On a steamy day in early July, Kristi San Nicolas decided to go to a pool party with 400 of her closest friends. The petite 33-year-old drove 12 miles from her Pomona, Calif., home to an estate in the Alta Loma foothills, paid her $5 cover—which went to a local charity—and found her slice of Vegas: a spacious backyard, a steady rotation of locally known DJs, $125 bottle service and, on the economical side, $5 drinks at the bar. There were also tacos and oysters for sale, a tattoo artist at work and celebrity appearances by Super Bowl champ Hakim Akbar and Michael Steger from 90210.
Marquee’s swanky day club may be a few hours north up Interstate 15, but that hasn’t stopped promoters from trying to bring Vegas-style pool parties to California’s Inland Empire. “I think that they’re definitely trying to copy that Vegas vibe,” San Nicolas says. “But bringing it to the suburbs?”
It’s not as strange as it sounds. “I’m actually surprised it didn’t happen sooner,” says DJ Scotty Boy, who was there the day the Hard Rock Hotel’s infamous Rehab gave birth to the scene in 2003. In fact, the events popping up at the hotels and borrowed mansions of San Bernardino County may be truer to those roots than what you’ll find poolside in Vegas today. Catering to locals rather than tourists, they offer open-format music and a relaxed atmosphere meant to rehabilitate the masses after a weekend of partying.
The challenge is to offer Vegas amenities at Inland Empire prices. “You’ve got to run things like they’re run in Vegas,” says DJ Manny Ramos, who lives in Victorville but holds a residency at the Paris Las Vegas pool. That means attracting a beautiful crowd that’s greeted by a beautiful staff, he says. It means Red Bull not Rockstar, and carafes not cartons.
The trend is reaching well beyond hillside estates: Inland Empire hotels are getting in on the act, too. Eddie Martinez, an experienced promoter who’s launching Splash Sundays at the trendy Aloft hotel in Rancho Cucamonga, plans to work his way up to cabanas, big-name DJs and swimsuit fashion shows.
For now, though, Martinez is content not charging a cover, and it’s working: He’s packing the small pool to capacity with a pleased and peaceful crowd of 200. And the pool parties fit well with Aloft’s image and passion for hosting music events.
It’s good news that Martinez’s hotel parties have gone well, because the Inland Empire can be rough territory for neighborhood fêtes. “There are too many city ordinances, too many laws to keep it going,” says Dony “DJ Deone” Besser, who mixes from San Diego to Sin City. One fight, one noise complaint from neighbors, and he says California’s Vegas-style pool parties will dry up.
There’s also the question of pulling together the money it takes to do these parties right. Both Ramos and Scotty Boy got stiffed on a party that flopped at a hotel in Whittier. The promoter dubbed the event Detox and booked legends like Swedish Egil, then couldn’t pay for the talent or equipment after no one showed.
Would-be impresarios quickly learn that it’s not enough to blast Facebook friends and Twitter followers with invites. “People go to Vegas and say, ‘Oh, I can do that because I have connections,’” Ramos says. “Then they don’t have any capital.”
So it’s tough to fault the promoters who have succeeded in keeping the Vegas vibe alive at the estates and hotels of Upland and Rancho Cucamonga. They’re bringing in the bodies and the talent, making sure the beats and the alcohol keep flowing, and helping those of us who live in the Inland Empire feel that, in some way, it happens here, too.