He’s Been Hiding Celebrities Since 2007

Going out, once a hallmark of celebrity status, took a hit this past year. Amid entertainment industry strikes and global turmoil, it seemed like many of the folks who formerly sought to see and be seen threw on sweats and stayed in.

That is, unless you crossed the velvet rope separating the plebeian world from the h.wood world, a gilded nightlife empire governed by John Terzian. As in Narnia and Oz, in h.wood, different rules apply.

There will be martinis. There will be Art Deco-ish sconces. There will be lighting so dim that even those who consider themselves young may reach for their smartphone’s flashlight, double checking how much those storied chicken tenders actually cost ($25).

Finally, and most importantly, there will be no photography. Well — there will be no flash photography, and certainly not of the regulars who make this world go ’round: your Biebers, your Kardashian-Jenners, your Drakes.

“Of course, people sneak photos all the time without flashes,” Mr. Terzian said on a recent afternoon, over lunch at the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel. “We know that’s going to happen. But the idea is that you should be sitting in comfort, without flashes going off, and because of who we cater to, I want everyone to feel safe.”

“I’d rather it be more real,” he added, “like if you happened to be with us one night and you saw this person, that’s really cool. You were there. But is it all over social media? No.”

Mr. Terzian, 43, is a founder of what is officially known as the The h.wood Group, which oversees 18 bars, restaurants and nightclubs around the world (many of which are in Los Angeles). Unofficially, he’s the mayor of a roving party circuit favored by A-list stars. Wherever there is an event at which famous types might want to raise a glass, he plants an h.wood flag.

The original Delilah, which opened in 2016, ushered in a new era of L.A. nightlife, one based less on a parade of shots and more on the notion of dinner and a show.Credit…Melanie Metz for The New York Times

From left, Elizabeth Cambage, Courtney Johnson, and Delara Abolhassani on the opening night of Delilah in Miami.Credit…Melanie Metz for The New York Times

There he was at Art Basel Miami Beach, celebrating the opening of the Miami outpost of Delilah, h.wood’s answer to the supper clubs of yore, alongside Diplo, Leonardo DiCaprio and Janelle Monáe. There he was at the Formula 1 race in Las Vegas, escorting Justin Bieber to the finish line by day (Mr. Bieber waved the checkered flag) and working the V.I.P. booths of the Delilah in that city (at the Wynn Las Vegas) by night. (Among the very important people: Jon Hamm, Sofia Vergara and Messrs. Bieber and DiCaprio, the latter two as endemic to Mr. Terzian’s venues as tequila and soda.)

How does he cultivate their trust? Partly by saying less.

“My places are safe havens,” he said. “If they want to talk about them, that’s fine.”

And partly by holding the hands — sometimes literally — of his top clientele, ensuring that their every need is met, that they never walk into one of his venues feeling lost. Call it the comfort food of nightlife: You enter h.wood world, you know what you’re going to get. Flattering lighting. Upholstered banquettes. The aforementioned chicken tenders.

If it’s a special night, there will be Mr. Terzian himself, in a Dolce & Gabbana tuxedo, eyes darting simultaneously around the room and at the phone in his hand, drinking scantly if at all, patting the shoulders of those who pass, wanting to know, “You good?”

“There is something special about all of John’s places,” said Kendall Jenner, who hosted a party for her tequila brand, 818, at Delilah Los Angeles in August. “They have that intimate vibe that I love.” “He is,” she added, “the perfect host.”

Always a Host

The son of a lawyer and a piano teacher, Mr. Terzian grew up in Los Angeles, playing football and throwing house parties. (“Not my own house,” Mr. Terzian made clear. “At friends’ places.”) As a fourth string quarterback for the University of Southern California — “maybe fifth string,” Mr. Terzian said — he was tasked with taking out potential recruits. “After the first few signed, the coaches said, ‘You’ve gotta keep doing this,’” Mr. Terzian recalled.

He thought he would become an entertainment lawyer, but when he didn’t pass the bar (“it was a horrible time,” Mr. Terzian said) he got a job working for the late Adam Michael Goldstein, known as DJ AM. “I was his everything,” said Mr. Terzian. “His assistant, I carried records, helped with legal, with branding. I helped him open his own nightclub,” called LAX.

Brian Toll (left) and John Terzian, founders of the h.wood group.Credit…Adam Riding for The New York Times
What’s an opening without a champagne tower?Credit…Melanie Metz for The New York Times

Mr. Terzian teamed up with Brian Toll, a U.S.C. friend who was also putting together events. In 2007, they opened a place of their own, The Stork. “It was ahead of its time,” Mr. Terzian said. “We took over an old Burger King; you had to recite a poem to get in the door.”

They shut it down after six months and reopened under the name h.wood in 2008. TMZ was on the rise; celebrities needed a place to hide. “We had a little private room and learned how to keep that space really protected,” Mr. Terzian said. “The influx of the paparazzi was a double-edged sword. A lot of people did not have fun going out.”

You wouldn’t know it from the way h.wood Group expanded in the 2010s. Mr. Toll and Mr. Terzian opened Bootsy Bellows, a dance club, with the actor David Arquette as well as bars throughout West Hollywood and on the west side of Los Angeles. “They’ve done an amazing job,” said Scott Sartiano, the owner of New York hotspot Zero Bond and a founder of the nightclub 1Oak, whose Sunset Strip location is being transformed into a new h.wood venue set to debut next year. “They have a track record of opening exceptional venues.”

Delilah, which opened in 2016, ushered in a new era of L.A. nightlife, one based less on a parade of shots and more on the notion of dinner and a show. (Though, parades of shots are still on offer for those who want them, and the potential for revelry is such that Delilah’s L.A. address is the title of a track on a recent Drake album.)

Sometimes the show stars sequin-bedecked burlesque dancers, on other occasions it can feature a famous regular, like Jamie Foxx, grabbing the mic for an impromptu set. “Friends just pop up,” Mr. Terzian said. “We generally have no idea.”

Of course, you need to count Grammy-winning artists among your friends for surprises like that to happen. To that end, a few years ago, inspired by Zappos’s teams of customer service “ninjas,” Mr. Terzian created the X Team, a brain trust of 10 staffers that go above and beyond for h.wood’s V.I.P. guests. “Doesn’t mean that they’re a celebrity,” Mr. Terzian said. “They might be friends, they might be business people. They can use the X Team like a concierge — transportation, housing, security, private planes.”

Can he share the names of anyone who avails of the X’s Team’s expertise?

“No,” he said.

“There is something special about all of John’s places,” Kendall Jenner said. “They have that intimate vibe that I love.” “He is,” she added, “the perfect host.”Credit…Emma McIntyre/Getty Images for Vanity Fair
From left, Blac Chyna, Amber Rose and DJ Duffey at Bootsy Bellows in June 2018. “My places are safe havens,” Mr. Terzian said. Credit…Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Simply Be

He’s similarly coy about the Bird Streets, a West Hollywood members-only club that opened last year, that Ms. Jenner and Bad Bunny were spotted leaving one night in March. “It’s for everyone that needs actual privacy,” he said, “that doesn’t have it outside of their own home.” What does membership offer? “Next level hand-holding,” he said. “It’s a full concierge.” What can he share about how members are chosen, dues, the maddeningly static website that is merely a curlicue B and S?

He laughed. “I get a lot of comments on the website.”

Not Your Normal Tent

Down the street from the Beverly Hills Hotel is h.wood Group’s corporate office, where 50 of the company’s 1,000 or so employees ideate on how to further surprise and delight. On a recent afternoon, Mr. Terzian gathered around a long conference table with five members of the X Team and three more staffers to discuss h.wood Group’s next frontier: Super Bowl LVIII, to be held in Las Vegas on Feb. 11. On the agenda: How to cultivate the “intimate vibe” coveted by regulars like Ms. Jenner in a 35,000 square foot tent.

“It’s not your normal, basic tent,” said Jake Nussbaum, a founder of Uncommon Entertainment, which h.wood hired to oversee three nights of parties.

“It can’t be corporate event-y,” Mr. Terzian said. “Can we talk about the table setup?”

Quantities of stanchions, velvet ropes, and security guards were debated. The notion of eliminating 12 “regular” tables — which will sell for $100,000 each — to give the V.V.I.P.s at the “whale tables” more room to mingle was briefly raised and quickly dismissed. More important: How were all these very important people going to get in?

Delilah is a modern-day supper club that aims to bring the roaring ’20s to life.Credit…Melanie Metz for The New York Times
A dancer performs to a live jazz band.Credit…Melanie Metz for The New York Times

“It’s hard to have a V.I.P. entrance,” said Tracey Manner, a founder of Sequel, which h.wood hired to oversee its publicity, “because everyone in your world thinks they’re a V.I.P.”

“Should we just not have one?” Mr. Terzian asked.

“You have to have one,” Ms. Manner said.

Mr. Terzian nodded knowingly. “As long as it’s not a scene,” he said. Save those for inside the party, off-camera.

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