When Hakkasan Las Vegas Restaurant & Nightclub opens its doors at MGM Grand in April, it will end all the speculation surrounding one of the most anticipated projects on the Strip. I recently walked through the space with Neil Moffitt, founder and CEO of Angel Management Group, who manages party palaces such as Wet Republic, Pure and Social House. Moffitt conceived and will operate Hakkasan Las Vegas, a plan that was hatched two years ago in the office of MGM Resorts International chairman Jim Murren, when Moffitt presented the idea to remake one of the world’s most recognizable intersections.
“In our initial meetings with Jim, we were astounded by the fact that he would allow us to mess with the façade of MGM,” Moffitt says. “We told him we would like to bring the building out 30 feet, and he said, ‘Great, just as long as I can have some [influence] on what’s going back there, I’m all for it.’”
The Hakkasan construction team demolished the southwest corner of the casino on Tropicana and Las Vegas boulevards and brought the exterior wall forward to create a new dual marquee, which surrounds the iconic MGM Grand lion. “This is a complicated project. We had to create the space we wanted,” Moffitt says.
Las Vegas has seen the trend of clubs being owned and operated by the casinos themselves, and conversely by outside management companies who specialize in doing this. The city has also seen big-box, one-room venues and labyrinthine spaces that are modular in their design, allowing for intimate or massive parties as needed. For Moffitt and his team, Hakkasan is a result of all the lessons learned during the roller-coaster ride that was nightlife in Las Vegas over the past decade.
Encompassing five stories, the 80,000-square-foot complex (a footprint that formerly included Studio 54) has a first-level dining room, a private second-level dining room, a VIP lounge and nightclub on the third floor, and a main nightclub and pavilion that spans the fourth and fifth levels. There, the world’s top DJs will play (Calvin Harris is the first to be officially confirmed). Revelers will witness a high-tech audio-visual system, and diners will experience Michelin-rated cuisine.
Guests enter Hakkasan from the casino floor. With a capacity in the thousands, Moffitt says Hakkasan has devised a sophisticated system to manage both the line and the pedestrian traffic surrounding the entrance. “All things being equal, if the study is correct, it will be great. Until we actually open and have that number of human bodies, nothing’s ever perfect.” The entrance to the restaurant sits opposite the three elevators going to the nightclub floors. “We can move 2,500 people an hour, up and down,” he says.
The “cage,” or shell, of the restaurant is the largest ever built for a Hakkasan (there are two in London, four in the U.S., three in the Middle East and one in India). The dining room, helmed by chef Ho Chee Boon, has 18-foot ceilings, and the kitchen itself is a marvel. “It has to be built in a specific way,” Moffitt says. “[Hakkasan] decided what equipment works to produce the best-quality food, and they will not deviate from that.”
The second floor’s private dining rooms offer panoramic views of the restaurant below. And on the third floor, the intimate Ling Ling lounge serves as a transitional space and gives guests their first glimpse into the nightclub zone. “We didn’t want to just appeal to one demographic,” Moffitt says. “There are people who are going to the restaurant who don’t want to go to a nightclub. They might want a more high-end mixology experience.” Moffitt says his team will be very cautious as to who gets to access the lounge, and subsequently, I predict, it will become one of the most exclusive spaces in Las Vegas. “It’s really an extension of the restaurant, but it also acts as a retreat for people who want to be a part of the experience in a more sedate environment.”
“We are taking the DNA of the restaurant and running it through the building,” Moffitt says, noting the dramatic shift in atmosphere as one moves from the Ling Ling lounge into the adjacent 10,000-square-foot flexible nightclub area. It can function independently, or can be an annex of the main room on the fourth and fifth floors. But no matter on which level guests find themselves, design elements, such as the lotus-blossom motif, harken back to the first impressions of the restaurant.
“The third-floor nightclub is more intimate and has higher energy and lower ceilings than what we have upstairs, [so] we can offer one or three nightclubs,” Moffitt says. “We’ve created a competitive nightclub within our own facility.”
Ascending to the fifth floor, I got a first glance at the club’s vast, two-story main room, which itself can be sectioned off into four separate environments. “We can open up pocket doors and combine the spaces,” Moffitt says. “It can be super intimate for 200, or there could be 4,000 people in here.”
The table setup is in the style of a stadium. Booths are elevated, allowing partiers to see the club from every angle. The DJ will also be in a prime position, enveloped by an LED wall—which Moffitt says will be the first of this caliber in Las Vegas.
“Imagine if you’re the DJ: When the downstairs and upstairs are full and it’s got intensity, there’s nothing like it. It makes the hair stand up on the back of your neck,” Moffitt says. “It’s not like walking in a sea of heads; it’s like being in a stadium. When you see someone score a touchdown, he looks up at the coliseum like he’s a god. That’s the DJ’s mentality.”
As Moffitt concluded the tour, we observed the corner of Tropicana and Las Vegas boulevards from Hakkasan’s fourth floor, the view still exposed as the walls have yet to be constructed.
“This is not my first rodeo,” he says in a moment of reflection. “I’ve been through the whole electronic thing for the past 20 years. I introduced Tiësto, Armin van Buuren, Swedish House Mafia, Deadmau5 … everybody to this market. I’ve had the big club with only one room. But I believe the clubs that are successful for many years are the ones that offer different things at different times, appealing to different people.”
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