Karl: *futzing with iPhone 3s* Are you an Apple fan?
Tony: Big time.
Karl: Crazy stuff going on now, huh?
Tony: Yes, I was watching the live feed of the announcement on Wednesday and I thought it ended really weird. I’m wondering if there’s a relationship between what happened and why it ended the way it did. They must’ve known at the top that he was that sick. And normally they build up to something really amazing, but they had the really slow build and then it just fizzled.
Karl: I was hoping for the 5. I’ve been holding out, I’m on the 3s.
Tony: I’m in the same boat as you.
Karl: Now I don’t know what to do. Should we go for it or wait it out?
Tony: I think we have to. Mine is getting a little buggy, plus I want a new one. I wanted the 4 but you have to wait that 2-year period. We’re always in the off-period.
Karl: Right! I’m eligible now.
Tony: I know, I was excited because I thought 5 would happen now and then I’d be right in sync, but now I’m screwed. I think I’ll have to do it though.
Karl: *groans* Ugh… I know… me too.
Okay, so today is October 6th, 2011, and I’m here at Basix with Anthony D. Ross, Attorney.
Tony: Yes, Tony is what people know me as, but Anthony is my given name… And apparently my name as an attorney. *laughs*
Karl: How old are you?
Tony: I’m in my mid forties.
Karl: Your current relationship status?
Tony: *pauses and smiles* Unsure.
Karl: Undecided? Complicated?
Tony: No, it’s not complicated, it’s just new.
Karl: Ah… Well good. Congrats. *laughs*
Tony: Thank you.
Karl: Tell me about your occupation.
Tony: I’m now an attorney. I’ve only been practicing for about a year. This is now chapter 3, maybe 4 in my life.
Karl: Yes, from what I saw online, you’ve had a number of successful careers.
Tony: I keep busy.
*Waiter takes orders*
Karl: What’s your typical day like at work now days?
Tony: I usually get up and exchange emails with clients and opposing counsel, get all the communication stuff out in the morning, then spend the afternoon and evening researching and writing.
Karl: Typical lawyer hours?
Tony: Maybe not as bad as some others. I work from home generally, unless I’m in court or have to go see someone. So I take a long lunch generally, go to the gym, go to Runyon Canyon, then come back and hit work again.
Karl: Good. I know in LA practicing law can be all-encompassing.
Tony: It can be, yes. But since I don’t have a commute, that helps cut down a lot of the time.
Karl: Where are you by the way?
Tony: I’m in West Hollywood, near La Brea.
Karl: Oh nice, it’s great over there. How about your free-time? You hike?
Tony: I hike at Runyon Canyon. I’m also a martial artist, I train usually on the weekends. I like to lift weights, I’m in the gym 4 or 5 times a week. And a little bit of dating.
Karl: Am I stealing your workout today?
Tony: *laughs* No, today I was going to have a day off. Tomorrow I’m back in there.
Karl: What martial arts do you study?
Tony: I do taekwondo now, but I’ve also studied jiu jitsu, Thai kick-boxing, kajukenbo.
Karl: Would you like to plug a martial arts gym?
Tony: No, it closed.
Karl: Awwww, bummer!
Tony: I started martial arts in Hollywood and continued it for 5-years while I was gone. I’ve now been back in LA for 6-months and one of my first stops was my old gym. But they’d closed, it was so sad. But, what’s cool about West Hollywood is that the black belts from my school train on Sundays in Plummer Park. It’s every Sunday at 10:00 a.m., no fee, everybody just goes and it’s all about spreading our old school.
Karl: There are a lot of organizations like that here, aren’t there? Some of my best friends are fire dancers who run their free classes out of Griffith Park.
Tony: That’s one of the reasons I wanted to move back, I had forgotten how much energy, and different energy, West Hollywood and LA have. It’s so nice to be back and be able to go to the gym with one group of friends, do martial arts with another group of friends, and practice law with another group of friends. It’s such a great place for having that kind of connection with people.
Karl: Who do you hike with?
Tony: Most often myself. I think maybe from being a New Yorker, I do my best thinking when I’m walking. Because LA is LA, there aren’t that many opportunities to walk. I live really close to Runyon so it’s a good hour to an hour and a half of just me being in my own head. I get to solve a lot of the legal questions that I have in my mind.
Karl: You must be in sick shape – hiking, martial arts, hitting the gym 5 times a week.
Tony: *laughs* I do ok.
Karl: Good for you.
So you were in LA for a while, you moved away, and now you’re back.
Tony: I really didn’t announce that I was going, it was just time for a change. I always intended that my final career chapter was going to be practicing law. I was ready to do that so I moved up north to Berkeley because I knew I needed to take the bar. I graduated from law school 15 or 16-years ago now so I really just had to retool my way of thinking and reconnect those synapses. So I took the bar, worked for two law firms up there, and came back.
Karl: What brought you out to LA originally?
Tony: To open Here Lounge. I was working at g Lounge in New York with my former business partners there, and the idea was to come out to California to open a night club, which we did.
Karl: Are you still involved?
Tony: Not at all.
Karl: That must be a relief.
Tony: Is it. I get to sleep. I still have to work a lot, but at least I don’t have to work ’till 2 in the morning, and I don’t work weekends. In the night club business it was 7-days a week, all the time.
Karl: Describe what that lifestyle is like. I imagine there a ton of people here who dream of doing something like that but can’t attain it, so what’s it really like?
Tony: Well, everything always looks more glamorous on the outside than it really is. I enjoyed it. It was fun. It was a lot of energy but it required a lot of energy. For some people that works, and for me it worked for a while. I have a lot of energy, I’m very social, being out every night surrounded by hundreds of people was common for me. I was a night club person in New York City and I worked in clubs growing up – so it’s fun from that perspective. But it’s 7-days a week and is a cash business, so you always have to be watching the store. I was also the general manager as well as the owner, so there was hiring, ordering, customer relations, inventory, all sorts of things that have to happen everyday behind the scenes before the doors open for the evening. It’s very busy, very time-consuming, can be incredibly rewarding, but it takes a lot out of you.
Karl: I would think the security alone is insane. There’s just so much liability.
Tony: Particularly here. In New York we always had to have security, but here Anna Nicole Smith used to come in, Hugh Hefner… When you have people like that coming in, security is a much larger issue.
Karl: Is it still doing well? It’s always packed over there.
Tony: As far as I know, yes. The Abbey does a lot of that on its own, Here was always the little step sister in comparison.
Karl: So you decide you’re done with the club scene and you move up north… How long were you in Berkeley?
Tony: I was there for 5-years… In order to switch gears. Everyone knew me here as a night-club person, but I needed to become a lawyer. So I worked for a couple law firms and learned the business of litigation – how to read cases and practice law. I took the bar and decided it was time to return to my West Coast home which really is Los Angeles.
Karl: Are there any differences that jump out at you now compared to when you first moved here originally?
Tony: Everybody looks older, as do I. The nightclub and restaurant scene has changed a bit. The downtown restaurant scene is crazy! That didn’t exist when I was here last. It’s incredible to see such well known foodies opening restaurants in downtown.
Karl: It really has, huh? It’s dramatic.
Tony: And the food trucks… Food trucks to me are my secret passion. I love those!
Karl: Everybody does, they’re such a hit.
Tony: It’s such a great niche. It’s such a great way to improvise given the economy. Most of those people, or at least a lot of them are legitimate chefs who, given the economy, couldn’t afford to work for almost nothing at a restaurant or open their own. So the food truck is a good way to still get to cook for people with a lot less overhead and get your name out there. It’s impressive. I see it as a stepping stone to becoming restauranteurs again. Those same people, once their name is as established as their good food, and the economy can accommodate again, a lot of those people will be well-primed to open their own brick and mortar restaurant.
Karl: Have you noticed any major changes in the patrons as well as the businesses?
Tony: Kind of the opposite of what I said a few minutes ago, they’re younger. I guess that’s to be expected and is how the night-life industry grows – it gains younger and new affiliates, and those guys and girls are all happy to go out. There’s a changing of the guard with every generation so it’s good to see young people out. I think there’s not as much of a focus on homogenizing in the gay scene anymore. Men and women, straight and gay, young and old get to go out together now. Within the confines of West Hollywood it’s still a younger skew, but once you start doing Silverlake and Hollywood it seems less about that and more about inclusiveness. I think it’s great. Even at Here Lounge, we were always ahead of the curve in terms of having women’s nights, straight nights, in what was traditionally considered a gay establishment.
Karl: Has Weho changed for the better or for the worse?
Tony: I would think for the better. The West Hollywood City Council has always been very forward thinking and it seems like they’re still doing that. This city has done a great job in attracting different types of businesses and different types of people all within a two-mile radius or so.
Karl: Would you advise opening a business here or downtown these days?
Tony: It depends on what your business is.
*Waiter refills coffee*
Karl: They’re shoveling so much money into downtown these days, it makes me wonder if it’s a more economical place to open a business.
Tony: There’s a good chance of that. If I were opening a restaurant, I might say downtown. In terms of my business… I’m considering opening up a brick and mortar office, and in my case I would do it in West Hollywood. It’s centrally located, on the West Side anyway. People know where it is. It’s easy to get to. So I would do that.
Karl: Are you taking steps to do that?
Tony: I’m investigating it.
Karl: Is the city being helpful that way?
Tony: Not yet. You know the legal industry is changing and working from home, given the tools lawyers have now through technology that they didn’t have 10-years ago, a lot can be done without the overhead of an office. It saves your clients money because you don’t have to bill them for all your overhead. Attorney’s fees are not cheap, and I can undercut attorneys that have a lot of overhead.
Karl: How would you describe our attitude here in West Hollywood?
Tony: The thing that stood out to me the most when I moved to LA the first time, and it’s hit me again since I’ve come back, is the pace is much slower than anyplace else that I know. Now, I’m sure that maybe in Florida or Alabama it might be slower, but in terms of New York, or even Berkeley and Northern California, things move at a leisurely pace relatively speaking here. I think the weather facilitates that. Like I said, I take hikes at Runyon Canyon during the day because it’s there and because it’s a beautiful day. I suspect a lot of other people do the same thing with their work day. So it takes a little longer to get some things done, but I also find that works to my advantage because I can snap into New York mode whenever I want and run circles around everybody.
Karl: New York can get to be such a grind. It really wears on you and takes years off your life.
Tony: It does, it really does. I don’t think I could move back. I used to say to people, “Everything that you think is simple in life – your daily routine, is a hassle in New York City.” Just going to the Post Office, the tiny little isles in the super-market, going to the bank, you get hit with lines and people with attitude behind the counter. You get jostled by so many people just walking down the street. Yeah, it’s nice here, everything’s bigger, wider and way slower.
Karl: Except you’re dealing with the cars.
Tony: Yes. Although I will say that I have always loved to drive, so for me, it doesn’t bother me. I don’t have to deal with traffic most days.
Karl: That’s awesome because most New Yorkers come here and that’s what they hate. They say, “God, I haven’t owned a car in forever and now I gotta deal with this…” So this ‘is’ the town for you I guess. *laughs*
Tony: It is.
Karl: What would you like to see more of here?
Tony: I could answer that question so many different ways.
Karl: Go anywhere you want with it.
Tony: More opportunity, I mean for everybody. The economy’s in such a weird spot. I happen to be a little bit of a political junkie and I’ve noticed for years a kind of attrition of possibilities and opportunities for people who aren’t wealthy. When I grew up, it was much more of the American dream in that if you went to school and worked hard, you would have a really good chance of making a comfortable life for yourself. No one says you’re going to be a millionaire, but you had a pretty good chance of making a comfortable life for yourself and your family. As I’ve grown older, I’ve watched that become a rarity now. People try so hard but the opportunities are just dwindling around them. People are getting frustrated. I’d love to see more opportunity for people.
Karl: Yeah, you can see the recession in a lot of places, but I don’t know if it’s as visible on the surface here as much as it is elsewhere. Even though it’s there.
Tony: No, you’re right. People here hide in their nice cars and gated communities. There’s no equalizer here like the New York subway. In New York, people are forced to confront some uncomfortableness on a regular basis. Out here. you don’t necessarily have to. I’ve decided that Runyon is somewhat like that. Not that you have to confront any uncomfortableness, but it does give you an interesting cross-section of LA. It’s a free park. A lot of people hike it – wealthy, not wealthy. It clearly might take some people longer to get to it, but it’s open and I’ve seen different types of people going up and down that mountain. From people who are clearly not wealthy to big time celebrities, they’re all doing the same thing in the same space.
Karl: That’s great, because I miss that aspect of New York here – riding the subway and bumping up against everybody. People’s intimate space here is so distant.
*Waiter sets the largest pancakes on Earth in front of Tony*
Tony: Jesus, that’s big.
Karl: Here, concerts and sporting events are where you sort of see your neighbors…
Tony: But even then it’s only until the lights do down. At Runyon I’ve seen Gene Simmons, and I’ve seen people collecting cans.
Karl: Man… those are some amazing pancakes.
Tony: I know, there’s no way I can eat all this.
Karl: Do you like Hugo’s too, down the street?
Tony: Yeah! Don’t they have pumpkin pancakes or something like that?
Karl: Yes, they’re incredible. My daughter loves them.
Tony: That’s the other thing about moving back – I’ve been rediscovering places that I had forgotten about.
Karl: What have you rediscovered?
Tony: Off Vine, which I have always loved. It’s in Hollywood.
Karl: I’ve heard a lot about that place.
Tony: Or, I don’t know if you’ve been to it but Geoffrey’s in Malibu, I just love that place.
Karl: No, I haven’t.
Tony: Oh, it’s such a great place.
Karl: Can you bring kids?
Tony: Uh huh. *chews pancakes* There was a woman in there with her dog over the weekend.
Karl: What are some things you’d like to see less of?
Karl: Yeah? You’re referring to the soundtrack playing behind us?
Tony: I happen to hate that. I love music. It’s one of the reasons I love the night-club business. And now I’m listening to all this music where people aren’t really singing, they’re all using computer generated voices. It seems wrong to me.
Karl: Yeah, our music is just falling apart, I know I age myself by saying that but it’s gotten so bad.
Tony: I also wish there were more left turn signals in LA. That’s been one of my pet peeves. When I moved up north, I realized that I’m not crazy. They do it, there are lots of them. But in LA you wait forever at a light.
Karl: Have people been really attracted to you as a lawyer because of your background? Coming back here as a previous owner has got to be…
Tony: It’s been helpful. The restaurant/night club business changes all the time so there’s always a learning curve on some level. But to understand the business, when I talk to clients and potential clients, it gives them a level of comfort that I know what I’m talking about. I’ve done it, I’ve been on the inside of a club. I know how hard it is to generate customer base, or make sure you comply with whatever the local zoning or licensing laws are, hiring your staff, deciding what type of entertainment and who the good DJs are. It takes time to learn those things so clients do appreciate that I can speak their language.
Karl: Is your name exchanged throughout West Hollywood as the club lawyer to go to? Or is it all over LA too? What’s your level of celebritydome I guess is what I’m asking, if you want to call it that?
Tony: I’m known in West Hollywood for sure and Hollywood. Beyond that, no, most people don’t know my name and many people are just learning that I’m a lawyer. I’d like to make a name doing criminal law as well. I enjoy the restaurant and night club stuff but there’s a connection that I didn’t realize at first in DUI defense – which is related to going out. In criminal law in Los Angeles right now, there are a lot of people who could use better representation and I enjoy doing that. So I’d like to spend more time in court doing criminal law.
Karl: What a market to be an expert in LA.
Tony: It’s true. So I’ve started doing a little of that and researching and talking to some criminal law attorneys. I’m finding it fascinating.
Karl: Describe West Hollywood in another 10 to 20-years from now.
Tony: That’s a good question. I’m not sure. My take from moving away and coming back is that a lot hasn’t changed, at least physically. I think that we’ll see more equality for gays and lesbians and transgender people. That arc is pretty clear.
Karl: It’s inevitable at this point.
Tony: West Hollywood will always be a very secure place for newly married gay couples and transgender couples.
Karl: Do you see the homogenization you were mentioning earlier increasing or becoming more polarized?
Tony: I don’t think so. I think it will become less polarized. West Hollywood itself, even though it has the reputation of being a gay neighborhood, is very inclusive. It’s full of what would be considered traditional families, and I don’t see that changing. I don’t see those people moving out. I think a lot of those people purposefully live here because they want to expose their family to that kind of diversity. I see that happening more, not less. Look at Gay Pride celebrations, which I think are a great marker for the community. Now days, whether they’re straight or gay, parents bring their children to expose them to the diversity that’s happening around them. I think it’s beautiful.
Karl: Yes, my kids aren’t even phased by their friends who have 2 moms or 2 dads. It’s all they’ve known so it’s the norm.
So here I would ask if you’re happy here, but it sounds like you are.
Karl: The transition has been an easy one?
Tony: I wouldn’t say easy because it’s a grind to constantly have to develop clients as well as a network of attorneys to work with, especially because I’m switching careers. So it’s not easy, but it’s totally satisfying. It’s challenging and I love a challenge.
Karl: How’s it going up north in regards to jobs, and people’s attitudes and morale?
Tony: It’s similar to here. I think the difference is that more people are inclined to speak out, at least louder and quicker. I have some clients up north and they’re much more politically aware than people seem to be here.
Karl: People tend to be pretty nonchalant down here when it comes to politics.
Tony: Well, that’s because the entertainment business, whether that’s people who work in the entertainment business or people who want to work in the entertainment business, they feel insulated from politics. People generally always want to go to the movies, always want to read a good book, so to some degree people in LA tend to take it for granted a little bit more.
Karl: So you’ve got to have some crazy stories that you can share about your history here.
Tony: Well, I was always scared whenever Anna Nicole Smith would come to the bar. I was always nervous. She was a big celebrity at the time. I also recognized that she had enough money that it didn’t really matter to her if she ruined anything. And that’s a dangerous predicament. She never did. She was always, you know, herself in the club. There was always a high level of energy all around her, but she never melted down. At least not in my club. But that was a scary experience – just knowing she’s showing up and wondering what could happen.
We had an incident where a well-known rapper came to perform one evening, and another well-known rapper who had a beef with that rapper knew that he was coming to perform. He camped out across the street waiting for him to come out so they could have an altercation.
Karl: Right up here? *points up the street*
Tony: We had to call the police, had to sneak him out the back door, the whole nine. That was a scary experience. But I remember having the latest winners from “American Idle” come to sing back when that show was new. That was exciting, seeing the energy of young people just starting their careers, coming to a club, and seeing that energy radiate to the crowd. It was exciting.
Karl: How about the dating scene? Have you met any real doozies?
Tony: I will say that I kind of stopped dating for a number of years and the night club facilitated that. It became an uncomfortable experience where I couldn’t tell if someone was talking to me because they were interested in talking to me or if they wanted to get into a party for free or didn’t want to buy drinks. So I essentially shut down dating for about 7-years and just went off the grid. I only just started dating again within the last 6-months.
Karl: What kind of diet are you on, do you eat a lot?
Tony: I don’t eat a lot. It depends on how hard I’m working out, but generally speaking, I don’t eat a lot. Not a lot of red meat, maybe once every couple of weeks. Mostly I do chicken and turkey. If I can get away with it once or twice a week, I’ll even have a meal with no meat.
Karl: It sounds like the fitness thing is not just a hobby for you but an entire lifestyle.
Tony: Totally. I find that I think better and I’m more confident if I’m working out. Who knows how much of life really just happens in your mind? In martial arts for example, there’s a lot of balancing. And if you’re sparring, you’re not sure what’s going to happen next and there are a lot of adjustments that are made in split seconds. I believe that all those little things keep you young, they keep your mind constantly working. Your blood vessels, your muscles, all those things are constantly trying to figure out what’s going to happen to you that day and as long as you can keep adding that kind of change to life, i think it keeps you vibrant and healthy. It’s when everything is really stagnant and you sit in the same chair for 8-hours a day and then go home and watch TV for another 4-hours a day, your body’s not really doing anything. I love to just make everything move all the time.
Karl: That’s really beautiful, what you just said. *laughs* It’s really philosophical. It’s true.
Tony: That’s why babies are so amazing to watch. They’re constantly in awe. They see something they’ve never seen every single day. You see that spark they get when they make the connection, “Oh, if I do that, that happens.” That’s golden. You can do that your whole life if you don’t get jaded and say, “Oh life’s always going to be the same everyday.” I don’t think it ever has to be.