Despite his scholarly looks, curator, urban historian and blogger Brian Paco Alvarez was more than likely genetically predisposed to dance thanks to his parents’ party days at El Jardin and the Landmark. In 1998 the Las Vegas native lived to be nocturnal and oozed club-kid aesthetic. Dressed in beads, rhinestones, huge pants, lamé shirts, crazy headgear and goggles, this raving Liberace took it to another level every time he went out. Here is his reminiscence.
It was about 11 in the evening, and I had just finished up in the shower. Standing in front of the closet I was trying to decide what JNCO-brand jeans I was going to put on: wide, superwide or ridiculously wide. I decided it was going to be the ridiculously wide ones with the slots from where I could hang my glow-sticks. Yep, I had my glow-sticks all ready to go: two green ones, a blue one and a red one. Now came the long-sleeved yellow Adidas shirt, yellow Adidas visor and shell-toe Adidas with the fat yellow laces to match. Oh wait, I forgot to mention the dozens of brightly colored candy-bead bracelets, necklaces and my trusted binky!
With midnight, um, rolling around and the honking of my bud’s horn outside, the time had arrived to depart the ’burbs and make our way down to the Strip. Parking at the Showcase Mall and already hearing the unmistakable sound of bass permeating the surrounding environment, we would start our quick descent down the ramp and make our way to what we called “Church.” It was shortly after midnight, and therefore Sunday morning, after all. As we made our way to the front entrance we were greeted by “Father” Mike at the door. He nodded and we were ushered in, no questions asked. Upon entering the sanctuary, the lights, the sounds, the people, the environment took over your senses. We were definitely not in Kansas anymore; we had arrived at the Grand Dame of Las Vegas nightclubs and the precursor that set the stage for everything that came afterward. Her name was Club Utopia.
As psychonaut Terence McKenna would say, we were about to take our forward escape into hyperspace. Club Utopia was the place where the DJ became the shaman and the club kids would come to worship. For a student of anthropology like me, Utopia was where I would do my field research. In my mind it was the last place on earth to observe primitive Homo sapiens. It was a forward escape into the past. It was archaic; it was Paleolithic. Experiencing Club Utopia was what anthropologists like to call “participant observation,” where the researcher immerses themselves in the culture they are studying.
This particular evening was magical to say the least. The club was packed full of kids, the space was obscured by smoke machines, laser lights, visualizations, the deep melancholic sounds of trance and the ever-present scent of Vicks VapoRub. As the music got thunderous and ever more complex in its syncopation, the masses would rise and face the DJ in approval. As I stood among this mass of humanity dancing wildly, I looked up at the shaman behind the decks. At that moment he made eye contact with me and simply smiled. He knew quite well where I was, and I knew exactly where he was taking all of us. At that very moment I said to myself that if I was given one hour left to live on this earth and was given the choice to experience a moment from my past, that moment would be at Club Utopia right then.
It is without a doubt that Club Utopia was a benchmark moment in the history of Las Vegas nightlife. Many clubs came after her, but none come close to what she was. The camaraderie of the club kids, the DJs, the staff, the space itself was sacred ground. Club Utopia was the sparkle that made the ’90s a very special time to be alive.