People and Places

1. The Most Interesting Man in Las Vegas Nightlife

Jason Strauss, Tao Group

To the untrained eye, Strauss might look like any other nightclub mogul: well-dressed, successful, confident—the epitome of calm, cool and collected. Yet under his designer exterior is a collection of contradictions that make him one of the most interesting people in Las Vegas, never mind the nightlife industry.

He was captain of Riverdale Country School’s football team and remains a proud fan of the New York Jets, yet he’s hardly a jock. He’ll smile and watch attentively as Tony Bennett sings at a charity dinner, but will cheer as loud as any other Tao clubgoer as Erick Morillo spins till the sun comes up. Despite being the face—a handsome face, at that—of the most successful restaurant in the country (Tao Las Vegas enjoyed sales of $59.2 million in 2009), he has yet to let his success go to his head.

It isn’t any more uncommon to see the 36-year-old working the door at Tao on a Thursday night than it is to see him inside, surrounded by A-list celebrity guests. Is he driven? Yes. Is he demanding? You bet. But Strauss works as hard as everyone else on his payroll, and he expects the same from himself as he does from his staff. Meanwhile, employees say he is fair, not feared, and nice, even though he doesn’t have to be.

Along with his partners, the New York native is spearheading the biggest nightlife project in Las Vegas history—Marquee at the Cosmopolitan—yet with more than a month before the mammoth, three-story club was scheduled to open, Strauss wasn’t giving himself entirely over to the stress. Instead, he was at Lagasse’s Stadium, watching Monday Night Football. And instead of trying to hide his indulgent, hard-earned R&R, he Tweeted about it, inviting everyone—all of his 4,800-plus Twitter followers—to join him. When was the last time you saw another club owner do that?

2. Best Hosts

Independent Host: Noah Auspitz

While many independent hosts offer their clientele an endless list of personal concierge services and claim to have more connections than God, Auspitz was voted in the 2010 Host Awards to be the best and most successful independent host by the people who would know the most: the podium managers at all of the major Las Vegas nightclubs. Auspitz received high praise from his colleagues for his friendly demeanor, professional approach and for being one of the leading referrers of customers to each of their venues. Sometimes the bottom line is the bottom line.

Nightclub Host: Corey Nigrelli, Angel Management Group

More than just someone who books table service, 12-year nightlife veteran Nigrelli is known to dive in and be a part of the customer’s nightlife experience. He makes it a point to hang out and socialize, then stays in touch to keep the client coming back for more. For many hosts, after this amount of personal attention—and the many tequila shots that come with the job—the faces might start to blend together. Nigrelli’s extra efforts throughout his career have garnered him an estimated 20,000 contacts, and he still calls upon them personally as he works at venues within nightlife management company AMG’s growing list of nightclubs.

3. The Charisma Award

Matthew Fraser, Mood Director, Tao Nightclub at the Venetian

Recently seen swinging from Tao Nightclub’s ceiling dressed like Family Guy’s evil plotting baby, Stewie, Tao’s newly minted mood director takes having a good time very seriously. As he makes his way around the club, he is ever seeking ways to heighten the energy and put a smile on everyone’s face. Proudly bearing a bottle of Patrón tattooed on his body (and another, “I PARTY,” which pretty much sums it up), Fraser charismatically engages clubgoers by catching them off-guard, throwing something into the mix that they never expected to encounter in a Las Vegas nightclub. This may involve a head-turning costume or simply reaching into his pocket and throwing flashing balls at a group of frowning girls before buying them a round of shots—anything to encourage them to get into the party mood.

4. Biggest Loss to the Scene

Person: DJ Z-Trip

We were still mourning the loss of DJ AM when Z-Trip took over Friday nights at Rain. Just one year later, Rain has lost its Friday night resident again—even through, thankfully, we can report that Zach Sciacca is still very much alive and spinning. Yet despite his considerable cred and solid draw, N9NE Group didn’t renew his contract, and so 2009’s America’s Best DJ slipped away and into the studio. The DJ’s Revolution Fridays will be rebranded as the Clash electro party is resurrected in 2011. As for Z-Trip, here’s hoping the Palms’ loss—and therefore our loss, really—will be another Vegas venue’s gain sometime soon.

Place: Wasted Space at the Hard Rock Hotel

Wasted Space opened in July 2008, bringing something completely fresh to the Las Vegas nightlife scene: the hybrid of a live-music venue and a nightclub, which catered to both locals and tourists who enjoyed the virtually nonexistent dress code, inexpensive drinks and one of the closest things to a rock-club vibe that Vegas has seen in years. Merely two years later, the fairly new (and still shiny) Wasted Space was closed unexpectedly in a decision by the cash-strapped Hard Rock Hotel, which demolished the venue in favor of a brand-new sports book. While much of the club’s staff has made its way over to Crown Theater inside the Rio, the unique personality and character of Wasted Space has yet to be replaced within the nightlife scene.

5. Best Mega-Club

XS The Nightclub at Encore

Awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, breathtaking. And that’s before you’ve even made it into the club. From atop the entry stairway you can take in the full impact of XS—the sheer sprawl, the moving tide of beautiful bodies, the frenetic pace. And beneath all lies the finishes, the opulence, the meaningful artistic intention. So composed, it’s enough to shame even the most outspoken deriders of Vegas’ place in the pantheon of U.S. nightlife destination cities. L.A., New York, Chicago, Atlanta—yes, they’re all here, poppin’ bottles, dancing it out and posing for the paps. Whether it’s the satiny golden bodies that beckon from the door or the rhythmic flap of the cocktailers’ beaded cocktail dresses glittering beneath the dizzy disco chandelier, it’s tough to top this type of XS. The club is quite simply the Vegas gold standard and the reigning heavyweight champion of our world.

6. Best Nightclub

Haze Nightclub at Aria

Ride the escalators down and prepare to be whisked away into an anything-but-ordinary nightclub. Opening its doors on New Year’s Eve 2009 with a performance by mega-star DJ Tiësto, Haze was the most eagerly anticipated and exciting nightclub in the Strip’s newest addition, CityCenter. Designed to tap into your imagination, the Light Group’s 25,500-square-foot venue provides a thrilling and unforgettable experience. Showcasing live mannequins draped in whimsical costumes as well as alluring performances by sexy, dazzling contortionists, dancers and aerialists, the club transports clubgoers into an electronic realm of fantasy. However, most of the attention is focused on the DJ booth, set proudly before an impressive 20-foot wall of light. There, 10 motorized screens and five projectors adapt to all manner of music or performance. Famous for attracting a variety of talented DJs, Haze is also the ideal place for mixing in live acts. In just one year, the venue has welcomed to its stage a plethora of today’s hottest artists, including Drake, OneRepublic and even Marilyn Manson. There is never a dull moment as celebrities are frequent guests and hosts, and seemingly everyone—even the 9-foot L.E.D-bedecked robot, Kryoman—comes for sets by internationally acclaimed DJs, which have included David Guetta, Kaskade and Bob Sinclar. Haze makes us guess and makes us come back for more, which makes Haze No. 1 in our books.

7. Best Boutique Nightclub

Blush Boutique Ultralounge at Wynn

Nice things often come in small packages, and that’s just what Blush is. In fact, it’s fantastic: intimate, elegant and accessible, yet fun and flexible, too. Blush is a colorful-yet-seductive space featuring a fairly sized dance floor, a large and easy-to-access bar, plenty of bottle-service-ready seating, and a fabulous open-air patio at the back. Sweetening the deal, ladies drink free champagne several (if not most) nights a week, and there’s rarely a line outside—yet there’s almost always a decent, well-dressed and well-heeled crowd inside, which is where it counts.

8. The Biggest Buzz Marquee Nightclub & Dayclub at the Cosmopolitan

Las Vegas is a city built on hype that runs on hype, yet the buzz surrounding the opening of Tao and Lavo’s sister spot is impressive even by Las Vegas standards. The mega-club is the biggest thing the nightlife scene has seen since XS opened two years ago, and it has other operators bracing themselves. Four clubs in one, Marquee has the potential to be all things to a whole lot of people, from sun-worshipers and bottle-buyers, to house-heads and cocktail connoisseurs. Adding to the anticipation is the Cosmopolitan’s quirky marketing campaign, which makes us want to embrace that tempting tag line—“Just the right amount of wrong”—and take it for a spin.

9. Biggest Comeback

On the Strip: Ghostbar at the Palms

At the venerable age of nearly 10, Ghostbar would this year probably have been ripe for an overhaul—new name, new look (despite not needing it) and a new purpose. But just like big sister Rain, Ghostbar was brought back from the edge with some savvy programming. What Paul Oakenfold’s Perfecto Saturdays and N9NE Group’s consecutive Friday efforts (from AM to Z-Trip) did for Rain, Snitch Wednesdays did for Ghostbar, not only reintroducing the sexy lounge spot to its original audience but introducing it to a new audience of hipsters. And hipsters are people, too.

Off the Strip: The Artisan Boutique Hotel

Remember when the Artisan was cool? Well, welcome back. Once an aging Travelodge in an odd, off-ramp location, the Artisan was reinvented as a quirkily decorated boutique hotel. Add a stylish lounge pouring classic cocktails, and the Artisan became the kind of insiders’ hangout you’d be lucky to stumble upon in a trendy San Francisco neighborhood. But financial and management woes took their toll, and the Artisan seemed destined to disappear. Enter the Siegel Group, the savior-creator of many unique Vegas properties (see Rumor, Gold Spike). Under Siegel’s management (and a healthy renovation), the Artisan has exceeded its previous reputation as a genuinely interesting nightspot. DJ M!ke Attack owns Fridays, with “Shake and Pop” pulling dance-happy hipsters, while electronica after-hours are banging both Friday and Saturday. You may not get any sleep at the Artisan, but you will always have a good time with an interesting crowd, and in a way few Vegas venues offer.