It's Halloween weekend and John Terzian is zoning. Not off drugs but work. As founder and owner of the h.wood Group, the 32-year-old L.A. native owns three nightclubs, with another one in development. And because the entire city comes out for Halloween, this is one of the busiest times of the year.
Dressed in a black blazer and jeans, Terzian vets emails and texts from the back of a shiny new Range Rover. The workspace is like a mafioso's rolling office — the Harvard Westlake/USC mafia.
Armed with his BlackBerry, Terzian sets up guests with accommodations as his driver shuttles him to SHOREbar. The Santa Monica spot, which opened six months ago, has a vibe a million degrees from his Hollywood locations.
“You have to know where you are,” he says between texts. “My whole point was not to bring Hollywood here.”
SHOREbar feels like a vintage beach club, with an upscale, cabana-themed interior and an ocean motif. The low-key vibe is aimed at locals who don't want to drive across town to sip cocktails and dance — Nantucket chic in Santa Monica.
A half-hour before the servers' arrival, the only people working besides the owners are two bartenders and a busboy. Terzian clears tables and serves drinks, all the while chatting, smiling and calling customers by their first names. He genuinely seems to be enjoying himself.
“The biggest misconception is people seem to think your hours are 11 to 3 a.m.,” Terzian says when he finally gets a chance to sit down in the back and chop it up over drinks. “That's the least important hours of operation. It's a nonstop job. I'm up at 8 a.m. every day, working on the legal side and business agreements.”
SHOREbar's co-owner and manager, 27-year-old Adam Koral, joins the table. Belying the stereotypical notion of sleazy club owners sleeping and snorting any chance they can get, both say they have serious girlfriends.
“There's a truth to any cliché, but that's not me,” Koral says.
In fact, Terzian adds, the reason he can keep pseudo-vampire hours is because he doesn't do drugs and drinks only moderately. “I never got into it for partying,” he says. “I usually sneak out and go home around 1:30. The hardest part is having a relationship — family, friends, every aspect. You miss a lot of birthdays — lots of things you can't do.”
“We're lucky we have girlfriends who understand,” Koral says, just before sprinting away to tend to an incoming party greeting him with outstretched arms.
When Terzian bought SHOREbar, it was called the Hideout, and with holes in the furniture and paint peeling off the walls, it lived up to its name. Friends didn't see its potential. But after he took a hand in everything from the design to the staff, SHOREbar quickly became a beach-city favorite.
In June, it was followed by the opening of Bootsy Bellows in the old Trousdale space in West Hollywood, a supper club co-owned by actor David Arquette and given Arquette's mother's burlesque name. After that, Terzian's management company bought what was once Guys and Dolls on Beverly Boulevard. Now called the Beverly, that space has not yet felt Terzian's touch, but he says he has big plans — a complete remodel.
Not too long ago, things were much more uncertain. At USC, Terzian split time as a clipboard quarterback (and helped recruit future NFLer Reggie Bush). He also graduated from Pepperdine's law school.
But his first club, h.wood, was, by his own admission, a colossal failure. Terzian worked his way up from marketing and promotions at the club, formerly known as LAX, becoming chief operating officer before purchasing the place with DJ AM.
During that time, the would-be magnate lived at home with his parents, saving money: “I didn't take a salary for two years. Most people would think that's crazy.”
But the city of L.A. ruled that the club was operating out of compliance with its zoning. It shut h.wood down in 2010 after four months of operation, 112 LAPD complaints and repeated permit violations.
“The city took it from me,” Terzian says, attributing the misstep to his own inexperience and ego. “That was the lowest I've ever been.”
But instead of cashing out for a law practice, Terzian bounced back. He parted ways with DJ AM and formed the h.wood Group with promoter Brian Toll and Loyal Pennings, raising money and rebuilding with the Tea Room and Las Palmas.
“I think you have to fail a couple times,” he says.
Fast-forward a few years. Terzian has retooled h.wood's team with the addition of L.A. nightlife fixtures Darren Dzienciol, Markus Molinari and, recently, Koral. Terzian also has launched a concert and events company, dubbed h.wood group events.
He's not done yet.
“I want my own hotel chain,” he says. His company is in talks, although he won't reveal details. “I got into it for branding and marketing. You build a brand, you build a following.”
At Bootsy Bellows later that night, it's obvious how big the following is. Past the velvet rope, the club is everything SHOREbar isn't. It's Hollywood with all the trimmings: bottle and table service, high-profile celebs, young entertainment execs, aspiring talent, affluent locals. Open just three nights a week, the club pulls in six figures a night, according to its owner.
Terzian glides through the place, greeting patrons with smiles, personally taking care of critical tables and dashing from the kitchen to the disco-themed back room and back to the main room in a whir.
“A lot of my job is like being a concierge” to customers, he says. But there's an even more important class of people, he says, the glue that holds the club together: “The most important people in the whole room are the bussers. A lot don't get talked to in the proper way. I want them to want to grow and make sure they feel like family.”
As if on cue, a busser flies by, cleaning up a broken glass as Terzian helps clear a path for him.
In the middle of the dance floor, a too-tall basketball player grooves. Pretty young professionals flirt at the bar. In the middle of it all, Terzian quarterbacks on the fly.
“Everyone sees it as their night out. They don't know about everything that goes into this.”