Neil Kull is the kind of guy who creates virtual models of nightclubs on his laptop for fun. Who, upon arriving at a venue, will walk around the dance floor until he finds the sweet spot where the sound comes together just right, and will stand there, just listening. So when the former Light Group lighting director starts talking nightclub design, we pay attention.
Much of how partygoers respond to a space happens at a subconscious level, Kull says. The right ambient color “temperature”—heavy on warm tones, light on green—can make people look more attractive, boosting the chances of a hookup. Curtain lights in cross-cutting patterns add a feeling of coziness. And unusually shaped rooms can heighten our sense that something unexpected is about to happen.
Get it just right, and you’ll provoke in club patrons that feeling industry veteran Kull experienced when he first walked into Drai’s, nightlife impresario Victor Drai’s $100-million party palace on the roof of the Cromwell. “I got that just-turned-21 look on my face,” he says. “It was the first club I’d seen in a while where I was like, ‘Fuck yeah, Vegas! You’re going somewhere.’”
We convinced Kull—who was not involved in the design of Drai’s—to take us on a walk-through of the club and point out the finer points of building a party from the sound up.
Subtly integrated video panels. Nightclub builders have been experimenting in the last two years with weaving video into a space’s design. (See Mandalay Bay’s Light for another example.) “I like this [setup], because it’s not so in my face,” Kull says. “It blinks and chases around, but it doesn’t dominate. Video adds a lot of weird color, which can dominate the room and wash out the light show. It’s hard to pull it back and make it sexy. But here, it’s balanced. There’s a lot of negative space, a lot of darkness.”
Curved lines add visual interest. “One of my favorite things about Victor [Drai] is that he uses curves,” Kull says. “If you do it wrong you take a up a lot of real estate where you could have put more customers. [Drai’s] was able to design the curve of the space without losing any square footage. We don’t often go into curved rooms. In our lives everything’s a square, a rectangle, a box. When you go into a room that’s an unusual shape, you automatically get that sense that you’re not in Kansas anymore.”
Each level’s decor complements the others’. Like a sparkly, jewel-toned layer cake, Drai’s contains several levels, each with its own flavor, but not so dissimilar that they clash when viewed all at once. “Nothing stands out too much,” Kull says. “It all works together.”
The sound system grabs your attention, without overwhelming. “Notice when you walk in how the sound shifts,” says Kull, waving his slender fingers through the air like a conductor. “It’s like a soft shell. If I’m not on the dance floor I should be able to hear the music well, but it’s not so loud that I can’t have a conversation at this distance,” he says, indicating about two feet. Even right next to the stage, the bass feels heavy but not punishing.
Color schemes convey warmth and sophistication. “At most clubs, it’s all about the in-your-face spectacle,” Kull says. “Here, it’s all woven together, and they use a lot of warm-tone colors—red, amber. The darker colors on the walls close in the space.” The effect is an environment that’s both stimulating and relaxing. “Nightclubs are not traditionally known for being positive places,” he says. “If you build a room that reaches out and grabs you comfortably, it tends to reduce a lot of problems.”
Symmetry allows for flexible programming. Lights are arranged in symmetrical arcs around the venue’s ginormous central disco ball, defining the—also symmetrical—space. Symmetry is kind of an obsession of Kull’s. “If I just put lights and speakers intermittently, I’d have a light show, but it wouldn’t have a shape; it wouldn’t say anything,” he says. “With a symmetrical layout, you can have movements that look like marching soldiers or lightning bolts, or you can break off into chaos and still have the shape of the room intact. You can take it anywhere, which is great for a programmer.”
The room’s balanced proportions also allow for the placement and lighting of additional mini-stages, aerial performers or live musicians, without it feeling forced. Kull contrasts that to other Vegas clubs, where designers have tried to cram an off-center stage into a room that wasn’t built for it, with awkward results. “We notice weird,” he says. “It’s like when you meet someone with a little gap in their teeth like David Letterman, you notice it.”
Clear sightlines make every table a good one. Drai’s biggest asset? That breathtaking view over the pool to the lights of Las Vegas Boulevard. And thanks to the venue’s circular shape, it’s not just the ballers at the owner’s table who get to enjoy it. From the glam elevators to the sinuous walls of the upper walkway, each step past the velvet ropes helps prepare visitors psychologically for the big reveal: that moment when they walk around a corner, reach the balcony and see the entire club spread out before them. “No matter where you go, you’ve got a great view,” says Kull. “There’s not a bad table in this place.”