Anthony Olheiser Wants You to Party Like It’s ‘The Aughts’ at LAX

Photo by Anthony Mair

Photo by Anthony Mair

Rewind to 2007, when Luxor was in a full-scale revamp to de-pyramid-ize itself, pumping $300 million worth of GenX chic into its dated, kitschy, family-friendly reputation. The improvements included CatHouse restaurant, helmed by the late chef Kerry Simon; its adjacent ultra lounge; and the rustic, ski lodge-vibe Company American Bistro, a Pure Management Group restaurant driven by golden boy chef Adam Sobel. The high-profile LAX nightclub, imported from Los Angeles, led the party-forward atmosphere with an opening hosted by a mid-meltdown Britney Spears (wig included). All at once, Luxor was less theme and more approachable fun.

In the years since, LAX kept pace for a while, but was eventually overshadowed by the formation of an impenetrable pantheon of Las Vegas nightlife companies that swayed toward luxury service and EDM. After several changes in management, from Pure Management to Angel Management to Hakkasan Group, MGM Resorts assumed control of the space in February 2015 and began a major refresh. This is not the first time that a nightlife venue has been managed “in house” without the help of an outside operator. In the early 2000s, before the giant groups such as Light and Hakkasan took over, that’s the way it was. The man at the helm of some of the most successful lounges and clubs in the second half of that era, including Tabú, Studio 54 and Wet Republic, was Anthony Olheiser, the former director of entertainment and development for MGM Grand.

Following a two-year stint in Los Angeles as the director of food and beverage for the Ritz-Carlton and JW Marriott at L.A. LIVE, Olheiser has returned to Las Vegas as Luxor’s executive director of brand activation. His current focus is to refresh the ethos of LAX. “The fees for a lot of these DJs became astronomical,” Olheiser says. “It made sense at the time to say, ‘OK, this group can operate it; [it] has relationships with DJs, and then we’ll see what happens. Now we’re taking a look at the profitability and the viability [of that system].”

New LED screens light up the night at LAX. | Photo by Stacey Torma.

New LED screens light up the night at LAX. | Photo by Stacey Torma.

And while the old thought process was for MGM Resorts to partner with a nightlife operator that had the ties and pocketbooks to bring in big DJs, the new philosophy is to look to T-Mobile Arena and other live-music opportunities for synergy. “If we have an [artist] performing at Mandalay Bay [Events Center], we need to do a better job of making that artist a part of what we’re trying to do [at LAX] versus having them go somewhere else,” Olheiser says, noting that in a perfect world, artists would continue the experience for their fans at LAX. He also alludes to reciprocities with a new theater at Monte Carlo that will focus on A-list artist residencies that will stay for two to three weeks. Plus, New York-New York doesn’t currently have a nightclub, nor does Monte Carlo, and Luxor is at the epicenter of 8,000 hotel rooms. In essence, all those people need somewhere to party.

In preparation for his big year, LAX received the requisite nightclub facelift: a new lighting system, boasting one of the biggest rigs of any nightclub in the country; added LED panels that can be programmed with content to support the DJ; and an enhanced sound system. The advertising campaign reflects a party scene where the guest is the star, aimed at appealing to a more conventional and more mature demographic. “[There’s a] mainstream American nightlife market that is not being spoken to right now,” Olheiser says. “My goal is to go after those folks. I want 2,000 people dancing and partying, affordable drinks, approachability, [a place] easy to get into, where people are smiling at you.”

Drinks average $12 and bottle service is offered, but it’s not a hard sell. “It’s a table minimum,” Olheiser says. “And during the week, we’ve been doing no-minimum tables. Like a restaurant, you’re presented a bottle-service menu and you can spend freely. We had a table that didn’t want to spend $500 at the front door for six or seven people. So, we said no problem, sit down. They ended up having a magnum of Grey Goose and a bottle of Dom Pérignon. Their bill was $1,300. They would have never spent that if we hustled them at the front door.”

In late January, LAX launched a Thursday-night Throwback party, with live performances by acts from the ’80s to 2000s. “It’s a great experience. It’s fun, relatable. It’s Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer, these guys who just put on good shows. They do three or four songs and people go crazy and everybody’s dressed up in Adidas, and we’re just having fun.”

Upcoming Throwback Thursday artists include Salt-N-Pepa’s DJ Spinderella on February 4 and Young M.C. on February 18. You can still “Bust a Move,” can’t you?

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