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COVER STORY

No Dealing Just Wheeling

Think dances, not chances, and check out the party scene in Vegas.

September 17, 1998|ZAN DUBIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

You don't party in Vegas? Why not? It's a must of SoCal culture, drawing hordes from the Valley to the Baja border.

Why stay home--where, especially in Orange County, most dance clubs close way too early--when you can easily hit half a dozen after-hours destinations in a weekend, then drive home refreshed after spending Sunday poolside?

With its strip bars and water slides, Las Vegas tries to be all things to all spenders. Variety marks the town's dance clubs too.

The following roundup of clubs, reflecting a recent weekend visit, swings from mainstream to alternative:

The Drink

My fave, this two-story club mixes Cal-adobe, gothic, industrial, flower power, Deco and tribal looks into a delicious concoction filling up six environments and a restaurant.

Among the highlights: a big lounge with slouchy couches, a VIP enclave with an ultra-cool video casting fish figures onto a brick wall, and chunks of jagged concrete and exposed guy wire for a post-quake touch.

The venue's thriving heart--the dance floor--looks like the dim interior of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. Look up and see bodies with beers in hand leaning over balconies draped with faux wisteria.

The deejay's station inhabits an overhead aerie, and from it hums a high-energy blend of oldies and newer goodies: Annie Lennox, the Artist, Quad City DJs, Daft Punk. (Keoki regularly spins; visitors include Mark Lewis, also from L.A.)

The full-menu eatery features a Vegas-appropriate, decadent brownie a la mode ($3.50).

But what makes this club great, besides the imaginative visuals and fun flower-power logo, is the main room. Basically an atrium, the sound isn't diffused, thereby wrapping dancers in a thumping beat-cocoon.

* The Drink, 200 E. Harmon Ave., Las Vegas; (702) 796-5519. Tuesday, 10 p.m.-5 a.m.; Wednesday, 9 p.m.-5 a.m.; Thursday, 8 p.m.-5 a.m.; Friday and Saturday, 8 p.m. to at least 5 a.m. Cover: $5-$10.

Club Rio

The progenitor of the current rash of casino-hotel dance clubs holds court in one cavernous room inside the Mardi Gras-themed Rio Suite Hotel & Casino, which is a bit off the Strip, but not without its glitz.

CEO Anthony Marnell II opened this splashy, $8-million danceteria in 1994. "There needed to be a place," Marnell said, "where people, especially women, could come and dance and feel safe. A place that had some rules."

Well said.

The venue has an amusing video effect. Roving cameras project clubbers onto huge screens along the room's outer walls.

The Rio's Voodoo Lounge bar may be a better, er, bet, than the mainstream club. A glass elevator takes you to the 51st floor for a jaw-dropping view and drinks such as the Lucky Mojo (Stoli, strawberries and banana liqueur in a martini glass, $6.75) and Black Death (a $6 shooter of Jagermeister, vodka and soda). There's live jazz and food service, and the hotel has several other pricey eateries.

* Club Rio at the Rio Suite Hotel and Casino, 3700 W. Flamingo Road, Las Vegas; (702) 252-7777. Wednesday-Saturday, 10:30 p.m.-3 a.m. Cover: $10 for men, resident Vegas women free. Dress code: collared shirts or jackets for the men; no recreational or tennis shoes; nice jeans only.

The Orbit Lounge at Peter Morton's Hard Rock Hotel

If you haven't heard, the Hard Rock Cafe family gave birth to a Vegas hotel-casino in 1995, which recently sired the after-hours Orbit Lounge.

Like the cafes, the hotel (which is owned separately) is a frenetic museum trip, festooned with super rockers' memorabilia (in one corner, the Temptations' orange blazers; in another, Alice Cooper's codpiece).

Orbit Lounge takes over the hotel's concert venue, the Joint. There's a stage, a dance floor-mosh pit, seating and a bar toward the back. Picture Fullerton's rangy Club 369, only tidier, bigger and the patrons better behaved.

A Disneyfied rap duo with pristine running shoes cued the crowd to shout-along lyrics that, OK, the happiest place on the planet probably would have censored. Patrons lunged for giveaway cassettes the Dirty Dawgs hurled while performing their gangsta scamper-and-duck dance.

Another trippy video effect evokes "Star Trek," with two trampoline-like screens hovering above.

Another plus: Mr. Lucky's restaurant, also off the hotel's lobby. The lights are kept hangover-low, prices are reasonable, breakfast is always served and the place never closes. It has a fine view of the casino's bleeping video slot machines, vested dealers and robotic drink servers intoning "Cocktails" even as the desert sun burns at dawn.

* Orbit Lounge at Peter Morton's Hard Rock Hotel, 4455 Paradise Road, Las Vegas; (702) 693-5000. Friday and Saturday, 12:30 a.m.-4 a.m. Cover: $5 for men, women free.

Ra at Luxor Las Vegas

The taxi driver had it right: This is a club sans personality. Slick marble floors and Hollywood bastardization may explain the problem, although an older, Newport Beachy crowd with ample 'tude doesn't help.

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