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Add water and see what happens in Vegas

At two new upscale pool clubs, Marquee at Cosmopolitan hotel and Nikki Beach at Tropicana, visitors swim, drink and flirt.

May 13, 2011|By Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times
  • Pearce Cleaveland, the "Mood Director" or "Ambassador of Awesome" at Liquid, the elite pool party at Aria in Las Vegas, resorts to his trusty bottle of Skyy vodka filled with Sex On the Beach shots to keep the party going.
Pearce Cleaveland, the "Mood Director" or "Ambassador… (Isaac Brekken / For The Times )

Reporting from Las Vegas — — A beefy guy with a high-pressure air gun strapped to his back marches across the pool deck at the Cosmopolitan hotel's new Marquee Dayclub in Las Vegas, flanked by seven waitresses in electric purple bikinis. The women wave inflatable sharks in the air and carry a giant cake. They are celebrating the 10th anniversary of Soundbar — a weekly house-music party — as part of the hype surrounding Marquee, one of two new pool parties to open in Sin City this summer.

What began in 2004 with the launch of a massive pool party called Rehab at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is reaching new levels this year as Marquee debuts alongside Nikki Beach at the newly renovated Tropicana hotel. These openings drive the number of high-profile pool parties in the city to nearly a dozen. With all the competition, the clubs are focusing more and more on boutique-style experiences, driven by customer-friendly amenities like air-conditioned cabanas with personal sound systems and private Jacuzzis.

"We did not want to mass market it and fill it up to the rim with as many people as possible," says Noah Tepperberg, the New York City-based nightlife kingpin who transported his Marquee brand to the Cosmopolitan. "We still wanted it to be premium."

Premium — but full. With nightclub business growing by as much as 20% annually over the last five years, according to Vegas impresario Sean Christie, who opened Encore Beach Club at the Wynn last year, pools are one way Vegas has weathered the recession. Thus the focus on amenities.

With skyline views of the strip, Marquee spans 22,000 square feet, has two pools — one with waterborne daybeds — and eight cabanas with private Plexiglas infinity pools with underwater views. The line downstairs is intense, with plenty of good-looking party people already on the list. But if you show up early enough and wait in line long enough, you'll get into the club.

Which also means intense competition, agrees Nikki Beach owner Jack Penrod. With 11 Nikki Beach locations in nine countries, it could be argued that Penrod helped create today's thriving pool-party scene. Now he's poised to open his largest dayclub (and nightclub) yet at the Tropicana over Memorial Day weekend.

Covering two acres of lushly landscaped South Beach-style grounds, Nikki Beach features air-conditioned tepee-cabanas, seven curtained four-poster "opium beds," outdoor gaming, 65 sun lounge beds, a wooden dining deck and a pool tiled with shiny asymmetrical "Gaudi stone."

"I don't believe in straight lines, as you can see," says Penrod gesturing around the area, which has curving sidewalks and wavy walls. The overall feel of Nikki Beach and the renovated Tropicana — along with most of the pool parties in general — is one of lightness and wide-open space not normally experienced in the dark, claustrophobic casinos that dominate the strip.

"In L.A. people go out to see and be seen. Here they come to let loose and have a good time," says Kalika Moquin, the marketing director for the Light Group, which oversees Liquid at Aria, which opened in 2010, and Bare, the topless pool party at the Mirage that debuted in 2006.

In addition to Marquee, Nikki Beach, Rehab, Encore Beach Club, Liquid and Bare, the competition includes Tao Beach at the Venetian, Venus Pool Club at Caesars Palace, Ditch Fridays at the Palms, Moorea Beach at Mandalay Bay and Wet Republic at MGM Grand. Although each party is defined by its own mood and vibe, they all have something in common: a scantily clad crowd bouncing to the latest DJ hits, downing sticky-sweet drinks and flirting madly.

At Liquid, 27-year-old Pearce Cleaveland, known as the "mood director" or the "ambassador of awesome" is paid to prance around the pool with a bottle of Skyy vodka filled with Sex on the Beach cocktail, which he liberally pours down the throat of anybody who looks in danger of losing his or her swerve.

"Once I put on a reindeer suit, towed Superman out on a sleigh, and got all the girls to do a synchronized cannonball," says Cleaveland dressed in rumpled linen pants and a breezy blue shirt.

Pool cheerleaders like Cleaveland are necessary because men pay up to $75 to get in to some clubs. Women often pay less, or get in free. But once inside, they shell out $15 or more for sugary cocktails, or rent daybeds or cabanas for rates ranging from $1,200 to $15,000, depending on the club and the date.

Pool parties are money makers, which is why big-name operators like Steve Wynn wanted in on the game. Wynn's Encore Beach Club was one of last summer's big openings and it continues to be one of the most popular parties on the Strip. Christie, who helped Wynn open it and still oversees the minute details of the 55,000-square-foot venue, says that Wynn decided to place his bets on the pool-party game after seeing one of his best customers at a competitor's party.

"Five years ago, people wanted the celebrity appearance, then it was hip-hop acts. When we built this, it shifted to DJs, so last summer we had Kaskade every Sunday and people went wild," Christie says.

This year Kaskade is back, along with the club's resident DJ, Steve Aoki, who made a name for himself in L.A. alongside heavyweights such as DJ AM.

Vegas, Christie says, is "adding probably five or six nightclubs a year." Although with pools, which are often extensions of nightclubs, as is the case with Marquee, Encore and Nikki Beach, it's more like one or two a year because of the massive amount of resources it takes to open and maintain one.

Surveying the opulence around him, however, Christie says, "You can build anything if you have the money, the resources and desire."

jessica.gelt@latimes.com

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