If you partake of L.A. nightlife, you've probably crossed paths with Sean Patrick. The DJ, promoter and event producer is almost Forrest Gump–like in his ubiquity, having had his hand and ideas in many of the city's most popular parties and venues for the past 20 years, from underground hip-hop nights and swanky Hollywood celeb hubs to stylish, vintage shindigs.
He's knee-deep in the latter right now, in his role as creative director and brand ambassador for Clifton's. At the recently reopened downtown landmark, Patrick oversees the weekend nightlife program Clifton's at Night, showcasing jazz, swing, soul and rockabilly bands and DJs, plus burlesque performances, magicians and other vaudevillian amusements.
“I'm really enjoying exploring and elevating the historic feel of the venue,” says Patrick, who is working on expanding into weeknights as well. “People seem to love it. There's a line outside usually by 10:30.”
Clifton's has had a lot to live up to since Andrew Meieran, the developer behind the Edison and Golden Gopher, revamped and reopened the 1935 venue late last year. The response to its expanded food offerings, spruced-up atmosphere and additional bars has been mixed thus far, with some fans of the old Clifton's Cafeteria unhappy with the transformation. But it is slowly rebuilding its clientele and finding a whole new audience — which is where Patrick comes in.
'It's a pretty big umbrella. I program all the music. I work on lighting, DJs, dancers … graphic design, social media,” he explains, as we sit in Clifton's sunny third-story Brookdale Ballroom amid old-timey bric-a-brac and taxidermy, eating brunch. Him: a plate of veggies (he's been vegan for 30 years). Me: a sumptuous turkey pot pie (one of the new chef's latest dishes). “I'm also involved with photo shoots for content, I work with the chef on menu ideas, the bar program, you name it.”
Patrick, who moved to L.A. in 1996 by way of Florida (he was born in Louisville, Kentucky), first made a name for himself as a DJ, spinning at Firecracker, the long-running hip-hop night once held at the Grand Star in Chinatown. Though he was a bar owner in Florida, it wasn't until Urb magazine featured him in a piece on Firecracker that he thought about doing the club thing full-time in L.A.
His next gig, at Les Deux on Monday nights in Hollywood, further elevated his profile. The hip setting and crowd allowed him to explore his musical palette as a DJ, and he built a reputation for spinning an eclectic mix of rock, soul and dance (“I would do something like De La Soul into the Stones into Blur into electro stuff”). His diverse selections soon caught the ears of Ivan Kane, who brought Patrick on to spin and book other DJs at his venues including Deep on Vine (the venue, not the house club) and Forty Deuce (now Pour Vous).
“I always had varied tastes and I never stuck to any one clique,” Patrick says. “Like Tuesday night I'd be at a hip-hop club, Thursday at a house club, and Friday I'd be hanging out at Club Cherry,” the seminal, gay-friendly glam-rock club. “Then I'd end up at some Hollywood thing. I kind of floated through all of it and made a great group of friends along the way.”
Making friends and having good taste can go a long way, but Patrick's work ethic is what really drove him far. When he wasn't out observing what worked and what didn't after dark, he was joining forces with up-and-comers and breaking new ground with novel nightlife concepts.
One of his best-known projects was a roving club with then-upstart Jonnie Houston (of Houston Hospitality fame) called Temporary Spaces. TS took over soon-to-be-shuttered dumps and briefly reinvented them as hip hot spots. TS1 occupied a former dive bar at Fountain and Normandie; TS2 moved into Gabah on Melrose right before it became a mini-mall. TS3, at the just-closed Stone Bar, was a precursor to Harvard & Stone, a Houston-owned venue where Patrick now hosts the popular Monday nights, both as DJ and promoter.
Clearly, Patrick likes to stay busy. “I was doing film, TV and video production stuff by day, but I was also promoting at night at spots like the Bar” — aka Bronson Bar, another Houston property — “and Bar Marmont, which was one of the first nightlife venues I ever walked into when I came to L.A. I'm kind of like the 'opening' guy in some ways, and I've helped launch and book both Harvard & Stone and Pour Vous, as well as Hollywood Social and the Roosevelt.”
Before Clifton's, the Roosevelt was Patrick's biggest venue, both in scope and popularity. The reputation and scene he cultivated there alongside nightclub impresario Amanda Demme are infamous to this day, particularly the wild pool parties of the Tropicana Club and the brutal door policy at Teddy's, both of which have cooled since the pair left.
And there's more. Patrick has hosted and/or booked hot nights at Hyde (when it was, you know, hot), the Three Clubs, the Nice Guy, the Chestnut Club in Santa Monica and many more that neither he nor I can remember as we rack our brains during brunch. It may seem as if he didn't stay at one place for too long, but his runs at the Roosevelt, Bar Marmont and with Kane were all about five years each.
Even with Clifton's now demanding much of his time, the 47-year-old still does club nights and events outside of the landmark. His next big one is Folly, the pre-party for Dapper Day at Disneyland. “It's perfect for me because I love to dress up and I'm a Disney freak,” he says excitedly. “I'm also going to Detroit a lot, looking to buy a venue there.”
Detroit? “It's just that L.A. is saturated, so we've been looking elsewhere. L.A. is still the running story. So many people try to open bars and clubs and restaurants here. But it's not easy. It takes a lot of work and it takes patience. There's competition, yes, but there's no shortage of people moving here, especially to downtown.” He points out of Clifton's massive third-story windows, all of which frame busy Broadway construction zones below and DTLA's continually changing skyline above.
Clifton's, of course, is inherently special simply because of its history. “Yes, there are thousands of bars and clubs in L.A., and you can go to them and see the same things and hear the same house, hip-hop, indie and top 40, and that's great. But this,” Patrick says, gesturing around him, “is the place where everything else can live.”
After so many years working in nightlife, Sean Patrick may have finally found the most perfect venue to showcase all of his tastes and talents. “I can have live music here in eight different areas! I want to offer different musical and entertainment experiences here simultaneously on any given night. It's a huge project, but so far so good … and I still have lots of new ideas and things to reveal.”
CLIFTON'S AT NIGHT | 648 S. Broadway, downtown | Friday and Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m. | cliftonsatnight.com
Los Angeles native Lina Lecaro has been covering L.A. nightlife since she started as a teen intern at the L.A. Weekly (fake ID in tow) nearly two decades ago. She went on to write her own column, “Nightranger,” for the print edition of the Weekly for six years. Read her “Lina in L.A.” interviews and party picks for the latest nightlife news, and follow her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
More from Lina Lecaro:
Goths, Galleries and Gentrification: The Year in L.A. Nightlife
Everyone From L7 to Nirvana (Yes, That Nirvana) Played '90s DIY Venue Jabberjaw
A Q&A With Gun N' Roses' Duff McKagan