A little after 9 p.m. on a Tuesday, the man of the hour strolls into SUR.
James Kennedy is taller in person than expected—about 5’ 11’’—and wearing a Justin Bieber Purpose Tour bomber jacket. There in the flesh is that chin of his, with a divot deeper than the Grand Canyon—so deep you could find Rose’s giant heart-shaped blue diamond at the bottom. Almost immediately after he enters, he’s asked to take a picture with a pair of surly-looking tourists. He seems thrilled to oblige.
For the next few minutes, before his actual deejaying job begins, he walks back and forth around the bar, with no equipment or drink or clear sense of purpose, presumably so that people will stop him and ask for photos. It totally works.
James joined the cast of Vanderpump Rules in Season 3, as Kristen Doute’s younger and oddly loyal boyfriend. Since then, we’ve seen him put up with verbal abuse from Kristen, then verbally abuse her right back, as well as cheat. We’ve witnessed him “date” Lala Kent, struggle with his parents’ divorce, descend into what appeared to be borderline alcoholism, get fired, get his job back, and date a teen, all while trying to be a rapper and producer. He’s been such an unbelievable shithead that he makes Kristen and Jax seem rational. So you can imagine my utter horror when he began to win me over this season.
Having successfully toned down his drinking, James managed to secure a DJ residency at SUR on Tuesday nights which he cleverly named “See You Next Tuesday.” His goal was to throw “a lit ass party, mate,” which, by the way, is not a direct quote, but I assume he’s used that exact phrase at least four times in his life. As you may recall, I live about a mile-and-a-half from Lisa Vanderpump’s Sexy Unique Restaurant and felt an obligation to journey into the Tuesday night offerings of DJ James Kennedy. This is my story.
Admittedly, I’ve had moments where my faith in Vanderpump Rules has waned, but then I feel like an idiot when it ultimately delivers. I fully believe the key to the show is its participants’ willingness to ruin their actual lives for the sake of television. Unlike their Real Housewives friends, who have businesses and marriages and non-Ikea furniture to protect, these young West Hollywood yahoos have little to nothing (mostly nothing) to lose.
You might recall when Katie Maloney and Tom Schwartz pretended to get a prenup and revealed that Katie had a scant $200 in her checking account. Or the fact that, although she’s been on a television show for five years, Stassi still doesn’t live in an apartment with central air. So who cares if you backhand your friend on national television? Does it really matter if you cheat on your boyfriend with one of his best friends? Sure, you might have knocked up a cocktail waitress in Las Vegas, but at least it keeps you on the show.
I get the sense that none of these people would know what to do or have anything resembling the lives they lead now without Bravo. All of which brings us to James Kennedy.
My plan was to attend See You Next Tuesday on two different nights, in part to see if this whole thing was real and not just for the cameras.
On the day of my first attempt, I’m a bit nervous because James hasn’t posted anything on Instagram or Twitter about the party. After getting the SUR voicemail for an hour, I decide to just show up.
Google says SUR closes at 10 p.m. on Tuesdays. Like a moron who doesn’t realize they mean the kitchen closes at 10 p.m., I arrive around 8. After I exit the car, there’s a group of two adults and four teenagers behind me. I see the woman in the group taking pictures of the exterior. The teens have that look of trying-not-to-look-excited-but-clearly-are, because they’re teens and like, how could they not be excited about seeing James Kennedy?
(It reminds me of the time my dad and I had dinner at the 40/40 Club when I was 16 because I was a huge Jay-Z fan, even though it’s not so much a place where people have dinner, but rather an attempt to sop up your drunkenness with a plate of $16 nachos.)
As the woman stops to talk to the doorman, I overhear him telling her the DJ doesn’t go on until 10 p.m. I am not fucking happy about this!
Irritated, I sit at the bar, waiting for my friend to arrive, not confident that I can loiter two hours and then watch, listen to, and observe James Kennedy while he DJs. I order another glass of wine and try to push through.
In the meantime, I start to notice a few updates since my original visit to SUR, as well as some shit I must not have paid attention to before. For example, the chairs in the lounge are ridiculously tiny and cannot be remotely comfortable for anyone above the height of the average five-year-old. The TVs no longer play that weird slow-motion animal video and instead now loop old episodes of Vanderpump Rules, a nice touch of self-awareness.
Their execution of this little trip down memory lane could use some work, because when the show goes to commercial, instead of showing the actual ads or editing them out, they just cut to a blank screen with what look likes an error message, initially making me think the TVs are broken.
Some things, however, never change. Lisa still peppers her establishments with fragrant fresh flowers because she is fancy and cocktails are still $16.
My friend and I ignore the fact that it’s still only like 8 goddamn 45 in the evening and try to enjoy ourselves. For a moment I forget where we are—we’re just two friends gabbing over some wine at an overpriced bar that’s decorated like Romeo and Juliet’s Italian villa, if they had lived—that is until I spot Ariana’s brother with a fanny pack slung across his chest.
I’m then hit with a wave of shame that I was able to instantly identify a Vanderpump Rules cast member’s brother who mostly just stands around and looks awkward as his sister overshares about her sex life. Speaking of, have we ever fully established Ariana’s brother’s role in all this? Can anyone remember his name? I wonder how much he gets paid. Does he still live with Tom and Ariana? What is his actual job? All I really know about him is that he had his birthday party at Resident, a bar in downtown Los Angeles and a great day-party spot, so props to him, I guess.
While running through those thoughts, I spot Logan, aka James’s roommate, aka James’s maybe-lover for the purpose of television ratings, aka the mortal enemy of Raquel, a mute beauty queen who dates James. If I had only ever heard Logan’s audio from the show and was then asked to imagine what that person looked like, I think I would exactly imagine who Logan is—I do not spot James’s dead-eyed child bride.
Then James walks in.
At that moment, I get an excited text from a friend who I’d told about my evening adventure, wondering, “Is he playing his own music?” He is not! I’ll be honest, I could not tell the difference between the music that was playing before James showed up and the music James played while DJing. That said, I often can’t tell the difference between a live DJ and a good playlist.
We’re rolling up on 10 p.m. when I decide to consider this my recon mission because the idea of sticking around for another couple hours feels about as daunting as getting Tom Schwartz’s triplet brothers ready for a black tie gala. I now know that James does indeed show up and nothing gets started until 10. I feel prepared for next week, knowing that at the very least, I won’t show up at 8 p.m. with the teens.
My decision to go on this mission allowed me to truly reflect on my relationship with James Kennedy, which has largely involved me hating the shit out of him. Not only has he been verbally abusive towards women, he’s immature even for his age, a borderline alcoholic, bad at his job, and harbors the delusion that declaring himself “the white Kanye West” wasn’t worthy of criminal indictment for stupidity.
But this season, James has been drinking less—at least when he’s supposed to be working—and his behavior has been so marked that I began to wonder if James was so awful before because he was literally just drunk all the time. He seems to have gotten on everyone’s good side and is back to being invited to stuff again.
Not to mention, James and Jax have developed a sort of cute buddy rapport and, though I don’t remotely support it, he seems to be taking his music rather seriously. He wasn’t even being a complete asshole to his girlfriend. Generally, James is staying out of trouble while also helping drive the narrative of the show forward, which is exactly who I would hope to be, if ever violently kidnapped and forced to be on a reality television show.
Things got so crazy that I wondered to myself: Hot damn, do I like James Kennedy now? It’s been jarring and emotionally confusing, to say the absolute least. But luckily the world has not ceased to make absolutely any sense whatsoever because recently James has reverted back to the Demon Puck of West Hollywood. In his defense, much of his bad behavior, again, seems fueled by alcohol, so maybe just start getting into weed, my guy?
His worst moments have been directed at his supposed best friend, Lala Kent, seemingly because James is still in love with her because, seriously, what the hell else would he be getting so mad about? In one episode, he screamed at Lala outside of Sweet Chick. I felt personally violated because Sweet Chick is in my neighborhood and serves overpriced but tasty fried chicken and waffles and offers a nice vegetarian chicken option that takes about two pieces to realize the texture is not as similar to chicken as you originally thought.
Relatedly, the fight kicked off because they were getting hammered and Sweet Chick is honestly a really weird place to get drunk at, especially while the sun is still out.
James has also managed to completely disrespect his girlfriend on national television by openly flirting with Lala one minute and then turning around and berating her with an intensity only reserved for someone you’re still desperately enamored with and who you pray one day will take you back. Also, he’s just been annoying as hell.
It will certainly take more than a night of solid DJing to make me anything resembling a James Kennedy fan, but I decide to go in with an open mind because we live in a crazy world and even a Vanderpump Rules villain might one day be able to redeem himself.
On the night of my second See You Next Tuesday escapade, my friend Mel and I wisely arrive around 9:30 p.m., when the party is already underway.
James is once again happy to take a picture with literally anyone who asks.
Logan has returned and is working the crowd while never straying too far from James. Clearly, they have made up since the whole “Logan telling people they’re sleeping together” fiasco, as also evidenced by an Instagram story that showed them dining on sushi and sake before the night got started.
Tonight, instead of Vanderpump Rules reruns, there’s a James Bond movie playing on the television behind the bar, though at some point it does switch back to the show. I wonder about this decision. I’m not sure I understand the appeal of a movie playing without sound. Are you supposed to watch? Do they expect that we know the movie well enough to enjoy it without sound? Is there a large overlap between James Bond fans and SUR customers? More questions I’ll never get the answers to because I’d like to remind everyone that Lisa Vanderpump still has me blocked on Twitter.
James spends a lot of his time looking at his phone, talking to the bartenders and taking pictures with tourists who got way too dressed up. But, to be fair, it is still before 10 p.m., so maybe he doesn’t have to turn it on yet. The crowd is on the thin side, so I’m able to clearly see Logan talking to a few people who look exactly like him. Here is a bad creep shot of him.
An equally creepy man at the bar mildly harasses Mel, and poor Mel is also pushed by a guy wearing an “Iraq War Veteran” cap who tells the bartender that his card has been declined again as he pays in cash. My favorite people in the lounge are the four moms who frankly don’t even look that gassed to be here, to the point where I wonder if they’re at the wrong place.
A few minutes later, James is finally starting to look like he’s about to do something. When you think about it, it’s pretty funny how he’s here at SUR, doing this while the cameras aren’t rolling. It’s sort of assumed that none of the other cast members actually work at the restaurant regularly anymore unless they’re filming for the show. I imagine they do some appearances here and there for promotional purposes or to keep up the ruse, but James is here, on a random Tuesday night, working as a DJ at SUR. It’s both endearing and very much not.
Lisa’s business partner Guillermo, who is inexplicably getting a lot of screen time this season, walks by and I see that he’s dragging a napkin under his shoe. Because Mel is a nice person, she graciously hops up to inform him of the mishap. When she returns, I explain to her that the man she just helped was THE Guillermo and she is thrilled to have helped a Vanderpump-lebrity.
It’s now past 10 p.m., yet every time I look up at the DJ booth, James is not there. Remember this pattern.
Other than imbibing myself with the See You Next Tuesday spirit, the only real goal I have for the evening is to take a picture of or with James. I briefly thought about being in it myself, but between this and my Vanderpump Crawl, I’d like to be able to walk around West Hollywood without a security detail, so Mel helpfully agrees to step in.
As we work on building up the confidence and shedding the dignity required to ask James for a picture, we decide to take some shots for courage and because everyone on Vanderpump Rules loves shots.
I ask for “tequila and something citrusy” and our bartender suggests pineapple, which, I guess. When he’s done with whatever he thinks passes for mixology, Mel and I discover our shots inexplicably have ice in them which I realize when I try to knock it back—as one does with a shot—and my teeth are met with chunks of ice. “I can’t swallow this, you moron,” Mel notes. (Not to the bartender himself. We are monsters, but not those kinds of monsters.)
We are forced to weirdly sip out of shot glasses like complete goddamn idiots. Then there’s the fact that the shot itself tastes almost creamy, like the bartender perhaps added vanilla or some dairy-based liqueur. Pineapple was the wrong choice, that I know for sure.
With those gross, impractical shots pulsing through our veins Mel and I are feeling wily enough to document our evening with James. We stand awkwardly in front of the DJ booth until Mel leans in and asks for a picture.
Of course, it’s very loud so James responds with: “What, my love?”
I have no idea why he even asked her that, because before Mel can respond he gestures for her to come around behind the DJ booth. He knows what this is. Almost immediately, he goes back to pushing a bunch of buttons and turning some knobs as Mel happily poses for the picture.
While this is happening, James’s friend, who’s been standing nearby, unprompted but very helpfully turns on his phone’s flashlight, providing enough light so I’m able to take a bunch of pictures without my flash, hence this magnificent photo series.
We do eventually get the money shot with James’s full-on Zoolander face. Mel walks away with what would constitute as a glowing review for James Kennedy. “When I was up there he smelled nice and he was courteous and I got it,” she says. Just as we’re turning to leave, Mariah Carey’s timeless, perfect jam, “Honey,” comes on and, honestly, I’m shocked at James’s excellent song selection. I compliment him on the choice and he smiles and shouts, “Thank you, my love.”
Since we’re on a roll with our pictures, Mel and I hit up what I come to learn is the world’s most difficult photo booth. As you approach, you’re greeted with videos of various Vanderpump Rules characters and heavily Botox-ed white people mugging for the camera. It also, curiously, warns that you have to be 18 years or older to take pictures, and I’d love to know the backstory behind that.
For our lives, Mel and I cannot get the hang of this fucking photo booth. For starters, the machine is sort of on an incline, so if you want to get close you have to squat, which feels awkward and does not bring out the sexy, WeHo insta-babe vibe that one clearly needs for this shit.
However, if you stand further back, you feel way too far away which, you’ll see, is what Mel and I end up doing the entire time. It takes a few tries before we get a hang of the gif component and even then our work isn’t great. Also, the video does this confusing sped-up thing and we can’t get the timing right so we try and try again yet somehow don’t look any better—perhaps an allegory for Vanderpump Rules itself?
I am now going to pay James a compliment so prepare yourself.
He’s not a bad DJ.
There’s a bit too much EDM for my taste, but I wouldn’t be angry if I was at a bar I actually liked and this music was playing all night. That said, remember the pattern I mentioned earlier?
Maybe it’s just my timing, but almost every time I look up, James is not at the DJ booth. What I do start to notice is that when he’s there, he plays more hip-hop and pop, so that’s something. I also don’t see James drinking at any point in the night, presumably because he’s keeping his promise to Lisa, which is nice.
Here is a sampling of his set that night:
- “Feel It” by GTA & What So Not feat. Tunji Ige
- “Give Me the Light” by Snavs
- “Innerbloom” by RÜFÜS DU SOL
- “You Don’t Know Me” by Jax Jones feat. RAYE
- “Lemon” by N.E.R.D. and Rihanna
- “Glow Up” by Meek Mill
- “Ric Flair Drip” by Offset and Metro Boomin
- “ili” by TroyBoi
- “I Like It” by DeBarge
- “Like Boom (Remix)” by Nick Thayer
- “IDGAF” by Dua Lipa
- “Lock Doh” by Giggs
- “Netsky” by Rio feat Digital Farm Animals
- “Without Me” by Eminem
- “Bodak Yellow” by Cardi B
- “Toxic” by Britney Spears
- “Gimme More” by Britney Spears
- “WTF (Where They From) (Chris Lake Remix)“ by Missy Elliot
- “Crazy in Love” by Beyoncé
- “Rich the Kid” by New Freezer feat. Kendrick lamar
- “Fastlove” by George Michael
- “Around the World” by Daft Punk
- “Proper Education” by Eric Prydz vs. Floyd
- “Feeling You” by James Kennedy feat. Lala Kent
- “Fade” by Kanye West
Like, sure, this is fine!
You’re probably not going to walk away thinking, “Wow I’m going to come back to SUR specifically on a Tuesday night so I can again hear what that DJ has to offer,” but you’re not going to storm out or throw a drink at him.
We do, however, have to talk about James’s own music, because that’s the obvious exception to all this. At one point, he ANNOUNCED that he was about to play his single, “Topman,” so that we could all what? Stuff maraschino cherries into our ears? Take cover? Dance better?
I get that he has musical aspirations, but why must we all be subjected to them? Also, like, are you trying to be Calvin Harris or Kanye West? If you’re out here talking about deejaying in Vegas and Ibiza one day, just know that none of that involves your offbeat white boy rapping. I even say this with a tiny bit of concern. It’s good to find your lane and stay in it! No shame in that game. Give it a try. And stop rapping.
At around 10:57 p.m., a decent number of people are full-on dancing, and Mel and I are flummoxed. Largely, I think it’s just difficult for me to imagine being the kind of person who would un-ironically go to SUR in the first place. But you know what? Maybe I should. These people look uninhibited and free and completely unashamed to be at SUR on a Tuesday night, dammit, and who am I to begrudge them that? They’re certainly having a better time than I am, so really, who is winning here? Honestly, probably neither of us if we’re being real.
This is the DJ booth at 11 p.m.:
At 11:07 p.m., Mel looks around and notes, “It’s happening now,” and dare I say, she’s right. I’d say there are between 50 and 60 people. The lounge isn’t that big so it’s starting to feel almost uncomfortably crowded. A trio of girls who look like they’re auditioning to be Scheana’s body doubles roll up and order something in a sugar-rimmed martini glass and take selfies of them sipping them together on cue. I bet you all the money in the world their Instagram caption included the phrase, “It’s lit.”
And honestly, they wouldn’t be wrong. If this was the kind of thing you’re into, much like Coachella and sample sales, I can see why you’d be having a great time right now.
This is the DJ booth at 11:19 p.m.:
At the height of the room’s energy, Guillermo walks through filming the activity on his phone, which I later locate on Instagram. You’ll notice the smoke which beats out the photo booth and Logan’s smile for my least favorite parts of the night.
I truly don’t understand the purpose of a smoke machine if you’re not filming a music video in 2002. Do you want the room to look like it’s full of cigarette smokers? Why else would a room be smoky? Also, if you stand too close to the machine, as I did, the smoke makes it difficult to breathe and that’s not very sexy, unique or restaurant-like, Lisa!
Of course, I notice that James is again not at the DJ booth, but halfway through “Bodak Yellow,” he returns and I can’t be too mad at that. It’s 11:45 p.m. when things start to clear out a bit. Clearly, these people know something we do not, which is probably that James is about to put on another James Kennedy original.
Shazam does not recognize the song, so I quickly try to transcribe some the lyrics and end up with this:
You probably won’t believe me, but I truly intended to go through James’s SoundCloud to find the song. Then I took one scroll through his page and couldn’t do it. It was Black History Month, and my ancestors and I had been through enough.
At 11:51 p.m., SUR has all but cleared out. At 11:52, the music stops and at 11:54, the lights go up. For some reason, I take this picture of the “SUR” letters and settle our tab with a bartender who I wouldn’t ever be attracted to in real life but find oddly appealing in this moment.
Maybe it’s the magic of SUR. Maybe that explains why the cast acts the way they do—something in the air at this sexy, unique restaurant fills your pores with the urge to make bad decisions. That or those shots were worth the money we paid for them.
Mel and I call ourselves cars and mill around with the other SUR partiers feeling tired and if I could be so bold, a touch triumphant. We made it, goddammit, we made it. See you next Tuesday, probably never.
After leaving SUR, I text the group chat I’m in with my friends Madeleine Davies, Caity Weaver, and Kate Dries where we primarily discuss all things Bravo and Housewives related. I tell them about the James Kennedy experience at a point when I’m feeling strangely won over by James, and admit that I might like him now.
With that painful admission, Kate responds: “The funny thing about Kara is how easily won over she is,” and she is right. I am a Grade A Hater—a badge I wear proudly—but I will come around when it feels warranted. Who doesn’t love a redemption narrative?
Unfortunately, this is not that, largely because weeks after I experienced See You Next Tuesday, James started acting a fucking fool on television, backsliding into all his previous bad behavior. I now see I was simply seduced by fresh flowers, Mariah Carey cuts, and maybe just a little bit of hope for ol’ James Kennedy.