The Golden State’s Gold Standard

Every time a high-end club or restaurant opens in Las Vegas, media releases tout the maker’s unique attention to detail, the unparalleled brand experience and all that. The litany of adjectives tends to lack authenticity, even when the descriptions lack exaggeration.

A few minutes with Costas Charalambous makes you believe the pitch. He oversees the 13 (and counting) properties in the nightlife division of the Los Angeles-based SBE entertainment group. In perfectly fitted black clothing, the Greek native stands out amid the chalky construction dust covering the company’s first Las Vegas nightclub, Hyde Bellagio.

He explains precisely what will make this space different from the dozens of other clubs embedded in prime casino locations. How it will fill a niche for those seeking exclusivity. How the Gulla Johnsdottir-designed space, with beautiful coffee tables and freestanding lamps, will exude modern Italian elegance. How the lakefront location demanded a late-afternoon opening as a lounge before it transforms into a nightclub at 11 p.m.

Hyde Bellagio will “share DNA” with the original West Hollywood club that serves just 100 and bans photography and press so its celebrity clientele can relax. Hyde Staples Center tweaked the formula to offer an exclusive experience in a suite of private boxes. And next year in Miami, the concept will extend with Hyde Beach, a nightclub and day-club.

Charalambous sweeps a hand past the soaring columns that frame the expansive view of Bellagio’s dancing fountains. “This is our secret sauce,” he jokes. “We had to take advantage of that.

“We couldn’t just put an L.A. club in this space. We had to make it live up to all the expectations you would have of Bellagio and all the expectations that our Hyde clientele have of us.”

With floor-to-ceiling doors opening to a trellised patio, the space will be as attractive in daylight as it will be exciting at midnight. The details will all be right because they will meet his standards, Charalambous promises.

Such a statement rings true when later he recounts a story from his days playing basketball in Greece. One day his coach left early with instructions to Charalambous and his teammates to finish training on their own. Once the coach was out of sight, no one stuck around. At home later, Charalambous was so troubled by the unfinished work and the mild deception that he put his shorts back on and ran laps around his block.

“When something is off, it upsets me,” he says. It could be the flow of the room or too-harsh lighting. “For me, it’s never a matter of ‘But nobody else will know.’ I know. And I can’t let go of it.”

In recruiting for Hyde Bellagio, Charalambous has sought out employees who could articulate a similar vision. Mixologists and managers who won’t cut corners. People he can trust with the details.

He shares another life lesson, this one from his service in the Greek army. “There was one officer—he wasn’t the nicest, but he was the most understanding. I asked him when I was graduating why he didn’t have that attitude of rank that other commanders did. He told me, if we went to war, we’d be equals. He’d have a gun; I’d have a gun. He told me he needed me to do what’s right when he wasn’t looking. That’s exactly what I want our employees to do now.”

In 2002, SBE founder Sam Nazarian tapped Charalambous to build his nightlife division, which now also includes the Sayers Club and the Abbey. SBE quickly developed a portfolio of boutique hotels, restaurants and clubs that can keep its clientele’s interest during several nights’ stay in Los Angeles. It aims to do the same in Las Vegas, as many of Hyde’s competitors here already have.

“Las Vegas caters to masses, to mid-America really, really well. So we think the best way for us to come into Vegas is by offering a place that can push people a little bit outside the mainstream in terms of the music, the ambience. That 10 to 20 percent change comes in the details. It’s what will make 100 percent of the difference between us and them.”

SBE bought the now-vacant Sahara in 2007 and shelved plans to convert the space into a branded property when the economy nosedived. In November, the Clark County Commission approved initial plans for the property’s renovation. It includes a nightclub, but Charalambous is not ready to share details.

First, Hyde Bellagio has to live up to its hype.

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The Downtown Cocktail Room’s doors are impossibly un-door-ish. You walk up from the intersection of Fremont Street and Las Vegas Boulevard, happy to join the buzzing downtown camaraderie—the urban revolution taking hold of Las Vegas—and you’re faced with walls of one-way glass and no apparent door handle. For the uninitiated, it makes for an awkward moment. Had this happened to me, and I’m not confirming that it did, the larger metaphor wouldn’t have been lost: Maybe everyone doesn’t fit in here.



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