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Benjamin Spillman

Nevadan at work: Promises in the dark: Blush nightclub boss offers patrons night of energy, enjoyment

27 August 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- In recent years the local nightclub scene has changed the way people think of Las Vegas. The evolution of clubs from an afterthought to a destination in and of themselves injected the late-night scene with an infusion of younger customers, money and celebrity.

At the center of the evolution is Sean Christie.

Christie started his Las Vegas club career at House of Blues in Mandalay Bay in 2000. He went on to open Light in Bellagio and now plans to set a new standard with Blush in Wynn Las Vegas.

Billed as a boutique nightclub that puts service, ambience and upscale cool over size and flash Blush opens Friday at Wynn Las Vegas with industry night every Tuesday that includes free admission for locals. Blush will open the same night as LAX, the new club at Luxor that hired troubled pop star Britney Spears to host its debut.

Recently Christie talked about the Las Vegas night scene. The lifestyle of club operators and how the Blush plan emphasizes attention to detail overpaid celebrity hosts.

Question: Can you explain why the opening is so important to a club?

Answer: In this town because expectations are set so high I don't believe you have the time to build a business. People's expectations are from Day One you walk up to the door and there are a thousand people waiting to get in.

Question: So what goes into making that opening a success?

Answer: We call it a reach, basically making sure the influence-makers know about it, the general public knows about it ... word of mouth gets started.

Question: Where are the customers for Blush going to come from? Will it be new customers or people coming from other places?

Answer: The people first and foremost are the guests in this hotel. Equal to that is the local population. We specifically target the service industry worker. Those people go out. They spend money. They are generally younger. That is what we are shooting for.

Question: Will that demographic be able to afford the nightclubs as they get more upscale?

Answer: A local customer who works in a nightclub in town, generally when they come in I am comping their first bottle. They may buy one more bottle. The way I look at it is if a bottle costs $400 they got the first one comped and there are eight people that rounds out to about $50 a head. With tax and tip that may be another 25 percent. If everybody pitched in $75, it is an affordable evening compared to maybe what someone from out of town is experiencing.

Question: What have been the biggest changes in nightclubs since you have been in town?

Answer: The bottle prices every year have gone up and they are starting to get really expensive. The other trend that has happened is celebrity hosts and hostesses basically getting large sums of money to host various parties. A person of note or fame can receive from clubs in this town six-figure sums to show up for three hours and put their name on a flier. They get a large amount of money, get flown in on private planes and get the best suites in the hotel. They have free dinner and everything.

Question: At Blush, (celebrity hosts) are not part of the business plan. Why not?

Answer: Our place holds roughly 400 people. I don't have the revenue coming in to support that. And the benefit of being in Wynn is that those people are staying here ... so I don't have to pay for them if I do my job delivering a good product.

Question: Why do you think nightclubs in Las Vegas took off so fast and can they fall?

Answer: A nightclub demographic fits very nicely with what the casino is trying to attract as well. A person who can spend X amount of dollars on alcohol probably very easily can spend money on gambling as well. I don't think it could fall off the face of the Earth. But certainly it could wane. People want to capture what Las Vegas has.

Question: You mentioned Blush is a boutique nightclub. Each of those are common buzzwords. In this context what do they mean?

Answer: The only comparisons I can think of so far is there is hotel and boutique hotel. I think the first thing it says is I am smaller. I also think it speaks to a very heavy staff-to-customer ratio. There is more opportunity to pay attention to detail.

Question: What are some of the details in a nightclub? It is dark anyway.

Answer: There is a lot of detail. Every single seat has a purse drawer. Over the years I've noticed purses are just strewn about. That is a security issue. We also have in various areas personal locker systems that have safes in them. One of the worst parts of traveling internationally and going out is you have to carry your passport. If I bring my passport to a bar and I get drunk and lose it, I am going to have a very difficult time exiting and entering this country. Where you say dark, we took our ceiling and made a living light sculpture. I believe that instead of being dark, I think people should be lit. But they should be lit in flattering colors like ambers. And because our place is small I'm able to control or watch how many people come into my place so that it is never too crowded.

Question: I was in (a nightclub) on New Year's Eve. It was so crowded if you had your arms down they were staying down. If you had them up they were staying up. What do you think of that kind of an experience?

Answer: I think it is a horrible experience. The energy that is created inside (a nightclub) you can't replicate unless you have the bodies. But if you tell me the place was so crowded that you couldn't move then that is mismanagement on the club's part and probably was a violation of some kind. We have in clickers and out clickers so we always know exactly how many people are in the room at a given time.

Question: How do people in the nightclub industry maintain a healthy lifestyle?

Answer: When you become a nightclub owner, a lot of times people want to have a drink with the guy who owns the place.

You are up until 3 or 4 in the morning every night, and in this town you have to be back in your office at 10 in the morning. You have got to be able to drink and get up. I try to make sure I get to the gym about four or five days a week. I always carry a gym bag with me so when I am able to go I go. And I just try to not eat like crap.

I know people in this industry who started when they were in shape. They put on 20 pounds, they can't hear, their doctor just told them their liver is shot and they have to stop drinking.

Question: What do you think is going to be the next step in nightclubs?

Answer: Nightclubs have kind of transcended being an amenity. For a lot of people maybe gambling was the No. 1 reason they came here ... a restaurant or a nightclub could be that No. 1 reason now.

Question: What is the customer going to get for their money at Blush? A bottle of vodka doesn't really cost $400. What am I paying for?

Answer: I am hoping you walked away and you said, "I paid $400 for an experience." If you go to any show in town, it is $100 a seat. It is almost like it is real estate and that piece of real estate is a certain amount of money. That goes into everything from music to lighting to comfortable atmosphere to the right people in the room, the right girl-guy ratio.

Question: It seems like a lot of intangibles. Is it like throwing a party every day?

Answer: It is. You are throwing a party every single day without question. No one is going to have fun if they feel intimidated, not secure, if there is not good service. I can walk into a room and I can smell it, I can sense it.

Question: There is a stereotype of nightclub operators going too hard, getting in over their head and ending up with serious health problems or worse and broke. Is that true?

Answer: I know plenty of people who have had bad health because of this industry. They were millionaires one day and broke a month later.

I am not here to do anything other than watch other people have a good time. My enjoyment comes when the place is going off, everyone is having a good time, there is good service it is the right blend of people. That is my enjoyment. Then, because I am the owner, I can have a drink around 2 in the morning.