A private bar where you can drink, cuddle and drop the masks? Welcome to Risky Business in North Hollywood

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Before COVID-19, you may have known Risky Business as The Other Door – an unassuming cocktail-focused neighborhood bar in North Hollywood. But today, 14 months after the start of the pandemic, the place has turned into a private club for fully vaccinated people. Co-owners Ari Schindler and Jonathan Katz know the business is a risk, and they chose the new name to be transparent about it.

“It’s not that we accidentally said the quiet part out loud. These are people who want to manage their risk, ”Schindler told KCRW. “They know that nothing is 100% sure, both in COVID and outside. Life is hard. Life has risks. All we’ve done here is we’ve created an environment where you have a different risk profile than other places.

Do you want to be part of Risky Business? You must present a card proving that you are fully vaccinated against COVID and pay the one-time membership fee of $ 10. You can then sit at the bar, meet and hang out with strangers, eat and drink without masks or social distancing. You will also receive an engraved membership card in black anodized aluminum.


Owner Jonathan Katz maintains a prototype version of the Risky Business membership card. Photo by Jonathan Katz.

The bar held its pre-opening over the weekend of May 7 and welcomed nearly 40 new members. At least 1,000 memberships have been sold so far, Schindler says.

“It feels good. He feels free. Free. It feels like a pre-COVID time, almost like another time,” said Crisanta Melendez, who visited the bar last Saturday after reading about it online. . “Here we have this very relaxed [space]. It almost sounds wrong, but in a good way.

She adds, “The membership fee is worth the peace of mind – coming here knowing that there are like-minded people who have done everything they’re supposed to do in the past year or so. They have distanced themselves socially. They wore the masks. They passed the tests.

For Andy Kantos, the chance to meet new people felt like a return to normal.

“This place is fantastic – the vibe, the energy, the people around. …. It’s so good to be back in life. We all walk around without our masks because all of us is in good health and vaccinated. “


Club members gather around pool tables at the back of the bar. Photo by Jonathan Katz.

Saturday was one of his first nights back in town since last March. He was as careful as possible for the next 14 months. He has type 1 diabetes and has colleagues and friends with pre-existing conditions. Kantos says he missed being close to others.

“The feeling I had when I shook hands with the first person, being able to touch someone again, just the palm of the hand, just that little moment that I was able to share with someone. one in that easy way, ”he says. “Do you remember the joy you felt when you were a child?” Maybe it was your birthday or was it like hanging out with a friend? This is what we feel here today. We are all friends together.

The North Hollywood Waterhole isn’t the only organization requiring a full vaccination for entry. The SoFi Stadium in Inglewood recently welcomed tens of thousands of fully vaccinated spectators during a star-studded charity concert. Dodger Stadium has a section that does not require masks or social distancing for those fully vaccinated. This summer, the Hollywood Bowl plans to do the same.

The fine print and the legal gray area

There is a caveat to joining the private club. Prospective members must sign an agreement stating that they understand the health risks of the bar and understand that if someone lies about their immunization status, they may face legal action or a fine of $ 10,000. .

KCRW verified the viability of the legal threats with Thomas A. Lenz, partner at the Atkinson, Andelson, Loya, Ruud & Romo law firm in Pasadena. He says the threats – and even the bar itself – operate in a legal gray area.

“We are in the middle of a developing situation. And I think a lot of business people are trying to adjust. They may be changing their business model. … It is not at all unusual for the government to take a different perspective on situations, ”he said. “So I wouldn’t be surprised to see the county or perhaps another regulator take an interest in this situation.”

So is this legal? May be.

But Schindler argues that there is no explicit rule banning private clubs for fully vaccinated people amid the pandemic.

Being called a Nazi for demanding vaccination records

When this bar first announced it would reopen as a private club, it received mixed reactions. Some were happy while others viewed business owners as irresponsible or discriminatory.

“It’s funny… how many times we’ve been called Nazis, just because we demand papers from people. But at the same time, we have this almost libertarian perspective of the risk profile we can provide. You make decisions that are right for you, ”Katz says.

Schindler says others have been put off by the exclusive nature of a private club.

“Everyone here is a normal person, and there is no one who lands with their private jet or drone-helicopter. It’s just funny [when] people hear it’s private, and see we have some really well-designed membership cards that Jon grabs, [they] thinks it must be some sort of elitist thing, when it is exactly the opposite.

Katz is keen to make it clear that they are not forcing anyone out of their comfort zone.

“There’s really no shame anyway though. We provide hand sanitizer. If someone wants to wear a mask, there is no shame. That’s what makes people feel comfortable. We’re not trying to be fools here anyway.

A year to learn to pivot

Before the pandemic, The Other Door always swam with bodies. Customers eagerly showed up for live music performances, stand-up comedy shows, or the occasional burlesque show.

Schindler says they saw the pandemic written on the wall in December 2019. That’s when senior customers stopped coming. When March hit, business came to a standstill.

“You had the whole place that in the previous days had thrived with over 100 people and a dozen staff,” says Schindler. “So you have one person, and I can’t leave anyone else in the building at this point.” Even to get deliveries, you have to put them outside and cook them in the sun for a few hours. ”

Schindler says they immediately had to do something about the excess alcohol that was building up and find a way to pay the bills.

“It only took about a day for us to realize that we both have to liquidate some of the shares to find a way to function as a whole,” Schindler explains. “Bars work on the net 30. So basically you buy a bunch of things, they get delivered, you sell them, and then you pay for them later. … For most bars, when they are closed, the system suddenly collapses. Because suddenly all the bills are coming due, and you haven’t been able to sell the things.

Next, Schindler began packing packages of essential household items for sale. They included items that people struggled to find in stores at the start of the pandemic.

“The business transformed overnight as me driving through an empty apocalyptic LA with no traffic on the streets, and finding the last piece of sourdough bread from this place, and organic eggs from this place and milk from this place. this place.”

The model then shifted from the basics to weekly subscription boxes of alcohol and snacks.

Ultimately, the idea for the vax-only space came from frontline worker friends who saw the worst of the pandemic.

“It’s a horror sight for them in the hospital with no rooms available and people on ventilators. They came to us and they basically said, “When will there be a place where we can let off steam?”

What happens when the pandemic is history?

Schindler acknowledges that eventually, the club could abandon its exclusively vaccinated business model.

“The pandemic will end like all other pandemics, and even our structure here where we check your COVID vaccination status. We do not check your polio vaccine status. We don’t check your smallpox vaccination status, ”he says. “When COVID is no longer a pandemic, we are likely going to lift our vaccine requirements and just become a private club. Maybe we even stop being a private club.


Customers mingle at the bar while waiting for drinks. Photo by Jonathan Katz.

What do business partners hope for by opening a club reserved for vaccinated people? A return to normal.

“It’s a bar like before a pandemic, or like after a pandemic. There are no rules. There are no rules related to masks There are no rules related to distancing. There is none of that. It’s a normal place. And this is made normal by the fact that there is 100% vaccination. It really is that simple.

He adds, “That’s really all it is about. We have a room where there is a group of people who live as before.

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