POOLS are the very definition of what turns a hotel-casino into a resort. If you have kids and are planning a Vegas vacation during the extreme heat of summer, the pool may be a major factor in deciding where to stay. But in the Las Vegas of today, sometimes a pool is more than just a pool.
As with most things in Vegas now, even something as simple as a swimming pool has to do more and be all things to all people -- in ways that often have nothing to do with getting wet. Since moving here in 1999, I have not even bothered buying a bathing suit, yet over the years, I have still spent quite a bit of time at pools on the Strip: watching concerts, attending parties, going to receptions and interviewing celebrities in fancy private cabanas.
Bear in mind that swimming pools on the Strip are hardly the sort of Olympic pools where athletes can train. You won't find diving boards, and many don't go much deeper than a few feet. Not that tourists don't swim -- the heat is ridiculous here. It has been over 100 for days.
And on a recent Sunday morning, tourist families were loving the Mandalay Bay's 7-foot-deep, 4,100-square-foot wave pool, where breakers crash into a sandy beach -- not the hard, nasty, indigenous desert sands of Nevada but the kind of sand you would find on a real beach. In fact, the 2,700 tons of sand required to fill the space, it turns out, were imported from California. The wave pool is only the largest of the Mandalay Bay's half-dozen pools (and that does not include the whirlpools or the 200-yard-long, 3 1/2 -foot-deep Lazy River).
But even the spectacular wave pool has another use. From May through about Labor Day, a stage opposite the beach allows patrons to partake in a concert series specializing in fun bands that this year has included Cheap Trick, the Beach Boys, Ringo Starr and, still to come, the Doobie Brothers (Sept. 1). In all, the pools at Mandalay Bay play perfect complement to the hotel's tropical theme. That is the crucial goal for any Strip pool.
Next stop: Hooters.
"It is an extension of the Hooters brand. It is an extension of the party," said Dana Rantovich, assistant vice president of marketing for the casino. We were talking on a recent weekday afternoon (again it's over 100 outside) while the Hooters pool was being used for a week of tapings of "The Best Damn Sports Show Period." Not coincidently, it was also the week of a Hooters swimsuit pageant, and so the pool area was packed with gorgeous women in bikinis and a long line of people just waiting to get in to see them.
No one in the line was in bathing suits. The pool itself has had only a few folks in it. And the bikini-clad beauties had hair and makeup that strongly suggested a dive or swim was the last thing on their minds.
That night, a few hours later, about 900 gathered around the pool at the Flamingo for a rock 'n' roll wine tasting. The Flamingo's pool is actually four pools, spread out across about 15 acres and packed with vegetation and a waterfall. The only people in any of those pools, though, were two hired models in pink bikinis on a blowup raft.
One of them, Karen Chacon, 26, said: "They just wanted us to be floating around in the pool and just greeting people and smiling at people and just look pretty. It is a Vegas kind of thing to put a girl in a bright bikini in a pool." Pure over-the-top Vegas dating back to floating blackjack.
But this more recent use for the pool is telling too. The Flamingo, an older property, lacks a hip nightspot, and so the pool can serve to draw that crowd.
The trend in pools matches the wider Vegas push toward the boutique. There is a desire to create exclusivity with a vibe of nightlife and especially an adults-only environment, which is hardest to do with the one area in a resort so likely to draw children.
So if you think about it -- and casinos sure have -- the solution seems to fit naturally with "European-style" bathing. At Mandalay Bay, the ultimate nightclub trait, a cover charge, must be paid to enter the topless pools dubbed Moorea Beach Club. Though only open to hotel guests, it is $10 any time for women, but, as at a nightclub, men must pay more: $40 during the week and $50 on weekends.
Over Memorial Day weekend, Caesars had extended its successful Pure Nightclub into the casino's uncovered pool area, dubbing it Venus.
Most recently, the Mirage decided to cut off a small part of its massive (about 5 acres) pool to create Bare, a topless bathing area comprising two pools for adults only with a sound system designed by the same people responsible for the sound in the casino's new nightclub, Jet. Bare is set to open in mid-August.
"Both of the pools [at Bare] are more in the style of a dipping pool rather than a swimming pool," said Franz Kallao, vice president of hotel operations for the Mirage. The deepest part is three feet. "They are meant to just hang out in and lounge in and socialize in. We built this area primarily because we wanted an area that was strictly for adults. It has a bar and daybeds where we are going to do bottle service and food and fun stuff like margaritas."
But Kallao noted that there is another aspect that pools can offer that even nightclubs can't: Pools attract people during the day. "I don't want to say 'nightclub.' I think what is happening now in Las Vegas is that there is a huge market to create a daytime venue that is cool, hip and fun with great music."
And so pools on the Strip are slowly sprouting into dayclubs: another way to keep the party going in Vegas not just all night long but the next day too.
For more on what's happening on and off the Strip, see latimes.com/movablebuffet.