It’s been a busy year for Lisa Vanderpump. The British-born restaurateur-turned-reality television star has filmed several shows: Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Vanderpump Rules, and a physically demanding turn as a celebrity dance partner on ABC’s Dancing With the Stars. That's not to mention the management of her many properties, which include the Los Angeles-area restaurants Villa Blanca and Sur Lounge.
But her hardest challenge by far was the opening of Pump Lounge, her new bar, restaurant, and garden in West Hollywood. Reclining in a sunlit corner of her posh new establishment with a cup of coffee in hand just before its soft opening last Tuesday, Vanderpump ticks off the amount of time it took to reach this point. “Fourteen months, two weeks, and four days, and five hours, and 35 minutes … certainly an expense time-wise,” she says with a laugh. The health inspector had given his final approval of the lounge only 30 minutes earlier.
Though Vanderpump looks serene, there’s a flurry of activity happening around Pump Lounge’s founder. The sound of hammers and drills fills the air as construction workers make last-minute touches to the space, such as the addition of a waterfall in the garden and the installation of large metallic capital letters (P, U, M, and P) that adorn the exterior. Inside, her new staff, a highly attractive assembly, has gathered to await a briefing from the “HBIC,” an acronym installed in Pump’s garden that stands for “Head Bitch in Charge.”
“It’s been the most challenging thing that I’ve ever done,” Vanderpump tells Out Traveler about the construction process, which involved the complete renovation of a building and transformation of a gravel parking lot into a lush garden. “I’ve opened many restaurants, but this has been a nightmare, I have to say. But now I’ve created something that I think is unique, and I think is truly fabulous. And here we go — we’re off to the races!”
Pump Lounge is situated at the corner of Santa Monica and Robertson Boulevards in West Hollywood, right in the heart of the Los Angeles LGBT enclave. But despite the prime location, the spot has been host to a series of failed business ventures — the most recent, the coffee shop Java Detour, shuttered in 2010. But does Vanderpump believe the spot is “cursed”?
“I don’t believe that! This is here to stay. Look at it!” she says, with a sweeping gesture at the premises, which have a Mediterranean-influenced decor that includes wrought iron lamps, chandeliers, and the branches of olives trees trembling in the breeze above the garden. “How could it not be?"
To drive home the permanence of her occupancy, Vanderpump had uprooted and transplanted nine century-old olive trees from Northern California, planting them in a former parking lot that had been occupied by “degenerates, homeless people, drinking and drug-taking,” she says. The experience opened the eyes of Vanderpump, now an advocate for the homeless who volunteers to help feed the needy every Monday, to the plight of the city’s underprivileged.
She recalled one particularly powerful exchange: a man sitting on her corner who called her by name. “Lisa, I’m going to die here,” the man told her. Amazed, Vanderpump asked how it came about that a man without shelter or cable television knew her name. “I lost my way. I lost my house … slept in my car…lost my car. And now I’m here,” he told her.
“And that’s a sad reflection of today,” Vanderpump says with conviction. “We need to give people a hand up.”
In additional to the homeless, Vanderpump has lent her voice to many causes, including LGBT rights. Last week the restaurateur vowed to join the boycott of the Beverly Hills Hotel because its owner, the sultan of Brunei, had instituted laws that called for the stoning of gays and women. Many of the celebrity guests at her opening last week also joined Vanderpump in this cause.
“As a huge spokesperson and advocate for the LGBT community and supporter of equal rights, I find it devastating,” Vanderpump had told Los Angeles's KNBC. “It’s like a home from home, but unfortunately I just don’t feel I can support any of this man’s business ventures with what’s come out.”
In respect to her LGBT advocacy and the gay heritage of West Hollywood, Vanderpump herself hand-painted a message commemorating the overturning of Proposition 8, and it's displayed in her own establishment's VIP lounge: “June 26th: The day California came to its senses.”
But is Pump Lounge, like most of its neighbors, a “gay bar”?
“In an ideal world, I would like, unlike Brunei, everybody to live under the same roof and to have harmony. But I’m realistic,” says Vanderpump, acknowledging that, while she expects her clientele to be largely gay, she would like her establishment to feel like a safe haven for all her guests. “This is very gay-friendly, let’s put it that way. But everyone is welcome. I want the gay community to bloody own it. So step it up!”
Above all, she wants her guests to experience an escape from the madness that can accompany the rush of city life.
“I wanted to create somewhere, where you’d walk in here and say, ‘How did I miss this? This has been here for years.’ [I wanted to] make it unique and bring some very different energy to this very sad corner,” she says. “You come in here, you feel like you’ve been transported somewhere else.”
“Just to come here and spend time here and listen to the music, drink a cocktail, sit under the olive trees — what could be better than that?” Vanderpump says. "They’ll know ... when they leave, they’ve been Vanderpumped.”
Now open for business, Pump Lounge is located at 8948 Santa Monica Blvd. in West Hollywood. See more photos here.