I witnessed my first bar brawl on Saturday night…Villa Lounge seems to exert its own weird little tractor beam; two of the last three times I’ve been there I actually intended to be somewhere else instead (the movie theatre, another club called Goa). Yet all roads seem to lead to this tiny dive-bar-turned–hotspot on Melrose down by the Pacific Design Center.
Villa is weirdly intimate, unlike any other club I’ve ever been to (including the all-mighty Hyde). Maybe it’s because it’s set up like somebody’s actual villa, complete with a ‘library’ in one corner and cosy upstairs area; maybe because it’s so small; maybe because on any given night there seem to be so many celebrity faces that part of your brain is tricked into thinking that you actually know these people, the same reason why watching television is supposed to be so comforting. Some primal animal depth of your brain registers that kind of familiarity as friendship or kinship, which might explain why famous people have to take stalkers as such a matter of course.
It is one of the bizarre laws of nature at such clubs that people will actively compete for the privilege of spending a “minimum” of five thousand dollars on wildly overpriced bottles of alcohol (a bottle of Gray Goose runs for around five hundred) just so they can have a place to sit down over the course of several hours and a table surface on which to keep their drinks (as someone in our own group pondered Saturday night, “Why even bother with the pretense that you’re charging people for alcohol?“). But when you’re in an environment where everybody in the room has money — otherwise they wouldn’t be in the room in the first place — and everybody has a competitive streak — otherwise most of them wouldn’t have that kind of money in the first place — status depends on other things*. So the Villa tables get meted out according to how famous you are, how hot you are (any group at one of the highly-visible downstairs tables is required to be especially goodlooking), who you know, and whether you have the appropriate male-female ratio (the Villa people demand an exact gender count beforehand). It’s the high school cafeteria mentality all over again, amplified by celebrity and wealth and so called adulthood — except now the ‘in’ place doesn’t belong so much to the jocks and cheerleaders but, in many cases, the geeks and freaks the jocks and cheerleaders picked on, those late bloomers who just happened to bloom in surprising and spectacular ways, whether through lucky genetics or obsessive hard work or some combination of both. (And although the cheerleaders are still around, they are plentiful and disposable and their window of opportunity in this land is very brief indeed.) Places like Villa just take that cafeteria mentality and leverage it and make a lot of money off of it. It takes your desires and prejudices — and maybe even a slight wish for vengence, because honestly, do we ever get over the trauma of high school? — and sells them back to you through fantasy and spectacle. Villa is Hollywood’s current answer to the Moulin Rouge, even if there aren’t any cabaret acts per se, just one lone lingerie-clad dancer shimmeying in the alcove high over the bar.
I have a great time at Villa because I get to hang out with favorite people, I get to dance, and I’m a voyeur-writer type. Looking at these clubs as a whole, though, they are not exactly friendly or welcoming places outside of the friends you already have there. They are threaded through, like so much of Los Angeles, with the steel wire of ambition, competition, the kind of hope that shades so quickly into desperation.
I was dancing downstairs with friends when I looked toward a table area and noticed one guy being held back from attacking another guy. I shrugged it off and didn’t think anything more would happen — which indicates the kind of world I inhabit, where the violence I encounter is psychological or cinematic — but then guys were shoving each other, one guy was jumping up on the couch and getting another guy against the wall, there was some punching and kicking, and just when you thought it was over it would erupt again. The place was so tightly packed that the fight sent physical shockwaves through the crowd. At one point I got tossed back into a pair of strong male arms (I think I know who they belonged to, but am not entirely sure and elected not to ask). I saw Lukas Haas** on his cell phone, looking toward the stairs, where Leo D***. soon appeared and took authority, signaling to get people moved, thrown out, to get the broken glass swept up. Order was restored.
Not that there’s anything unusual or significant about a fight; the only-in-LA moment happened a day or so afterward. I was talking to Jade on our way to lapdancing class — lapdancing and poledancing repackaged as core-strengthening exercise and love-your-body female empowerment — and mention of the fight came up. I said I’d read in perezhilton that Jesse Metcalf and Kevin Donnelly were involved — two testosterone-fueled actors with a bit of fame and money who like to live hard, so no surprise there. “I know. Jason was the one who told Perez,” Jade told me. “Jason is friends with Perez. He was texting him on his phone while he was watching the fight.” So to recap: I stumbled across information I didn’t know about the fight that I’d actually witnessed through the gossip blog of a total stranger who found out about it from a friend who had been witnessing it right alongside me.
Hollywood is such a postmodern, theatre-of-the-absurd kind of place.
* The same thing happens with female beauty. When every girl in the room is pretty, because that’s how she got into the room in the first place, a whole new pecking order emerges around things like talent and intelligence and personal style — and, of course, sheer force of will.
** Hangs out with Leo D. a lot.
*** DiCaprio is one of the co-owners of the place, and seems to be actually involved with it instead of just a name on the marquee.