Today is one of those rare days when Phil Loomis knows what it’s like to be a member of the 9-to-5 crowd.
At least a little bit.
“[On weekends] it’s 18-hour days,” he explains on the elevator ride up to Drai’s Beachclub & Nightclub on the roof of The Cromwell. “Today is mostly meetings.”
He’s not complaining. Who would he even complain to? As director of VIP operations for Drai’s Enterprises, Loomis’ hands are full, overseeing a team of more than 60 encompassing VIP and sales, promotions and the guest services departments.
But for just a few minutes on this Tuesday morning, he’s on a break and sharing a watermelon fruit bowl in a poolside bungalow while photographer Anthony Mair eyes the perfect location to shoot his image.
His team is going to have a field day busting his chops about the photo shoot, Loomis jokes, expecting to hear people shout out, “Hey, Mr. Big Shot!” in passing for the rest of the day.
Loomis prefers that the headlines and attention remain on the club’s talent roster and the experience he’s worked to cultivate since returning to Las Vegas from Miami in 2015, where he launched Miami Beach’s revered Story Nightclub and led the team at south Florida’s Panther Coffee.
Coffee would have been his thing upon his return, but Loomis kept running into old friends from his days as a VIP manager for Nine Group at Palms. Looking at Drai’s, he envisioned the next evolution of nightlife.
“Las Vegas has gone through the stages of ‘What Happens Here, Stays Here’ and the old-school nightlife mentality, when there was less surveillance and less regulation,” he explains. “We’ve gone through that growing-up phase to now, where we’ve got it dialed in to a science and a business. Las Vegas understands entertainment very maturely.”
Put the emphasis on entertainment. To hear Loomis describe it, programming a day or night at Drai’s is akin to planning a party for 2,500 guests, and it can’t be the same party on repeat. Each comes with its own headliner and, more importantly, audience expectations.
“A lot of it is trying to figure out what is an experience worth getting out of bed for?” Loomis says. “What’s going to make it so that you leave your hotel and go visit us? How can we create a little bit of cultural gravity to draw people here?”
Remaking the Nightlife Roster
What Drai’s has done in the years since Loomis came on is strip down its nightlife talent roster and rebuild it to reflect the music charts, he explains. Admitting that nightlife “got a little bit stale” and seeing that hip-hop has a reach beyond EDM, he and the Drai’s team set out to sign emerging and veteran artists for full-blown 45-minute concerts.
The 2018 residency roster includes the likes of Rae Sremmurd, Nelly, 2 Chainz, Snoop Dogg, Migos and T.I.
Drai’s is unique in that the stage is also “evolving,” Loomis says. Although tables on the dance floor are 10 feet from the artist, the venue recently unveiled a catwalk, further creating a concert atmosphere in the club.
“We’ve added other layers with our [Drai’s Dirty] dancers and a live drummer with the DJ, so we’re always looking to augment what we do to create an engaging experience,” he says.
It’s a formula competitors can’t imitate, Loomis adds, because “their venues aren’t built for it [and] their contracts aren’t built for it.”
The Daybed Closest to the Sun
It took until April, but Las Vegas is finally starting to warm back up. While it’s barely 10:30 a.m., there are a few hotel guests settling into chairs around the Drai’s pool. It will get busy in a few hours, and a DJ will be behind the decks on the outdoor stage.
Drai’s’ dalliance with hip-hop hasn’t led Loomis and company to completely abandon dance music. The DJs come out in daylight, with A-Trak, Walshy Fire, Dada Life and Showtek among those tapped for Beachclub this season.
Loomis explains that even if the venue were built for “$300,000 DJs” like other dayclubs, that wouldn’t be part of the Drai’s narrative. Instead, the pool and cafe—with its custom menu by executive chef Phillip Soriano—are what people leave talking about, as well as the obvious “wow” factor.
“We’re a rooftop beachclub on the 50-yard line of arguably the most recognizable street in the world,” he says. “That’s a good start to our narrative.”
Indeed, being 11 stories above the Strip makes it easier, mentally, to leave your worries on the ground floor while you kick back on a daybed.
“You Can’t Stay Flat-Footed in This Market”
It’s telling that Loomis hasn’t reached for his phone once during our conversation. Not only does it show remarkable discipline, but it also reflects his own comments on creating a “customer-focused” team and building face-to-face relationships with guests, regardless of whether they become Drai’s regulars.
“I’m very much a systems person, by the book,” he explains in between bites of watermelon. “I don’t necessarily think there are a lot of VIP services departments in Vegas that are focusing so heavily on concepts that you might see in tech startups—really focusing on culture and mission and vision and values.”
At times he sounds like the perfect candidate to teach a management seminar. In a way, he explains he already does. Loomis makes all of his managers read the same book—Setting the Table by Danny Meyer—to understand the difference between service and hospitality, and he merges new philosophies with those taught by nightlife kingpin (and the club’s namesake) Victor Drai: detail-oriented while still understanding the big picture.
“It’s easy to be a hospitality professional when the guests are easy,” he explains. “When the guests are tough or have an issue that’s not easy to solve, that’s when you can really separate yourself.
“There’s a way that VIP services has been done historically and it works to a certain extent, but it creates a lot of churn and a lot of burnout, and we’re moving into this new phase. You can’t stay flat-footed and succeed in this market.”