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From 'friends list' to A list

Club operators prop up and -- let's face it -- keep an eye on one another with 'industry night.' Yes, regular folks are welcome too.

January 13, 2008|Kevin Capp | Special to The Times

In Las Vegas clubland, the Mafia adage "keep your friends close and your enemies closer" takes the form of (what else?) a party. Here, the fight to fill up the dance floor and those all-important VIP tables is so fierce that competing venues have to woo guys and gals who toil at other clubs.

It's called "industry night," one evening a week set aside for locals -- as necessary a component for clubs as a DJ booth.

Despite its exponential growth, Vegas is in many ways still a small town where whom you know matters, and that's especially true on the night-life circuit, says Bob Shindelar, director of VIP services for Tao nightclub inside the Venetian, the site of "Worship Thursdays," one of the most popular industry parties.

He says that by taking care of his "friends" (read: competition) by making sure they automatically come to the front of Tao's long lines or giving them discounted bottle-service at a choice VIP table in the thick of the action, he's ensuring that he not only has added loyal customers but also de facto members of his promotional staff.

"There are residuals that come back in the long run," he says.

Yes, everyone is welcome at such events -- locals and visitors alike. For outsiders, the lure is an amped-up venue stacked with well-heeled, well-dressed insiders and their attractive pals. To impress their colleagues, managers will often hire out-of-town DJs, dole out gift bags (especially to women) or have drink specials.

So what are the elements that make a solid industry soiree? Perhaps most important, it has to be a night that doesn't step on some other club's shiny shoes, lest it ostracize the venue and prevent that core industry audience from ever entering. Also important: striking a deal with another club to guarantee a steady flow of people.

"Everybody talks about 'we gotta do a locals night.' But it's a challenge, because there are all these different alliances," says Jack Lafleur, who used to promote the Hard Rock's pool party Rehab.

The Playboy Club inside the Palms rolled out the red carpet for choice locals and industry players Oct. 14 with its new weekly "Sunday After Dark" event by striking alliances with a smaller, more sophisticated and older demographic.

DJ Graham Funke served deck duty, dropping a contemporary mix with a smooth retro glaze, and femme fatales sporting bunny ears darted around. Mike Fuller, director of marketing for the N9NE Group, which operates the Playboy Club, stood by the dance floor, as an endless stream of night-life glitterati came by to say hello. It's a personal touch that makes people feel special and welcome.

"When they're not working, they're going out to clubs," says Fuller of his club colleagues. "We're delivering each other people. It's a symbiotic relationship. We're going to support you; you're going to support us. It's just a way of maintaining relationships."

Usually, clubs select which night of the week they're going to lavish attention on their buddies well before opening day, but the Playboy Club waited nearly a year. Why?

For one, Moon nightclub, on the tip-top of the Palms' second tower, just one floor above Playboy Club, already established Tuesday as its industry night, and it was going well. And changes were made to the Playboy Club's design recently -- from adding seating to more fully separating the gambling area from the club area -- that demanded a promotion to usher in the alterations and make it official.

Besides, it takes a long time to set up these things, Fuller says. "There's a lot of detailed marketing involved. It's not a volume game. Great local parties are built on a person-to-person level."

Ultimately, it's those people who will make your club red-hot during industry night and during the weekend, because word-of-mouth, more than e-mail blasts or billboards, is the most valuable advertising currency. Brandon Roque, a promoter at Tao during its "Worship" party and at Blush inside the Wynn for its Tuesday night industry get-down, says that, although luring the competition to your venue on selected nights is key, there are rules to the game.

"I never talk business when I'm at somebody else's club. That's considered poaching. I can't stand it at my venues," he says, adding: "There's really no need to. Everybody knows I work at Tao."

But it's not as easy as picking a night anymore. They're already taken.

"It's going to be fascinating to see what nights these [new] clubs pick," says Marc Jay, who now works as a freelance promoter and club concert organizer. "We're running out of days of the week."

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