A-listers flock to this famed nightclub for ice-cold Dom Perignon, performances by iconic artists like Snoop Dogg, and a varied guestlist ranging from football stars to filmmakers.
Rihanna, dressed in a silvery top with a white pencil skirt, poses next to Jean-Roch Pedri, who is wearing a black t-shirt with a roaring-dog print. He founded the VIP Room in Saint-Tropez in 1997, and since then he’s been photographed with numerous celebrities.
They have all made a summer pilgrimage to the jet set destination, club-hopping to flashing neon lights and the beats of aspiring DJs, surrounded by icy cold buckets of the finest French champagne.
The long list of guests includes pretty much every major fashion designer, as well as actors, models, singers and influencers such as Paris Hilton, Jared Leto, Cara Delevingne and Jay-Z. After all of France’s nightclubs were forced to close in the spring of 2020 due to the pandemic, the French government finally decided the doors were allowed to reopen in July.
For Jean-Roch, who had been pleading for a rapid reopening of the country’s nightclubs, the decision was a great relief.
“What I missed most last year was to see that joy in people’s eyes—the exchange between people; all the youth who gather for dance and music,” he tells us. Maybe it’s not so strange that a summer without VIP Room made such an impression on him. The nightclub world has shaped his life since his teens.
Jean-Roch, the son of Italian immigrants, grew up in a working-class neighborhood in the southern French city of Toulon. Early on, he started playing football and dreamed of a career as a professional player. But the plans were overturned when he was 16 and his father passed away.
Together with his younger brother Dominique, he took over his father’s cabaret bar, which they turned into a nightclub. It opened in 1985 and was named La Scala, after the famous opera house in Milan. Jean-Roch alternated between being a DJ and serving the guests. The experience whetted his appetite, and he soon looked towards Saint-Tropez, which since the ’50s had emerged as one of the Riviera’s hottest seaside resorts for “the rich, famous and beautiful.”
The year was 1989 when Jean-Roch, now 23, got an offer to take over the operation of the bar in the back room of a chic restaurant, L’Escale, in Saint-Tropez. One day at the beach, he came across Elton John and gave him a card for Hystéria, as he had named the bar.
When the British pop singer and his entourage arrived shortly afterwards in a pair of Aston Martins, rumors about Jean-Roch’s abilities began to spread. A few years later he became artistic director of the then legendary club Papagayo (today transformed into thinique, he took the plunge and started his very own club at the port of Saint-Tropez: VIP Room.
“For me, Saint-Tropez has always been a magical place and a great source of inspiration,” he says. “It was a fishing village that became a world destination; here is the sun, the sea, the glamor and a platform that does not exist anywhere else on Earth.”
A year later, they opened VIP Room in Paris, first on the Champs-Élysées and then on the Rue de Rivoli, but closed the location in the spring of 2020. For a couple of years, the club was also in Monte Carlo, and it opens for two weeks each year during the film festival in Cannes.
In addition, the license for the name and concept VIP Room has been sold to ventures in Dubai and New York, among other places. The flagship club in Saint-Tropez is open from from Easter to early October when the extravagant Mediterranean regatta Les Voiles de Saint-Tropez ends—and most of the guests are from abroad.
“The club in Saint-Tropez has always been Jean-Roch’s baby,” says Batchou, the VIP Room’s one-named manager. “The town is very dear to him. He came here and knew no one but gradually built up a network of contacts.
With performers like Snoop Dogg, VIP Room suddenly got international attention.” Both Batchou and Jean-Roch are onsite every night making sure that regulars get to sit at their favorite tables and have everything they want. “Jean-Roch is a master of creating international contacts and ensuring that the guests shine,” as Batchou puts it.
During his 15 years at VIP Room, has amassed over 5,000 phone numbers from regulars from around the world. In April, ahead of the season, he sends personal messages to them all; then bookings start coming in. “A mixture of people comes to us, from football players and businessmen to politicians and filmmakers,” he says, but points out that you do not necessarily have to be rich or famous to be accepted.
“A girl who works in a shoe store in Saint-Tropez can also come in, if she is well dressed and has a good spirit,” he notes. “We want people inside the club who contribute to a festive atmosphere.” Although VIP Room is a huge seller of champagne from Dom Pérignon, Batchou has witnessed how different drinks have trended over time. In the past few years, ice cold tequila shots have “almost become the new champagne,” he says.
Ahead of the pandemic summer of 2020, Jean-Roch decided to save the season by renovating their Italian restaurant La Gioia – “joy” in Italian and also the name of his eldest daughter – which is next door to the club. With the metamorphosis, La Gioia has become a mix of bar, restaurant and disco, with upholstery in green velvet, white tablecloths and dim lighting. On the walls hangs art by the likes of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring.
After dinner the restaurant goes into a party mood and the pianist and singer are replaced by a DJ, not infrequently their house DJ, Sylvain Armand.
“The updated La Gioia is modern, with elements from around the world,” Jean-Roch tells us. “It is not bling-bling but more sensitive and refined—a tribute to la dolce vita.” New for this year is also a Greek restaurant, OPA, on top of the VIP Room, as well as Les Halles de Saint-Tropez, a kind of upscale food hall located at the back of the club, open during the day. Just like La Gioia, the VIP Room itself has “matured” in recent years, says Jean-Roch.
“When VIP Room was born just over 20 years ago, we were the kings of hip hop,” he says. “Now we have moved towards a more atmospheric deep house.” And while the pandemic may have struck like a slap in the face to both nightclub owners and party animals around the globe, Jean-Roch is optimistic about the future. He even thinks we could see an updated version of the roaring ’20’s—“les années folles”.
“I believe we are facing an exceptional era, that we will return to the party for the sake of the party,” he pronounces. “After the pandemic there will be a hunger for magic, seduction, pleasure and dance; we are longing for the extraordinary.”