Bryan Rabin
Bryan Rabin
Tyler Curtis

L.A. Nightlife Icon Bryan Rabin Reflects on a Lifetime of Revelry

Party planner, club promoter and now movie producer Bryan Rabin is ready to celebrate. Over the last 28 years, the professional ice skater turned nightlife king has been conceptualizing and throwing the most enticing events in L.A. On Saturday his latest, with partner Adam Michael Bravin (DJ Adam 12), celebrates its five-year anniversary. Giorgio’s, inspired by the seductive music of Giorgio Moroder, has been packing the Standard Hollywood for half a decade now, a glamorous yet unpretentious, revelrous yet real gathering for people who want to get dressed up, dance their asses off and simply celebrate life in a stylish environment that harkens back to mythic discos of yore like Studio 54.

When Bravin (one half of She Wants Revenge and the mastermind behind another highly successful club night, Cloak & Dagger, not to mention being Barack Obama’s former events DJ) joined forces with Rabin, it kind of couldn’t miss. Rabin had taken a break from club promotion to focus on event planning (mostly major high fashion–driven extravaganzas for the likes of Martin Margiela, Rick Owens, Armani, Vogue, Vanity Fair, MOCA and Gucci, but there was also a brief return with Diamond Dogs, a glitzy shindig at Bardot) and Giorgio's retro-cool and iconic musical mindset attracted It girls and boys plus an older crowd who had stopped going out due to lack of inclusive happenings. People who'd been constantly begging Rabin to throw a weekly bash like he had in the ’90s finally got their wish.

Ah, the ’90s. Today we think of grunge and maybe emo and bad pop, but in L.A. the ’90s were exciting and eccentric and eclectic, especially when it came to nightlife, and we largely have Rabin to thank for that. He threw what is widely agreed was one of the most legendary clubs in L.A. and maybe the country, Cherry. The wild neo-glam dance bacchanal, which started in WeHo and ripened into a bona fide line-around-the-block rager on Highland Avenue at the space formerly known as the Probe, was the place to be on Friday nights for anyone looking to end the drudgery of the work week with a fabulous mix of people and music. It was an audacious stew of styles and scenesters, attracting the rock & roll crowd, fashionistas, drag queens and the gay scene’s more flamboyant figures, and a notable contingent of famous people, too — all dancing to DJ Mike Messex’s transcendent sets melding ’70s glam, ’80s new wave and old-school dance jams with modern (at the time) alternative hits. It was the coolest sounds with the coolest people, period. And it was my favorite club for years, so I wrote about it a lot.

“I was extremely lucky to work with two amazing partners on Cherry: my life partner, Jimmy Medina, and the legendary DJ Mike Messex. It was really a reaction to the AIDS crisis and about getting dressed up and losing yourself in fantasy,” Rabin says. “The club was based in glam-rock culture, as it drew on icons of that time, which included David Bowie, Blondie, Lou Reed, New York Dolls and more.”

As Rabin notes, at the time, dancing to rock & roll music was out of the norm. “What made Cherry so unique was that rock & roll created an equal playing field across all types of sexual orientations, race and economic roots; we gathered together under our big top week after week in our most outrageous attire for eight years,” he says. He recalls highlights from the hap: “Hosting a fashion show where Alice Cooper walked out holding a snake and said to me, 'I haven't seen anything this freaky since the ’70s; hosting a live show and concert by one of my favorite bands, Bow Wow Wow; bringing incredible art acts such as The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black and giving NYC's notorious Toilet Boys their first show in Los Angeles, fronted by the world's most famous drag queen, Ms. Guy; and last but not least, performances by art-world star Joey Arias and drag icon the Lady Bunny.”

Bryan Rabin, left, with George Michael at Club Cherry back in the ’90s
Bryan Rabin, left, with George Michael at Club Cherry back in the ’90s
Courtesy Bryan Rabin

Indeed, Cherry may have been one of the most influential clubs in L.A., an poly-sexy precursor to the mixed madness that came years later at soirees such as A Club Called Rhonda and Sex Cells. Cherry became part of the pop zeitgeist and was even featured in popular TV shows at the time such as Beverly Hills, 90210. It also pre-dated reality television as its clubgoers and staff were the subject of an E! TV documentary special called Hollywood Nights (which also featured another legendary glam-rock gathering, the drag-jam dance party called Club Makeup at the El Rey). Cherry also became ground zero for every big band that lived in or were traveling through Los Angeles, from Hole to Smashing Pumpkins, Marilyn Manson, Jane's Addiction, and on and on.

Before he started doing parties, Rabin went out every night in L.A. and says he devoured it all — “Bret Witke’s Uber Glamour, Boys & Girls, Helena’s, Funky Reggae, Flaming Colossus, Scream, Egg Salad, Enter the Dragon, Power Tools, Cathouse, Scream, the Pink —  it was endless," he recalls.

"From rock & roll to high society to the ’80s art crowd, you just had to have a good look and the gift of gab,” he adds. “Hollywood still seemed like a very small town back then and you couldn’t buy your way in like today with bottle service, or money or fame.”

Rabin’s first event was an after-hours called the Lounge. “We scouted a second-story costume shop on Hollywood and Cahuenga that doubled as a theater and conned the owner into throwing a party that started at 2 a.m.!" He recalls, “You entered in an alley in the back past the methadone clinic and up the back stairs. All was good in our little clubland until another promoter called the fire marshal on us six weeks later. By that time we had gotten a reputation for throwing the meanest after-hours party in town, which was featured twice in the Holy Grail of nightlife press at the time — the La De Da column in L.A. Weekly.”

Writing about Rabin — who has become a friend over the years — is a full-circle kind of thing for this longtime nightlife reporter. His parties are still more than praiseworthy. But it's not just about hot fashion and hedonism for him. When asked what he's most proud of, after dedicating more than half his life doing events, he says, "I would have to say using my contacts to raise awareness and funds for numerous charitable organizations that were formed in a response to the AIDS crisis, to which I lost my partner, Jimmy Medina, and countless friends." These include Lifebeat, APLA, Project Angel Food and AIDS Healthcare Foundation. He also has lent his efforts to a variety of political and social causes, including the Obama Hope campaign, mental health and substance abuse organizations, LGBTQ causes, and efforts to benefit the AIDS Monument to be built in West Hollywood.

Rabin never had any ambition to produce films earlier in his life but he wanted to tell stories that lasted longer than one night. When his good friend James St. James wrote a thinly veiled "fictional" novel about his high school experience (following Disco Blood Bath, which became the film Party Monster), he was inspired. "After reading it, I felt totally compelled to see this very important story about bullying come to life," he says. "I partnered with the incredible Jeffrey Coulter and we hired writers Patrick Clifton and Beth Rigazio to adapt the book, and attached Drew Barrymore's Flower Films, who in turn brought on Trudie Styler's Maven Pictures to finance."

The film, Freak Show (starring Bette Midler, Alex Lawther, Laverne Cox, Abigail Breslin and AnnaSophia Robb) was released Jan. 10 domestically and is being released in the U.K. on Friday, June 22. Rabin says he has more TV and film projects in the works. But right now his focus is on this weekend's anniversary festivities.

"I am so proud of what Adam Bravin and I have created with Giorgio's," Rabin exults. "Five years is a major milestone in nightlife. Clubs these days don't even last for five months. It goes to the power that music and dance can have in one's soul. I'm the luckiest man alive to be able to be surrounded by such beauty and love on a weekly basis."

Giorgio's Five-Year Anniversary, at the Standard, 8300 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood; Sat., June 23, 10 p.m.; more info here.

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