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Looks Like a Pump

Bravo star and international restaurateur Lisa Vanderpump talks about the trials of celebrity, the rewards of being an LGBT community advocate, and why she opened her latest lounge in West Hollywood.

Lisa Vanderpump may have gained TV notoriety on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, but this entrepreneur is more than a mere housewife. She recently opened Pump, a lounge ideally located to serve the gay community in LA’s West Hollywood; it’s her 27th venture with husband and business partner Ken Todd. Vanderpump is also involved with GLAAD, The Trevor Project and the LA Gay & Lesbian Center.

Congratulations on the opening of Pump Lounge! What did you want to accomplish with it?
You live in LA with a fantastic climate but very few spaces where you can sit outside without having a truck rushing by; I endeavored to create a garden that was like Provence. So the first thing I did was put up an 18-foot perimeter of trees to block out the industrial buildings and visuals I could see. … I always like when you step into a restaurant and feel as if you’ve been transported to somewhere else.

I love that you design your restaurants and lounges. What are some of your design influences?
My design aesthetic is very diverse. I love a kind of romance in a room: curtains, flowers, lighting, soft furnishing. I could live in a modern house as much as I could live in an old manor house like our home in England. I think one of the great designers is Ralph Lauren; I think he has impeccable taste. … I like that some people are brave and mix things up. In my house you’ll see an 18th-century statue and then just around the corner, a 1930s art deco bar. I don’t know why they’re not supposed to live together — but they do.

You have a quote up in Pump that reads, “June 26th: The Day California Came to its senses,” a reference to the day gay marriage became legal in the state again. Can you share a bit about your decision to include this in your design?
Look at how far the gay community has come in 10 years! Where will we be in the next 10? Hopefully we’ll take that word tolerance from our vocabulary and understand it’s about loving and supporting each other, whoever we are. I think I’m an incredibly important spokesperson for GLAAD because I speak as a heterosexual woman who’s been married for 32 years with two kids, and I have a voice [that speaks] to a lot of people of my generation.

How did you get involved in gay advocacy work?
It was a gradual progression. … It’s about people who struggle in life and need a voice. They need compassion, and they need to have the same opportunities as others. Ken and I have had gay clubs; we’ve had a lot of gay friends. It’s something I became passionate about, and I find it hard to understand why people are so judgmental.

What have you learned from working on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills?
I never understood when celebrities complained about the press, about the “hounding” of celebrities. I always figured that’s what they signed up for: Oh give me a break; it must be wonderful to have all of this attention and everything! But when everything you do is scrutinized and there are things written about you that aren’t true? I understand why people get irritated by it.

Did you enjoy this year’s White Party Palm Springs?
I was given the crown of the White Party a couple years ago and was given the Icon Award this year. I think it’s very flattering and it amuses me. I just see my flaws and try to be a better person. Maybe it’s the gay community’s way of saying, “Thank you for supporting us!” but I don’t think of myself as an icon. Maybe when I’m dead. [laughs]

Your Pomeranian, Giggy, has really become famous, hasn’t he?
He has like 90,000 followers on Twitter! He’s a little sex monster. I’ve always felt very protective of him, and people just really embraced him. He’s got very fragile skin because he’s lost all of his fur [due to alopecia]. He’s not supposed to be bald, so he doesn’t have that tough skin that an elephant or any other hairless dog would have — so he has to wear outfits or pajamas at all times.

I know Andy Cohen recently paid a visit to Pump. I bet you two have become close working on your Bravo shows over the past few years?
I love Andy. I felt he gave me a bit of a hard time at the [Real Housewives] reunion. He denied that but I still say he did and won’t let him get away with that one. Maybe he knows me well enough to know I can take it.

Can you tell me more about how you created the look and feel of PUMP?
First I put the ficus trees in as a hedge, and then big gates which I designed myself and lanterns to create a romantic feel, and then I craned in nine olive trees that are all a hundred years old. They’re like pieces of art, these olive trees, with thick trunks.They’re sort of Harry Potter-esque you know, with their own character. It’s a huge undertaking because you have to put in an underground watering system. Then I put in a gazebo with a beautiful melange of vintage chandeliers and everything was working together. Next I put in the cabanas with old reclaimed wood and created comfortable banquettes with damask pillows to make it feel authentic, like you were stepping into another part of the world.

How did you decide on West Hollywood as a location for PUMP?
LV: It all started when I inherited SUR. I walked in and met the owner at lunch and we ended up becoming partners. Ken and I needed … an investment visa here; so we ended up investing in it and then developing it. Then we took the flat next door, then [another and it became a big draw for people: it just developed and evolved. It’s not like you can just pick a place and say “oh I’m just going to open a place there. It can be hard to find the site. We were approached about the site for PUMP and I thought, “Well I can take that car park and turn it into a garden it could really be something else” — but it was certainly difficult.

I love that you chose Chopped-winner Penny Davidi is your Executive Chef.
Penny approached us. She had been on the Food Network, and I hadn’t heard of her, but I gave her the menu I wanted and she interpreted it. Everything has turned out well. Pump is a small restaurant, only 70-80 seats and a bar menu. It’s not like SUR, which might do anywhere from 300-500 covers a night. It’s very much a bar scene.

Do you get feedback on your work on behalf of the gay community?
This boy came up to me — he’s probably a man really, late twenties — and he said I changed his relationship to his mother. When I asked him how, he told me his mother has always looked up to me and admired my work on television, and she’s impressed how I’ve been married for so long and that I’m a big supporter of the gay community. When he came out, she didn’t really understand and got upset by it, then she turned to him and said: if [Lisa] can support it then she must try. That means the world to me — even that one person saying that to me validates everything I believe and have spoken about.

Are you involved in advocacy work beyond what you do for the gay community?
There are several causes I’m especially passionate about. Giggy is a spokesperson for the National Alopecia Areata Foundation because he has alopecia. I do think that as a celebrity —and I do use this word lightly — it’s important to bring a voice to causes like this. If you look at my Twitter feed, I rarely get into that nasty bitch-fest of tweeting that others fall into. That’s not what it’s about for me; I’m always retweeting positive causes and things I stand up for. I believe when you are coupled with celebrity and a public platform, you have a responsibility. I have a couple of things I feel strongly about: KMA Keep the Memory Alive, which is committed to improving the lives of patients and families navigating through brain disorders like Alzheimer’s. We need to put resources into Alzheimers research. We need to make the world a better place.

Why do you feel marriage equality is so important?
It doesn’t make any sense to my why two people who love each other cannot be afforded the same rights that other people that love each other. What difference does it make? … Marriage is about celebrating and solidifying love. … If two people want to do that, then I don’t think we should stop them.

How did you initially decide to join the cast of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills?
I was approached. I was quite popular in Beverly Hills because of Villa Blanca which was one of the top restaurants in Beverly Hills, and at the time I lived in Beverly Park. I was a natural person that would be approached. The first couple of times I thought, “Oh no, that’s not something I would want to do,” and so I didn’t go in for it. And then they approached me again and I still wasn’t sure about it. At the very end of casting I ended up going in and they wanted to come to my house and ended up filming, and it turned into a wonderful journey — apart from the last season, which was a bit of a nightmare for me.

You’ve been filming the new season of Vanderpump Rules. Do you have any hopes for this season?
Let’s see where the kids take us, they’re unpredictable, and this is the fun journey. They already seem to be in a muddle, so to speak.

Will PUMP play a big part in the new season?
Not too much, really. I don’t want people to see they’re going to a restaurant or a bar that’s just on a reality show. My reality is, of course, that I’m there. If there are meetings or talks at PUMP, they’ll happen there, of course, but that would be when we’re closed.

Tell me more about Giggy, I understand you recently adopted his father.
Oh I did, and I’m just as obsessed with him…. When we got [Giggy], we were devastated. When you have Alopecia Areata you don’t just lose clumps of hair or fur, you lose it everywhere. He lost all of his fur, apart from his head, and I have to dress him up. He’s tiny and his legs aren’t protected with any fur; so I end up carrying him everywhere. We make him do exercise for about a half hour every day, but he still likes to be carried, of course; so we’ll walk him one way and then carry him the rest of the way home. He’s also done his fair share of work with children with Alopecia. He’s one of the most recognized dogs in the world. When I bring him to the younger children, I ask them if they think he is cuter or would be cuter with fur and they always say, “No, we love him the way he is!” Then I say, “It’s the same for you; that’s who you are.” This brings some levity to the children with this condition. We hope to find a cure for it one day. Giggy has a sense of humor; he tweets but I help him with his spelling. Andy Cohen has created this little sex monster.

Tell me more about Andy.
I think he’s very bright and innovative, I love his talk show and think he has created something different in the late night market. His show feels unpredictable and off the cuff, it’s something we haven’t heard before. He’s smart enough to handle anything that’s thrown at him. He’s always been very supportive of me. I love the fact that he also has an incredible love for dogs as well, he has a dog now, “Wacha.” I also find him very attractive. If he was a straight man yes, I definitely think… Well, I don’t think he has to be straight to find him attractive. I find him to be bright, funny, and driven. He’s also a kind man, and I have a lot of respect for him. He’s given me a lot of opportunities and I couldn’t be more thankful. Sometimes he has a tough job with dealing with all these women at [Housewives] reunions but he really tries to be fair when it’s difficult. I’ve done his show for some time now and he certainly has the wherewithall and wit.

Learn more by visiting lisavanderpump.com.

By Jeffrey James Keyes

Metrosource is a glossy lifestyle and entertainment magazine geared towards the modern metropolitan gay community. Metrosource has three editions: New York, Los Angeles and National. For more great articles like this, subscribe here or download Metrosource for iPad, iPhone, Android and Kindle.

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