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The right time to join the party

Special to The Times

IN other cities the end of the year is when you slack off at work or reflect on the year just past, but in Las Vegas it’s a time of high-profile openings. The next few days will see the debuts of two major nightspots (Tryst and Jet), a high-end restaurant (Stack) and an audacious topless bar/nightclub (Seamless).

The timing is no coincidence, says Robert Fry, managing partner of Pure, a nightclub at Caesars Palace that opened last New Year’s and quickly became very hot. “You want to build momentum, so rather than open in November you’d rather save it,” he says. “January is a real busy month, with conventions and the Super Bowl. Usually, Vegas is nuts, and the room rates go up and the people who come here just let off steam. It really is a very fun time. There really is not a lot of risk [to opening then] because every place is sold out, so you know your club will be busy right off the bat.”

That is the thinking at Jet, in the Mirage. “We could have been ready to open this on Halloween,” says Sean Christie, managing partner. (Jet is owned by the Light Group, whose flagship club, Light at Bellagio, opened on Dec. 26, 2001.) Ditto at Tryst in Wynn Las Vegas, says operating partner Jesse Waits -- the Dec. 30 opening date was among the first details arranged.

The conventional wisdom has it that the tail end of the holiday is a slow period that’s ideal for finessing the details of a launch. With this in mind, Oliver Wharton, director of restaurants for the Light Group, made plans to open its latest restaurant, Stack at the Mirage, on the Thursday just days before Christmas. “We knew that we would have a week before New Year’s to get any of the kinks out.”

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Off the Strip, Brandon Roque, a former Light Group employee, conceived of Seamless -- a new $20-million (well, according to its press kit anyway) topless bar across from the Orleans -- that transforms at 4 a.m. into a plush after-hours nightclub. Roque built his plans around a mid-December opening like a casino nightclub and allows that such logic defies the usual thinking in the gentleman’s club business, where the faster you open the sooner you start counting receipts from lap dances. “It’s all casino,” he says. “I give all that we are doing to what I learned from the Light Group; they beat me to death with service, service and service.”

This year, in particular, there’s a lot riding on these decisions. With Jet and Stack, the Mirage is trying to rebrand itself after losing its franchise attraction, Siegfried & Roy, in 2003. To an unusual degree, the venerable resort, which kicked off the city’s mega-resort era in 1989, relied on its entertainment for its identity. After Roy’s mauling, it seemed as though Mirage might slip into the also-ran category like Excalibur. Instead, the property is undergoing an extensive and expensive remodeling, so there’s a lot of pressure for Jet and Stack to open strong.

A happy New Year is also important for Seamless, which is positioning itself to bring the glamour and style of a Strip nightclub into a strip club. In lounge mode, the club pushes lap dances into side areas, sets up tables for bottle service and makes use of casino technology like a VIP electronic backdoor pass that instantly signals the club’s hosts when an important guest enters the premises.

At Wynn, Tryst is an attempt to revive the resort’s so-so nightclub rep. So the club will use its soft-opening week (beginning Monday) not only to perfect its service but to woo key groups. There will be freebie nights for transportation workers (taxi and limo drivers), the hospitality industry (concierges, VIP hosts and doormen) and even nightclub pros, so club folk from around Vegas can get a look at their new competition. It’s an expensive way to shake hands with the city’s nightlife scene-makers -- Waits estimates the alcohol for the three nights will cost about $250,000 -- but it’s essential to a good start. Jet is engaged in a similar process, though its official opening isn’t until Friday.

On the other hand, few traditions are static here, and Christmas is much busier than it used to be. According to John Piet, an analyst at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, this year there will be 275,000 visitors in Las Vegas over Christmas; hotels were expected to enjoy a 90% occupancy this weekend. While that is down from the 95% average on a typical weekend, it’s way up from just last Christmas, when almost 20% of the rooms on the Strip sat vacant. (And consider that Wynn has added 2,700 rooms since then.)

In all, the LVCA expects this Christmas to see an almost 11% increase in tourists. So to some, the old logic of late December openings no longer prevails. Tao at the Venetian, one of the hottest clubs in the city, opened in late September. According to managing partner Jason Strauss: “I had heard that this is the slow time from every local I know, and I guess we were lucky. We opened our door when we felt comfortable that construction and our training of the staff were up to par. I don’t think we looked at it as a timing issue at all. When the egg was laid we were ready to hatch. We didn’t know what to expect. And we were delightfully surprised at how quickly after the opening, the club was success.”

According to Wharton of Stack, in the end “there is only so much debate: When is the perfect time to do it versus just taking the plunge and doing it.” And, for most clubs and restaurant operators, that still means Christmas in Vegas is a time for hard work.

South of the Strip

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Also debuting during this period is South Coast, a more-than-$600-million resort from the Coast Casinos chain (a division of Boyd Gaming) on Las Vegas Boulevard a few miles south of the Strip. General Manager Mike Gaughan Jr. recognizes that, unlike other Coast properties, South Coast is in a unique position to attract tourists (particularly those driving here from Los Angeles). So in addition to more than 1,300 rooms, 54 special high-end suites are included, as well as more than 150,000 square feet of convention space that presumably will rent for far less than the resorts a few miles to the north. Still, Gaughah says, “For all purposes this is a fairly grand property. But for us, catering to locals means this is where we want locals to be comfortable hanging out, bowling, seeing a movie and putting up their relatives who come to town.”

For more on what’s happening on and off the Strip, see the blog latimes.com/movablebuffet on latimes.com.


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