400 Dates

Confessions of a club promoter

Photo by James BunoanIn a second-floor office building on Production Place in Newport Beach, four handsome twentysomething men stop what they're doing and call every girl they know. They move away from their desks and stretch out on sleek, black leather furniture. Sitting beneath borrowed paintings of the cast of TheO.C.,they begin dialing.

Across the office one man counts a pile of $100 bills from his desk while he waits for a girl's voicemail. Another takes his conversation outside, spilling honey-covered words across the office floor as he moves downstairs.

Given the long list of phone numbers the team has collected over the years from mostly beautiful, mostly female, Orange County clubbers, this job will take several hours to complete. Yet they do it every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Such is the life of club promoters Dave Doyle, Matt Meddock, Gene Braizele and Dave McMillan—the "Social Group," as they have called themselves for nearly three years.

"I have 400 people in my phone," says Meddock. "And I care about every one of them. It's my job. I'm in the business of one big customer service."

The members of the Social Group have thrown some of the biggest parties in Orange County. Night to night they do what they can to enhance the party experience for Orange and Los Angeles county clubbers.

"I have in the palm of my hand access to anything and everything they want," Meddock says about his seemingly endless connections to such resources as cheap booze, VIP rooms, DJs, fire-breathers and midgets-for-hire.

Today, however, is a bit different. The men are setting up their newly rented office while preparing for the biggest party of the week: Thursday night at the Sutra Lounge in Costa Mesa. Doyle reminds everyone that Sutra's management wants a larger female clientele.

"Only call the girls! Don't call any dudes!" he yells at Meddock, who has diverted his attention from phoning to hanging the office artwork.

"When we're inviting girls to party, we basically promise them a good time. We try to take care of their needs," says Doyle, who remains on his headset all day and switches seamlessly from speaking to his coworkers in the office to flirting with the girls on the other end of his earpiece.

Doyle reassures the group it won't take long: "I've been calling for a couple of hours, and I'm already at the K's!"

He suddenly turns to the window. His tone changes from hard-ass businessman to ladies' man as he makes his pitch into a girl's voicemail: "Hey babe, it's Dave. Just wanted to know if you were going to roll out to Sutra tonight?"

When Doyle turns back, Meddock promises that, by 5 p.m., he'll call every girl in his phone. He walks out of the room and toward the bathroom, a portrait of Eminem and a hammer in hand.

For the Social Group, even the artwork is smart business. Each month, the men swap out loaned artwork to feature new local artists.

"It was my idea," says Braizele, looking at the dozen or so paintings yet to be hung in the brightly painted, Ikea-furnished office. "Our office is half a gallery."

By keeping their workspace as quasi-art studio, it remains updated and impressive for clients without spending a dime. "I like to have new things to look at," says Braizele. * * *

At 3:30 p.m. a techno-salsa mix is playing in the background. Meddock is lying on the couch, giggling to a girl over the phone. Across the office, Braizele and Doyle count the Benjamins.

Across two desks, several small stacks of $100 bills are piled next to random lists of email addresses, receipts and paperwork. Nothing is organized. Everything has to be repeated, remembered and re-explained as they keep track of the money—they make anywhere from $9,000 to $25,000 per night.

It's money they're not shy to spend. While Braizele, who says he's "all about the money," boasts of his five cars, Doyle lives in a beachfront condo and plans on opening a Huntington Beach restaurant/nightclub. McMillan and Meddock share an apartment, but it's a niceapartment.

As the day winds down, Doyle deals with business calls of a different sort. Several times he gets up from his desk and goes outside to engage in heated conversations over canceled parties for Olympic Track athletes, unfair payment, ex-girlfriends.

At one point, Doyle is heard explaining to someone on the other end of his cell phone that he didn't receive his fair share for a Los Angeles party.

"We brought in 1,000 people that night and got $24,000 for it. Management brought in 500 people and got $23,000 . . ." His voice trails off as he walks from room to room, struggling to remain diplomatic.

Doyle, 24, has been throwing parties since he was in high school. "I used to throw backyard parties with 600 to 700 people. They'd start around 8:30 and get broken up around 11," he remembers. "But when I realized most of my friends were 18, I decided to take it to a club."

Not old enough to drink, Doyle pitched his idea to a local bar owner. "I'm nice," he says to explain the owner's cooperation. Within three weeks he was bringing 750 people to a place with a capacity of 350.

It wasn't long before Doyle was meeting other, equally ambitious Orange County promoters, including Meddock, Braizele and McMillan, all of whom, like Doyle, have difficulty explaining how they came to be club promoters, admit they never dreamed of being club promoters and speculate there is no single way to enter the business.

They were all working in Orange County nightlife when Doyle decided he no longer wanted to work solo. He invited the others to combine their talents for a weekly party at the Lodge in Costa Mesa. They produced bigger crowds and bigger profits. Soon, paperwork was filed, grunt work was outsourced, and the Social Group was born.

Doyle is quick to explain that the Social Group is not limited to the four men who frequent the office. "There are guys who make percentages and guys who make the guest list and pass out fliers," he says. So while the four men meet with marketing directors and clothing companies, negotiate wristband prices and decide on website designs, a team of part-timers handles the rest.

Two "phone girls" report to work daily to call the several hundred people on the guest list. In addition, a flier team of about two-dozen middle school students passes out fliers for weekly parties throughout the county. Doyle believes this is the most important job: if county clubbers don't know about the parties, they won't go. And then there are the Los Angeles-based promoters who keep the Social Group connected across Hollywood.

Back in the office, the phones are busy, but it doesn't look good. Few girls are answering their phones, and McMillan predicts a low turnout. Regardless, it's nearly 5 p.m., and the Social Group will close the office in less than an hour to allow everyone as much time as possible to dress, eat and, for Doyle, meditate and undergo various cleansing and purifying rituals. They'll meet up again at the Sutra Lounge no later than 8:45.

* * *

At Sutra, every night starts slow. In the early evening hours, small dinner crowds can be seen drinking in the Indian-inspired dining room, bartenders lounge behind a desolate bar, and the management team begins to schmooze VIP guests.

Outside, a few early clubbers arrive in hopes of beating the crowd. Two girls—both scantily clad in pleated miniskirts and tube tops—are let in, while a group of middle-aged men are asked to start a line outside.

Doyle shows up, looking refreshed and trendy in designer jeans and sneakers. He buys himself a drink, visits with the management and begins his hustle, which for now is limited to talking coolly to a nearby reporter ("If you wanta story, I'll giveyou a story . . .") and answering a cell phone that rings incessantly.

He uses this down time to talk about his love for the Sutra Lounge. Beyond the sexy décor (you won't find a place in Europe that looks this good, he says), the nightclub's small size apparently serves a more practical purpose.

"You have more control over who comes in," he says. "You're better able to pick them." By them,he means beautiful people. "Don't get me wrong, everyone will get in, but some people might have to wait longer than others."

By 9 p.m., the rest of the Social Group has arrived, looking remarkably the same in versions of the same faded jeans and tight-fitting shirts and near-identical haircuts. Save for Braizele, each has a faux-hawk, a spin-off of the Mohawk that is surprisingly sexy on the right head but somehow loses its seductive quality when worn by men in a group.

They check each other out and compliment each other's shirts and shoes. Meddock reveals he caught McMillan taking a cheese grater to his jeans earlier that evening. He explains that when it comes to throwing parties, it's all about appearance.

"We're always on the scene, so we have to look good," he says. "Nobody wants to go to a dorky person's party."

* * *

The real action starts 45 minutes later. Braizele, the Social Group's DJ, is able to escape the increasing havoc and busy himself with turntables on the blue-lit dance floor. The line outside is growing. Meddock leaves to placate the management over a problem with the clientele's dress code, McMillan just leaves, and Doyle continues to run in and out of the nightclub, looking increasingly distressed. The men constantly signal to each other with hand gestures and facial expressions when to open the line and when to raise the cover price.

It becomes increasingly clear that many, many people want to be added to the guest list. The Social Group's cell phones ring.

"Everybody knows somebody," says Meddock of the clubbers who arrive at the party and expect to jump the line and the cover charge. "There's always somebody in the crowd who thinks they're better than anyone else."

Meddock stands behind the nightclub's decorative palms, looking concerned. His eyes glaze over as he looks past the crowd and lets his mind wander.

"This is my safe spot," he says, pointing to a secreted bench near the club entrance. He waits there, beneath the warm glow of wall sconces, and builds up the strength to join Doyle in monitoring the line. He confesses that the pressure to please partygoers can be overwhelming.

Meddock looks at his ringing phone, slips it back into his pocket and shakes his head.

"In business class, I learned that first impression is everything," he says. "When people find out you're a club promoter, they go, 'Oh, you party for a living.' But I want to say that I woke up at 8 a.m. this morning so that you could have a good time tonight."

Meddock joins Doyle out front. Seeing that the crowd has grown considerably, a pained look comes over him.

He walks in front of the line and turns his back to the people pressing against each other, vying for his attention from behind the velvet rope. "Right now," he says, "I could turn around and have 400 pairs of eyes on me." He deals with it by looking away. "This is the worst part."

But keeping the people outside the club is what needs to happen. This is what Doyle refers to as "building a line."

"At certain points, you need to stop letting people in," says Doyle. If lots of people are outside a nightclub, he explains, lots of other people will think it's the place to be. This strategy to attract people often leaves those in line irritated and edgy.

And there's a problem tonight. Apparently, the nightclub's management is sharing the guest list with the Social Group. This means that the Social Group will not be able to let in as many people as they initially thought, and, as it turns out, they are not going to be able to let in people when they want to. As the details of this new arrangement are settled, it becomes clear that the Social Group no longer has control over the line. It's no longer their party.

For the first time the men look like angry punk kids and not the savvy entrepreneurs they define themselves to be.

At 11:30 a group of Meddock's friends have waited for nearly an hour in line. "This is crazy!" he says, "They definitely should not be waiting like this." He is visibly pained. Taking a moment, he adds, "The worst part is the calls you have to make the next day, to apologize to all of your friends who don't get into the club."

Doyle and Braizele run back and forth between the bouncer, the nightclub management and the VIP parties they have scheduled for the night. Just by walking in front of the line, the two ignite a series of yells from people desperate to get their attention. Doyle handles this by ignoring everyone calling his name. The people he does approach are promised to "be next" but wait for up to an hour before they are actually allowed inside.

"I need more ladies," the door guy whispers to Doyle. Doyle promises that a "load of girls" are on their way. There are "loads" of girls waiting in line, but the girls Doyle knows are apparently special.

After pleading with his "load of girls" on the phone to come sooner rather than later, he gets in several minor verbal disputes with people in line, a couple of heated conversations with the management, and finally escapes. He needs a drink. Taking wide strides past the bouncer, and clubbers who linger casually inside, he moves to the bar and orders a rum and Coke. "Are you watching me be an asshole?" he asks.

Editor's note:Since this story was first reported, Dave McMillan has left the company.

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