Welcome to L.A. Week on First We Feast. As part of our continuing initiative to devote more coverage to Los Angeles, we’ll be running special features all week to explore the city’s ever-evolving food scene—from its most vaunted chefs, to its gritty underbelly.
“We make what lawyers make—we just work less hours,” says Jaime, a bottle-service girl at one of Hollywood’s most popular nightclubs. It may sound sensational, but it’s a testament to the massive spending power of L.A.’s nightlife economy. Celebrity culture and out-of-state, Ed Hardy-rocking wannabes with deep pockets fuel the obsession over VIP status, putting bottle-service girls on the front lines of the money-blowing mayhem. And it is no surprise that much of this excess takes place on Sunset Strip—a mile and a half stretch on Sunset Boulevard—where the Chateau Marmont and Whisky a Go Go are reminders of a glamorous, debauched past.
Navigating the clanking champagne bottles and swaying bodies are the gears that power the machine: the bottle girls. They’re soldiers in smoke- and booze-filled trenches, who happen to look like they just stepped out of a Victoria’s Secret catalog. Aside from providing the eye candy that draws in punters, bottle-service girls serve drinks, make conversation, and witness all of the celebrity hook-ups that Perez Hilton would kill to know about—which also makes them custodians of Hollywood’s best-kept secrets (a job worthy of a very good tip).
Bottle-service girls are soldiers in smoke- and booze-filled trenches, who happen to look like they just stepped out of a Victoria’s Secret catalog.
Like Las Vegas, L.A.’s lucrative club economy is driven by high-rolling clientele—including actors, professional athletes, and Hollywood execs—who aren’t afraid to spend upwards of $15,000 and $20,000 for a table. The girls working the floor at the most notorious VIP spots may reap the benefits of this conspicuous consumption, but the job requires a high tolerance for alcohol-fueled hijinks—from bottle-buying contests, to unwanted advances from guys with a little too much Grey Goose in their system.
By the same token, the fast money also allows many of them to work on ambitious side projects, from swimsuit and jewelry lines, to careers in modeling. Jaime gave up a lucrative art-dealing job in West Hollywood when she realized she could make the same money from a 40-hour work week in 10.
“People are always like ‘I feel so bad you work in customer service,’ but we can pay for all of our own stuff,” says Jaime. “We’re independent and self-sufficient. We have the freedom to pursue all of our other dreams. It’s a blessing.”
We talked to four veteran bottle girls, Jamie, Maria, Amy, and Denise*, who gave us the raw deal about the bottle-service industry at L.A.’s big-name clubs. Here, they pull back the VIP rope and reveal the tricks of the trade—like how to lock in the best tips, or how to spot a douchebag at 40 paces—as well as the reasons why, contrary to preconceptions they encounter from outsiders, they believe they’re lucky to be in the business.
This interview has been condensed and edited.
* Names have been changed.
How’d you get your start in the industry?
Denise: Well, I partied, a lot, and I saw that girls were getting paid for it. So I started at a thing called Runway Waiters three and a half years ago, and I got tipped $800 cash my first night working, and no one else got tipped. And I’m like, know what? I’m doing it. I started when I just turned 22. I was just modeling before then.
Amy: I actually told myself I would never do bottle service, ever. I was young and at the time I had older friends that were doing it, but I told myself I couldn’t do the hours and the lifestyle of it. Then I saw the money and the connections you can make doing it. As of two to three years ago I got into it, and I wish I did it sooner. But, I’m 24 now, so I wasn’t even old enough at the time. It’s amazing money—sometimes you get clients with good connections, for modeling or acting, as long as you use them the right way, it’s amazing.
Jaime: I was an art dealer at one of the biggest galleries in West Hollywood. It was a sales job, flipping art work. My girlfriend who was a Playboy playmate was opening a nightclub with her boyfriend at the time, and she told me that I had a good network of people, already work in sales, have the look, and have a social media following, and that they could use that even though I had no bottle-service experience. I just turned 22.
What’s crazy is that art dealing was a really lucrative job. I made a lot of money. But I started to notice that I would make about the same amount of money, and sometimes even more, working way fewer hours at nightclubs. I would work maybe 10 hours a week and make what I made working, maybe, 40 hours a week. I kind of stopped doing art dealing because I was able to have free time to pursue other things like modeling. Because I was so young, I thought I might as well do it now, because with art dealing, I’ll always have that skill, and I can do that when I’m older.
Maria: Throughout college I was always working in hospitality and restaurants. First I was a host, then I was a server. When I was 21, I found out that bottle girls make a lot of money. I lived in Cleveland, that’s where my whole family lived, and I started working at this club called The Drop Bar. It’s most expensive bottle was Dom Perignon at $300. (The girls all laugh.) I thought that was amazing! And I made $200! Then I moved to L.A. and I realized that here it was three times the price, and you can make three to four times the money.
It has to be tough dealing with clients that aren’t exactly friendly, especially in Hollywood. Can you tell if someone’s going to be a dick?
Jaime: Some people won’t make eye contact with you, at all. Some people won’t shake your hand, at all.
Maria: Some people won’t fucking talk. Some people will just bark their orders at you.
Denise: Or tell their orders to their assistant or financial advisor.
Maria: They’re too cool to talk. When that happens I’ll go up to them and go, “So what, what did you say? I can’t hear you! What?! What does that mean?!” Just act like I’m dumb on purpose. (Laughs)
Jaime: Some guys come in here and you can just tell they have zero respect for women. Just the vibe they give off.
Maria: Girls are so sweet.
Jaime: It’s the guys who are kinda weird.
How do you deal with that?
Maria: We just spoil them with kindness.
Jaime: I just don’t think they’re used to waitresses being so graceful and polite, and normal. They might be used to girls who are wild and crazy, college-type party girls. But everyone carries themselves differently when they’re working, and me, personally, I like to show my nice, charming, and graceful side so that they’re so appreciative of the good service, and they’ll chill out and won’t be so rude. Hopefully, anyway.
Amy: You deal with it as much as you can, but if it becomes a big problem then you get management because handling it [yourself] does not go well.
Denise: It depends from girl to girl, because some girls will be like, “You know, I’m sorry but I don’t like being talked to like that,” and some other girls will just take it. It depends on the guy and the girl. If someone’s grabbing me, I’ll tell them don’t grab me like that. I’m not okay with it. Then they’ll be like, “Well, you’re a bottle girl!” That’s one thing we deal with all of the time, people look down on us because we’re bottle girls—they think we’re all trashy, that we’re all hookers. I’ve had guys tell me that they’d never date a bottle girl.
Jaime: It makes me laugh when I meet guys that say that to me! I used make over $200 grand a year when I was art dealing as a 21-year-old, and I’m still choosing to do this job. When people base if they’ll date me on the way I make my living, it makes me laugh. If you would have met me when I was sitting behind desk in a cube, a safe girl, never going out, never looking hot and sexy, then you’d want to date me? Guys get very insecure. They get intimidated by us because they know we’re around people who are really successful, they know we’re always being looked at, our uniforms are always really hot.
Amy: Also, what people don’t understand is that a lot of the girls here have other jobs during the day, other passions—we’re not here just to party and then after party.
Denise: It’s a business.
Amy: Yeah, we choose to be here because of the money, because of what kind of lifestyle it can give us. We want to save for our future; some girls are going to school.
Jaime: I personally think that if everybody were to have the opportunity to do the job that we do, with the hours we have, the money that we make, they would do it. It’s just, not everyone gets that chance. We’re just lucky enough to be able to do this.
Denise: We’re really lucky to get this job, because all of the resumes that they have, all of L.A. wanted this job, and we’re the chosen ones.
Amy: Our turnover rate is like nothing. No one wants to leave. It’s crazy, we have, like, 14 girls and there is no drama, no talking trash in the bathroom—nothing. We’re like a family.
It sounds like you’re saying there are misconceptions about the job and who you are.
Jaime: People think that we only date super rich guys and are really materialistic and gold diggers, that we’re not in things just for pure love and not genuine about relationships. They think we only date celebrities and club people, or that we only party all the time.
Tables will battle one another. They go back and forth. One group will ask for 5 bottles, and another group will say, “Fuck that, I want 10!”
Maria: And number one thing: they all think we’re escorts. Which is, like, really bad.
Amy: We like to stay home, we like Chinese takeout on Sunday nights, we’re not at the club trying to, you know…
Jaime: I’m at the point where I don’t care anymore. I want people to know that bottle service is not the same as working at a restaurant. We make what lawyers make. We just work less hours. People are always like, “I feel so bad you work in customer service,” but actually, we make bank, and we can pay for all of our own stuff, we’re independent, and we’re really self-sufficient. We have the freedom to pursue all of our other dreams. It’s such a blessing.
Why is bottle service such an important part of L.A. night life in particular?
Jaime: Nightlife is an important part of Los Angeles because it’s an entertainment capital, like Vegas, New York and Miami, where people go to party and have fun, and spend money. I think for this place in particular, we have the biggest high rollers, the biggest celebrities, the biggest athletes, biggest actors—we have the best clientele.
Amy: There’s always a ton of movie premieres here, a bunch of music awards, so obviously they want to come and after party. And it’s going to be here.
So what happens when the money is really flowing here?
Denise: If there’s a really big spender, we have to put on a big show, and that’s when we bring out the Bugatti cart, we get on the guys’ shoulders, we bring out the bottles and the sparklers…
Maria: And we have a big smile on our face!
Denise: Yeah, and we’re dancing… and when it’s a big, big spender, we try to get all of the girls out and cause a whole scene. We bring the the Bugatti cart—we call it the Ace bucket.
Jaime: A big spender will spend a minimum of like $10,000, but more than that, because that’s like their minimum. When they order [more than] $5,000 worth of champagne, that’s when we start doing the shows for them. But it can’t be the cheap stuff, it has to be Dom or Ace.
I mean the sparklers, the show—everyone just wants to be seen.
Jaime: Oh yeah!
Maria: It’s a great sell; it’s crazy. You can tell them when they order like two bottles that we’re not doing sparklers for that, and they’ll ask what they need to get, and we tell them get like five bottles of Dom or Ace or something, and then they’ll be like, “O.K., sure.” Then we put on a the big show and all of the girls are at their table and the whole club is looking at them.
Denise: It’s an eyesore… and then some people battle too! They go back and forth.
Wait, they battle?
Denise: Some people will get like four, five, bottles, and then that table will be like, “fuck that, I want 10 bottles!”
Maria: And we’re like “Okay okay okay! Do you want 15?!?”
Obviously, you ladies see a lot go down every week. Any confessions?
Denise: Oh, people hooking up in the bathroom. All the time.
Jaime: You see people who are known to be married or engaged hooking up with random girls. We signed an NDA so we never talk about who specifically it is or what we see, but we see it all.
Denise: Everything. On a weekly basis. We’re not even surprised anymore. It’s like, “again?!” That’s number…
Maria: I miss those days! When you think, “Oh, they’re such a cute couple!” That doesn’t happen. That doesn’t exist. I’ll point out a cute couple and one of the girls will be like, “Oh, no, she’s a hooker.” Oh, okay. I guess they’re not a couple. (Laughs).
That has to affect your views on love then.
Denise: I mean, it doesn’t help it.
Jaime: It affects me because I’ve had people who I was seriously interested in dating, who were judgmental about what I chose to do for a living after I got into nightlife, who loved me when I was an art dealer, but didn’t like me when I was working in a club, even though the money I made was the same—except now I had more free time. And that was frustrating.
Maria: You have to be a real secure man to be able to handle a girl that works in a nightclub.
Jaime: People need to know that this job is like any other job. You clock in and clock out, you do work X amount of hours. We’re just lucky that we don’t work a ton, but we’re normal girls, normal people, with normal dreams. We want to get married and have kids.
Maria: I had a guy who I really really liked, and he told me, “I’m sorry, I just can’t handle it. I know that every single time you go to work, I’m going to be home and I’m going to worry about you flirting with other guys, and I just can’t do it.” And I’m like you know what? At least you told me.
Amy: The sad part is is that she won’t even be flirting with the guys. It’s just him thinking that.
Maria: There are exceptions. I will say that 90 percent of these guys are all messed up, but there is a percentage of people that are just like us, like promoters, or DJs, or whatever, and they are looking at the bigger picture, too. They’re working here, making their money, but opening businesses on the side. But when it comes to customers overall, they’re not someone you want to date. That’s why it doesn’t matter. Sometimes they’ll have millions, and we’re not interested.
Jaime: It wasn’t here, but I literally had people tell me that if I were their girlfriend, they would give me $5,000 a month.
Maria: You’ll never work a day in your life! I hate when they say, “You won’t have to work as a bottle-service girl.”
Jaime: This job is not slaving. It’s four hours of actual work. Twice a week. Guys want us to be a safe bet. They want us to be safe and not threatening in any way. Sit at home and do nothing. Guys are very threatened by our jobs.
Amy: It’s a trust issue. Because if someone trusts you he shouldn’t care where you work.
Jaime: It’s funny to me, because if I meet someone who goes to clubs that I either work at or I used to work at, I’m like, “done, you’re crossed off the list.” It’s not a good look.
What do you do outside of work?
Maria: Right now I’m working on my own swim line. Bottle service allows me to do that, and still have enough to even help family if they need the help.
Denise: I’ve been modeling since I was 8, so it’s really all that I know—it’s kind my whole life. But during the day I model, I train, and right now I’m figuring out exactly what direction I want to go into. I’m looking at Playboy right now, so that’s a possibility.
Amy: I model, and I’m breaking out into acting also. Also, I’m diving into a jewelry company with a girlfriend. It’s nice to have the flexibility and all of this time, because as we get older, we do want to venture out and find options to make money. We all have that in common. No matter what we’re doing.
Maria: Yeah, our goal isn’t to do this forever.
Amy: We’re always thinking about the next step.
Jaime: I do modeling during the day, which I never used to have time for that. I would never have time to attend a casting, I would never have time to drive all over town to different meetings. But I’m also a musician, I sing and play guitar. So I actually have time to meet with people, and to be in the studio for three or four hours during the day. Because a lot of things in entertainment come up spontaneously, and not planned , and when you’re working a job—even when it’s an amazing job, like art dealing—you can’t just leave your desk any time you want to like I can now.
Also, like another thing here, we meet some of the biggest talent in the world—the biggest actors, the biggest millionaires, athletes, music producers, DJs, singers. We meet the biggest people at this venue especially, every night when we’re working. These people eventually become your friends because you see them so often, and then you can work with them.
Maria: It definitely opens a lot of doors for us.
What’s the most important skill for the job?
Jaime: With this job, you can’t be a shy person and do well at it.
Denise: You’re basically bringing the fun to whatever table you have. If you are just sitting there looking at your clock, your table is not going to have fun. You have to make them have fun. Be really energetic. Even if you’re having a really shitty day, and you hate everything, you can’t let them know—
Maria: You have to dance, get them to dance.
Denise: Your tips depend on it! That’s how we make our money, by how outgoing and how much fun we are.
Maria: I’ve gotten to the point where I have no shame anymore. I used to be embarrassed to ask for a tip. I’ll be like, “See on the menu where it says tip is not included? Yeah.” The other day some guy left no tip and I was like, “Just so you know it’s not included, it says right here on the menu,” so he left me $1,000. It was that simple.
There are a ton of celebrities that come through here, but how do they tip?
Maria: Celebrities can be cheap. I’ve had a major, major singer tell me, “Oh, just keep bringing me champagne all night.” And we actually give them free champagne, whatever they want. So I kept bringing it to him, and he told me, “I’ll take really good care of you.” So I’m thinking he’s going to give me, like, a thousand dollars…HE GIVES ME $200! Are you kidding with this?!
Denise: Oh nooo! I’ve been “taken care of” before. This guy on, I think, Christmas Eve was like, “Yeah, I’m going to take really good care of you,” blah blah blah, and I’m like, whatever, cool, and he goes to hand me the money—we put it in our bras—I thought it was at least $100. It was $10. Ten fucking dollars. (Gasps.) It was really bad. He was like, “I got you baby, thank you so much for your service, it was wonderful.” What the hell am I going to do with this? Wipe the gum off my shoe? I was so mad. That was a “verbal” tip.
Amy: We actually split our tips with all of the girls. So with 12 or 15 girls working a night, a low tip could be like 75 cents a person. It’s even. We all walk out with the same amount.
Maria: Well, yeah, you have to, because it depends on sections. Sometimes you’ll be at a promoter table that’s not spending any money, and another girl is going to have like a $10,000 table, with a $1,000 to $2,000 tip. So you have to have the girls split to be fair. One night you’ll be the girl with the $10,000 overtip, and the other night you’re the girl who had no sales. It balances out.
Jaime: I’ve had someone tip me a dollar. They thought it was funny.
How do you lock-in the good tips?
Maria: We kind of pay attention to what table is the highest minimum. We’re going to call girls who are available and we’re going to have them come hang out at the table, drink champagne with them, and talk to them. We know what tables we should pay attention to. And they know that. We don’t really have to say anything, and they know why, and we know why too. It’s obviously for the tips.
It’s nice to have the flexibility and all of this time, because as we get older, we want to venture out and find options to make money. We all have that in common.
Amy: There’s certain clients who are friends with certain girls here, and those waitresses know how to treat them to get that tip. And we’re not competitive so we work together to get it.
Denise: We all help each other out when we need it. We’ve all had meltdowns.
What sparks a meltdown?
Maria: Getting burned with a cigarette.
Denise: Yeah, that’s a huge one.
Jaime: You know how many pantyhose we go through?
Amy: And it leaves you a scar.
Jaime: War wounds!
Maria: I wish you guys could be with us at the end of the night! When we go downstairs everyone’s just like, “Oh my god! Can you believe this guy said this to me!”
Denise: Drinks being poured on us.
Maria: Or some girl screaming by the bathrooms if she’s getting kicked out.
We talked about what customers think of your job, but what about your family?
Denise: They just worry for our safety.
Jaime: My mom doesn’t like me breathing in cigarette smoke.
Denise: Or walking to our cars alone at night.
Maria: My dad doesn’t like me doing this AT ALL. He’s conservative, he tells me, “Ew, you work in your underwear.” I’m like no, it’s not underwear.
Jaime: My dad’s Muslim and I don’t speak to him, but he’d hate it.
Maria: My dad is not cool with it, but there is only so much he can do.
Jaime: My little girl!
Amy: We’re all making our own money, we’re very independent. And there’s a lot of things you can do out here. You can have a sugar daddy or whatever. But we make our own money.
Jaime: And we go to bed at night happy. What’s wrong with that? Nothing.