Los Angeles Times, March 31, 2006
By James Verini
If you’ve been out in L.A. lately, it’s not unlikely that you’ve seen this: a weird rectangular, purple-shaded bottle of vodka sitting on a reserved table or behind the bar, and on the bottle Jimi Hendrix’s face and his stringy Spider From Mars afro. And near the bottle a tall, very blond, very voluble guy, talking to someone about his newest venture. That someone is probably nodding in browbeaten amazement.
Every few months, L.A. nightlife is overrun by an upstart boutique vodka, ranging in quality from pretty good to, well, pretty good: For a while it was Belvedere, and then Svedka was ubiquitous, and then everyone and their mother was drinking Effen vodka. If you’ve ever wondered how this happens, the man to watch right now is Craig Dieffenbach (the very blond guy). A 44-year-old Seattle entrepreneur and lifelong Hendrix adulator who made his fortune in real estate and the Internet, Dieffenbach has been pushing free cases of his Hendrix Electric brand vodka — which is pretty good — at every party and club he can find.
“I love this job!” Dieffenbach blurted out, presiding over a table at an L.A. Fashion Week party he was sponsoring (the term is “pouring,” as in “we’re pouring at that party”). Paris Hilton was standing a few feet away, possibly drinking his vodka. “All I do is go to parties. We did the L.A. Confidential Oscars party and everybody came. Everybody. [Philip] Seymour Hoffman came. Great actor. And who’s that guy, um, ah, he — oh, Dennis Hopper! Dennis Hopper. I love that guy. ‘Blue Velvet’? I saw him on the red carpet and I said, ‘Hey Dennis’ ” — Dieffenbach put his hands to his face and inhaled deeply, like Hopper’s creepy oxygen-huffing character in the film “Blue Velvet” — “Hey, Dennis, check it out.”
There’d been the New Year’s parties, then the Oscar parties, then the Fashion Week parties. Dieffenbach was staying in a suite at the Wyndham Bel Age and rolling around town in an enormous Hummer limousine. He has yet to hire a publicist, so at the moment Dieffenbach is (with the late Hendrix, of course) the face of Hendrix Electric.
” ‘Entertainment Tonight’ couldn’t even get in. They hired a private plane to get there and couldn’t even get into the party. I met everybody. We, listen to this, we put 900 people on gondolas” — Dieffenbach, who was recounting an Aspen New Year’s party at which Hendrix Electric had poured, whooshed his hands through the air like a skiers’ gondola — “and brought them all to the top of a 12,500-foot peak, and we partied down!”
The Saturday after the Fashion Week party, Dieffenbach was holding court in the lounge at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills. He’d just come from a party at the Friars Club where Hendrix Electric was, yes, pouring. He was wearing a blue pinstripe suit, no tie, and champing at the bit. Across the couch was Kaptain, the man behind something called “bubble leather” (Sly of Sly and the Family Stone was outfitted in it at the Grammys), who’d been introducing Dieffenbach around town.
“He changed his name legally to Kaptain,” Dieffenbach explained, before Kaptain could. “No last name. This guy rocks!”
On a video iPod, Kaptain was showing off pictures of the latest bubble leather product, the waterproof bubble leather bikini.
“I’m all about the future, you know?” said Kaptain, who was wearing black bubble leather pants and a long black bubble leather coat, and referring to himself in the third person. “What’s Kaptain doing now?”
In the 1990s, Dieffenbach got in tight with Hendrix’s brother, Leon, and late father, Al. According to Dieffenbach, in 2002 he joined with them in a lawsuit involving a rival faction of the Hendrix family. He put up several million dollars for legal fees and in exchange got to share in the rights to the Hendrix name. He considered a Hendrix water and a fruit drink, Jimi Juice, but decided on vodka.
“It’s like drinking with Jimi. The drunker you get, the more you think you’re with him.”
At the Four Seasons, two women had joined Dieffenbach and Kaptain. Around midnight, a limo arrived — not the Hummer, to Dieffenbach’s dismay — and everyone packed in. There was nothing to drink in the minibar, also to his dismay, so Dieffenbach lighted a cigarette, flicked ashes into a goblet and gushed about his daughter, Giovanna Giselle, 9. He’s been single since he split from her mother six years ago. “I was engaged to a woman in Moldova, but almost got shot,” he said wistfully. “They tried to kidnap her every time we went out.”
The limo arrived at a party being held at a garage-themed salon and day spa in West L.A. A few dozen bored-looking people were standing around. There was a big Hendrix Electric poster next to the bar. Dieffenbach ordered a Hendrix Electric and soda and put a $100 bill in the bartenders’ tip jar. The party soon wound down, though not before Dieffenbach got business cards from a Swedish diplomat and a masseuse, both blond.
“Fake … irritates me,” he said, referring, it seemed, to the blond hair. “I can’t stand it. Also, I love brunettes. I haven’t dated a blond in I can’t tell you how long.”
At close to 2 a.m., everyone piled back into the limo, which the driver had stocked with bottles of Patron tequila and Grey Goose Vodka. No Hendrix Electric, though.
When the limo arrived back at the Four Seasons, the bar was closing. Dieffenbach had a long few weeks ahead of him. Hendrix Electric would be pouring at director Bret Ratner’s birthday party, a Spanish-language TV awards show, an Emmys party. There was a beverage industry conference in Las Vegas. He had to get back to Seattle and hire staff. He was thinking of buying a house in L.A. Then there was the whole question of whether, after all the parties were done — many of which he has to pay to pour at; sometimes as much as a $150,000 for a single event — anyone would actually sell his vodka.
But Dieffenbach wasn’t tired. He was going to go back to the Bel Age with Kaptain to find some fun.
As he walked outside, a petite brunette approached. .
“Craig,” she said, “your vodka’s everywhere. I love it!”
“Thanks. It’s great to see you again,” Dieffenbach replied.
They chatted for a minute and then the girl drove off.
“Who was that?” he asked.
“I have no idea,” Kaptain said.