Industry Insiders: Michael Sutton, Guy’s Guy
Soap opera star turned LA nightlife entrepreneur Michael Sutton has quite the diverse CV. He’s been nominated for two Daytime Emmy Awards, he was a co-founding partner for a private membership community called Xenii, and he’s had ownership in LA hotspots The Lodge Steakhouse, Memphis, Charcoal, and supper club Goa. His new joint Guys & Dolls has been a hit among the West Coast elite.
The opening event at Guys and Dolls looked like quite a show. We opened May 26 and had a launch the day after Memorial Day Weekend. It was a bit crazy. I had a friend who was able to spin on that day, DJ AM, and we just went with it because the lounge is not a huge club-sized space. Being that it’s limited in scope anyway, we figured we’d launch on a Tuesday and it would help with our capacity issues. The event really set the tone for the past months that we’ve had.
Where are you from originally? Born and raised in Beverly Hills.
Tell me about your history with Guy Starkman of Guys Bar, which occupied the space before. I was looking for a new location to open up either a bar, lounge, or a club. I wasn’t sure which was going to come my way first. I was actually approaching Guy to see if he’d be interested in selling his location and his business to me. He had just re-built the space, and he hadn’t really opened yet, but he wasn’t quite sure. This was in November-December, when we were talking. About three weeks later, I found a location in Hollywood and I was going to move on it, and then I decided to give Guy one last phone call. During the conversation, for whatever reason — timing, luck — he was willing to sell it and we made the deal right then and there. I obviously didn’t move forward on the Hollywood location and was very, very happy to take over Guys and rename it Guys & Dolls. The idea was to be the evolution of Guy’s bar. The place that I promoted was nothing near the scope and magnitude of this location, or what was built at this location. Guy’s bar opened in 1995, and I think I promoted it at two different times, so I knew the location well. We named it Guys & Dolls to have a little play on words — established in 1995, and refined in 2009.
What’s the vibe like? It’s this sexy, sophisticated, service-oriented ultra lounge. LA doesn’t really have anything like that. It’s the size space you would see in a hotel bar, but being that it stands alone, there’s this incredible energy in the room. It’s kind of like Rose Bar New York meets Mynt Miami. You have to see it to feel that energy.
What’s the music like? The music in LA, believe it or not, has really come full circle. We were hip-hop only for so many years. I’m a huge hip-hop and rap fan, but now, I think a full night incorporates a lot of feel-good remixed 80s music and a lot of fun, happy house music. A little bit of electronic house, more European in scope. Everything that we do at Guys & Dolls is really catered to the happiness of the women. The music, cocktail menu, the vibe. If the women are happy, then we have a successful lounge. It’s all about the women.
Why is that? It’s the secret of LA. I think this is the case anywhere, but LA specifically, because of the celebrity factor. It’s all about celebrities and women. If you capture those two, keep them coming back and happy and advocating your place, then you win.
The women bring the men? Exactly. The beautiful women always attract the men and bring us the best clientele. The place is an extension of entertaining my friends. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I realize that if I just try to build a place that would accommodate my friends and my needs, inevitably it ends up being a successful venue. I feel like I’m in touch with what would work and what would be embraced by the city. My friends, luckily, are fun, like to have a good time, and are beautiful people. That grows organically, and like anything, it’s not about the dollars you throw out to market it; it’s got to be grassroots. It’s either something that people like or people don’t, and I never want to sell something that people don’t like.
How’d you make the transition from acting to nightlife? It was out of necessity. I was working on a soap opera where you’re just given dialogue after dialogue, pages and pages. It’s a never-ending cycle of putting words into your head. So, I didn’t have any time to see my friends. My father was a publicist at the time, and he’d taken on an account at a club that used to be very hot called Bar One. I told him that I would go in and throw a party there once a week so that I’d have a chance to see my friends. I ended up launching the opening of their new bar, called The Room. From the first night we did it, I had my actor and model friends, photographers, directors, producers, and agents. I did a party or two a week for the last 15 years, believe it or not. About seven years ago, I invested my own money into a place called the Hollywood Canteen, and that was my first transition to operations, marketing, and promotions. I loved it. After that, I got into The Lodge Steakhouse. I really got an education in business because I had the mindset of an artist and wanting to do creative things as opposed to business. At this point in my life, I have a good background in both. You need that to be successful.
Where are your spots in LA? The best sushi place in LA is in Beverly Hills — it’s called Yu-N-Mi Sushi, and it’s owned by a friend of mine who was my executive chef at Goa. That’s one of my favorites. I love Mr. Chow. I like to be adventurous, so I’ll go to all the different cultural sites around the city. I’ll go to Koreatown, Little Tokyo, Thai Town, and go to the local dive restaurants there that have authentic food.
Where do you shop? I like H. Lorenzo on Sunset Plaza. I’m a huge fan of all the Japanese designers, and Lorenzo goes to Japan four times a year, and he gets all the best new designs. I don’t think anyone else does that in LA. Maxfield is great, and Fred Segal and Barneys. Those four get my paychecks a lot.
What’s your guiltiest pleasure? Travel. Indulgence. I definitely love to explore, so my guiltiest pleasure is that if I had the chance, I would just keep going from new destination to new destination. My second guiltiest pleasure is beautiful women.