In honor of the return of “Vanderpump Rules” here is an accounting of what it’s like to actually visit Lisa Vanderpump’s reality trash palaces.
Want the story of seeing filming in action? Skip to June 29, 2019.
Visit 1: July 2, 2016
The occasion: 4th of July weekend away.
It feels like a lifetime ago, but one does not forget their first visit to SUR and Pump. I was a latecomer to the “Vanderpump Rules” franchise, so hadn’t seen the first few seasons. When I did finally see the pink tinted light I gobbled up the episodes voraciously. With two fellow Bravo connoisseurs, we prepared to peer behind the curtain.
We started at SUR for cocktails, there was no sign of any familiar faces who’d graced the screen. We ordered obligatory pink drinks and scanned for signs of budding fame. None were found.
Not ordered: Stassi’s obsession - the goat cheese balls.
We moved on to PUMP for dinner. The outside ambiance was admittedly pretty nice. We ordered some overpriced pasta, chicken dishes, and more drinks. The food was unremarkable. We used a Yelp check-in deal to get discounted “Pump and Glory” drinks which we’d come to regret later, but at least they wouldn’t be as expensive.
Then, it happened.
My very petite friend grabbed my forearm arm with the sudden strength of the Hulk. SHE was there. LVP had blessed the restaurant with her presence. She had Ken and Jiggy in tow. At this point we were pretty drunk from the sugar in the cocktails. While we didn’t get up close, we considered the night a success and celebrated with an amazing lava cake (remember this cake).
Warning: do NOT drink sugary Vanderpump drinks and go on the Hogwarts Castle ride at Universal Studios the next day. It is a surefire recipe for vomit.
Visit 1.5: November 2, 2016
The occasion: Work trip to New York
I happened to be in New York during “The First-Ever #VanderCrawl in NYC!” and it happened to start in the same building as my office. The Vandergods were aligning.
Somehow I convinced my friend who didn’t watch the show to scope out the event. After grabbing a drink at Chelsea Market we ventured outside. The line was relatively MASSIVE. There was no way even 1/20th of the queue was getting in. We tried to hedge our bets by going to the second location of the crawl but other Pump-head (is there actually a good fan name for the show?) were ahead of us.
We abandoned quickly.
Visit 2: January 28, 2019 - TomTom’s TV Debut
The occasion: A trip to LA with my sister to see a taping of “Jeopardy” (yes, that taping was amazing).
We happened upon TomTom on a Monday night, so the slowness and AARP demographic of the crowd could have been attributed to that. We were promptly seated at the end of the way too tall bar.
Everything was sticky. We didn’t want to know why.
The episode where the fully finished bar was revealed hat yet to debut. It felt like we were in on a secret… even though the bar had been open for months and plenty of people had visited. Or perhaps the secretive nature explained why there were so few people there.
Behind the bar were the teal and suspenders clad bartenders and barbacks. Watching the episode the next week we recognized one of the bartenders in the background.
Our bartender seemed completely uninterested in us, that is until I mentioned that I sometimes write about television. We’ll call him “Graydon” for the purposes of this and because he seems the type to rename himself something absurd like that. He likely no longer works there so it’s moot.
He had relocated from Minnesota but was splitting his time between New York and LA. He was of course interested in acting. Or was it modeling? Either way it was a cliche.
At one point in describing the bar and the shot bar, he commented that “It’s hard to roofie women with shots.” This led to a prompt exit after one drink by us.
For context there IS a bar dedicated to just shots at TomTom, and he may have meant it as a reassuring thing. However one NEVER wants the person serving them drinks to mention roofies, and intentions aside, the delivery of the message came off super creepy. He'd clearly thought about the logistics of roofie delivery before.
We then headed to PUMP for dinner. We had reservations. They probably weren’t necessary.
I will take this moment to remind you it was a slow Monday.
After being seated it took 15 minutes and 30 seconds to get anyone’s attention. We didn’t make a fuss over this but the place was not busy, so we were frustrated.
Our actual waiter - whose name I will change to “Wolverine” in case he still works there (comic book nerds you can easily figure out his actual first name) - was awful. I will give a shout out to Francis who had just started (and that is his real name) and was shadowing Wolverine. He was the only one who paid any attention to us at all that evening.
After placing our order (terrible champagne, and the wine glasses were disturbingly cloudy) I excused myself to the restroom. It had an unpleasant smell but that was to be the least of the horrors. The toilet in the first stall I visited was covered in pubic hair. Don’t believe me? I unfortunately have photo evidence.
Deciding I could hold it, I returned to the table, where we proceeded to wait 39 minutes for our food to come out. Empty. Restaurant. 0 updated from Wolverine. Couldn’t get his attention for a water refill if our lives depended on it.
As for the drinks, I didn’t even touch drunk. I went straight to hangover.
At least there was that lava cake to look forward to, right?
Wrong. Turns out when you skip drunk, the cake does not taste nearly as good. You end up realizing it’s about the quality of any microwavable cake found in the freezer aisle. Also we’d asked for it with no ice cream. It of course arrived with ice cream and they were combative about sending it back.
We had sullied the memory of our first PUMPerience.
FYI This trip was particularly well documented, as I took notes (and unfortunately photos) during.
As for the drinks, I didn’t even touch drunk. I went straight to hangover.
Visit 3: June 29, 2019 - Jax and Brittany’s wedding weekend
The occasion: Bachelorette party
For the Bravo-maniac and secret Hulk’s bachelorette party it was only fitting we return to LVP’s trifecta of WeHo establishments.
The group consisted of three Bravo fluent attendees (including the bride and myself) and two complete virgins to the programming of the network.
After my last trip I was hesitant to return but this time we were prepared with knowledge.
We started out with drinks at PUMP this time. We sacrificed SUR because, at this point do any of us even care?
I warned the rest of the party that there was a Yelp deal for a certain drink, but that it was basically diabetes in a cup. Some did not heed my warning.
After slogging our way through the drink and playing a rousing game of “daughter or girlfriend?” we made our way over to TomTom.
This just so happened to be the weekend of Jax and Brittany’s wedding, and so we assumed no one would be filming that weekend.
Were we wrong.
As we approached TomTom we saw a white van parked outside the line. Oh yes, there was actually a semblance of a line this time. To the credit of the place we were seated ridiculously quickly (perhaps because we were a large party).
Unfortunately (but eventually - fortunately) we were seated in a booth right across from the bathroom. Every time the men’s restroom door opened we feared for our eyes.
We ordered a round of signature shots (in retrospect I should have checked my notes at the time for the roofie comment). While I can’t remember what the actual shot was, I do recall it came with a “buzz bud” flower aka Acmella oleracea.
Usually when someone hands you a flower that makes your mouth tingle and a shot, you run for the hills. However we were fully committed to our TomTom experience at that point.
Then our dreams began to be fulfilled as a film crew began to stream in. Our less than desirable geographical location made us a perfect home base for the crew to set up. Our hopes began to bubble but the biggest question was who could be onsite? Surely everyone of import would be in Kentucky?
One of the crew circulated in the main bar area with a camera man getting b-roll shots and handing out appearance waivers. A gaffer set up a surprisingly sleek light strip near us on the ceiling. The entire operation was shockingly skeleton, but given that the majority of the cast was away, I figured this wasn’t going to be a huge production.
Then HE rolled in. DJ James “It's not about the pasta” Kennedy.
The Bravo specialists at the table lost their damn minds. The two outsiders looked as if they were witnessing a possession. We tried to further explain to them the premise of the show (they’d been primed on the general culture of Bravo since they were after all on a Bravo themed bachelorette).
“It’s about these horrible people who work in a restaurant and all sleep together. You’re not supposed to like any of them, but you also love them.”
Our entire beings became dedicated to tracking the movements of the crew and cast. At one point Kennedy went to the restroom and if we were going to see anyone’s junk, it might as well have been his. For the record we saw nothing.
Kennedy spent the majority of his time by the main bar talking to someone we couldn’t see. We watched with rapt attention even though we could hear absolutely nothing. We also invited the transcriber of the crew (who’d been standing trying to type their dialogue live while balancing her laptop on her chest) to sit at our table. She was clearly newer to the gig and joined us happily. We tried to pump her for info but her recent tenure to the gig or possibly her professionalism yielded no results.
We moved our dinner reservation to later (not at one of LVP’s joints because we’d learned our food lesson at this point). This was too good not to stay and watch live. More drinks were ordered, and between the euphoria, alcohol, and flowers? it’s safe to say we were pretty buzzed.
The moment we’d been praying for since the crew walked in the door came. The man with the releases came over and asked if we wanted to sign them. I literally screamed “WE WILL SIGN ANYTHING YOU WANT.”
This was to be our moment!
It happened in a blur of booze and adrenaline. A new person (and the new cast hadn’t been announced at that point so we were giddy with this knowledge) came over and said his name - which of course we forgot in the bright lights of the camera - and said it was “his first day bartending” - suuuuuuuuureeeeeee and offered us the same signature shots from earlier with the dreaded flowers again.
We completely forgot how to human.
We took the shots, answered his question of “how were they?” before he could even finish spitting it out, and like that the crew was gone.
Our brief moment in the Bravo sun.
To this day (and since this is pre-premiere tonight) we have no clue who he was. All of our photos are of Kennedy from afar. We assume he is NOT a series regular. We also are self aware enough to know and hope that our footage never makes it to air.
We drunkenly asked the producer if she thought Kennedy might take a photo with us after and she said maybe after. We waited a few more minutes and decided that having 4 - 5 Vanderpump cocktails and shots on an empty stomach was a recipe for death and we needed to leave.
It was glorious. It was absurd. In the grand scheme it was utterly meaningless. It truly encapsulated how I feel about the show at the end of the day.
Visit 3.5: December 31, 2019
The occasion: New Year’s Eve
This was less planned, more kismet. Was staying in Caesar’s Palace for New Year’s and realized that the LVP cocktail garden was there. Somehow my group of non Bravo friends were convinced to go for an early drink that evening at the garden.
It’s actually a nice little oasis in the chaos of Caesar’s. I’ve been ragging on her drinks this whole time but the drinks we had at this location were actually the best of all of her venues I’ve sampled. “The Nut Job” cocktail was particularly delicious. Like a coconut smoothie.
No wild story here. Just an actual review of the location. Perhaps being away from the spotlight of the production allowed for this location to actually showcase Lisa's restaurateur chops. Or perhaps we just got lucky that night. Who knows.
Either way in good conscience I cannot recommend any of the dining or drinking experiences (except Vegas) of the Vanderpump Rules abodes. And yet they are a must if you are a fan of the show.
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The latest interviews, reviews, and opinions on film by Dana Han-Klein. Thoughts and opinions are entirely my own and not reflective of my employer or any third parties.