Meet the Zookeepers

Collective Zoo helps keep the endangered locals party alive

In a small house-turned-office off Oakey Boulevard, parties are made. The virtual idea factory is the headquarters of Collective Zoo, a relatively new Las Vegas company specializing in locals-friendly events.

You may already be familiar with Collective Zoo’s summer flagship, Pool Party Safari, a moveable buffet of inflatable water slides, Slip ’N Slides and the occasional American Gladiator-style jousting setup that has previously called Rumor, the Artisan and the Royal House its home for a day or night. Or perhaps you caught their inaugural event, a Halloween takeover of the Artisan in 2011. They also rang in the new year with Las Vegas locals at Bar & Bistro and wooed them with a Love & Lust Valentine’s Day Sleepover at the Artisan.

But who’s behind these bashes?

Chief Financial Officer Lenny Hendricks, 24, studied accounting at UNLV, had a promotions company and worked for Pure Nightclub as well as Merrill Lynch. Vice President Matt McClure, 25, also worked for Merrill Lynch and studied finance at UNLV. Collective Zoo President Jarrett Applewhite, 26, brings the party background, and used to run J&H promotions. Different as they are, all three are truly energetic forces. “We’re all ‘Zookeepers,’” Applewhite laughs.

But here in the Entertainment Capital of the World, with competition coming from the massive and moneyed day-clubs and nightclubs, why even bother with a grassroots approach to partying?

“We just decided that the demand in the community wasn’t being satisfied,” McClure says. “The Las Vegas locals were constantly looking for something to do that didn’t involve the Strip. They don’t want to go to the nightclub; most of them work there and are looking for something to do in their free time.” Ditching their day jobs and devoting their efforts full time to Collective Zoo was a risk. “We understood when we all signed on to this thing that it was going to be a slow and steady crawl to build something that people really want to be a part of,” McClure says. “If we really wanted to, we could turn this thing around and squeeze every dollar out of everybody, but the company would be over in a month. And that’s not what we’re trying to create. We really want to make something here that people believe in.”

The trio’s personal sacrifices seem to be paying off, at least when it comes to gaining popularity. Free events, open bars and the variety of locations and activities keep ’em coming back. “It’s definitely more high energy, more active,” says Applewhite of the Zoo’s events. “People are coming to our pool parties to have fun—and they don’t care about getting their hair wet!” “The next best part of the deal is that it’s not so club-y,” Hendricks says. “We have a [guest] list that we print out for database purposes, but if you’re on that list or not, you’re going to get access to the open bar. We’re not having you wait in long, long lines. We want it to really be just like you’re going to a friend’s house party or pool party.”

Another factor that sets the Zoo apart from the zoo that is the typical Strip nightclub: You won’t have to listen to the same songs over and over again. “We really support the local music scene and up-and-comers that have skills, but don’t have a marketing team behind them or all the cash to get big,” Hendricks says. Strip DJs frequently take gigs with the Zoo, adds Applewhite, “because they get to spin what they want to spin.” Mark your calendar for Collective Zoo’s next event, a nighttime Pool Party Safari, Aug. 18 at the Hard Rock Hotel’s Breathe Pool. There’s already a plethora of promotions on the docket for when pool season wraps, from a Sunday football series to a traveling brunch, Halloween, the charitable Gobble Give at Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve and even a yoga event. Says McClure: “Don’t be afraid to try something new!”

Las Vegas locals might finally have to stop whining that there’s nothing to do off the Strip.