If you plan to explore Las Vegas nightlife, then you need to get familiar with the ultralounge. These temples of titillation and inebriation are the cream of the crop in terms of the most ostentatious nightclub experience, and they’ve fast become a signature Vegas institution.
The high-end lounge concept supposedly originated in Europe, then came to Vegas by way of New York and Los Angeles. Never content with old-school terms like “bar” or “nightclub” or “lounge,” Sin City promoters seized upon “ultralounge” with enthusiasm. It offered the perfect way to market new nightspots as swank, hip and novel all at the same time.
One thing you can always rely on in Vegas: Any successful idea will be immediately replicated by everyone else in town. The other casino-hotels quickly put together their own ultralounges, hastily carving the new clubs out of existing space or having the ultralounge “take over” another venue after a certain hour in the evening. Now there’s Curve at the Aladdin, Tangerine at Treasure Island, I-Bar at the Rio, the Moorea “Ultra Beach Lounge” at Mandalay Bay and even Plush at the JW Marriott way out in Summerlin. Not to mention the free-standing Ice Las Vegas, which inscrutably bills itself as a “meta-lounge.” Coming soon: quasi-lounge, para-lounge, mondo-lounge …
So what is an ultralounge anyway, besides a marketing gimmick? All these venues share a decidedly upscale, classy vibe. Cover charges are usually $20. Décor is modern, sleek and sexy — and so is the staff. Big, comfy chairs and sofas in luxe colors and fabrics cluster around low tables in lower lighting. Music may be CD mixes or a live DJ, but in either case tracks will tend toward house, techno, dance and more eclectic styles. Plasma-screen TVs show trippy videos or synch their swirling colors with massive, state-of-the-art sound systems. Multiple rooms showcase different designs, stairways lead enticingly to roped-off VIP areas and balconies overlook the dance floors. Professional dancers and models mingle with the crowd, often hired by management to pretty up the place.
If these mixers sound good, consider a few tips on perfecting your personal ultralounge cocktail.
Pick your spot and go early. If there’s an ultralounge you’re considering, try to check it out beforehand to make sure it’s the scene you want. Swing by before opening and eyeball the room, and maybe swing by again when it’s packed to eyeball the crowd. If both spaces and faces attract, try to come back for your night out as soon after opening as possible. In the early hours, door policies are lax to nonexistent, doormen are more forgiving of wardrobe malfunctions and you can relax at a reservation-only table (if you ask nicely, staff will often allow you to take up reserved space until the reservers actually arrive). And note that unlike many towns, Las Vegas isn’t suited to bar-hopping, unless you stay in the same casino. Otherwise, you’ll spend time and money getting from place to place that would be better spent in the lounge. So find your fave and stay there.
Dress to kill. All ultralounges insist on “stylish” clothing at minimum. And as it gets later, the doormen’s standards get higher. Sneakers or casual sandals are a universal no-no, and jeans are frowned upon (or rejected outright). If you have doubts, just look at the staff. They represent their own target market, so you won’t get a more direct fashion cue.
Get ready for line dancing. If you can’t sneak in early, then you’re likely going to be stuck in line for awhile. Ultralounge doormen deal with the famous and well-heeled every day, so you better be a lot of both if you hope to impress your way to the front. Women always get preferential treatment and can bring in otherwise hapless males, so try to keep your group’s ratio at two women per man (subdivide if you can). We’ve even seen groups in line negotiate with each other to create an ideal gender balance, usually with a round of drinks inside as coin of the realm. Dozens of Web sites like Vegas.com (and taxi drivers) sell “front of line” passes, which for a few bucks will supposedly let you jump the ropes at various hotspots. Do they work? Sometimes. Can you be refused entry even with such a pass in hand? Of course. Are some of these passes pure scams? Absolutely. It’s just another gamble.
Pay to play. If you have serious scratch to spend, one way to breeze past the line and have your own little slice of ultralounging is to shell out for VIP packages or bottle service. Such reservations must be made in advance, and allow front-of-line admission for a small group (usually four to six people), plus the right to a table and a bottle of alcohol. Such packages start at over $200, and the sky’s the limit — you can be content with a single bottle of mediocre champagne in a bucket of ice, or throw down upwards of a thousand or more to have your own personal staffer administer generous pours of luxury-priced liquors.
Chris Mohney is a contributor to The Unofficial Guide to Las Vegas.