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In Bitton's experience, clubs in L.A. have a five- to 10-month shelf life. "That's good crowd-wise. They stay open for longer, of course. Les Deux held a good crowd for two-and-a-half years. It still does. We've been here for four years, which is an eternity for nightclubs."
"I don't want to portray this as a snobby place," he adds, pocketing the receipt. "At the time it was very hard to get in, but if a girl's dressed up nice, whether they were some Hills fan from the Midwest, or London or Africa or wherever, if they played the part and lived up to Les Deux's expectations, they were getting in."
Drinks were on the house, but only if MTV was filming. If cast members came in on their own, they paid out of pocket. Well, the guys paid out of pocket. It seemed impossible that a girl living on a Teen Vogue internship budget could finance a respectable nightlife, as Conrad was, theoretically, if you ignored the money she made from being on The Hills.
And she couldn't. Pretty girls don't pay for their own drinks, much less pretty girls on hit reality-TV series. "If Lauren was coming in, she'd be joining a table where someone was spending $1,500," Bitton explains. "But that's too detailed. That's too much of a gray area, that kind of stuff, who's paying."
You gauge the money at the door, he goes on, despite himself. "If we see they've only got $400, we might say okay. If we see they have a lot of money, it might be $2,500. We're just selling," he says. "It's real estate. Out there on the patio is a lot more expensive than inside." You buy coolness on a sliding scale.
The Hills girls and their revolving door of boyfriends occupied some of the club's priciest real estate: the upstairs terrace, or the red corner booth on the patio that regulars called "the playpen." Walking around in the daytime, you can almost feel the ghosts of dramas past.
Is Bitton worried about The Hills ending? He shrugs. "I don't think that far ahead. It was a successful show. What else could you want? It can't go on forever," he says in a matter-of-fact way.
Lunchtime, on a balmy day in Beverly Hills, vice president of real estate Behzad Souferian, marketing director Erin Shaffer and publicist Robbie McKay are having drinks at one of the hotels owned by their boss, nightlife mogul Sam Nazarian. Nazarian's company, SBE, runs many of the clubs and restaurants frequented by The Hills characters. For a time, Nazarian even dated actress Kristin Cavallari, who replaced Conrad in the final two seasons of the series.
The show turns out to be an excellent way to sell nightlife. As people debated whether the series was scripted or unscripted, whether Montag's breasts (and lips, nose, cheeks, chin and ears) are fake or genuine, the setting became the most real character on the show. Where venue was concerned, what you saw on TV was what you got.
"One of the things people get fascinated with is, is it art imitating life or life imitating art?" says Souferian. "The show blurred that line. There is this fascination with what is real and what is not. People say, well, it can't be real. That's one of the draws of the show. It created buzz. Did this really happen? And is that a real place? Yes, it is. Those are our properties, and those are our patrons in the background."
Souferian is at pains to convey the seamlessness of the SBE experience. Their hotels and restaurants and bars and clubs provided ample opportunities for the cast to live out their lives. Breakfast at Tres. Lunch at Katsuya. Dinner at XIV. Drinks at Hyde. A dip in the pool on the roof of the SLS Hotel. The locations are camera-ready at all times, always with new and interesting amusements: Jell-O shots shaped like sushi. An indoor-outdoor lounge modeled after a Hamptons summer beach club. A burger bar inside a nightclub.
The pseudoreality of reality television is nothing new, of course, but The Hills articulated it in ever more exquisite and profound ways. The SBE venues, Shaffer explains, allowed the stars to have as much privacy or exposure as they wanted, depending on whether they were coming in "as a guest themselves or as a character on the show." There was your real self, and your doppelgänger reality self.
"Our venues, our brands were already part of their daily interactions, their dinners or whatnot," she continues. "And it became very natural for them to integrate that within the show."
Venue or character, chicken or egg, which came first? Neither. In the twilight of reality celebrity, there is no beginning or end. It's all a kind of seamless middle. The beautiful people will go where they've always gone.
"The show gave us more awareness in regards to people across the nation. In terms of who our clientele is, that hasn't changed," says Souferian. Theirs is not so much a demographic, as a psychographic. "It's people that want to live this type of lifestyle," he says. "If you frequent our places, we want to make you feel like you've come into my living room and I'm the host. The experience we want people to walk away with is being very catered to."