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Chris Jones

A Trade Convention that Raises the Bar

2 March 2005

A vast assortment of alcohol. Loud music blaring. Masses of would-be patrons cordoned off behind a black velvet rope.

Inside awaits a bevy of scantily clad hotties serving up drinks and plenty of eye candy.

And for every young lovely in the crowd, toss in five to 500 men hoping to escape the surrounding helmet party with some feminine companionship -- even if the room's female-to-male ratio is overwhelmingly stacked in the women's favor.

Sounds like a typical weekend evening at most any popular night spot around the world, right?

But this week, that very scene has unfolded each morning at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Since Sunday, more than 40,000 visitors have gathered in Southern Nevada to attend the annual Nightclub & Bar Convention. And while it may be the world's only trade show that requires attendees to pledge in advance not to get plastered on the show floor, those in attendance say they're mixing serious business among their cocktails, concerts and late-night parties.

"In good times and bad, people are going to drink; they're going to eat (outside the home) and socialize," said Jennifer Robinson, chief operating officer of Oxford Publishing, the Oxford, Miss.-based show sponsor and publisher of Nightclub & Bar magazine. "And basically anything you'd see, front door to back door in any type of hospitality venue can be found on the show floor."

Attendees on Tuesday checked out everything from fanciful new alcohol products to bar games to high-tech lighting and sound systems. And in many cases, visiting conventioneers will try to bring back to their bars a touch of Las Vegas' late-night magic.

"Las Vegas is the mecca, the inner-core of on-premise" beverage sales, said Todd Infurna, an executive with Las Vegas-based Rockstar Energy Drink. "It sets trends throughout the whole country.

"If you're in (Miami's) South Beach, New York or San Francisco, everybody follows and wants to know what Vegas is doing."

Added Robinson: "We want to capitalize on the Vegas excitement."

Only 15 percent of Rockstar's sales come from bars and nightclubs, but Infurna said exposure gained at popular Las Vegas nightspots leads customers to seek his company's product at stores and other locations in their hometowns.

Joe Gold, chief executive officer of Las Vegas-based Havana Honeys, added his company is also parlaying Las Vegas' popularity as the cool place to play in order to increase sales of its line of premium flavored cigars.

And sales of his cigars and products like Rockstar, he said, in turn builds people's interest in the goods' home city. "One leads into the other," said Gold, whose 8-year-old company sells cigars in all 50 states, the Caribbean and Europe.

"Visitors realize Vegas has some of the finest restaurants in the world, some of the finest bars in the world and some of the finest nightclubs in the world. That helps attract more tourists, and creates more interest in our city."

The nightlife industry's increasing importance to the local economy has attracted the attention of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, which last year began asking travelers whether they visited a local bar or nightclub during their stay.

Approximately 12 percent of last year's 37.4 million Las Vegas visitors said they paid a cover charge to enter a hotel-based nightclub; another 8 percent paid to visit a nightclub not affiliated with a hotel, Authority Research Director Kevin Bagger said in a Feb. 8 presentation on local tourism in 2004.

Twenty-four percent of local visitors told the authority they visited a hotel bar, while 16 percent said they visited a nonhotel bar. Researchers will compare those averages to those from visitor surveys conducted this year and beyond, Bagger added.

Others are already comparing this city's after-hours amenities to those of other destinations.

Nightclub & Bar magazine's editors recently selected eight Las Vegas-area hot spots for this year's inaugural list of the country's Top 100 nightclubs. Only the New York City and Los Angeles metropolitan areas scored more.

August Busch IV, president of St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch, on Tuesday told conventioneers bars and restaurants are the breeding ground for new products such as Michelob Ultra, a low carbohydrate beer, and "B to the E," a new brand of Budweiser spiked with caffeine, ginseng and guarana.

He said his company will continue to work with bar and club owners to "romance the image of beer" and create new drinking occasions.

"Success on-premise is key to our success," said Busch, whose company sells approximately 50 percent of all beer purchased in the United States each year.