On Saturday night at Sur Lounge, the room is filled with two distinct types of people: Half of them are clubby scenesters, either short-skirted and high-heeled, or perhaps making a pit stop on their way to the Abbey. The other half are tourists looking decidedly not from this neck of the woods, eyes akimbo, hell-bent on locking in at least one celebrity sighting on their trip to Los Angeles.
At Sur the chances of celeb-sighting success are upped considerably, since some of the servers are the stars of Bravo's Vanderpump Rules — a Real Housewives of Beverly Hills spinoff that focuses on the tomfoolery of the West Hollywood restaurant's staff.
These days, every reality TV star is using her fame to sell something — wine, clothing, a cocktail bar. Maybe all of the above. Vanderpump Rules exists because Housewife Lisa Vanderpump is selling Sur, and what better way to do that than via another TV show?
Now in its second season, the show has turned Sur's staff into stars, albeit of the B-list variety, and the new(ish) eatery into an attraction for the US Weekly crowd.
It's in a weird zone — part restaurant serving food, part zoo serving up proximity to its cast. They're famous enough to be ogled but not enough to quit their restaurant jobs: Move on from Sur and they've lost both their menial jobs and their showbiz ones.
Tonight, Jax Taylor is behind the bar. He's wearing glasses, initially, which he never does on the show. They keep coming off and going back on as if he can't decide whether to be as-seen-on-TV Jax or incognito Jax.
Either way, it's clear his shift tonight has answered a certain percentage of patrons' prayers. Two girls who look practically too young to be here huddle and squeeze one another's hands. "I think that's him!" they say on repeat. A couple of pretty young things ask to take a photo with him, and Taylor obliges.
Slightly more subtle is the middle-aged woman sitting at the bar, looking for all the world like someone settling in for a long night of nickel slots in Atlantic City. All the other bar stools have been moved to make more room for the influx of customers ordering cucumber martinis, but she doesn't look willing to give up her front-row seat.
The servers who make up the cast of Vanderpump Rules — Stassi Schroeder, Scheana Marie, Kristen Doute, Katie Maloney and Tom Sandoval, along with Taylor — say the barrage of fans showing up at their workplace has been an everyday occurrence since the show's first season began airing in January.
Now nationally famous, the cast members are captive. If a devotee wants to push past the TV screen and see the stars up close, all she has to do is make a dinner reservation.
Between cigarettes on the restaurant's patio, the staff laments.
"You have to be photo-ready every day for work," Marie says, and they all concur.
Marie, who straddles both Sur and Vanderpump's other restaurant, Villa Blanca, says that before the show, she used to dress more casually when serving. But, she says, "I can't do that anymore because then I'm taking pictures with people with a ponytail and no mascara, and that doesn't look good on Instagram. With any filter."
Sur is a typically stressful and fast-paced restaurant work environment, but for the cast, there's an added pressure to be ambassadors for the show. Maloney describes a recent night at work when "there were so many people, there was something wrong with every table, you get stressed out, you have your managers on your ass, but at the same time, you have people saying, 'Oh my God! Can we get a picture?' You're on the verge of tears and you just want to run away, but you have to go, 'Sure! Yeah!'"
Not every patron is such a big fan, however. Schroeder, season one's consummate frenemy, says, "I'll go to a table and they're, like, 'Oooooooh, yeah, we watched you last season.' And you have to serve them the entire time, and you know they hate you."
Maloney once endured a table of "older people" passing around a photo of her in a bikini pulled up on a phone. "And here I am just trying to take their order, and I'm embarrassed."
Marie consoles her: "It was a hot picture, though."
"You don't usually go to a restaurant and have seen your server half-naked," Schroeder says. "Or crying. Or have seen them do awful things."
The boys, who tend bar, get propositioned pretty frequently. Doute, who is castmate Sandoval's live-in girlfriend, says, "How many phone numbers does he get? Like, are you kidding me? Knowing that I'm standing right there?"
"Girls feel like they can say whatever they want to guys," Sandoval says. "They just say, like, 'nice ass.'?"
"Girls are skanks," Schroeder says.
Sandoval continues: "They're, like, "Oh my God, I'll bet you have, like, the biggest..."
"Ew!" The girls erupt in disbelief.
Despite the overly familiar patrons, the cast sees the show as a wise career move. Unsurprisingly for a crew of servers in L.A., each of them is an aspiring something: actor, music mogul, writer.
But they're a new generation of reality star perspicacious enough to look further down the road past this blip of fame. They have no intention of aping the careers of the similarly young, hot MTV Real World–ers of the past couple decades, who got stuck in the reality biz, bouncing from show to show, leaving their former potential by the wayside.
"We don't want to be those losers who think we can be on a show for a couple of years and then, what, we're set?" Schroeder says. "No."
"Reality TV isn't like it was 10 years ago," Taylor points out. "If you touched a reality show, you weren't even looked at. If you're on a reality show now, people are getting roles all over the place."
So until the next step presents itself, they weather the hyperexposure.
"It definitely causes you to behave more in public," Sandoval says.
With a shrug, Schroeder counters, "I still do the same shit."
Vandepump Rules premieres on November 4th at 8 p.m. on Bravo.
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