Las Vegas New Year’s Eve: To Dance

Headliners of all stripes and styles are seizing the moment to take stages all around town, and that includes several major hotel performances. Whether they’re opening a hot new nightclub or just partying with old friends, musicians all over the city want to make it a night to remember.

At the Cosmopolitan, the legendary Stevie Wonder is kicking off 2012 at the Chelsea, while a potential heir to the piano crooner throne John Legend will be onstage at The Pearl at the Palms, followed by an afterparty at Moon. Also on piano, Bruno Mars is playing The Bank at the Bellagio, while Chris Brown’s show at Pure at Caesar’s Palace will be set to the backdrop of the Strip’s fireworks show. And throwback alert: Vanessa Williams will be taking the stage at the Riviera, performing her favorite old R&B hits.

The rockers of Guns N’ Roses are finishing off their farewell tour with a two and a half hour set at The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel—singer/rapper Drake will kick off 2012 with a performance the following day. If you like your rock a little more alt, Franky Perez is playing a set at Rocks Lounge at the Red Rock Hotel; their other venues are hosting DJ BKNY at Lucky Bar, and Latin dance group Toto Zara at Onyx. Turntables more your speed? Steve Angello (the house DJ and one-third of DJ trio Swedish House Mafia will be spinning all night at XS Nightclub at Encore. And if “Party Rock” is your anthem of the year, LMFAO is coming to Haze at Aria for the midnight show.

In clubland, House of Blues at Mandalay Bay goes punk for the evening, with performances by Old Man Markley and NOFX, while producer and rapper B.o.B. takes over LAX at the Luxor. Poptart Fergie opens up the new outpost of 1OAK at the Mirage, while bandmate Will.i.am is spinning at Surrender at Encore with DJ Ammo. And for one of the biggest tickets of the night, R&B goddess Mary J. Blige opens RPM Nightclub at the Tropicana. Many VIP packages have already sold out, but the hotels are planning on making these concerts a party—even the cheap seats are sure to come along with a good time.

If you haven’t had enough (or, let’s face it, are still up the next day) dance out your hangover at Hyde, the new club opening at the Bellagio at 5pm on Jan. 1 with DJ88 spinning, snacks from Circo, and a special show by DJ Paul Oakenfold.

Jesse Waits on Las Vegas’ Electronic Renaissance

In a city built on excess, Las Vegas’ XS nightclub raised the bar. I once described it as the Godzilla of nightclubs. That was meant as a positive description. Jesse Waits remains firmly in charge of this Wynn hotel mega-masterpiece. He has weathered the competition, the daily grind, and other distractions, which might have dampened the spirits of a lesser man.

XS has won a ton of nightclub awards, but in Vegas, the bottom line is the bottom line. XS is a moneymaker on a scale unforeseen before its entry into the fray. Jesse Waits took Vegas to another level, and is here to talk about improving the perfect storm of accolades, fun, and moneymaking he helped create. The pairing of Vegas-style service with huge international DJs brings a sort of undeniable credibility to Nevada’s wonderland. The residencies of world class DJs at the club add another layer of excitement to a city that seemed to have an excess of it already.

What brought the shift of marketing strategies to focus more on electronic artists? I’ve been a fan of electronic music for some time now, and it’s something I’ve been closely keeping my eye on, from both a personal interest and business perspective. The shift of focus for our marketing efforts came solely based on demand. We experimented with bookings for a while, and once we saw the return, we knew this was where our attention needed to lie, on bringing in the biggest and best talent in the world to XS. What can club-goers expect when they see one of these performers? Electrifying energy. It’s all about the exhilarating atmosphere when we have an electronic headliner performing. I walk on stage and look out on the dance floor, and everyone is absolutely entranced, dancing in synchronization to the beats, exuding pure bliss as they let these DJs take them on a journey throughout the evening. Who is the game changer right now? I think Tiesto and Deadmau5 are the two superstars right now. I love what Afrojack is bringing to the scene, and I see a lot of potential in R3HAB, who is a major talent on the rise. What kind of crowds are you seeing (numbers-wise) when booking these artists? On a busy weekend, XS will pull in about 7,000 people a night. We have focused on bringing in a lot of these artists to our Sunday Night Swim and Monday industry night parties. On what would normally be an off-night, we’re pulling in close to the same numbers as a Friday or Saturday during our busy season. For holiday weekends like Memorial Day, we packed our lineup with A-Trak on Friday, Afrojack on Saturday, Deadmau5 on Sunday, and Feed Me on Monday. The reaction from fans was like nothing we’ve ever seen before and blew every other holiday weekend completely out of the water. Do you think this genre is facing the same push into the mainstream as rock ‘n roll in the ’70s or hip-hop in the ’80s? DJs are the new rock stars. They’re going through the exact push we saw with hip-hop in the ’80s. They are taking it mainstream, collaborating with everyone from Black Eyed Peas to Rihanna. We had Afrojack perform the night after he won a Grammy for his remix of Madonna’s “Revolver” with David Guetta, and it felt like a historic moment to celebrate in the club. What kind of reaction do you see when announcing a new performer? When we have major announcements on new performers, we like to push it through social media first, so our fans and followers feel that they have an insider’s advantage. We announced that Deadmau5 was going to be performing at our two year anniversary in February, and he was trending on Twitter in Las Vegas within an hour and a half. When we broke the news he’d be back for Memorial Day Weekend, it was 45 minutes. Nevada leads the country in Twitter usage, so obviously to have something like that trending, it’s a major topic of discussion. Where do you see this going in the future? The genre is only going to get bigger. We saw the popularity first explode through dance music, but now that there is interest, the fans are really ready to explore further. When Deadmau5 performed over Memorial Day, the crowd went crazy when he transitioned into a dubstep set. The enthusiasts only want to hear more, know more, and experience more at this point. They’re hooked. What does an event like Electric Daisy moving into the city do for the credibility of the scene? When North America’s largest electronic music festival decides Las Vegas is where it needs to be, it gives major credibility to what the nightlife scene has been building over the past year. The Insomniac team saw that the interest was here, and the city was ready, and having a festival in Las Vegas made a lot of sense logistically. But more than anything, it just goes to show that what we’ve been building and working on with these artists was absolutely the right strategy and investment for our venues. Are old spaces being retrofitted for sound proofing and new ones engineered with sound isolation? Wynn and Encore are more recent developments that took into account sound when developing the nightlife venues inside the hotels. How does a casino determine revenues from a club? Are projected incomes from nearby restaurants, rooms, and other services figured into value evaluations of a clubs bottom line? XS and Tryst naturally have a higher-end clientele because they are located inside Five Star, Five Diamond resorts at Wynn and Encore. The revenue from the nightclub is completely separate, and our venues have really excelled in offering immaculate service and innovative marketing to attract these customers. Since opening, XS has been voted the #1 nightclub in the country on Nightclub & Bar’s Top 100 contest consecutively, both years of operation based on revenue. Tryst came in this year in the #9 spot as well.

When Bachelor Parties and Las Vegas Come Together

The trickiest thing about writing a recap of a Las Vegas bachelor party is remembering the details. My original plan involved tattooing myself throughout the night à la Guy Pearce in Memento, to help jog my booze-ravaged memory the next morning. But after the first night there, I awoke (next to my half-naked friend) with the words “insane” tattooed on my forehead, “cleavage” on my chin, and “break up with my not-a-VIP-hostess girlfriend as soon as I get home” on my finger. So, scratch that idea.

Instead of providing a recap of a scandalous weekend in sunny Las Vegas, I’d like for you to use this as a primer when deciding what clubs, restaurants, and hotels to hit while celebrating one of your buddies usually ill-conceived plunges into adulthood.

The key to planning the ultimate Vegas ex-stag-aganza with a handful of your closest friends is locking down the perfect place to stay. The Vegas strip is teeming with the country’s most prominent pot-bellied vermin, and your hotel will be your reprieve from all things named “Rusty.” Nineteen of the world’s twenty-five largest hotels can be found on the strip, but bigger isn’t always better. For better, go with The Wynn or Encore, two adjacent towers that are the sleekest on the strip, and, combined, hold more Forbes five-star awards than any other casino-resort in the world. Steve Wynn’s opulent pleasure palaces are an orgiastic mix of Asian influences, thick greenery, and top-of-the-line luxury that will satisfy top-level executives and testosterone-fueled meatheads alike.

Owner Steve Wynn has made sure that guests won’t have to ever leave the sprawling premises to experience the best that Vegas has to offer. For the necessary group dinner where you and your boys make one last-ditch attempt to convince the groom-to-be that he’s throwing his life away, try Botero, the steakhouse inspired by Fernando Botero — a Colombian figurative artist for all you philistines). Though Botero does a mean surf, come here for the turf. With the exception of Miss Piggy in a thong, Botero is a carnivore’s ultimate wet dream.

After the symbolic last meal, it’s time to get your drink on, and luckily The Wynn/Encore is home to Tryst and XS, two of the hottest nightclubs in Vegas. Owned by prolific nightlife impresario Victor Drai and his managing partners Cy and Jesse Waits, these pleasure dens are all about spectacle. Tryst features a lake in its center with a breathtaking, illuminated waterfall, perfect for the inevitable Facebook profile picture. But if Tryst is spectacular, then XS is downright mind-melting. The 40,000-square-foot behemoth has been called “the Godzilla of nightclubs” by our very own Steve Lewis, and the place lives up to its name. Extravagant without being cheesy, XS extends out into Encore’s pool area, and if you’re willing to drop the necessary coin, that’s where your booth should be.

Once every big-haired floozy in town is done downing all your Patron, head to Drai’s, which is located in the basement of the nondescript (by Vegas standards) Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon. If you follow her on Twitter, you’ll know this is where Paris Hilton heads after her bathroom antics get her thrown out of everywhere else. But if the fall-over-drunk crowd at Drai’s isn’t showing you and your friends any love—and with that shirt, why would they?—we have just the place for you: Rick’s Cabaret has had a stranglehold on the Gentleman’s Club industry for years, and its Las Vegas location is its mecca. There’s no better place to lessen the blow of a night’s worth of rejections than at this silicone sanctuary located a stone’s throw from the strip.

For the ultimate Rick’s experience, have their party bus pick your crew up from anywhere in the city and take you directly to the club, for what will surely be a night of you giving beautiful women money, and them giving you false hope in return. Just make sure your friends don’t leave without you. The walk from Rick’s to your hotel is long, lonely, and cactus-filled. At least that’s what the tattoo on my inner thigh said.

Cy and Jesse Waits, Two of a Kind

“It’s the Godzilla of nightclubs.” That was the reaction of our nightlife guru Steve Lewis when I asked him about XS, the mega club at casino maven Steve Wynn’s Encore hotel in Las Vegas. But unlike the fictional Japanese monster who stomped on citizens and cities with uncontrollable glee, XS is a tightly controlled, carefully calculated environment designed to redefine nightlife and provide customers with the ultimate Vegas experience. As Lewis later put it, “This is the machine.”

The operators of this machine (which at $100 million, makes it one of the most expensive nightclubs ever built), are identical twin brothers Cy and Jesse Waits. Growing up in a dusty Southern California town, they had no inkling that by the age of 34, they’d be sitting atop one of the biggest nightlife empires in the country. But that’s exactly where the brothers find themselves, after forging a lasting partnership with legendary club impresario and film producer Victor Drai on a number of amazingly successful endeavors, including XS, Tryst nightclub at the Wynn, Drai’s after hours inside Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall and Saloon, and Drai’s Hollywood, which recently opened in the W Hollywood. “We grew up in such a small town, I never even thought I’d meet anyone that I saw on TV,” says Cy, who now schmoozes on the regular with stars from the film, music, and sports worlds.

So how did the Waits’ find themselves at the forefront of West Coast nightlife? After all, there isn’t a school that teaches you how to master the inner workings of a mega club. The answer is experience. Growing up, they were the kids in the neighborhood who threw the house parties. “We were always trying to make everyone comfortable, making sure everyone is set up and feeling good about themselves,” says Cy. “We were the social butterflies, walking around and getting everyone’s input.” Jesse was the first one to move to Vegas, leaving the sleepy beaches of Hawaii for the blinding lights and monolithic hotels of the Strip. There, he cut his teeth at some of the city’s best clubs, excelling at everything from bartending to promoting. Soon, he was joined by Cy, who initially planned to work in the industry for a year, before returning to California to pursue other endeavors. But Las Vegas is a revenue beast, with billions of dollars being sucked up by its nightlife and entertainment industries, and Cy quickly realized the boundless opportunity a partnership with his brother could bring. “We started from the bottom up. We did everything in the nightclub business so we get it. We understand the aspect of what it takes to bartend or what the door guy goes through. We get it,” he says.

Eventually, Jesse found himself managing the popular Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay, where they met Victor Drai. “We just kind of befriended each other,” says Jesse. “He was just a nice guy who would buy bottles. We started hanging out as friends and eventually, after three years of knowing him, decided to join him at Drai’s After Hours.”

Their big break came when La Bete, hotelier Steve Wynn’s first nightclub, failed to do the kind of business necessary to succeed in Vegas’ cutthroat landscape. “It was designed poorly for a nightclub,” says Jesse. “Their structure, management, and promotional team was not as well thought out as it should have been. To run a nightclub, it takes more personality than it does a corporate structure.” Drai and the twins stepped in, and after redesigning and rebranding the club, Tryst was born. Around the mid-aughts, Tryst nightclub at the Wynn rose to become Vegas’ premiere nightlife destination. (You might recall the infamous night when a pantless Britney Spears’ partied with Paris Hilton. That happened at Tryst. “It was pretty bizarre, she was asking for the attention” says Jesse.) With a hundred-foot waterfall cascading over the dancefloor, the never-seen-that-before opulence of Tryst was only the beginning.

image The waterfall at Tryst. image XS.

It’s difficult to fully grasp the scope of XS without experiencing it for yourself. Both Jesse and Cy seemed at a loss for words when trying to convey its epicness. They both told me it’s something I need to see to believe. At 40,000 square feet, XS is such a behemoth, it effectively stole its sister club’s clientele. “It’s a black hole, basically,” says Jesse, “not just for our business, but everybody’s business.” Indeed, as far as most are concerned, the extravagance on display at XS will be difficult to match. Lewis, who’s been designing nightclubs for over a decade, went as far as calling it “the best nightclub in the country.” With a capacity of 4,000, XS is designed with a high style and to allow a particular flow so that it never feels crowded. “It was not another building that we renovated to make into a nightclub. It was built for that purpose,” says Jesse.

XS’ unabashed extravagance is best bottled up (pun intended) in the Ono Cocktail, which, if ordered, is the equivalent of drinking liquid gold. Invented by Cy, the drink is more a muscle flex than a thirst quencher. When someone orders one, the XS staff makes sure the whole club knows it. At $10,000, it’s composed of Charles Heidsieck champagne and Louis XIII de Remy Martin Black Pearl cognac, and each glass comes with gold XS cufflinks for the men, and a black pearl. “I would say we have sold at least 12 or 15 of them in a year. I mean that’s pretty good for a cocktail that’s $10,000,” says Cy.

The twins admit the look of the place is mostly thanks to Victor Drai’s distinct vision. He’s the mastermind, they say. “He doesn’t think about how it’s going to work, all he focuses on is the look and flow,” says Cy. All of Drai’s spots are created to look like lush, dense paradises that avoid any tawdriness. Drai’s After Hours in Vegas is dotted with red velvet couches, leopard print carpeting, and Tamara de Lempicka prints. It all stems from his trailblazing sense of style. “He was popping his collar long before anybody else was doing it,” says Cy. “He’s got his boots and his swagger. He’s amazing. You have a conversation with him and you’d be surprised he’s 65. It feels like he’s 22.”

But after 12 years in the nightclub industry, the Waits brothers have also developed a sixth sense for what makes a club work. Once Drai has exercised his particular brand of showmanship on the place, Cy and Jesse will work on the club’s personality. They’re after the little things, the details customers don’t notice, but nevertheless that enhance their experience. Says Cy, “We’ll sit down in booths and make sure everything is comfortable. Everything needs to have a feeling to it. Where are the table sides? How big is the booth? How far are your knees from the ground? How many stripper poles should there be?”

Once the club is open, it’s the twins’ job to make sure it has legs. And, like any cohesive partnership, they’ve adapted and split their duties to play to their particular strengths. As Jesse tells it, he’s on the “marketing” side of things. He’s at the door every night greeting clients, whether it’s the governor of Nevada or someone looking to spend their roulette winnings on a bottle of Goose. At a club with thousands of people, personal attention from its top personnel can make nights. That’s what Jesse, and to some degree his brother, provide. He sees himself as the club’s diplomat, on the front lines with the clientele. Cy, on the other hand, thinks of himself as the problem solver, the fix-it guy. He handles the staff and ensures all the cogs of the machine are running in unison. Neither brother is ever without his BlackBerry, except while practicing martial arts.

Cy and Jesse are constantly traveling between their permanent homes in Vegas (they live in mansions on a golf course, Cy on the 8th hole, Jesse on the 2nd) and their temporary ones L.A. (they have neighboring penthouses at the W). Cy had eighty thousand tons of sand installed in his yard, a personal beach in the middle of the desert. Both brothers have multiple motorcycles, the product of a riding, hippie father of the Easy Rider ilk. They’ve made several Most Eligible Bachelor lists, although Jesse is now in a long term relationship with former Playmate of the Year, Jayde Nicole. They rarely, if ever, drink. Their sobriety is part dedication to a healthy lifestyle, but also, it’s impossible to control a nightlife empire after you’ve had seven gin and tonics.

Most siblings have a competitive edge, but for identical twins, that edge is sharpened. “When we were kids, it used to be who can throw the biggest rock through the window,” says Cy. That they work so closely together is an achievement, even if they admit to butting heads occasionally. “It’s war sometimes,” Cy says. “A couple of years ago, there were times when we almost got into fist fights over the most ridiculous things. We’ve gotten past that. When we first started working together again, we were in each other’s face. If Jesse’s really emotional about something, or I’m really emotional about something, one of us will just back off and we’ll just not talk for a few days until we cool down, and then it’s like nothing ever happened.”

Adds his brother, “The best thing about working with my brother is that out of anybody I know, I can trust him because he has my best interest at heart. If anything went down, I know that he would protect me and back me one hundred percent. And in a work environment where people are constantly trying to move up, that’s hard to find.”

Can Small Clubs Make Real Bank?

On my trip to Vegas the power of the strategic group machine was evident. Tao Vegas and Lavo, on back to back nights, packed a formidable wallop. The same one felt every night in associated New York venues. Avenue is still there and so is doing it, doing it and doing it well Marquee. The ability to service clients, especially those that spend big bucks in both New York and sin city, sets strategic groups above the rest. Tao New York as well as Stanton Social Club and other properties provide multiple cross promotion possibilities. It is difficult to see how any stand-alone nightlife entity can compete in New York without this outside revenue and marketing boost.

The Andre Balazs properties operate differently, but it can be argued provide similar opportunities. As I mentioned the other day, while attending a party in my honor at the Chateau Marmont, I noticed Leonardo Dicaprio playing backgammon at a nearby table. I heard that he had recently been spotted at Andre’s ever booming 18th floor at the Standard. The ability to service a celebrity as they jet set between cities like New York and LA or Miami is an advantage the real players feel they must have. In the summer, the clubs will create Hamptons outposts to ensure that when the season is over VIPs return to the fold. You basically have 16 days to pay for a year’s rent, insurance, wear and tear and financing, not to mention day to day operating costs. That’s 16 real days out of 365 and that reality doesn’t consider cold spells or rain. You can’t really make money, but you can stay real close to those who butter your bread year round.

Going forward can a stand-alone club generate enough money or publicity or marketing momentum to compete with clubs located in hotels where rent, security and publicity? Electricity and other expenses are absorbed by the large chains. It’s becoming more and more important for food and beverage to drive hotels. Wouldn’t the Standard be just standard if not for the publicity and beautiful folk its restaurants and clubs attract?

Eric Goode and Sean Macpherson seem to understand and succeed in letting the f and b drive their properties. Would the Maritime be worth a mention if not for Hiro and Matsuri? Would the Bowery Hotel be more than a flop house without Gemma and the Lobby Bar? Would the Jane be anything but a youth hostel without the major hype of the Jane Ballroom? Would Ian Schrager’s Grammercy Park raise an eyebrow if not for Rose Bar? The small hipster lounges will somehow pay rent, salaries and other expenses by being “off the beaten path” or non-corporate alternatives, but will these operators actually make loot without the hotel connection or a viable franchise in sister markets? How will they pay their bills, let alone thrive?

Places like Lit or Beatrice will always bring home some bacon and will generate volumes of press, but the big clubs with Vegas, Miami and LA partners will have much larger revenue streams. My home will always be in the smaller, hipper places where advanced forms of music and alternative ideas can flourish outside the mentality of the hotel chain, but I spend about 11 dollars a year going out. The pools, outdoor terraces and decks of the hotels turn summer, which traditionally melted club’s bottom lines, into a season of prosperity. Rumor has it that the roof of the Ganesvoort grossed close to 200k on weekend afternoons during the hot months. With the publicity generating Provocateur now open on the lower level, the hotel is a home run.

The future of clubs will be in hotels. Hotels receive an almost automatic liquor license. This has been challenged of late, as seen in the problem Todd English ran into at his community board hearing for the new hotel on Bond street. In most cases, obtaining licensing will be easier at hotel properties. Their political lobby is stronger than the nightclub industry and the tradition is to grant them permits. Police and government inspections will surely be more lax. Considerations to hotel guests will ensure soundproofing and controlled sound systems. As a by-product, this will lessen the impact of the joints on the lives of neighbors. Hip little bars in hip little inns may become all the rage. Boutique bars will excite boutique hotels. My trip to Vegas showed me XS. It is the deathstar of all nightclubs. It is a place where a million dollar night may well be feasible. Some may find it a bit cheesy, but that’s a lot of cheddar being generated. XS is setting the bar for the new decade.

[Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article reported inaccurate information about Thompson Hotels. BlackBook apologizes for any misrepresentation or inconveniences caused as a result.]

Uncle Stevie’s Vegas Vacation

If you see me today please talk softly and slowly. Please, no sudden movements or complicated questions. Just like oil and water, Israelis and Palestinians, Bill and Hillary, some things should never be put together. That’s me and Las Vegas. I went for business. My partner and I are designing a big time nightclub in a big time hotel. I swear. The porn star convention just happened to coincide with our stay. The closest I got to a porn star was the limo driver at the airport holding up a Terra Patrick placard. Ok, ok there were a few around, at night, at our tables, but, again, a mere coincidence and completely unsolicited. I have no interest in such matters.

I don’t gamble, whore around or take in shows. The only things I like about sin city are the fantastic restaurants and the desert itself. I spent a great deal of my wonder bread years in the high desert of California. I lived in a little town called Quartz Hill. I had hair down to my waist, ran an organic health food store, lived on a commune, knew how to roll a joint and had sex with hippie chicks. I used to take long hikes in the desert and the Tehachapi mountains, an environment similar to the one I was dragged to this past week, except for the city of sin Bugsy Seigel put there. Sometimes, when hiking way back then, if I was real lucky, I would come across a herd of wild mustangs and my heart would just stop. Their beauty and the primal sense of freedom they imparted lives within me still. There were many herds of horses in the high plains. You were taught that the domesticated ones took no notice of you, while the wild ones looked up and followed your every move.

That life lesson became very relevant in the hallways and casinos during the porn convention. I was told that you could tell the difference between the hookers and the porn stars, as the hookers will take notice of you, smile and watch your every move while the porn stars just ignore you and blow right past. It’s truly amazing how all these lessons from my past can be applied today. I had to get out of this place if it was the last thing I ever did, but we were there for a purpose. We are designing the next big thing.

I had an amazing lunch at the Mesa Grill. Management told me how chef Bobby Flay regularly checks in to make sure the quality is maintained. Everything about the place works. Great service and great food. It is a great experience. Our meetings went well during the day and we were whisked around like VIPs at night.

Pure seemed tired and old. There weren’t a thousand people fighting to get in like I remember it. As we were whisked to the best table in the place, it seemed like it had had its night and was just going through the motions. The crowd was mostly an uneducated, unstylish mass who learned long ago that a couple grand makes you look grand in Vegas, and unfortunately, in many cases, NYC too. LAX was even more tired. I liked the place and could see how it was such a huge hit in its day.

Everywhere at every joint the door staff was buttoned up. Vegas is geared to extract money and the spider web begins at the door. Every waitress had porn star boobs and the go-go dancers helped sell the message that you can have it all, if you spend the money. Vegas is no place for a romantic warrior like me. Vanity was very clean. The crowd was better than the others, the walls were smartly finished, tables nice. The staff was a little bit more sophisticated, but it lacked an energy, a center and it didn’t hold my interest for very long. Tryst was just awful. I was there long ago when the hotel opened and hated it. It’s been redone and it’s a million times better, probably 10 or 15 million times better, as they did throw some money at it. The music everywhere was the same old same old, but seemed even older here. The crowd was less mixed and had fewer really unbearable people than LAX or Pure, but the whole place seems like an afterthought. You have this billion dollar casino/hotel complex and you have to stick a club in there someplace. So the club is downstairs, out of the way, you take a couple of turns… The planners gave it a big beautiful wet rock and not too much else. With Steve Wynn’s quest for the best, Tryst is surprisingly subpar.

Tao never disappoints. Yes, Jason and Noah are my friends, but that opens them up for harsher criticism than the rest. Tao, five years later, is banging. The important tables had important people at them—players, some even recognizable from Manhattan’s hot spots. There was a nice blend of classy women and sexy slutty Vegas types. The music didn’t drown out conversation, but was still driving the room. They added a tier above the owner’s section, which really added to the experience. Also very important, the experience for the general public was better. Most of the places treat the public like the second-class citizens they are, which is very wrong. The general public makes up at least 30 percent of the revenue of these places and should be treated like they are important. I think that Tao treats the GP better than the rest and has them coming back for more. Tao’s high end is cultivated on different levels. It is indeed pushed now to Lavo and will move with the strategic group crowd to the next venture. The public pays lots of bills. That concept seems to escape most of the other places, which treat the masses like seitan. The public areas of Tao had a sexy environment where even an old codger like me was flirted with.

I wasn’t impressed with Haze. Everywhere I traveled within the place security was not so politely moving me along. Flow is terrible and it’s not much to look at. It has “new’ going for it and was packed, but we all know “new” grows old. I chatted with a slim and quiet Andrew Sasson, Haze’s owner, while at Noah Tepperberg and Jason Strauss’ table at Lavo. I congratulated him on his major success in Vegas. Last time I was here he showed me around. He knows everyone and the city’s workers pour big fish and players in his direction. Haze is the least impressive thing I’ve seen him do. It lacks the subtleties of the other Lit Group properties and the real hospitality chops he is known for. The crow flow, lighting and overall experience need to be rethought.

Then came XS. XS is the best club of this sort I have ever seen. It is executed perfectly. It was not an afterthought, but designed to win. It is winning. A zillion tables with few bad ones. The lighting, the decor, the staff were all visibly better than the rest. It features a beautiful, romantic pool, which will take this place to another level when the weather warms. The crowd was more diverse and better dressed than the rest. Xs takes Vegas clubdom to another level. I will be hard pressed to better it. But I will.

Our meetings ended two days early but we couldn’t escape. The porn people and a massive tech convention ate up every flight and car rental. I was going bonkers. I was playing Wheel of Fortune and fantasizing about Vanna White and mumbling a lot. I was telling my penguin joke to senior citizens from Decatur, Georgia and Butte, Montana. We all yelled “wheel of fortune” and screamed with glee at our jackpots. When I was down to my last two cents, I won twelve dollars and 40 cents on a penny slot machine while waiting for Claire Council from Rapid City to free up a chair at the Wheel of Fortune machines. Poor dear needs to go potty a lot.

I was thinking of going to see Bette Midler with her and the gals before my partner Marc Dizon, seeing my rapid deterioration, devoted himself to getting us out of there. We decided to go to LA. We pulled in a ton of favors to get ourselves a new mustang convertible. We headed away from Vegas into the familiar, friendly and romantic desert. Redbulls and starbucks and the thought of seeing my old crew in Venice drove me all night. I slept in Echo Park and walked around Venice the next day kissing baby Indigo and hugging old friends. I hate to say it, but I really loved it. After our BBQ we headed to the Chateau Marmont where my best friend Patty Doria has found a niche at the hotel restaurant. Andre Balazs’ place is wonderful. He doesn’t need me to say it. Everything he touches is gold. There was class all around– a welcome change from the “crass all around” Vegas environment. Leonardo Dicaprio was playing backgammon with Lukas Haas while we sipped fine wine and munched on perfect appetizers and chocolates. Everyone was dressed. Laughter and good conversation had replaced the head banging debauchery of sin city’s strip. What happens in Vegas can stay in Vegas. Hopefully, it will not be exported anywhere else. What happened in LA may make me stay in LA next time I go.

Industry Insiders: Seth Schorr, Vegas Showgun

Vegas native and owner of the newly opened Lucky Club Hotel & Casino Seth Schorr on the future of Vegas nightclubs, early memories of Steve Wynn, and what’s keeping him at home most nights.

Where do you hang out? My wife and I are homebodies these days. Growing up in Las Vegas, I spent my teenage years and early 20s frequenting every club and bar in town. But when we do get the urge to watch other people get intoxicated and listen to loud music, we visit Tryst or Blush at Wynn Las Vegas.

What openings should we know about? I recently had the opportunity to take a tour of XS at Encore, and it will once again raise the bar for nightlife in Las Vegas. It is quite possibly the most sophisticated club in the world. The club has both an indoor and outdoor experience as the walls around the dance floor open, giving access to the pool. There are outdoor lounges and even a gambling area that is incorporated into the club. Minimalism is an adjective that would not be used to describe anything at Encore, which in my humble opinion, makes this property and its retail outlets stand out amongst its neighboring properties. The bold use of colors and the variety of fabrics used throughout the resort is testament to an army of designers lead by Steve Wynn and his lead designer Roger Thomas. Encore is a “category killer” that will also raise the bar of the Las Vegas resort.

Where do you eat? We are partial to dinners at Wynn Las Vegas and eat with my folks at Stratta or local favorites like Lotus of Siam. Also, the restaurant Tokyo in the underrated and antiquated Commercial Center Plaza. We also recently discovered a new Japanese restaurant that’s off the beaten path called Raku. This 25-seat restaurant has the most authentic Japanese food in town for half the price of food on the Strip. Although they do not serve sushi, one can enjoy grilled robotayaki or tsukune.

Who do you admire in Vegas hospitality? My admiration for Steve Wynn is quite obvious. The fact that this man after 40 years and billions of dollars in earnings still works 6.5 days per week is one of his most admirable qualities. But he is also a no-bullshit type of guy. He demands the most out of his employees. He is short on false sincerity and constant encouragement. However, if you can hold your own, you will have the opportunity to work with the best team in the business.

I admire my father, Marc Schorr. My father has worked for Steve Wynn for 30 years and is responsible for making many of his visions a reality. At the end of the day, someone has to focus on the nuances of the operation and make sure these multi-billion dollar machines run effectively, and every detail is scrutinized.

And Bruce Deifik is a one-in-a-million type of guy, who is not only one of the sharpest and best negotiators around, but more importantly is one of the most honest and likable guys you’ll ever meet.

What’s something you like seeing in Vegas hospitality these days? A lot of people have their hands in the hospitality game in Las Vegas. There is more unknown and mystery today than ever before. There are currently three multi-billion-dollar projects in mid-construction, while another half-dozen more are on the drawing boards. Sure, some will stand above the rest, but there is anticipation and excitement about what good qualities each will have of their own. The consumer will also benefit from the economic conditions we currently live under, as they will be able to enjoy these resorts built for the rich and elite at a value. So come one, come all to Las Vegas, where you can stay in the world’s nicest hotel rooms for a buck fifty nine.

Anything you see that you dislike? I do not understand the concept of the condo-hotel. Personally, I think if one spends millions on a condo, they will ultimately not want others to stay in it. Either buy a condo or stay in a hotel. Don’t try and do both.

What was it like growing up in Vegas? Does it mess a lot of kids up? I think kids who grew up in New York City turn out much more messed up. The best part was the late night munchies that any teenager could afford. The negative was that it was too hot to play outside many months out of the year.

Any early Vegas memories? The path that lead me to owning a casino is a long one, starting in 1984, when I first moved to Las Vegas and moved into the Golden Nugget. I was 7 years old and shared room #1027 for about a year with my little sister. The school bus picked me up under the porte cochere, and nightly dinners were held at the buffet. I had the opportunity of meeting celebrities like Paul Anka and clearly remember taking a schvitz with Alan King at the spa.

I watched my father and Steve Wynn schmooze customers and always talk about design and development of the next project. I have a vivid memory of flying on the Golden Nugget DC-10 to New York around 1986. I loved that there was a large glass bowl filled with peanut M&M’s. Steve Wynn showed us a drawing on a napkin of what soon would be known to the world as the Mirage. The idea of a three-pronged building that shared one elevator shaft was novel, and of course having a “live volcano” in front seemed like an incredible fantasy.

What is something that people might not know about you? I am an amateur photographer and videographer. I edit movies using Final Cut Express. I do all of my own in-house promos for the Lucky Club.

You have a background in art history. Who are your favorite artists? My favorite artists are Modigliani and Vermeer.

Any dreams for the future? Kids! I can’t wait. It’s also a great excuse to have sex on a daily basis.

What are you doing tonight? Working on making those dreams come true. We just got back from the opening of Encore. It never ceases to amaze me to see the masses come in droves to check out a new property for the first time. I saw a lot of jaws drop tonight.

Las Vegas! New Year’s Eve!

imageSin City is expecting over 300,000 partiers this New Year’s Eve. The Strip gets shut down, and a giant block-party ensues. Along with neon drinks and dancing in the streets, here are five ways you can ring in the New Year, Vegas style:

1. Party at XS (Encore): Be the first! Steve Wynn’s latest hotspot hotel, Encore opens its doors for the first time at 9 p.m. New Year’s Eve.

2. Party with Ashlee Simpson-Wentz and Pete Wentz at Pure (Caesars Palace): The $200 admission fee includes a midnight Champagne toast.

3. Gorge yourself on an eight-course meal at Joel Robuchon (MGM Grand): The prix-fixe, special holiday meal — featuring black truffles — is $600 a person.

4. Go see the Akon show at the House of Blues (Mandalay Bay) and dance your way through midnight. The show starts at 11 p.m.

5. Have a private party at Palms Place. If you’ve got 10 friends and $25,000, the Palms Palace will throw you a party in the penthouse. The price includes accommodations and brunch the next day.