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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

More foreplay puts nightclubs in the mood

24 September 2007

LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- Wynn Las Vegas opened less than three years ago with a small yet expensive lounge and nightclub steps from the main casino floor. Lure was decked out in mod furniture with white onyx floors and mood lighting. It had a quaint outdoor patio with lush greenery and a fire pit.

But it just wasn't good enough.

Several million dollars later, the setup had been torn out and redesigned from top to toe.

Roger Thomas, Steve Wynn's chief interior designer for more than two decades, splurged on silk wall treatments, self-designed furniture and hand-blown chandeliers at the resort, then the world's most expensive. Lure was equally well-appointed. But in Thomas' view, the first incarnation lacked an amped-up Vegas vibe.

"It would have been difficult to make a film at Lure," Thomas said. The new club, named Blush, "is more cinematic."

The comparison to a stage set isn't by accident, because nightclubs - now money-making focal points for casinos - are among the most analyzed, fretted over and perpetually redesigned spaces in town.

And that's saying a lot for Las Vegas, where casino bosses repeatedly tweak the placement of slot machines, bet limits and mix of games on the floor. Few, however, break a sweat over the pattern of carpet or whether the overhead lighting can be softened by a hair.

Nightclubs, by contrast, are studies in perfectionism. Although celebrity guests and DJs can create buzz, operators say it's a combination of subtle details that makes some clubs stand out.

That's why Jodi Meyers is hard at work on details such as ice scoopers and the cut of cocktail servers' uniforms.

Meyers is managing partner of the Bank, which will replace Bellagio's Light nightclub - the club that introduced high-end bottle service to Las Vegas six years ago. Celebrities will flock to the major clubs regardless of their particular look, Meyers says. But regular folk notice and appreciate the smaller touches.

Many clubs mimicked the look of Light, so "we need to reinvent the club and change the rules," she said.

Fine detailing is a hallmark of all the latest and upcoming wave of clubs. Dim light and loud music used to mean falling back on cheaper materials that can take an exceptional beating.

But these clubs are sparing little expense in creating spectacles that may be less maintenance-friendly, yet put other resort amenities to shame.

Luxor's latest club, LAX, is a hip take on a turn-of-the-century opera house, with wrought-iron grand staircases, black crystal chandeliers, granite and wood floors, Victorianesque couches in black and red leather, and tables with antiqued mirror surfaces and candles.

Some of the club's 78 VIP tables are positioned next to bars while others sit on a stagelike platform near the DJ. More tables are in curtained rooms that overlook the dance floor and can accommodate up to 30 people.

The original, cavernous nightclub was stripped and a second floor built into the 26,000-square-foot club to add seating, individual lounges and the drama of a vintage music hall.

Blush is a living research lab where designers of fabric and other materials seek to showcase their newest products before mass-producing them.

Take, for example, Blush's glass-topped tables, inlaid with glitter, that refract color and light. They are sturdy enough to stand on for impromptu dancing, are easy to clean and, when topped with candles, give patrons a healthy, attractive glow.

Votive and pillar candles are lighted around the room at night, setting off fresh roses and orchids.

Another, bigger detail hangs overhead: 275 lanterns - each made from a silklike material and with LED bulbs that change color and pulse with the sound system - hang at different lengths and move with the light desert breeze that blows through the club from outdoors.

The position of the furniture across the floor and the lanterns over everything connect the 4,500-square-foot club, creating the feel of "one big house party" instead of individual gatherings, said Sean Christie, who operates the club.

The furniture, made of slick and velvety materials in gold and chocolate brown, is stylish enough to work in posed photos but sturdy enough to survive stiletto heels.

The sectionals line one wall that faces the dance floor, with additional seating, stadium-style, above the back of the chairs. (You have to step on top of the sectionals to get to the padded seating above.)

"People are always sitting on the back of their chairs to get a better view of the action," Thomas said. "So we decided to make that a seat."

Sitting on high puts customers' backs to oil paintings covered in an acrylic film that's impervious to spilled cocktails, errant fists and the body's oils and sweat.

The restrooms are a major departure, covered from floor to ceiling in mirror-ball tiles and pop art from Jeff Koons, whose giant, porcelain sculpture of Michael Jackson and pet monkey Bubbles sits in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. (Men can ogle bikini-clad Barbie dolls under plexiglass, while the women's restroom features Ken dolls in shorts.)

Although the paintings and lanterns are a hit, a smaller detail most impresses the well-heeled locals who pack Blush on a Tuesday night. Just above the seating and below the padding are locked drawers for purses and other belongings. Additional purse drawers pull out from under the sectionals, near the floor.

"That's genius," said Mary Tran, 24, who works at Venetian's Tao nightclub and sipped her first lemon drop of the night.

While other club owners tick off celebrity patrons, Thomas wants to talk about John Lyons and Richard Worboys, the Siegfried & Roy of nightclub lighting and sound systems. The men have won the equivalent of the nightclub Oscars in a niche that is rapidly developing new technology for use across many industries.

Tiny recessed LED bulbs, the same as those used in museums, are cocked at specific angles throughout the club, flattering people and objects alike. Golden drapes near the entryway open to the casino in the quieter evening hours and close at night, creating a more dramatic effect and more privacy for the increasingly rowdy crowd as the night wears on.

Lyons, Thomas says, knows how to hit the microfiber drapes just right so that they shimmer, like metal.