Odds are, if you passed through the ropes at Drai’s Afterhours or the House of Blues in the early 2000s, you’ve stood in the shadow of then-doorman Trayan Tashev (or, as he’s more commonly known around town, Mr. T). At 6 feet tall and a solid 215 pounds, Tashev was more than just the guy at the door; he was the door. Throughout the early “aughts,” Tashev, now a successful independent VIP host, was a veritable fixture on the Las Vegas nightlife merry-go-round; he knew everyone and everyone knew him. But when things got dark during the Great Recession, it was a regular client who pulled him into an MMA gym and helped him get his act together.
From Burgas in Bulgaria, “right on the Black Sea,” a young Trayan dreamed of escaping the oppressive Soviet system of the 1980s and ’90s. “It was a very tough time, a very tough country. People telling you what to do. People telling you where to work. I always dreamed of moving away and finding a better life.” Luckily, his father gave him the opportunity to join Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s The Greatest Show on Earth. In early 2000, Tashev’s father secured a contract for his son and a few others to join him in the circus’ acrobatic troupe that was touring the U.S. After a year of circus life, Tashev (now 22) bolted and made his way to his ultimate destination: Las Vegas. “It was always my dream that when I came to America, I would go to Las Vegas. Why? I don’t know.”
There was just one small problem: Tashev didn’t speak a word of English. He found a place to crash with family friends from his hometown in Bulgaria, and from there, he dove right in, immersing himself in American culture. “I needed to learn fast—I tried to learn English by talking to people about anything, watching movies, listening to music, reading books.” It wasn’t easy, but little by little he figured it out. “At first I was riding a bicycle everywhere. But then I learned about the bus. And then I learned about putting my bike on the front of the bus …”
Eventually, Tashev acquired enough rudimentary language skills to land himself a job as a self-defense instructor. And what a lucky break that turned out to be. “I found some people involved in MMA, and through them I met [nightlife executives] Cy and Jesse Waits. Cy said, ‘Why don’t you come work for me?’ [In winter 2001], he gave me a job at House of Blues [in Mandalay Bay]. I worked there for a little while and then when Jesse was re-opening Drai’s in 2002, he said, ‘Here is a good guy. Why don’t you see what he can do?’ And that’s how it all started for me.”
From Doorman to The Man
Tashev worked the Strip’s most notorious doors for the next six years. But as entrenched in the scene as he was, he couldn’t help but notice there was something in the air. The rules in Las Vegas nightlife were slowly changing. “In the beginning, if you wanted a table you just asked at the door. After a while, you needed a host, someone to make a reservation. After Light opened [in 2001] … things just went to another level.” As the Las Vegas nightlife scene continued to swell, Tashev decided he was going to rise with the tide. All the years he’d spent building both his reputation and network were about to pay off. Before he knew it, he was more than just a doorman; he was evolving alongside an entirely new Las Vegas animal. It’s hard to imagine the city’s nightclub scene without them: the independent VIP host.
“I wanted to do something different. At the time, only two or three people were doing independent hosting, I was like, ‘Why not? I’m going to try.’” Tashev now operates his own VIP concierge company, and says 90 percent of his business comes from referrals. “I work with people I know, and that’s how I want it to stay. I don’t want to work with people I don’t know.”
Hitting Bottom, Beating the Odds
Just as the Las Vegas nightlife scene was becoming the land of the VIP, the excess of the early 2000s was giving way to the economic crisis of 2007. Tashev found himself caught up in the worst of it. He had made some shaky real estate investments, and at the same time, a personal relationship was crumbling.
Throughout this “dark time” as he calls it, Tashev was still hosting, and still bumping into people involved in MMA. One of them, the person he now calls, “my coach, master, friend and brother,” was Amilcar Cipili, a fourth-degree black-belt professor with more than 90 titles in major competition. Tashev first met Cipili back in the day at Drai’s. “Every time he’d come to Drai’s he would say, ‘When are you going to come to the gym? When do you want to start training?’ Everyone knew that I had been a fighter back in Bulgaria, but I still had to make a living, you know? I was just in a really bad place. [Cipili] said, ‘You know what? Just come to the gym. All this bad stuff that is going on with you, we can work on this.’” And work they did—for the next eight years.
“Jiujitsu is very hard in the beginning, but it teaches you how to be stronger in life. Working in the nightclub business is hard. You work until 4 or 5 in the morning, there are drunk people all the time telling you they want this, they want that—it’s overwhelming. Some people like to gamble, some people drink. For me, it’s going to the mat. I moved all the bad energy through. No matter how bad anything got, I was using that energy to clean myself. I went every single day.”
Today, Tashev has put his dark days behind him. He now enjoys the best of both worlds: nightlife and jiujitsu. To this he will soon add the role of father to a newborn son. And on June 17, Tashev became the first Bulgarian to receive a Gracie jiujitsu black belt. “I am honored to be where I am,” Tashev says, “because I know how many sacrifices I made to get here. … I run my company, I love to make my clients happy. Then I will go to the gym and step on the mat—no more Mr. T. Just humble T.”
Looking for a host who’s been around, seen it all and can kick your ass? Follow @MrTVegasVip on Twitter.