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Noon is the new 2 a.m.

The grungy rave scene is so over -- after-hours clubs now are classy joints that keep jumping well into morning. For those party-never-stops types, three places dominate.

July 29, 2007|Kevin Capp | Special to The Times

Where are you? It's between 4 a.m. and whenever, and you're under attack. By strobe lights flashing like Morse code. By clusters of people jumping like fleas trapped in a petri dish. By the music banging against the walls of your ears. No wonder you can't tell time -- it's all you can do to put one foot in front of the other without a-tumblin' down.

Welcome to the Las Vegas after-hours scene. Here, the parties don't start until Midwestern farmers wake up, don't end until the sun is heating the valley, and temporal and sensory disorientation isn't a maddening affliction but a pleasurable experience. And an expected one.

In the late '90s and early 2000s, when the scene was in its infancy, the after-hours circuit was a drug-fueled romp as small as it was intense, with revelers overdosing with frightening frequency. "You would call paramedics at least two, three times a month," says Gino LoPinto, managing partner at Empire Ballroom, a club that hosts some of the city's most popular after-hours parties.

These days, however, instead of selling $5 bottles of water to people free-falling on Ecstasy, after-hours clubs are selling $500 bottles of liquor to people with private jets. In this way, the after-hours scene's evolution mirrors that of the Vegas night-life scene. With the death of rave culture, being high class is now more important than being high.

In a city that never slumbers and where boozing never ceases, a night on the town can more aptly be described for many as a morning on the town. Says LoPinto, who started one of the first after-hours parties at Spearmint Rhino in 1999, "A lot of people just go out later." Way later.

So where are you? You're at one of three clubs that have cornered this niche market.

The big daddy of them all is Drai's. Named after owner Victor Drai and located in the "basement" of Bill's Gamblin' Hall and Saloon (formerly the Barbary Coast hotel-casino), this gourmet French eatery, which morphs into a late-night party den, has outlasted most of the competition with little advertising and no special promotions, such as booking big-name DJs.

Its success is due partly to its staff's reputation for courtesy. "We appreciate the business," says Jesse Waits, who, along with his twin brother, Cy, and Shawn Chester, form the staff's core.

The other reason for Drai's success is its beautiful, sophisticated interior. Its capacity is only about 500 people, but Drai's labyrinthine layout gives it a much roomier feel.

Here, you can join clubbers dancing in the main room ringed by tables as one of its four resident DJs pumps out house music; jam to hip-hop in another room equipped with a small bar that serves drinks in glasses affixed with a plastic top and straw so you don't spill; or hang out in the "library," a European manor-style room stocked with shelves of books and couches so soft they practically swallow you when you sit down.

A rave-party warehouse it is not.

Meanwhile, Empire Ballroom's sprawling, wide-open interior is a kind of throwback to such spaces. The main room features two bars, a dance floor chandelier worthy of a swing from the Phantom of the Opera, and a stage that often hosts some of the biggest names in house music.

Upstairs, on the outdoor patio, it's a whole different, daylight world. Resident DJs -- Halo, Javier Alba and Frank Richards -- can spin funky electronic music up here on weekends until as late (early?) as noon. Sunglasses are recommended.

Back in the day, this was the place where many a legend was made, when the building housed the nightclub Utopia, a venue many veteran scenesters credit with igniting the casino-club craze (currently boring full-fog-machine ahead).

That LoPinto was involved with Utopia shows the scene has evolved with one of its founding fathers still in the game.

Another guy who's been here since the beginning is Brian Hart, who helped open both Drai's and Empire before jumping ship to his current gig at Seamless, a gentlemen's club that turns into an after-hours club at 4 a.m.

Here, there's something for everybody: quality house music often spun by national acts for the sound's die-hard fans; a gorgeous interior (walls are composed of materials ranging from LED screens to chain mail to water) for night-owl aesthetes; and discreet lap dances for those seeking to make sure what happens in Vegas, well, you know.

If partying well past dawn isn't your thing, stop by Ivan Kane's 40 Deuce for "Deuce 'til Dawn," which ends around the time places like Seamless get going. The L.A. import hosts two burlesque shows a night accompanied by a live band, and resident DJ Graham Funke's sets incorporate more hip-hop and rock than house.

"You're going to get the same energy [after 4 a.m.] as you're going to get at 1 a.m.," he says.

Now do you know where you are?



Better late


3595 S. Las Vegas Blvd.

(702) 737-0555

Hours: Wednesday through Sunday from 1 a.m.

Cover: Thursday and Sunday $20; Friday and Saturday $30



3765 S. Las Vegas Blvd., Suite G

(702) 737-7376

Hours: Tuesday and Wednesday, patio only; Thursday downstairs only; whole club open Friday through Saturday starting at 2 a.m.

Cover: $20 Tuesday through Friday; Saturday $30



4740 S. Arville St.

(702) 227-5200

Hours: Daily beginning at 4 a.m.

Cover: $20



3590 S. Las Vegas Blvd.

(702) 632-9442

Hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 10:30 p.m. till dawn

Cover: $20 Wednesday and Thursday; $25 Friday, Saturday and Sunday

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