ACROSS L.A., that jejune institution known as bottle service has taken on a life of its own.
Not just the big-club "cologne head" custom it once was, lately it's infiltrated trendy restaurants and intimate bars. And at Hollywood clubs, the practice is even more entrenched, more elaborate and ever more costly.
It's long been the case in the hottest clubs that in order to reserve a table you had to order a bottle of liquor for an exorbitant price — $200 to $500 or even more. (This has always been a goldmine for club owners: Consider that Grey Goose vodka retails for less than 30 bucks.) But lately, the practice has reached new extremes — with $3,000 dinner packages, your own mixologist for the night and two- or even three-bottle minimums.
On a recent late-night Thursday at Area, Lindsay Lohan and Samantha Ronson were in the DJ booth, and each of the more than 20 tables was occupied by those partying standard bottle-service-style — pouring rounds, standing on the banquettes and waving drinks in the air. One foursome sprung for a mixologist who whipped up watermelon cucumber margaritas tableside. Yes, that's right: For a $250 "upcharge" you get a display of strawberries, a few sprigs of mint and a bartender mixing drinks and pouring them into plastic glasses with all the flair of a bank teller.
That $3,000 dinner? At Les Deux, it's, er, minimalist: just pasta — maybe fettuccine alfredo with broccoli (what, you were expecting lobster?) — some chocolate-covered strawberries and a several-hundred-dollar bottle of name-your-poison for a posse of six to 12.
At the tiny, chic new bar Winston's, bottle service isn't a requirement for getting a table reservation, but you can't keep some people from partying the only way they know how.
On a recent Wednesday night, at a table in the back corner, a giddy birthday girl danced on top of the booth, a bottle of Grey Goose on hand. "It's so much cooler here than at a big, cheesy club," she said.
The Penthouse, the restaurant at the top of the Huntley Hotel in Santa Monica, has turned the place's drop-dead views into a commodity: "Cabana" booths in the bar are available for a $600 minimum (on weekends), which pretty much means bottle service.
But maybe the Third Street Promenade crowd just ain't buyin' it. On a recent Friday night, there were no bottles to be seen, other than a couple of bottles of beer.
BELLY UP TO THE BOTTLE
Choice bottle: Patrón Silver, $325, or Grey Goose, club land's default, $350
Most coveted table: One of the rounded banquettes near the door, so you can see who's making an entrance.
The scene: Paris and Lindsay have moved on, but this small, elegant salon with a social-club vibe still attracts the louche and manqué, who bask in the rosy lighting. It still pays to be the friend of or the friend of a friend of SBE Entertainment kingpins Brent Bolthouse and Sam Nazarian.
The DJs: Samantha Ronson, Adam 12, Luxury Kills
What the bottle buys you: Wasabi peas on a silver-plated tower; a place to put your plate if you order from the Katsuya-designed menu; much more attention from the table girls in fishnets than you'd otherwise get. Who's been lately: Cameron Diaz, Djimon Hounsou, Christina Aguilera, Warren Beatty
Choice bottle: Grey Goose, $350
Most coveted table: The banquette in the back — that's where everyone's dancing.
The scene: The ex-Hyde crowd, slumming in a friendly, neighborhood bar that has a doorman. The owners — a GQ editor, an actor, a producer or two and the Tsubi denim moguls — draw industry friends and those who want to be their friends. (Table reservations are made via e-mail requests to email@example.com, and you may or may not get a response.)
The DJs: Mister Best, DJ Pesce
What the bottle buys you: Nothing. You're lucky to have a table.
Who's been lately: Kirsten Dunst, Jessica Alba, Paris Hilton
Choice bottle: Ocean Vodka, $325 (organic!)
Most coveted table: The discreet booth in the back corner that seats up to about a dozen of your BFFs.
The scene: Swanky restaurant turns into exclusive late-night lounge, owned by club maven Shereen Arazm and promoter Pantera Sarah. You need a reservation to stand at the bar, and you have to know the secret phone number. (It's  585-4444. Sorry, guys.)
The DJs: Chris Carter, Justin Allen, Zen Freeman
What the bottle buys you: Getting a table means buying two bottles, which come in big, glowing blocks of carved ice.
Who's been lately: Scarlett Johansson, Fergie, Lance Armstrong
Choice bottle: Louis Roederer Cristal, $700
Most coveted table: A corner on the patio, under the trees in the fresh Hollywood air.
The scene: Les Deux Part Deux — reimagined by Dolce Group partners Sylvain Bitton, Mike Malin, Lonnie Moore and J.T. Torregiani. On Friday nights, the pretty terrace is packed by power promoters the Alliance, who entice the famous, rich and glamorous. Pronounce it "luh dooh."
The DJs: Steve Aoki, Frankie Inglese, StoneRokk
What the bottle buys you: The right to order a dinner package for $1,000 to $3,000.
Who's been lately: Donald Trump, Rod Stewart, Robbie Williams
Choice bottle: Grey Goose, $395
Most coveted table: The one across from the DJ booth and next to the dance floor in "Area Five"
The scene: Lindsay Lohan might be in the DJ booth spinning Terence Trent D'Arby while the young and short-skirted, the boys chasing them, and those who can't get into Hyde hit the big-club dance floor or lounge on the Barcelona sofas.
The DJs: Samantha Ronson, DJ Vice, Michael Stone, DJ Homicide
What the bottle buys you: Tack on a $250 "upcharge" and you get a mixologist at your table, making watermelon cucumber margaritas or "burning mangos."
Who's been lately: Bruce Willis, Playboy Bunny Karen McDougal
Choice bottle: Whatever
Most coveted table: A "cabana" booth farthest from the bottleneck crowd at the restaurant's elevator entrance
The scene: A rowdy, rag-tag bar scene in the glammed-up, beach-theme penthouse of Santa Monica's newly boutique Huntley Hotel (are they looking for the old Toppers?). The crowd spills into the dining areas; some find refuge in certain nooks, but it's all excruciatingly loud.
The DJs: No DJ, just the thumping that pours out of a sound system.
What the bottle buys you: A table in a gauzy-curtained booth with drop-dead, 20th-floor views
Who's been lately: Luke Wilson, Jessica Biel, Maria BelloCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun