Every generation’s beau monde has its Palace of Versailles—a space upon which the notables of the day descend to swill cocktails and bask in the glow of one another’s celebrity. The Rat Pack favored the Copa Room; Andy Warhol and his Factory friends skulked the strobe-lit corners of Palladium and Studio 54. And for the spray-tanned starlets who dominated the early 2000s cultural landscape, the center of the universe was a nondescript lounge on a dingy sidestreet in Hollywood called Les Deux.
From its opening in 2006 to its closure just four years later, Les Deux was just as much a tabloid fixture as Paris Hilton, Nicole Richie, Britney Spears, or Lindsay Lohan—on any given night (or very early morning) this crowd could be spotted stumbling from the club’s doors, through a swarm of flashing cameras, and into the plush-leather embrace of waiting Cadillac Escalades. It’s hard to say whether the place was a product of its time or an institution that defined it. But it’s clear the fate of tabloid culture’s favorite watering hole rose and fell with the fortunes of its most famous patrons—from the early days of fresh-faced hedonism through inevitable run-ins with the law, mental-health crises, and ultimate collapse beneath the weight of public scrutiny.
Like a lot of nightlife hubs in Los Angeles at the time, Les Deux presented an unassuming facade. In the days before social media, its exclusivity, and thereby social currency, was collateralized by word of mouth—being connected to the right phone trees, knowing the best promoters. If granted admission, either by virtue of beauty, star power, or the arbitrary goodwill of a publicist posted at the door, you’d enter a hidden Shangri-la of early 2000s pop idolatry. In 2021, you’ll find a radically different scene at 1638 North Las Palmas Avenue: an unguarded set of locked doors looking out onto an empty, windswept parking lot. The space once occupied by Les Deux now houses a weekends-only events venue, Liaison L.A., which is described on its website as an “entertainment complex” that throws “the most epic Sunday brunch party.”
Chronologically, the short life of Les Deux mirrored the simmer, boiling crescendo, and ultimate fizzle of early 2000s tabloid culture itself. Arguably, absent the cultural moment ruled by tabloid editors, there would be no Les Deux. The era’s core value—fame by any means necessary—was thoroughly baked into the DNA. It was co-founded by Mike “Boogie” Malin, a contestant on the second season of CBS’s Big Brother. Coming off a rather infamously combative stint on the series, the boisterous Malin teamed up with a friend, Lonnie Moore, to form Dolce Group—a party boy-branded hospitality business whose portfolio eventually included hot spots Geisha House, Bella Cocina, Ketchup, and more. A star-studded roster of investors boasted Hollywood enfants terribles of that time: Ashton Kutcher, Wilmer Valderrama, and Jamie Kennedy. But Les Deux was the crown jewel of the collection, thanks to a self-reinforcing spin cycle of reality-television marketing.
“The biggest reason people know about Les Deux is The Hills,” says Dara Laine, creator and host of Les Deux You Remember This?, a podcast about early 2000s pop culture that borrows its name from the club. “It was like the Central Perk or Peach Pit of the show,” she says, referring to favored fictional haunts of characters on Friends and Beverly Hills 90210, respectively. The Hills, a spinoff of MTV’s groundbreaking teen docu-soap Laguna Beach, centered on aspiring fashion-industry maven Lauren Conrad and her bevy of conventionally attractive (mostly blond) friends, navigating their early twenties living, loving, and screaming drunkenly across the City of Angels.
Lest viewers believe Hills producers struck some kind of marketing deal with Dolce Group to feature Les Deux, cast member Audrina Patridge—the sole brunette in a sea of blonds—insists otherwise.
“The producers did not choose Les Deux for us,” she tells W. “It was our go-to every Thursday night.”
She refers to a cast comprised of her former roommate, Conrad, and some of the era’s other reality TV mainstays: Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt; Brody Jenner, son of Keeping Up with the Kardashians’ Caitlyn Jenner; and Conrad’s Laguna Beach nemesis, Kristin Cavallari.
“If we were going to go out in L.A., it was definitely in our top three places,” Patridge says.
In its centrality to The Hills’ roiling, six-season kraken of storylines, Les Deux almost operated as a character itself. It was the site of perhaps the most notorious moment in the show’s history, when the friendship between protagonist Conrad and antagonist Montag, the foundation of which had been cracking for three seasons, finally imploded in a cloud of portentous, genre-defining dust—after Conrad suspected Montag and her now-husband, Spencer Pratt, spread a rumor she made a sex tape with her own ex-boyfriend, Laguna Beach and early Hills fixture Jason Wahler. (It’s a moment Patridge joyously recalls as “infamous.”)
Kim Kardashian held her 27th birthday party at Les Deux, with every member of her family in tow. Future President Donald Trump hosted a party there in honor of the launch of his eponymous vodka brand in 2007 (discontinued in 2011). In attendance, a buffet of early 2000s tabloid favorites: Jessica and Ashlee Simpson; Paris Hilton and on-again, off-again Greek shipping heir beau Stavros Niarchos; and—forebodingly—Dasha Zhukova, ex-wife of Russian oligarch and Vladimir Putin political ally Roman Abramovich.
One of Les Deux’s most prominent regulars was pop star Britney Spears. Spears was locked in what seemed like a never-ending battle with paparazzi and tabloid writers at the time, as the latter attempted to document every painstaking moment of her struggles with mental health, along with multiple ill-fated relationships.
For Spears, the club was a safe haven. As Laine speculates, in the era before social media, Les Deux’s exclusivity and wannabe-famous seat fillers instilled an atmosphere wherein Spears and her contemporaries could enjoy themselves without being conspicuously gawked at, or harassed for autographs.
So Spears spent as much time at Les Deux as she could—to a bizarre end. “Apparently, in 2007, she asked if she could fill out an application to work there,” Laine recalls. “She spoke to a manager about it.” Tabloid reports from the time confirm that Spears approached Les Deux management and, apparently motivated by admiration for the cocktail waitresses’ uniforms (red corsets, tight black shirts), began going through her calendar, outlining which days she was available for shifts, and which she’d need off to spend time with her young sons.
The sense of security that inspired Spears to ask for a job application was by no means unique to her experience. It was one of the first places Paris Hilton went after spending 45 days in L.A. County jail on 2007 charges of driving under the influence. It was also Lindsay Lohan’s spot to party just prior to being cited on suspicion of D.U.I. after crashing a Mercedes-Benz on Sunset Boulevard that same year.
The club’s safe-harbor status may have been little more than a veneer, however. In Nancy Jo Sales’s 2013 true-crime accounting of the so-called Bling Ring—a group of affluent L.A. teens who burglarized the homes of Hilton, Lohan, and other celebrities—Les Deux was framed as the crew’s base of operations. Courtney Ames, one of the young women implicated in the ring, met her boyfriend and alleged co-conspirator, Jonathan Ajar, while partying at Les Deux. (Ajar was a promoter for the club and a convicted drug dealer.) Ames celebrated a birthday at Les Deux (notably, an underage one) in the midst of the Bling Ring’s burgling activities. She and her accomplices likely rubbed elbows with some of the very celebrities whose homes they targeted, including that of Audrina Patridge.
The Bling Ring’s members—which included Alexis Neiers, of the short-lived Kardashians knockoff Pretty Wild on E!—were arrested and charged in 2009. And court proceedings, which stretched until 2012, coincided with the closure of Les Deux, as well as a flurry of legal woes for the Dolce Group. In 2011, Mike Malin, along with Lonnie Moore, was sued by investors of Geisha House, a Japanese restaurant on Hollywood Boulevard painted a ghastly shade of maraschino red. The suit alleged embezzlement of nearly one million dollars in investor funds. In line with Malin’s reputation as the “most hated houseguest” in Big Brother history, the lawsuit contained even more salacious details— allegations that business partners siphoned off company funds to pay for “multiple sexual encounters” with “various older men” during which Malin would “live out fetish role play fantasies.” Malin accused investors of attempting to extort him with those allegations, but ultimately came out of the fracas owing $800,000. Malin and Moore were sued by another investor in 2012 for more of the same hijinks—alleged mismanagement of company funds, piggybanking millions of dollars to support their own “lavish lifestyles.” That suit alleged Dolce Group falsified accounting records, hid funds in shell entities, and made off-the-books deals with vendors, pocketing the cash difference.
In 2014, the hammer came down even harder on Malin—he was smacked with a $10.5 million judgment after allegedly failing to pay eight years of rent on an Atlanta outpost of Geisha House. Four years later, a former Big Brother co-star Dr. Will Kirby won a decade-long restraining order against Malin, after the former club owner sent “disturbing” text messages and emails, including photographs of Kirby’s daughter and other children at school, along with messages reportedly showing someone pointing a gun at printed-out images of Kirby’s wife. Malin was sentenced to two years of probation, along with 30 days of mandated mental health treatment—a proverbial final nail in the coffin for both him and the legend of Les Deux.
Surely there are those who, looking back on an era that glorified unhealthy habits and sanctioned horrific social attitudes toward young women, see Malin’s comeuppance as karmic retribution. Several famous women contacted for this story declined to comment on their experiences at Les Deux, or encounters with Malin and company.
But it’s not all bad memories for those who crossed that hallowed threshold on North Las Palmas Avenue in its heyday.
“They were the best,” Partridge recalls of Les Deux management. “They definitely knew how to make sure everyone was having a great time.”
“We were patrons until the end,” she says.