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December 12, 2023

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LA MAGAZINE – How the Houston Brothers Revolutionized L.A.’s Nightclub Scene

JUN 28, 2023 — HEIDI SIEGMUND CUDA

Mark and Jonnie Houston, identical twins, have been running some of the city’s best clubs since the ’80s and onward

Mark and Jonnie Houston were practically born in a bar and raised on rock and roll. The brothers’ mother, Ploenpidh—Plo, for short—was the owner of MonteCarlo, a famed ’70s dive in Koreatown with a legendary jukebox. A little later, in the ’80s, she opened Raji’s on Hollywood Boulevard, home away from the road for bands like Black Flag, Guns N’ Roses, Green Day, and the Flaming Lips.

No big shocker, then, that the twins would grow up to become two of the city’s most prominent club owners, the Winklevosses of L.A. nightlife. Already operating a slew of the town’s hottest nightspots—including disco-themed Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, ’80s-themed Break Room 86, and magic-themed Black Rabbit Rose—they’re about to open their most ambitious project yet, Level 8, a 30,000-square-foot space located on the 8th floor of the Moxy hotel in downtown L.A. that will house five restaurants, two cocktail bars, and one club, all connected by a labyrinth of “secret” entrances.

“One thing Mark and I love is taking people out to different venues to show them different experiences,” says Jonnie. “At Level 8, people can go on a journey and have different experiences without having to jump in an Uber and sprint to the next place.”

“We like curating adventures,” chimes in Mark. “We challenge ourselves to create new things. If we didn’t, then what’s life?”

As it happens, the Houston brothers initially had a very different adventure in mind for their lives. After high school, they took a business class together at Santa Monica College and then started up their own wireless pager business, determined to become entrepreneurs.

“We were 18,” says Mark. “Growing up in a bar—that was not going to be our life.”

“I bought a suit from Ross,” admits Jonnie.

At first, they sold pagers from the trunk of their car, building that business into seven brick-and-mortar storefronts, then branched out into other ventures, including the car wash biz, music video production, and a short-lived cannabis lounge. Still, the pub trade was in their blood, and, in 2008, they opened their first club, Piano Bar in Hollywood, which showcased performers like Tom Waits, Tom Jones, and Thundercat.

“We did something completely different at Piano Bar,” says Jonnie. “We actually paid musicians.”

That club shuttered in 2018, but by then, the brothers had begun opening others, like the Cuban-themed La Descarga as well as Harvard & Stone, a rock and roll venue in Thai Town. Then came Pour Vous, a French-themed cocktail lounge; No Vacancy, a burlesque spot with a tightrope walker; Dirty Laundry, a bootlegger-themed joint in Hollywood; and Good Times at Davey Wayne’s, a bar named after their late dad, David Wayne Houston, and decorated, they say, very much like the home they grew up in during the 1980s.

“It’s a replica of our living room, complete with our old couches,” says Mark.

At last count, the brothers own and operate a grand total of 10 clubs in Los Angeles—not including Level 8, scheduled to open this August—each of them a one-of-a-kind happening.

“Like an artist, you can’t paint the same painting each time,” notes Jonnie.

Their mother, for one, couldn’t agree more.

Level 8 \ Restaurant, Lounge and Nightlife Destination at the Moxy and AC Hotels 254 S Figueroa St, Los Angeles, CA 90015

https://lamag.com/nightlife/houston-brothers-nightclubs-scene-los-angeles-level-8

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