Ultra Lounges Redefine Vegas After Dark
This mentality changed as casinos began to realize that unique entertainment was what distinguished them from the pack. The slots, tables games and cheap food specials were basically the same from one property to the next. It was the quality of the entertainment -- which, meant having a name like Sinatra or Elvis on the marquee -- that enabled a casino to trump the competition.
In today's Las Vegas, entertainment remains a greater priority than ever. But as the demographics have skewed younger, properties don't need to sign a Celine Dion to get buzz. In recent years, a more subtle trend has rapidly redefined Las Vegas nightlife: the rise of the ultra lounge.
In contrast to the gargantuan mega-clubs, with their sweaty crowds, thundering sound systems and high-tech special effects, ultra lounges have taken the traditional notion of the casino lounge and infused it with sophistication and an air of exclusivity. While the nightclubs pull in hordes of people in their 20s, ultra lounges are designed to cater to a broader age group -- patrons of discerning taste who seek a more refined brand of Sin City-style decadence.
"An ultra lounge is an intimate venue with extraordinary attention to detail and design," is how Michael Milner, executive director of MGM Grand entertainment, describes the trend. "The room can be 'experienced' by fusing the decor, the music, and an extra dimension of interaction with the room itself for the indulgence of our guests."
|Ghostbar at the Palms.|
"The overall experience is that of upscale VIP service to each and every individual who walks through the door," says nightlife impresario John D. Guzman, the man behind Los Angeles's and Las Vegas's "Naked Hollywood" nightclub events. "You feel like you're in a place that's not easy to achieve entry into…you get the sense that you're being treated above and beyond what you'd expect from a typical bar or lounge."
"The Las Vegas resorts have realized that [these] lounges have become an important part of entertainment," says Milner. "Our 25-to 45-year-old demographic demands refined style and luxury…an atmosphere of provocative interaction."
While the Hard Rock is widely credited with establishing Vegas as a playground for the young and fabulous, it was the Venetian's V Bar, opened in 1999, that provided the prototype for the ultra lounge. Eschewing flashy gimmicks and themes, V Bar instead conveys a posh, masculine feel with leather chaises, opaque glass walls and diffused lighting. Low-key acid jazz and house music complete the mood. A class act without the attitude you might expect, V Bar was designed by partners David Rabin and Will Regan of New York's Lotus, and Brad Johnson, the man behind Los Angeles's Sunset Room.
When the Palms opened in 2001, the ultra lounge trend kicked into high gear. Though considerably smaller than the neon giants along the Strip, the Palms established itself as the top hipster's paradise due to its mega-club, Rain, and Ghostbar ultra lounge. Ghostbar's futuristic design, featuring space-age furniture and glass walls with stunning panoramic views, conveys the sense that you're floating high above the Strip in an alien spacecraft. Though its "wow" factor may be near impossible to top, the other resorts in town have been trying to ever since.
|Light at the Bellagio.|
One of the most recent entries, and perhaps the most sophisticated -- both aesthetically and technically -- is Tabu at the MGM Grand. This $7 million stunner underscores just how much casinos value their ultra lounges; it occupies a corner formerly occupied by banks of slot machines. (Old-school Vegas bosses would have sooner filled the space with a Gamblers Anonymous crisis center.) Tabu was, in fact, the brainchild of Gamal Aziz, MGM Grand's president. Master designer/architect Jeffrey Beers and former executive producer for Cirque du Soleil, Roger Parent, designed it.
|The bar at Tabu in the MGM Grand.|
Intimately sized at 7,000 square feet, Tabu also spins the notion of a dance floor on its ear; the tables are made of fortified concrete to encourage patrons to dance on top of them, or as Milner puts it, to "invite spontaneity." There are "reactive tables" that allow guests to control the holographic images projected onto them, and a bar made entirely of ice. Private booths run along the walls of the main room, with thick frosted glass separating patrons from the casino just outside. The crowds at the slot machines can see shapes moving on the other side of Tabu's glass, but faces are obscured; all the more appealing for celebrities who wish to party in private.
|The Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay.|
Judging from the success of these establishments, there will be more on the way. And one can only imagine what casino visionary Steve Wynn will bring to the ultra lounge arena when his next project, Wynn Las Vegas, arrives on the scene. Expect this element of the resort to be a priority.
At the end of the day (or in this case, sometime around dawn), there's more at stake than looking cooler than the competition. A financial strategy is behind the millions being spent to build these spots. When choosing a casino to stay and gamble at, the youthful, well-heeled crowd is now likely to make their decision based not on a property's resident entertainer, restaurants or shopping mall, but on its nightlife.
"If you have a cool, hip place where people want to be, ultimately they'll stay and play there," says Guzman. "People stay where they're comfortable, and they're creatures of habit. They'll come back."
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