If you’ve been on the Strip in the past five years, you know that nightclubs are front-and-center at most big resorts. Which begs the question: What’s a Vegas casino look like today when you subtract the nightclubs?
First off, let’s clarify the definition. Every Strip casino is alive at night. Most of the things people do in Las Vegas—with an emphasis on gambling and drinking—continue around the clock no matter where you are. In most cities, even a place as unpretentious as Ellis Island would be considered a nocturnal hot spot. But in Las Vegas, nightlife means something very specific—the bass-pounding, bottle service-powered nightclub/dayclub engine that, it seems, powers much of the Strip economy today.
It’s not news to say this brings in a different kind of customer than Las Vegas is used to—younger, brasher and simultaneously more (rooms) and less (nightclubs) price-sensitive than most Vegas visitors. And they’re far more visible than, say, business travelers: You only spot convention delegates in small clutches as they scurry from the expo hall to cocktails before remembering to remove their badges, but it’s impossible to miss the line of nightclubbers snaking through the property.
The funny thing is that nightclubs are to post-recession Vegas what gambling was to most of the country in the 1990s. Remember when people used to say gambling was recession-proof? Turns out it isn’t, but for the past few years, nightclubs seem to be. Lines out the door. Tens of thousands of dollars a night to celebrity hosts. Margins on bottles that the bean counters dream of. Without them, it’s possible that a few of the Strip’s biggest names would be facing bankruptcy.
Nonetheless, for casinos without nightclubs, life not only goes on, but can go on profitably. In such places, you’ll find people doing the kinds of things they came to Las Vegas to do: gambling, drinking and trying to have a good time. And casinos without nightclubs don’t have DJ envy—as a matter of fact, they don’t really miss the action. Circus Circus has consciously chosen not to jump on the club bandwagon, even though owner MGM Resorts has made nightlife a priority at flagship resorts Bellagio and Aria.
“The bulk of our current guests at Circus Circus,” says MGM spokeswoman Yvette Monet, “much prefer the experience of the Adventuredome and the circus midway acts to nightclubs. But for our adult guests who want some nightclub flavor, we do have terrific flair bartenders who put on a great show at Rock & Rita’s.”
And at least one casino that once embraced nightlife has turned away from it. When it was part of the MGM empire, Treasure Island boasted Christian Audigier the Nightclub—the seemingly inevitable fusion of Ed Hardy with bottle service. But since Phil Ruffin bought the place in 2009, he’s taken it in a different direction: Earlier this year, Señor Frog’s Restaurant and Bar moved into the space vacated by Christian Audigier and Social House, and Ruffin is in no rush to open a nightclub on the property.
“Competing with big nightclubs is challenging,” says Michelle Knoll, Treasure Island’s senior vice president of communications. “You have to be mindful of who you and your clients are. Right now, we’re excited for Senor Frog’s”—the restaurant operates on a straight lease, so it is not, strictly speaking, a Treasure Island product—“but we’re equally happy with our own Seafood Shack, which has a fantastic bar and lounge. … [It’s] a place for people who like being able to sit down and have a drink without having to worry about waiting in lines or paying for bottle service.”
But does neglecting dubstep devotees leave Treasure Island at a competitive disadvantage?
“We’ve got 10,000 a people a day watching four Siren shows and two Mystére shows,” Knoll says. “We’re mindful of people who want a cocktail after the show. We like the idea of providing a place where they can talk to each other, have a cocktail and just enjoy the property.”
That’s a healthy reminder of the basics of hospitality: Places to drink and talk may not make big headlines, but for the vast majority of visitors they’re more essential to the Vegas experience than all the DJs in town.