Natasha Silva-Jelly took a deep dive into the LA nightlife scene, when she sat down with H. Wood Group founder John Terzian at his office, just off the famous Sunset Strip.
You are considered the king of Hollywood hospitality, yet you studied art and then law. So why nightclubs?
I didn’t pass the bar and couldn't get a job. It was 2008 - a very bad time - so I became a club promoter. At USC [University of Southern California] I got a name for throwing parties and events. A friend of mine was managing an unknown DJ and he said, "Why don't you help us with gigs?" I ended up travelling with him, seeing every club, bar and lounge in the world. I really learned how to deal with and take care of talent. In one year, the DJ went from earning 300 dollars at bar mitzvahs, to being the first celebrity DJ on the planet. It was DJ AM and he was before the Calvin Harris’s of this world.
How did H. Wood group come about?
I realised I was an entrepreneur at heart. My business partner Brian [Toll] who I met in college felt there was a niche for high-end nightclubs that catered to our friends and friends of friends. Many were rising stars in the entertainment, creative, fashion and art world. There were places for them in New York but there was nothing going on in LA. Back then it was either full-blown, seedy nightclubs or boring restaurants. Over the past decade we’ve been the leaders in changing the nightlife scene here.
Photo courtesy of Bootsy Bellows
How many venues do you have now and what was the first?
We have 15 places and are in construction for another eight. It’s a lot and I visit all of them every night, but I remember the time when I had nothing, so that’s how I keep it up. We started with nightclubs and now have restaurants and lounge bars. Harriet’s is our new rooftop bar and it’s special; it has the best views in the city.
What inspires your new venues?
Harriet’s was inspired by the rooftop bars in New York, the first ever rooftop lounge was above Madison Square Gardens in the 1920s. It was everything I love: live music and jazz, and an art deco feel. Harriet's has a lot of that look. When I was little, I would always go to a place here called Chasen's which was the big thing at the time. I grew up loving Chateau Marmont and Sunset Tower, which is still my favourite that I don't own. Chasen’s was like the lovechild of Sunset Tower, The Nice Guy and Chateau Marmont.
Do you have a favourite venue?
That’s like choosing a favourite child. The Shore Bar in Santa Monica is my baby because someone took a shot on us when we had nothing, not even an office. And The Nice Guy, because everyone including the backers said, "It'll be the biggest flop. You cannot have a place that mixes lounging and drinking and hanging with great food.” But I knew my customer, and my design style, and that I could curate it. The Nice Guy is old school Italian and invite-only.
Photo courtesy of The Nice Guy
Is that the secret to your success?
There’s something to be said for paying more attention to the food and aesthetics. We have really gained a name for doing that here. I don't do any drugs, never have. I'm married with a kid. Whereas I think most nightclub owners are the polar opposite.
How do your restaurants and clubs compare to New York and London?
In New York, the buildings are better, they have better bones. But I feel we have helped raise the level of restaurants and many New York restaurants are trying to move to LA. I love the Carbone and The Bowery Hotel, they are my go-to’s in New York. My favourite hotel bar in the world is the Chiltern Firehouse in London for the vibe, and because I'm a big fan of people dressing up, or at least caring about what they wear.
Photo courtesy of Harriets
Have you changed the way people dress in LA?
I've tried. It's just not an LA thing. I tried to convince my partner to have a coat and tie dress code when we opened Delilah and he said, “it will never catch on”.
Talk me through the experience at each one.
For nightclubs, Bootsy Bellows is our biggest brand. We opened one in Aspen, everyone thought we were crazy, but I know my clients and they are in Aspen. We are also opening one in Dallas. Poppy is our newer club, it looks like a living room with bookshelves and there’s an atrium. My vision is to make nightclubs feel more residential. To me, it's about the people that I have in the room, as well as the music and creating the right vibe. Right next door to Poppy is Petite Taqueria, so you can have Mexican for dinner first. Our other restaurants are The Nice Guy, and Delilah, which is classic American. I think everyone is trying to do what we have done at these two venues. They are an amazing mix because you have a great dinner and night out with live music, a brilliant DJ, and flapper girls. Then we have 40 Love, which is like a tennis-themed country club - it’s cool. We also have Blind Dragon, which is a karaoke lounge on sunset.
Photo courtesy of Poppy
How involved are you in the music and what are you into?
Very involved. That’s tough because everything has a time and place. I'm a huge fan of old music. I'm a huge fan of hip-hop. I'm a huge fan of rock.
You’ve expanded beyond LA, what’s next?
We definitely want London. I'm big on it, it's got to just be right. I'm not trying to take over the world, I'm trying to do a good product. We have Aspen, it’s a special place for us, and we are going to open The Nice Guy there. In LA, we're opening Alice Kitchen and we opened Blind Dragon and Mason in Chicago, which is a steakhouse that we're opening in Santa Monica and San Francisco as well.
Photo courtesy of Shore Bar
One of my closest friends has a hotel chain called Found that we partnered with. The first was Chicago and there will be be 30 more, with seven under construction. It was scary when we first opened as it was completely empty for three months.
How did you turn it around?
It lies in our relationships. We treat our clients like family. I'm really close to the Jenner’s and Kylie [Jenner] had her birthday there, so that really drew people there. I don't have social media. A lot of my closest friends have become very big celebrities, so we offer a safe-haven for them. We don't allow phones in The Nice Guy and Delilah, we don't put PR out, and our venues feel safe like the old school places I loved growing up.
For more information on the H. Wood Group and its restaurants, lounge bars and night clubs please contact your Lifestyle Manager.