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Nightlife: All Night Long

Posh clubs offer sophisticated entertainment alternatives to traditional shows and lounge acts
Bruce Schoenfeld
From the Print Edition:
Vegas, Mar/Apr 2006

Robert Frey stands on a glassed-in catwalk at Pure, a nightclub in the Caesars Palace casino on the Las Vegas Strip, and surveys the controlled tumult below. Frey, 41, is short, with eyes that narrow to a squint. Surrounded by some of the most seductively attractive-and most funkily dressed-women and men anywhere on this Friday night, he wears a brown denim jacket and a Charlie Brown smile. Since its debut in December 2004, the $15 million, 36,000-square-foot Pure has helped revitalize the entire Caesars Palace brand.

Before opening Pure, Frey ran a cigar business with his brother, Michael. Prior to that he sold pizzas. But in Las Vegas, five years is a generation, and second and third chances seem to come with your apartment lease. With nightclubs, Frey finally has found his calling. Together with partner Steve Davidovici, he presides over a growing empire that caters to a broad range of guests, from A-list celebrities to convention-goers just off the plane. His unthreatening demeanor serves as an asset. "People want to feel comfortable," he says. "The thing that's different from Miami, L.A. or New York is, we don't have a cool crowd. Everyone who comes to Las Vegas wants to have fun."

At Pure, Frey has four distinct areas of pulsating music, including a terrace with a panoramic view of the Strip. Shaquille O'Neal is an investor. So is Celine Dion. On this particular Friday night, Jimmy Iovine, arguably the most powerful man in the music industry, has shown up in a baseball cap and sunglasses. He's downstairs in the Pussycat Dolls Lounge, accompanied by the current incarnation of Robin Antin's Pussycat Dolls, a Los Angelesóbased all-girl band and dance revue with two smash singles. They are watching a replica troupe of Pussycat Dolls perform in tribute to the original. More than any sit-down extravaganza in the Strip's theaters or arenas, it is currently the hottest show in town.

In the cavernous main room on the other side of a crowded hallway, Hustler Magazine is having a party. Word is that Larry Flynt is in the house, ensconced in one of the private boxes festooned with supersized love seats that ring the dance floor. Throughout the club, tables have been reserved with the purchase of a $400 bottle of Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon or a $400 bottle of Captain Morgan Rum, or something even more expensive. Down the Strip at New York-New York, the mid-range Coyote Ugly is "probably the highest-grossing per-square-foot nightclub in the country," according to Frey, who owns and runs that club, too. At Treasure Island, Frey's Tangerine caters to a more risqué crowd. Next for Frey will come an iteration of the Dick's Last Resort chain along with additional concepts of his own.

Frey is perhaps the most successful of the impresarios, entrepreneurs and promoters who have helped transform Las Vegas nightlife from a choice between sleazy or sleepy to sizzling. Others aren't far behind.

The ultra-suave Victor Drai-who lived with Jacqueline Bisset and married Kelly Le Brock-arrived from Los Angeles to invent the Las Vegas version of his L.A. after-hours club at Drai's, in the Barbary Coast hotel. Now he has Tryst at the Wynn Las Vegas, complete with an imposing waterfall and a teeming Hollywood presence.

At TAO Asian Bistro, Richard Wolf and Marc Packer bring New York sophistication to a four-level space in what will soon be the world's largest hotel, The Venetian. Jeffrey Chodorow's Mix, inside THE hotel atop the Mandalay Bay, features Alain Ducasse's culinary expertise but gets even more acclaim for a late-night lounge scene that plays out in black leather banquettes, and perhaps the best cocktails in town. And with the Palms, George Maloof and Chicago restaurant-and-nightclub mavens Scott de Graff and Michael Morton have created an entire hotel built around nightlife. Next comes another Palms tower, with a twenty-first-century remake of the old Playboy Clubs, and a high-end penthouse watering hole one floor above. Its signature feature? A retractable roof.

To be sure, anyone who loathes crowds or loud music can still find plenty to do in Las Vegas. Elton John's latest run at Caesars Palace continues through April 9, and he will surely be back. Traditional acts such as Vicki Lawrence and Dionne Warwick visit the Orleans later this year. Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" act plays at least one weekend a month through October at The Mirage's Danny Gans Theatre. Gans himself is a ubiquitous presence there. Reba McEntire and Barry Manilow alternate multiweek stays at the Las Vegas Hilton all spring and summer. Howie Mandel is featured at the MGM Grand.

At the same time, the Wynn Las Vegas is bringing Spamalot and other Broadway shows to the Strip. Mandalay Bay currently features Mamma Mia! A truncated version of The Phantom of the Opera opens in June at The Venetian, and Paris Las Vegas hopes to add The Producers soon. The Blue Man Group, which formerly performed at the Luxor, began a run at a new 1,700-seat venue at The Venetian last October. The phenomenally popular Cirque du Soleil has ongoing shows at the Bellagio, the MGM Grand, New York-New York and Treasure Island. And in late May, a new in-the-round Cirque du Soleil production featuring Beatles music, and tentatively titled The Boys, replaces Siegfried & Roy's show at The Mirage

The most important boxing matches in America still take place in Las Vegas, and the relocation of an ATP men's tennis tournament from Scottsdale, Arizona, may signal more big-time sports to come. Mayor Oscar Goodman has been talking with baseball's Florida Marlins about moving to the city. That would add some 80 nights of family entertainment in a yet-to-be-constructed ballpark.

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