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Rosewood Hotel

Equality

The oldest profession in the world is alive and well in Silicon Valley

Of course we’ve all been agog at the Ellen Pao trial. Silicon Valley loves nothing more than to talk about itself. The self-obsession goes hand in hand with ego, intellect and ambition.

But an unexpected side effect of the discussion of the blow-by-blow of the trial is now, for a while, everyone will be looking for covert sexism. And nowhere better to find it than cougar night at the Rosewood hotel in Menlo Park.

This is not a new phenomenon. I blogged about it in 2011 after spending an amused Thursday evening there people watching. Even back then the VC, wanna-be, hooker dynamic was in full force.

Now, it’s out in the mainstream press. New York Magazine no less, reported on “Where Silicon Valley Looks for Love in the Era of Ellen Pao”. The crowd in question at the Madera bar, sitting outside in the fading sun and rising moon, is a mix of older (white and Asian) men, older women, younger women, and, just sometimes, ordinary people wanting a cocktail with a friend.

And this latter case is how I usually observe “Cougar Night”. The Rosewood is on my way home. It’s the only high quality bar on the 280 corridor (indicating a market opportunity I suspect). It has very good bartenders who can make a mean Basil Grey Goose Martini (except on Thursdays when they take it off the menu because it takes too long to make – so you have to know to ask for it). And by Thursday I am often in the mood to relax, meet a friend and have a martini on my way home.

It was one such Thursday a few months ago that I saw just how efficient the scene is at the Rosewood. Three middle aged men (one white, two Asian) sitting in one of the large outside booths. The waiter comes up and introduces them to three women who were about 30. Each had long hair, each had a skirt that would not have made it past the nuns at my middle school (i.e. only an inch or two below the crotch) and two had plenty of back skin showing. Initially they sit together, but within 5 minutes they had moved around so they were each paired with one of the men. It was like a dance. The toss of the hair, the hand on the thigh, the eye contact.

I watched in admiration. The oldest profession is alive and well preying on the equity-rich customers who are hoping to not only benefit from the greatest wealth creation of our time, but also find some love at the same time.

My friend chastised me when I said I wanted to take photos to document the dance. She was sure we’d get thrown out and not be allowed back, and the location is just too convenient for us to blot our copy book with the management. So I behaved (unlike the time she and I were asked to leave a restaurant in Rome for being too noisy) but watched in fascination and amusement. The girls were good!

Rest assured, dear reader, Silicon Valley may seem like a dry, stuffy place filled with male nerds, but it’s not. There are actually plenty of interesting, professional tech women hanging out in the Rosewood on Thursday nights (because, after all, the drinks are good), but they’re the ones smiling, watching the dance.

Equality

Cougar night busted in Silicon Valley!

The bar at the Rosewood Hotel, at the end of the fabled Sand Hill Road of venture capital fame, has been building up a reputation for a while now as a pick-up joint. I wrote a blog about the bar scene more than a year ago now, not realizing I was seeing the myth develop in front of my eyes.

But last night, as we sat at the outside bar watching the sun go down with some good friends, we commented how odd it was that a bar and restaurant that had always seemed packed seemed half empty.

And now this morning I found out why. The bar has been faux-busted for Thursday cougar night. According to the Merc, “a recent report that police
had arrested several big-name venture capitalists for solicitation — by
all accounts, a false story on a satirical Web site — seems to have
helped chill the scene, at least for now.” 

Faux-busted, not even really busted. The VC world is actually pretty conservative. Mostly white men, mostly funding deals they’ve seen before, following the pack. Only a few are truly risk taking visionaries. And sex is under cover here. Cars, wine, jets, houses are all on show, but the women I meet through my VC friends are almost always wives or daughters. Even so, the scene had definitely been building up at Madera, but who knows if it was pickup for fun or for money (or both)?

The scene will be back. And in the future, as we get more women in power in technology, maybe the Joss Whedon imagined universe of Firefly will happen even here.

Equality

Living the Social Network: a Silicon Valley cliche

The Rosewood Hotel sits in the perfect location. At the intersection of 280 and Sand Hill Road with beautiful views of the Portola Valley hills it’s surrounded by sleek offices dedicated to making money. The who’s who of venture capital, private equity, and now even tech centered hedge funds for the guys who want to be where the real action is (and that’s not New York if you are a geek investor).

On any given evening the people watching in the Rosewood bar is better than any movie. Take an evening a week or so ago. To my right a group of Justin Timberlake knock offs – all white young men, 30-ish, dark shirts, dark pants and one even had on a fedora (I thought he was trying a little too hard). These are probably associates from a local private equity or venture capital firm – MBAs from the best schools apprenticing at the feet of the masters. Looks, brains and confidence – making money but less knowledge than they think.

After a while two women approach them, very tight white jeans, high heels, the requisite small slice of midriff showing below deep cleavage. Long hair and on the prowl for customers. A toss of the hair subtitle “have you noticed me yet”; a well practiced eye lock and knowing smile subtitle “I find you attractive and am available”; and next thing you know they are sitting snugly on a small sofa with money.

To my left a man walks by to greet the waitress with a knowing hug and a pat on the butt. Dark tan, shirt unbuttoned showing chest hair and a gold medallion. Thinks he’s a player but I doubt he is – he’s prowling.

In contrast standing in front of me are very young interns. 20-ish, skinny boys and girls, in cheap, ill fitting suits (short skirts on all the girls) clustered together drinking expensive drinks they can’t really afford. But no worries, there is usually a partner or two in the mix hosting them. They are earnest, ambitious and often an easy mark. The friend I was with is a wealthy partner in a prestigious firm and he sized them up with a practiced eye – giving me a hilarious commentary at the same time.

It’s not all about sex and entertainment. There are the two serious VCs sitting at a cocktail table outside under a heat lamp. They’re older – in their late 40s – and oblivious to everyone around them as they hammer through how to get a stumbling deal funded. If you listen carefully you hear talk of pre-money valuation, revenue run rate and dilution. Many a deal gets done on a hand shake in places like this.

I bump into a friend who is a partner at a household name law firm – although the lawyers are usually pale and tired – they don’t get out much when the Valley is as hot as it is right now.

The place is packed and the air is on fire – talking, flirting, drinking (vastly over-priced drinks), deal-making — many are there to experience Silicon Valley, to find the next big thing and ride the wave. The movie captured it well, and made it a cliche. It was like this in 99, again in 07 and now again in 2011. Wild, geeky and the real money is being made by the facilitators – the investors, lawyers, bars and entertainers all preying on the brains who hope to come up with the next big idea.

And me? The Rosewood bar is on my way home from the office, has terrific olives, and is a convenient place to meet my Palo Alto friends. I don’t go for the buzz and the people-watching, do I?