"It’s a humid night—too humid for LA, like something isn’t exactly right. An odd and thrilling combination, just like TomTom, just like…" My anonymous friend (who works for a big TV network that will also remain anonymous) trails off in reverie as we walk from Kristen Doute’s building to the Uber set to take us to TomTom, the latest West Hollywood establishment borne from Vanderpump Rules.
Kristen Doute was once the villain of Vanderpump; as Tom Sandoval’s ex-girlfriend who’d cheated on him with his best friend Jax Taylor, Kristen Doute is my queen of chaos. TomTom is Sandoval’s new bar. It’s also a sort-of restaurant, like most of Lisa Vanderpump’s properties: Villa Blanca (a restaurant that serves alcohol in Beverly Hills), SUR Restaurant & Lounge (Sexy Unique Restaurant restaurant & lounge in WeHo), and PUMP (a gay bar in WeHo on the same corner and neighboring street as TomTom and SUR).
Lisa Vanderpump, the restaurateur who most recently added TomTom (and co-owners Tom Schwartz and Tom Sandoval, the comedic-relief-maybe-sensitive-kinda-dumb-hot-dude-actor wonder twins of the cast) to her arsenal, has created her own Disneyland in West Hollywood. The food and drinks don’t even have to be good—people will go for the experience of Vanderpump Rules’ extended Marvel universe. We will live and breathe the sexy uniqueness, drinking and gallivanting amongst the stars of the show, hoping to catch a cry or a scream as they fight into the void of their own invented fantasy world—and sometimes hoping to accidentally receive a cast member’s Amazon package when we somehow end up living in the same building.
OK, that last one is a stretch, but for real: My friend lives in Doute’s building and has never spoken to her out of basic human decency, which is fair. But it doesn’t stop me from going to said building to pregame with my fellow Pump-heads before heading into the newest belly of the beast: TomTom. It certainly only adds to the collective nervousness pumping through the veins of my team of 12. We are electrified by the night’s prospects. Will we see the cast? Will queen Kristen be holding court? Will DJ James Kennedy—another beloved villain and fun, young scamp who noticed a tweet of mine a few nights prior and invited me to see him at SUR—be hopping about the area, waiting to tell someone that he is the one and only self-proclaimed "white Kanye," and we will respect him as such?
The night laid out before us like a sexy, unique path to the rest of our lives, lit up by Lisa Vanderpump’s unintentionally bisexual magenta and blue–toned lighting schemes. And so we went.
Upon our arrival, Tom Sandoval and Adam (Brittany’s supposed love interest from season six and Scheana’s maybe-love-interest at present) pull up in front of TomTom on the white TomTom-branded motorcycle, complete with green lights. "HOLY SHIT," I scream. It’s the best thing that could’ve possibly happened to us. We are flying high as my anonymous friend shakes Tom’s hand, congratulating him on TomTom’s opening. Tom demurs—what a guy! My friend’s girlfriend laughs at the interaction, and so do I, but I am sincerely happy for Tom Sandoval, which leaves me worried about what might happen next, because whatever it is must be karmic retribution for my emotional attachment to this fucking show. And it is.
"It doesn’t matter," the blonde, fit authority figure of TomTom tells me sternly at the inexplicably steampunk-ish entrance to the bar. (The logo has two gears where the O’s are, of course). "It’s a space issue. We need to wait for a table to clear for all of you. I wish I could let you in now, but I can’t." He whisks away into the crowd of lucky chosen ones, the blondes and the non-blondes and the sort-of blondes, the hot people of WeHo. I’d just told him that I’m there to review the establishment for VICE, throwing down the only card I have in the hopes of trumping the fact that we were a 12-person party in what was supposed to be a group of six-exclusively-admitted-people that a friend of a friend said would be "good" if we mentioned her name. We were not good.
"How long before we just go to SUR?" Our group laments our plight as a long line of hopefuls wait on the other side of us with misplaced jealousy. We’re VIP but we also are not at all, as our standing communicates. The line for TomTom is filled with false hope. "It’s more of a sit-down thing than a standing bar," a sympathetic door girl explains to me when I beg to be let in to "just stand around and have one drink or whatever."
Everyone inside appears to be sitting down in a high-ceilinged, dimly-lit (despite its many lighting fixtures), gold, velvet— is that velvet?—and leather situation. I think there’s a display of large silver flasks decorating the back wall, but I never get a closer look. We gaze, we despair. We are not sexy, we are not unique—we are plebeian. After thirty-ish minutes of pleading and ogling—and after four of my friends take one for the team and leave—my party of eight is finally escorted to the back area.
The back patio has walls covered in shutters and mirrors like a saloon, except with white flowers and metal fixtures everywhere. We are seated in the back corner with a perfect view of some cast members drinking in the far corner away from us, seated in front of a mirror, of course. It feels like a fun house. Is it a fun house? I can’t tell. We squeeze into a booth-like thing and huddle around a table with one drink menu. The kitchen is closed. We have been relegated to restaurant seating, but there is no restaurant—only alcohol.
I take bets on how long it will take to receive our drinks. "Thirty-five minutes," Mikayla says. Nick guesses 47. Our waitress takes our order very promptly and I ask for the Madame Butterfly, a vodka-champagne cocktail that comes with a flower petal, because I am a little bitch. I tell the group about my working theory that if PUMP is gay and Villa Blanca and SUR are straight, then TomTom is bisexual.
"TomTom is nothing. It’s asexual," Isabella says. I look around and notice that not a single guest in the establishment looks horny: Everyone is seated and civil, enjoying their drinks amongst the fake succulents and roses that are real, but have no scent at all, no matter how much you put your face in and around them. Fuck. She’s right. I sit corrected.
"The decor is honestly good," I say, drunk. "No, shut the fuck up, do you see that fucking wall thing?" Isabella corrects me. I look at the wall thing across from us: It's a fake statue/wall sconce/fountain reminiscent of Greek or maybe French stuff? Above it is a sort of deck with all-wood shutters, in the Wild Wild Will Smith West vibe I was talking about. None of it makes sense. I feel the opposite of wet. I feel….anxiety.
We go around the table and everyone describes the bar in two words. There’s a street lamp behind us (outside, because the patio area faces the street), and it keeps flickering, alternating between warm and cool colors. It’s as bright as Christmas one second, and then too dark to read the menu to order a second drink the next. I feel like I’m in an interrogation. Here are some of the phrases used to describe TomTom during this time: Fake plants. Prop house. Seizure lighting. Quick slow. Tuesday morning. Prop house. Shabby chic. Western French. Semi-restaurant. Confused, damnit.
I remember when, in season six, Tom Sandoval said he wanted to fill the place with references to the past: "Everyone loves nostalgia," he said, pronouncing it noh-stahl-gee-uh. Tom Schwartz—who usually opts to say as few sentences as possible and instead communicate with looks of surprise—corrected Sandoval’s pronunciation. I recall this to my friends and we laugh nervously, watching Sandoval himself deliver drinks to a nearby table. The owner delivering drinks? TomTom is for the people! My anxious brain grasps at details around me as we wait 32 minutes for our eight drinks. I wonder where the other four brave people from our group are, the ones who volunteered to leave when we couldn’t get all 12 in—are they happier elsewhere, living in the same now as us, unbridled by a long wait for cocktails?
"I bet Tom shaved the shit out of his forehead for tonight," my anonymous friend says as we stare at Tom Sandoval, Ariana (Tom’s girlfriend who once said "heteronormative bullshit" in a confessional, like a legend), Billie Lee (a new SUR hostess who went on a date with Ariana’s ponytail’ed brother once), and some other unrecognizable people as their bottle service ( or is that a cake?) arrives at their table, complete with a brilliant sparkler. Whose birthday is it? I know some of the cast’s birthdays based on their filming schedule, I realize, and in that moment, I am filled with a shame that sobers me up completely.
"I bet Tom shaved the shit out of his forehead for tonight"
I stare into the lights above me, at the stars decorating the murky night sky that looms over TomTom— there’s no roof out here? What will they do if there is weather? Is there like, a canopy thing? I decide not to ask anyone about this because I’m suddenly overwhelmed with the desire to leave immediately, but everyone else in my group is still nursing a drink: a vodka soda that has little vodka and no lime, a bunch of margarita jalapeño situations that look pretty good, a martini that tastes like actual gasoline, some sweet whiskey thing that everyone hates, and a Diet Coke.
We notice some other things: Billie Lee is vaping a Juul. (We guess that it’s mango-flavored, maybe cucumber.) People are eating fish tacos and what appear to be fried balls of something with cabbage on top from a time before the kitchen was closed. (Honestly, they look like hairy sea urchin testicles that are also delicious??) We are surrounded by so many bartenders and servers. There is a glass and gold case of merch and the TomTom shirts look like Ed Hardy shirts with a gay steampunk flair, and I want one. Ariana looks amazing. Tom is glowing. My friends and I are struggling. In what feels like 90-degree heat in Los Angeles, we all have swamp ass.
"It’s crazy they don’t have fans," my anonymous friend’s girlfriend says, and for a second I want to say, "We’re the fans!!!" but I realize she means actual fans that would help with the swamp ass. I am so depressed.
I wait for Madame Butterfly to save me, but when she finally arrives, she’s too sweet and tastes like Skippy’s, a drink I made in college by combining pink lemonade concentrate with beer and vodka, a fact that disgusts my friends when I say it out loud. My Madame Butterfly also has a flower petal in it, which is fine, but doesn’t really do anything to help me enjoy the experience. We all agree to leave the bar after one drink, asking the waitress politely for the check and chalking the underwhelming night up to personal failure. As we wait, yet again, I go to find the bathroom.
The bathroom is mixed-gender and has stalls. I appreciate this. It’s all women in the bathroom when I enter, and the ceilings are hobbit-low. I do not appreciate this. Finally, the bigger stall becomes available and I dive in. I sit down to pee with urgency, thinking about my last UTI, and then I see it: a tiny door in the corner, cracked open so just a bit of yellow light spills in. The tiny door is built into the far wall, clearly leading to an annexed room or closet of sorts. It’s only visible from this stall, as if it is meant for me.
I feel like Alice in Nightmareland. I pee harder. The door creaks open more. I gasp: a pair of large men’s jeans lay on the floor, askew, just visible enough so that I can see that they’re big men’s jeans, like work pants, and the stitching is utilitarian, and what the fuck, why is there a tiny door to like, a closet? I get close enough to the little door/fake closet take a picture after I pee, but then it creaks open a bit more and I nearly run out screaming. I find my friends and tell them we have to leave right away. We make our way out.
When we get outside, the TomTom bike is getting a ticket from WeHo’s parking authority. "HOLY SHIT," I screech, just as I did upon first seeing it. This is the best thing that could’ve happened! I feel like I’ve won a prize, and then it dawns on me: TomTom is not a bar that serves food—it’s an escape room. Lisa Vanderpump has done it again, adding a not-dinner-just-drinks-but-sitting-down escape room to her arsenal of entertainment.
I vow to return and avenge my friends as I watch Tom Sandoval mount his bike and ride it into the night, away from the dangers of parking tickets and the trappings of plebeians. The green lights of his bike beckon my group of friends into the darkness. And so we beat on, motorcycles against the current, borne back ceaselessly into Bravo’s TV programming.