• Image about Brent Bolthouse

The success of an L.A. club lies in the hands of one man and one man only: Brent Bolthouse. Never heard of him? Then obviously you haven’t been watching The Hills.

It’s nearing the witching hour for celebrities on the Los Angeles club scene — you don’t dare show your face before midnight — and the latest hot spot, Area, is about to reach chaos level. Not in a Studio 54 way, though. These days, the trend tends more toward finesse than excess, with as much emphasis on the design of the club itself as on the crowd in attendance. L.A.’s newest megastar bar is a glorified midcentury-modern living room, a decadent lounge tripped out with caramel-flecked white terrazzo floors, low-level upholstered Barcelona chairs, and sofas that could just as easily be found in a Herman Miller showroom in Michigan as in an ultraswank celeb haunt in California. It’s a residential-feeling bastion of beauty set to the soundtracks of Justin Timberlake and 50 Cent.

But what you don’t see is … Wait. Stop. What’s that commotion? No, it’s not an earthquake. It’s merely Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, and Lindsay Lohan bounding in through the doors like they own the place — and the entire block of La Cienega on which it sits. The atmosphere in the club immediately shifts to DEFCON 1. It’s as if a pulsating wave of tabloid-fueled star power that started building momentum somewhere around LAX has finally overtaken the club like a frenzied tsunami of Manolo Blahniks and mango margaritas. Even the DJ has the timing down. The whole thing feels like a sweeps-week ad for The Fabulous Life of ….

Now that Paris and her band of Hollywood hotshots have arrived, the party is on. And although they do figuratively “own” this club — and whichever one comes down the pipe as the next newest hot spot — it’s Area’s promoter, Brent Bolthouse, and his business partner, Sam Nazarian, who are actually collecting the profits at the door.

Bolthouse is, unequivocally, the be-all and end-all of the Los Angeles club scene. Since his arrival here in the late 1980s, his reign on what’s hot in town has been tighter than Paris’s jeans. If he promotes it, the A-list celebutantes and VIP actresses/models/waitresses come. If he doesn’t, they don’t. It’s as simple as that. His club credentials read like a who’s who of hot spots of the last 20 years: the Roxbury, Dublin’s, Joseph’s, Avalon, Babylon, Concorde, Spider Club, LAX, Lobby, Prey, Privilege, Hyde Lounge, and Area. And there are more openings planned for this year, along with several restaurants and hotels. Track records indicate that Paris, Nicole, Lindsay, Justin, Cameron, and Britney will spend many a night at each of them, and you and I likely will not. Membership does have its privileges.

Oddly enough, when Bolthouse came to Los Angeles in 1988 from the nearby desert town of Joshua Tree, it was to sober up. A high school dropout, he was living in a recovery house in North Hollywood and pumping gas at a Mobil station when a friend urged him into nightclub action — even though Bolthouse knew next to nothing about how the scene worked. Still, he managed to nail down a gig at the former Hollywood Athletic Club (now Social Hollywood) promoting his first club night, Papa Willy, one night a week. And he hired Drew Barrymore as the cashier. The fire department shut them down on opening night (that’s a good thing). Bolthouse was 19.

His marketing strategy at the time seems so obvious. “I came up with the concept of charging $1 to get in,” he remembers. “­Everything else then was around $10. I mean, who’s not going to check out this club? It’s $1! With the first little [bit of] money I made, I bought a Harley-­Davidson and rode around town handing out flyers outside clubs. It wasn’t like [it is] now, where when you leave a club, you get 100 flyers. There was one guy for many, many years, and that guy was me.”

Fast-forward 18 years, and Bolthouse has joined forces with Nazarian to create the most formidable hospitality empire L.A. has ever seen. Clubs, restaurants, hotels — there’s no end in sight. Next up is a ­second location for the recently opened ­sushi ­restaurant Katsuya — which will sport an adjacent Philippe Starck–designed bar and be located at Hollywood and Vine.

Suffice it to say, if Bolthouse builds it, they will come, if only for a short while — the L.A. club scene is, after all, a fickle, ever-changing one. In fact, Bolthouse is pretty much the only constant in the scene. Part of this capriciousness is due to human nature (new is better; new is brighter), but a bigger part is due to the spastic attention spans of the Hollywood “It” crowd of the moment.

“Celebrities have always been a part of our success,” says Bolthouse. “But the hyper nature of the Parises and Lindsays of today is something that we’ve never experienced before. Like I said, Drew Barrymore was our cashier. No one cared. But if Lindsay were the cashier at our club today, it would be front-page news.”

Inside the ultraexclusive Hyde Lounge, the most sought-after drinks in Hollywood are being slung from the bar with precision service from a gaggle of attractive waitresses who place the orders via BlackBerry-like handhelds. The club is, in fact, so exclusive that journalists are basically banned — and the few who are lucky enough to get in must swear on their firstborns that they will not report on anything they see inside. It’s for this very reason, of course, that the celebs love it — because they don’t end up with their pictures splashed across the tabloids every time someone spills a mojito down someone else’s back.

On this night, Bolthouse is the DJ. To say he doesn’t really fit in would be an understatement. His Converse All Stars, black jeans, and black sweater are much more ­indie-rock dour than cutting-edge haute couture — and that suits him just fine. He’s not eager to be in the spotlight. Even on MTV’s The Hills, a reality series in which one of its stars, Heidi, is being groomed for Bolthouse’s world, he seems uncomfortable in what few scenes he’s featured. His fiancée, Victoria’s Secret model Emma Heming, was quoted in Los Angeles magazine recently,­ calling him “the most antisocial person I have ever met.” Still, his friends, most of whom have unpublished numbers and very large bank accounts, come in droves.

In fact, pretty much everyone in the house besides me is a personal acquaintance. There is no other way through the door. (There isn’t even a line at the door.) The place has a capacity of about 100, and those 100 already know who they are — so no use showing up otherwise. Those who are lucky enough to get in, though, enjoy cocktails made from organic juices, and some of the drinks, like the excellent cucumber-­watermelon margarita, will set you back $18 (being cool ain’t cheap). Put simply, it is the hottest club in the world right now.

Of course, by the time you read this, nobody will care. Not even Paris.