Simon Hammerstein is the type of person who inspires extreme assessments. His Web presence shows a celebrated and celebrity-filled life lived under the at-times admiring and at-other-times acerbic eye of the media. Perez Hilton describes him as “NYC’s craZZZiest nightclub owner,” which pretty much sums up both poles of thought.
As a nightlife impresario, Hammerstein has the conspiratorial verve of your (regal) dirty uncle. Even on the public tennis court where he meets for this interview, the New Yorker carries an easy air of black-sheep royalty, with his vaguely British accent (he has dual citizenship and has spent 12 years on and off in England) and his pedigree in show business. His grandfather was Oscar Hammerstein II, the co-creator of classic musicals such as Oklahoma! and The Sound of Music. His great-great-grandfather built numerous theaters in New York City and is credited with inventing the pie-in-the-face vaudeville gag (“What have I invented,” Hammerstein muses, “the naked fat guy dry-humping Kate Moss?”).
Their descendant helms The Act, a new nightclub at the Palazzo that combines spicy cabaret performances with a nightclub atmosphere. The variety acts, which occur periodically throughout the night, include dance, performance art, burlesque, acrobatics and cinematic vignettes. The shows are imaginative, highly sexual and designed to shock … or at least ease the audience into abandoning their inhibitions.
The Act is Hammerstein’s third club, following his success with The Box, in both New York City and London. In those locations, the explicit performances (as well as his sometimes-outrageous personality) made Hammerstein infamous. But the restrictions of the Strip pressed Hammerstein to find salaciousness in suggestion instead of nudity. (“I’m not a dog with a muzzle,” Hammerstein says about the rules. “I’m still going to bite you—just not with a vagina.”)
Even though he’s thriving, the 35-year-old sometimes seems … well, a little too intellectual for a life lived at night. If he weren’t busy expanding his empire to Dubai (his club opens there in the spring) and Miami (opening in the summer), Hammerstein might prefer to spend quiet nights reading Hermann Hesse and taking in some theater. “Everything in cycles,” he says. “I’ve always been an extremist. I go through a time where I just want to [stay home]. Then I go through a time where I just want to stay up all night, every night.”
The man of extremes is looking to find a place in the middle. “It’s about finding balance,” he says. “I know people who are too healthy, and they go crazy. I know people who party too much, and they go crazy.” Hammerstein thinks that place of balance might be in Las Vegas, where the traffic is light, tennis is year-round and Red Rock provides the voracious climber with “some of the best climbing in the nation.” In short, Las Vegas offers Hammerstein the good life. And, in return, he offers us a taste of a deliciously illicit one.