L.A.'s Party King

updated 08/22/2005 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/22/2005 01:00AM

Brent Bolthouse knows all the tricks desperate scenesters try to get into his parties. "I've had people call and say, 'Hey, it's Nic Cage, calling to put my friend on the list,'" says Bolthouse, who relishes handling such calls personally. "I'll get on the phone and say, 'Hey, Nic! What's up? It's Brent. What's going on?'" Pause. "Click."

Want to get on that list? It helps if your last name is Aguilera or DiCaprio or—better yet—you don't need a last name. In a town where the young and famous flock to a different hot spot each night of the week—if it's Monday, it must be I Candy—the low-key Bolthouse, 35, reigns over much of the calendar. Overseeing the guest list, the music, the drinks and every detail of the vibe, he's hired to produce private parties (he did Lindsay Lohan's 18th birthday and Dave Navarro's bachelor bash) and create white-hot nights at L.A. clubs including LAX, Concorde and Spider Club, as well as Las Vegas's Body English. "He throws the best parties," says Paris Hilton. "He's always making sure everyone's having a great time."

Yet Bolthouse, with his Converse sneakers and skater-dude demeanor, is an unlikely club king. For starters, he has been sober 18 years since struggling with alcohol and drugs as a teen. "I think God has a sense of humor," he says. "He makes the sober guy the person that throws parties." Raised in Joshua Tree, Calif., Bolthouse says he started drinking out of boredom in fifth grade; by junior high he was doing crystal meth. "I was a mess," he says. "I would disappear for days at a time." He entered rehab at 16. "I was tired of getting high," he says. "I didn't like the way it made me feel. I went to my parents and asked for help."

After working jobs pumping gas and cutting hair, he was recruited by friends to help with an L.A. nightclub in 1989 and discovered a knack for making connections and generating buzz. He soon struck up his business, Brent Bolthouse Productions.

A notable success: He met his fiancée, model Emma Heming, after helping her organize a friend's bachelorette party. And for once, he's letting someone else do the party-planning honors. "I did my engagement party," he says, "but I don't want to do my wedding. Too stressful."

Michelle Tauber. Kwala Mandel in LA.

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