There was a $40 cover charge at Enclave in 2009 the night Doug Reinhardt — then-boyfriend of reality TV star Paris Hilton — made a scheduled appearance at the club. People paid it, mostly because they were hoping Hilton would join him, which she did. Once the couple and their entourage arrived, patrons stood shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the elevated VIP section to get a glimpse or photo of Hilton as she danced with Reinhardt and briefly spoke on the mic.
A lot has changed since then. After all, this is the nightclub industry we're talking about.
Hilton — no longer with Reinhardt (who referred to her as “the love of my life” that night at Enclave) — is now DJing at clubs rather than simply making appearances. Enclave closed and has been replaced by an arcade bar, Headquarters Beercade, scheduled to open this summer. And those celebrity nightclub appearances that were popular at Chicago clubs, including Jamie Foxx at the now-closed Le Passage and Snooki at the now-closed Manor appear to be a thing of the past.
Enclave booked more celebrity appearances than anyone when this trend was at its most popular among clubs. According to Matt Deichl, former vice president of Downtown Entertainment, which owned Enclave, the club needed a creative way to fill a large space.
“In the beginning, it was cool just to have celebs in the room,” said Deichl, who now owns Parliament nightclub. “Being around them was the cool thing to do. But toward the end when we were doing it, people realized you sometimes can't see the celebs doing anything. We were always crossing ours fingers that they would come in a good mood and get on the mic. The Black Eyed Peas performed during their appearance, but a lot of times people left disappointed (that) the celeb just sat in the corner or that they didn't get a picture with them.
“We brought in Usher for his after-party and people came there hoping he would sing. When he didn't, they were disappointed. That's counterproductive. It's not just about making money. You don't want people to leave the venue feeling like, ‘That sucks. I spent a bunch of money at the bar and didn't get what I paid for.' And, like with any trend, the whole thing just became stale: ‘Been there, done that.'”
Paris Club Bistro and Bar's upstairs club, Studio Paris, has been the city's top celebrity hangout in recent years but has stayed away from paying for appearances. Instead, it books entertainers who agree to perform on the makeshift stage, including big name DJs such as Avicii and Steve Aoki and the occasional pop star. Co-owner R.J. Melman didn't reveal how much big-name acts are paid but says it's worth it. “We wouldn't keep doing it if it didn't work.” He prefers to think of the shows (some of which are surprises, including an unannounced DJ set by Kaskade in September) as a thank you to the club's customers.
So are other clubs across the country staying away from celeb appearances as well?
Deichl has seen many of the celeb booking agencies he worked closely with shut down. “One guy I worked with is now doing real estate and another is doing fitness,” Deichl said.
Mike Esterman — who founded celebrity booking agency Esterman.com and has spent nearly 15 years in the industry — said the booking business is alive and well. He did, however, admit that major cities such as Chicago, New York and Las Vegas have become enamored with electronic dance music and are opting for DJs rather than celeb appearances. Esterman said these cities are home to clubs that can actually afford the well-known DJs.
“The (DJ) trend has been going on now for a few years,” Esterman said. “It's a very expensive trend. That trend will pop like every other bubble does.” (Deichl agreed.)
When Esterman books one of his clients for a club appearance in the Chicago area now, it's usually in the suburbs. That's where many reality TV stars are appearing, whether it's “Jersey Shore” stars at Zero Gravity in Naperville or “Party Down South” stars at Drink nightclub in Schaumburg. Brody Jenner of “The Hills” and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” fame is DJing Friday at H.O.M.E. sports bar in Arlington Heights, whereas in the past he just had to show up to appearances at Enclave, Bull & Bear or McFadden's Restaurant and Saloon.
H.O.M.E. co-owner George Angelo Boulougouris said celeb appearances can be a valuable marketing tool to a suburban venue, but he will only book those who can perform (Carly Rae Jepsen and Lupe Fiasco have performed and DJ'd, respectively, at H.O.M.E. since it opened in 2012).
“I want people to say, ‘Holy cow, that artist or celebrity is here in Arlington Heights.' It can separate you from a lot of venues in the suburbs,” Boulougouris said. “But guests want to see them actually perform. They want to feel that connection with a celeb in that intimate setting. I think DJing is the new celebrity appearance. The bars and clubs get more bang for their buck.”
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