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Las Vegas pools seize the day

Wild parties under the sun draw crowds despite the $375 rum. And ladies, do you really need those tops?

May 26, 2007|Kimi Yoshino | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS — On a Sunday afternoon in Las Vegas, at the hottest pool party in town, the Hard Rock Hotel's Jack LaFleur is the man to know. The promotions director stands at the velvet rope, deciding who will shake their booties in the sun -- and who won't.

"Only girls, send 'em up!" LaFleur barks as a stream of 20-something, bikini-clad women hop the line, leaving a couple of hundred frustrated men in their wake. "No more guys. It's out of control."

This is Rehab, Las Vegas' best-known, biggest and craziest pool party. In the 21 Sundays it will operate this year, hotel executives estimate that Rehab will rake in about $6 million -- nearly $35,000 every hour it's open. As many as 3,000 tanned, toned and oil-slicked bodies find their way into Rehab each week, where they play swim-up blackjack, gulp down $17 cocktails served in 30-ounce plastic jugs and make out under waterfalls, on lounge chairs and, well, just about anywhere.

Since it began in 2004, Rehab has transformed Vegas' once-sleepy daytime scene into a "Girls Gone Wild" tableau of debauchery. Today, almost every major casino resort has nightclub operators managing its 21-and-over pools. They hire DJs to spin music and demand hefty cover charges. Rates vary by the weekend; on the cheapest days women pay $20, men $30.

Several resorts have separate "Euro-style," or top-optional, pools, with half-naked women cavorting in the water. This summer, both the Mirage and Venetian -- heavyweights in the nightclub arena -- have unveiled re-imagined pools.

"It's done a remarkable thing to the nightlife landscape," LaFleur said. "Day life? It's hard to even categorize it.... It's finding those ways to generate revenue. For a town that's been known exclusively for nightlife, this was extremely daring and off the charts."

The gamble is paying off.

By 8:30 a.m., a ghastly hour by Vegas standards, people are already lining up outside Rehab, even though the pool doesn't open until 11. "It's almost like a 'Star Wars' premiere," LaFleur said. "They sit down. They hold that spot in front."

Others, like Lisa Tully, a nursing manager from North Carolina, show up a bit later -- and flash a little flesh to guarantee access.

"As soon as we pulled the cover-ups off, they said, 'Bam. Come up here,' " said the 38-year-old, who sported a pierced belly button and a black bikini dotted with rhinestones.

The truly flush fork over $1,200 for a season pass -- even if they plan to visit only a couple of times.

Although LaFleur declined to say how he managed the gender ratio at Rehab, women were clearly in the majority. Ripped men with six-pack abs and check-out-my-pecs tattoos trolled the meat market in board shorts. Busty women, some obviously surgically enhanced, strutted around in high heels.

Tully and her friend Deana Yeomans, 36, recounted the sad tale of one of their male friends, who called three times to try to rent a cabana at Rehab. "How many girls?" the operator asked. None, he answered.

"They said, 'Ha!' " Yeomans said. "They wouldn't even take the reservation."

Fifty extra greenbacks, plus cover charge, did the trick for Shawn Conti, 27, a Tampa, Fla., real estate developer in town for a conference.

"I would have spent more," Conti said. "It's well worth the money. I'd rather do this than go out" at night.

He figured he'd drink all day, enjoy a nice dinner, go to his hotel and pass out. Then, after a good night's sleep, he'd wake up refreshed for his meetings the next day.

"What's not to like?" said Garrett Williams, 25, a real estate broker. "At a nightclub, it's dark and you can't talk to anybody. Here, it's light out and everyone is half naked. The number of girls wearing thongs out there is ridiculous."

When it first opened, organizers envisioned Rehab as a place to relax on Sundays after a hard weekend of partying.

"That lasted about a week," said the Hard Rock Hotel's marketing guru, Phil Shalala. "People were actually beginning to stay in on Saturday night just so they could go to Rehab during the day."

Once inside, people are racking up huge tabs. In addition to the $17 cocktails, Rehab serves alcohol by the bottle. Bacardi rum that retails for about $15 costs $375; for a bottle of Jagermeister -- typically about $20 -- it's $400. The big spenders can drop $1,195 for a bottle of Cristal champagne, which normally runs about $300. Roving photographers snap pictures like paparazzi and post them online.

"These people have money in their pocket," Shalala said. "The overall lifestyle that they live is work hard, play harder."

The scene has become so successful so fast that Hard Rock is planning on doubling the size of the pool area -- already 4.7 acres -- in the next couple of years. It will also add an upscale, more relaxed setting by 2009.

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