Rehab Returns for Another Relapse

The city’s most notorious pool party is back, bigger and bolder than ever By Melissa Arseniuk

Rehab is usually a place where junkies go to sober up and straighten out, but at the Hard Rock Hotel, it’s a daylong event punctuated by tribal tattoos and oversize plastic sports bottles filled with booze.

There is nothing rehabilitative about Rehab, and that’s precisely how the thousands who flock to the venue every weekend like it. It’s where innocent-looking college girls from the Midwest lose themselves amid a mass of nearly naked revelry, and stars such as Rihanna and Cuba Gooding Jr. live it up. Or, as in the case of NFL star Jeremy Shockey, live it up a little too much. (The 250-pound New Orleans “Saint” had a little “dehydration” incident last summer, and passed out after having a too much fun in the sun.)

Summer’s most notorious Sunday destination returns for a seventh year April 18. From then until fall, the party will overtake the hotel’s main pool area every Sunday and force the hotel’s more modest guests to sun themselves elsewhere. (Luckily, the hotel’s renovation is finally complete and a new, quieter pool area has been added.)

Although Rehab’s 2009 entertainment lineup included the likes of T-Pain and Snoop Dogg, this year’s schedule is so far more focused on reality show personalities—Paris Hilton (April 25) and Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino of Jersey Shore (Fourth of July weekend)—than musical guests. Still, Wyclef Jean headlines opening day, and additional acts will be announced in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, TruTV’s camera crews return to the pool this year, ready to shoot the third season of the reality TV series set in and around the mayhem, Rehab: Party at the Hard Rock Hotel. The popular show provides first-hand sights and sounds of life at the pool, from both the front lines and behind the scenes.

Well, sort of.

Hard Rock director of nightlife operations, Matthew Minichino, says Rehab is a “created reality” series.

“Everything that occurs on the show is scripted, except the stuff that happens with me,” he asserts, noting he is still portrayed as the main antagonist.

His on-screen behavior has landed him in hot water and he received death threats last year as episodes from his first season on the small screen began to air.

Though he says the threats didn’t faze him, he realizes that mistakes were made.

“I regret a few things,” he says. “I did get caught on TV telling a girl that she came to work looking like she got gang-banged.”

He didn’t do himself any favors by calling servers “fat” and “whores,” either, but he still laughs as he recalls the time he told a cocktail waitress “to shut the fuck up” when a customer apparently hadn’t tipped enough.

He concedes that he might have crossed the line a few times.

“I said some things that I probably shouldn’t have said, considering I’m pretty much an executive,” he says. “[But] everyone likes the bad guy so I guess I play the part really well. My dad thinks that it’s funny; he knows that it’s all entertainment. And my brother just says I say what everyone else is thinking.”

The show is more than just entertainment: It also serves as an efficient marketing tool and helps attract about 4,000 partiers from around the world every weekend all summer long. “People see Rehab on TV and they want to come for that experience,” Minichino says.

And come they do.

“We have 4,000 to 5,000 people coming through the doors in a hotel that only has 1,700 hotel rooms,” he says.

Minichino and his colleagues are looking to build upon that already impressive momentum—and profitability—this season.

“Every nightclub does $200 [thousand] to half a mil on New Year’s Eve and I do that every Sunday, in the middle of the summer, at Rehab,” he boasts.

He is the only manager in the pool’s six-year history to last more than one season. So what’s the secret to surviving Rehab? “I just work hard and expect a lot from my employees,” he says. “But, at the end of the day … numbers speak louder than words.” And he and his team have been reporting some impressive numbers: Rehab revenues rose 30 percent last year compared with the year before, despite the recession and the city being frequently full of half-empty hotels.

This year, Minichino is “looking forward to beating last year” and doesn’t think it’s unrealistic to expect great things, especially considering the hotel’s recent expansion.

“The pool has literally doubled in size,” he says, and they’ve added 15 new cabanas, as well.

If opening weekend is any indication, the once-a-week-party is poised to hit its targets and help the hotel along the way, too: Rooms at the Hard Rock have been sold-out for weeks, and all of Rehab’s 75 cabanas are spoken for during opening weekend.

In fact Minichino says cabanas at Rehab—which all start at about $2,500—are sold out for the next three weeks, and reservations for the pool’s 35 $1,000-a-day daybeds are going strong, too.

This, despite the recent opening of a brand-new pool party on the Strip—Liquid at Aria—and all just weeks before another major water wonderland at Encore opens its doors.

Will the city and its planeloads of pool-loving tourists be able to sustain it all? Time will tell, but Minichino thinks a segment Rehab has largely ignored in the past—locals—will be key to winning the water war.

“Rehab has turned into so much of a tourist attraction on Sundays that we’ve forgotten about our local clientele,” he admits.

The Hard Rock pool hasn’t ignored locals altogether—its Monday afternoon party, Relax, offers Las Vegans a fun place to party—but aside from that, Minichino admits that, until now, what has proven to be a tried, tested and true business model hasn’t needed locals to succeed.

“If I have a customer who wants to pay $100 to come in the door and a local who wants to come in for free—who do you think we’re going to let in?” he illustrates.

But with Rehab’s expanded facilities and increased capacity, he knows that attitude has to change.

“We want to cater to the local environment now,” he says.

Rehab is open Sundays, 11 a.m.-sunset. Cabana guests get a half-hour jump on the crowds and are allowed in at 10:30 a.m. General admission fluctuates, but cover is usually $50 for men, $20 for women and half price for locals–or, if you’re lucky and/or good lookin’, completely free.