getting to the point where no one could move,” he explained, “and we didn’t even have a real dance floor. Now we do.”
Whitman likes throwing parties, and he likes for people to have fun. “Just good, ridiculous fun,” he said. “I want people to feel they can let loose and not worry about how they look.” In a recent interview with a local gay magazine, he said the “overly serious, pretentious crowd bores me.”
It was still 45 minutes before the throngs were expected to arrive, but Whitman’s iPhone was already blinking with a text message sent from the door of the club. “I have to go get someone,” he announced. And off he went.
Soon after, several men in T-shirts and jeans arrived and spread their arms, smiling wide. Whitman hugged and kissed them all.
“Congratulations, Tom!” one man yelled over the pounding music.
“Looks like you have another success!” yelled another.
“Thank you!” Whitman yelled back.
After a few more hugs and kisses, he made it outside to the top landing of a long flight of narrow stairs lined with good-looking, well-dressed men in their 20s, 30s and 40s, waiting to get inside to dance, flirt and drink with other good-looking, well-dressed men. Whitman couldn’t take three or four steps without hugging and kissing someone.
“It’s very impressive,” said Tyle Mahoney, a hair colorist at a fashionable salon. “He has a very handsome, hip crowd here, and that’s not easy to do in L.A.”
“Where Tom goes, West Hollywood goes,” said Brett Pugliese, an attorney at a Santa Monica–based movie studio, “and he attracts a high caliber of guys to his parties. They’re not all of these young guys on drugs... They’re young professionals who have their shit together. They’re husband material. Tom’s also a friendly guy, unlike so many other gay promoters.”
By 12:30 a.m., two long lines had formed down on the street, and the nightclub was packed. Whitman was already talking about improving the flow of people for next week. “I want everyone to come inside,” he said. “I hate turning someone away.” Fifteen minutes before closing time, at 2 a.m., the crowd was still dancing and carrying on. They couldn’t get enough of Tom Whitman’s ridiculous fun.