The big growth in gaming entertainment today is happening not on the casino floor but on the dance floor. As gaming revenues suffered during the Great Recession, Las Vegas doubled down on the growing trend of high-end nightclubs and rebranded as the global center of nightclub culture.
Today, seven of the top 10 nightclubs in America are in Las Vegas, making these clubs a significant and growing feature of casino properties and their image. The competition for audiences in this $20 billion-a-year industry is fierce. Bigger, better and more extravagant, each new club pushes the trend’s evolution to deliver an unforgettable, “Instagrammable” experience.
As nightclubs have evolved, these long-dominant profit centers have become bona fide drivers of development and construction, worthy of significant capital outlays. In the process, their design and construction have evolved into a unique and specialized craft, requiring an extraordinary level of design, engineering and regulatory expertise.
Evolving Experience Delivery
Experience delivery in nightclubs has been escalating since the rise of the independent operator in the early 2000s. With it came a change in revenue model that emphasized the high life: bottle service, strategic table locations, minimum expenditures and special events. The late 2000s saw the rise of the day club, with venues such as Rehab, turning an existing outdoor pool into a high-energy party zone and capturing spillover revenue driven by demand for a constant party.
As revenue models evolved, new design and construction were warranted to support daily rental real estate (poolside cabanas as the equivalent to table service), food preparation and delivery, increased bar capacity and topless sunbathing (view sheds). Design solutions, like shared warehousing and support spaces, were critical to the profitability of these complementary day and night venues.
Around 2010, electronic dance music (EDM) and the superstar DJ rose to prominence, demanding top dollar and continuing to influence venue design and construction. Highly specialized lighting, audio and video systems, new room designs focused on the DJ and a diversification of table products followed.
Today, nightclub design and construction are focused on delivering unique experiences, with owners investing in tangible assets that differentiate their venues and offer higher ROI.
Experience Drivers and Diversification
The saying goes, “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas,” but it is memories that are driving the evolution of nightclubs and day clubs. Memorable experiences linger long after the party is over, both in revelers’ minds and on social media. These experiences create loyalty that can extend across the brand of the club operator, and the properties they occupy, making them a key marketing asset for both venues and their host resorts.
One of the most memorable clubs to open this year is Drai’s Beach Club + Nightclub. Situated atop the newly renovated Cromwell, this full-service day club and nightclub features stellar views of Las Vegas. Indoor spaces provide an enveloping dance club experience, where guests are surrounded by luxurious materials, sound, light and video. By contrast, the outdoor pool area puts guests “at the center of the universe” that is the Las Vegas Strip, with amenities such as cabanas with private restrooms, spacious booths and tables, and extensive food-service support.
Another nightlife luminary, Light Nightclub, offers club-goers the unique experience of a dance club at the center of a Cirque du Soleil show. The collaborative venture between the Light Group and Cirque du Soleil incorporates aerial acrobatics into themed tableaus with high-tech visuals, costumes and makeup.
Hakkasan, the year-old nightclub, restaurant and lounge at the MGM Grand, focuses on luxury and international DJ talent within a multifaceted venue. Several venues are spread throughout five floors, offering a variety of dining and nightlife environments. In the main club, top-tier DJs, including Forbes-list topper Calvin Harris, thrill crowds spinning EDM. Smaller spaces and lounges offer a change of atmosphere, and a restaurant, headed by a Michelin-starred chef, serves luxury cuisine.
Design and Construction Challenges
In the early days of high-end nightclubs, interior fit outs were determined based on a preprogrammed size in the property’s pro-forma. Operators even took over underutilized spaces to meet the growing demand. Drai’s After Hours set up shop in the basement of what was then the Barbary Coast. The Bank at the Bellagio, then the first iteration of Light, took over a former tram station.
With the incredible rise in popularity and profitability of these venues, more owners began to view them as major construction projects worthy of custom expansions of the buildings they occupy. Their completion began to require heavy, specialty design and construction services. A deep understanding of the Las Vegas market, and a keen ability to manage diverse experts into a cohesive team, became critical.
Everything about today’s top-tier nightclub is specialized, from the structural engineering to the food-service utensils. In building Drai’s Beach Club + Nightclub, The Cromwell required a three-story addition capable of handling several pools. When Hakkasan went in, the entire southwest corner of the MGM Grand had to be demolished in order to bring the exterior wall forward 30 feet and make room for a new dual marquee.
Food and beverage service in these spaces is incredibly specific, requiring the selection of high-quality food service equipment that can handle intense volume. Food service designers must understand the operation of these venues and provide the design, cost and construction efficiencies that are crucial to long-term profitability.
Furniture, fixtures and equipment (FF&E) are important in all venues, but particularly in the world of high-end nightclubs. They must be highly luxurious and sturdy, capable of withstanding intense use and easy to repair. Can this daybed handle a girl dancing in stilettos? Can this loveseat handle a group of men sitting on the top of its seatback? If guests are paying $10,000 for a table, shouldn’t it be able to charge their phones and store their purses? And sure, this sofa looks great in the showroom, but what will it look like under a black light? These and other questions must be top-of-mind for designers who work with these spaces.
When designing a room for EDM performance, a single-point-source sound system, like those found in concert venues, is not ideal. Many points of sound emission are required, which allows for an overall lower decibel level—something of great concern to host properties. When these cutting-edge systems are integrated into the design of a space, the greater quantity and diversification in speaker size and location requires more sophisticated integration and coordination from the architectural side. Resonance issues can affect digital controls and create structural vibrations that take great expertise to tune. LED lighting has transformed the lighting systems of these venues, with their control systems becoming increasingly complex. Meanwhile, huge advances have come in the form of LCD and LED video, with innovations in resolution, efficiency and translucency. Prominent DJs travel with multiple lighting and video controllers, and these items require an extremely significant initial investment in hardware.
Water features, such as the many pools at Drai’s Beach Club + Nightclub, are big money in the world of day clubs, with every perimeter foot of swimming pool creating valuable real estate in the form of cabana and daybed rentals. But because of the volume of partiers and high level of contaminants, the typical pool filtering system won’t suffice. Mechanical systems with higher changeover rates and better filters are required.
Show-stopping effects such as CO2 cannons, smoke, fogging and lasers present significant regulatory and engineering challenges. The exact mix of oxygen and CO2 has to be actively managed for safety, and regulators are judicious when considering these elements within the context of the permitting process.
Architect as Glue
The glue that holds together this crew of high-tech experts is the architect. Coordinating the demands of investors, the vision of a nightlife mogul and the hard skills of many engineering, lighting, FF&E, sound, food service, landscape and interior design experts requires a rare combination of talents. The architect must maintain good relationships, be an expert team-builder and serve as a translator among various interest groups.
A top-level team demands an architect who performs on an equally high level. These projects involve taking big risks in a very visible forum for high-profile clients. Only with deep institutional knowledge and a good reputation can an architect hope to complete these projects on time and on budget.
The Future of the High-End Nightclub
The future of the nightclub is rich with possibilities. It’s an innovative entertainment product that provides a unique experience and resonates with millennials. Although the top-tier EDM names such as Tiesto, Calvin Harris and Deadmau5 come with enormous price tags, the EDM genre remains on the upswing, which provides the opportunity to showcase new and upcoming talent. There also is room for the further integration of clubs across entire properties. The Cromwell is a good example, with nightclub owner and entrepreneur Victor Drai integrally involved in many of the design decisions that make it a cohesive, integrated property.
One of the next big things in nightclubs is their expansion into 24-hour-a-day, 365-day-a-year amenities. First came the nightclub. Then came the day club, but only for the pool season. Now, their popularity is driving some day clubs to build temporary domes and enclosures to provide for their pool parties year round.
By engaging with an experienced architect who understands the history, unique demands and trends of these properties, owners and operators can offer an entertainment product that targets a new, evolving customer—one who is younger, more connected and has more discretionary income than ever before.
Reinventing a Vegas Classic
The newest kid on the block in Vegas is actually a reinvented classic. The Barbary Coast is now The Cromwell—redone to appeal to a discriminating consumer looking for a unique and personal experience not found in the larger properties. All the architectural features that made leo a daly‘s original design a definitive Strip property have been maintained. What’s new? Completely redesigned rooms inspired by Paris boutique hotels, an updated casino, several luxury restaurants and bars and a rooftop nightclub and day club that offers the best views in Las Vegas.
Lavishly dressed pink daybeds and booths set the stage for fun in the sun at the Cromwell’s rooftop venue, Drai’s Beach Club + Nightclub. The beach club has multiple pool areas with 13 mezzanine cabanas, two mezzanine grand cabanas, nine lower-level bungalows with private pools, two elevated main pools with perimeter seating, full service bars and a gourmet kitchen. An oversized, high-definition LED façade above the pool provides interactive entertainment, along with a DJ booth framed by a 30-foot rectangular arch.
At night, Drai’s transforms to serve up a 360-degree rooftop experience with more than 150 indoor and outdoor seating options to accommodate its 4,500-guest capacity. The main room features 14 dance-floor tables, nine upper dance-floor tables, two VIP balconies, 12 mezzanine booths and an elevated stage with exclusive VIP seating. At the heart of the nightclub is a 4,000 square-foot interactive, high-definition, wrap-around LED screen.
The inviting second-floor restaurant, GIADA, is the first for Chef Giada De Laurentiis. It welcomes diners with warm colors, comfortable furniture and natural lighting. The restaurant accommodates 260 guests with seating in the dining room, lounge, private dining room, or alfresco. Oversized windows open to create a patio atmosphere, providing dining guests with an open-air view of the Strip and the Fountains of Bellagio. leo a daly returned to one of its first major Las Vegas projects to serve as executive architect on The Cromwell.