A sobering proposal
A Weekly nightlifer takes a rare look at booze-free partying
Wed, Dec 31, 2008 (midnight)
Illustration by Charlene Chua
No country for dry men
After six years of working directly at the heart of the Las Vegas nightlife industry, and after three years of steadfast efforts, by way of print and online columns, to tell the world how best to party here, it is safe to say that I’ve built up a solid reputation as someone who knows how to have a good time.
My job, quite literally, is to be out drinking and showing people a good time all the time. With all of this naturally comes a lot of readily available booze. In addition to my regularly scheduled bottle service three or more nights a week, I’m constantly checking in on the other nightclubs, hosting themed events that celebrate local nightlife figures and showing support at a seemingly endless roster of friends’ and colleagues’ celebrations. My story isn’t at all an unfamiliar one.
A large majority of the people who work in the Vegas nightlife industry seem to find themselves consistently drinking way more than they would probably like to, waking up to throbbing hangovers and making the often ill-fated declaration, “I’m never drinking again”—a statement that holds true only until it is time to start all over again. Is drinking necessary? Of course not, but do the math. Most of us are still in our mid-to-lower-20s, surrounded by liquor and understand that drinking makes it substantially easier to show clients a great time, to partake in a staff “outreach” to support another club or even to simply deal with all of the drunk tourists that we will inevitably encounter on a nightly basis. And if nothing else, it’s fun to drink!
Not everybody drinks, ya know
As I’ve grown a little older and a little more ready to slow it down a notch, I’ve noticed a little-talked-about group of people who are in the exact same situation—constantly out on the town, but who are almost never seen taking even one sip of alcohol, in spite of how many times they might be offered or how hard they are pressured. It’s almost like catching a glimpse of Sasquatch. I am intrigued by these people. Somehow, to me, they are superhuman.
It made me question if I would ever have the willpower to stay completely sober while working in the nightlife industry. Could I really go out and have just as good a time without drinking? The only way to find out: Set down the glass for at least one week and spend some quality time talking with those who had successfully done the same—only for much, much longer.
As I began to pay attention and ask around, I found that I have known many of these people, these sober partiers, for years and had absolutely no clue that they didn’t drink. Each has dramatically different reasons for staying away from alcohol, but all proudly revel in their decision and stand by how much better they feel with the considerably healthier lifestyle. Could I possibly do the same?
Admitting it is the first step
With a firm resolve and in a raspy voice I declared, “One week without drinking!”
Well … sort of.
In spite of my best efforts, my first night of not drinking was only partly successful as, even though I had managed to get through most of the evening drinking only cranberry juice, a well-meaning tourist had made a special trip to the bar and spent $12 on a Jack & Coke as a kind gesture; who would I be to rudely give it away?
I don’t drink: at all
Setting aside this small bump in the road (and mentioning it to no one till now), I spent some time with Marc Jay, vice president of One Global Events and Marketing, who is one of the last people you would think doesn’t drink. After all, this is the guy frequently seen jumping wildly on furniture, clearly having a good time and, for all intents and purposes, appearing to be legitimately, certifiably drunk. Except he’s sober. As for why he doesn’t drink, Marc explains, “My family owned bars in London, and when I was 13 years old, my dad had an interesting way of looking at alcohol, and he gave me two weeks to try anything and everything that I wanted. Of course, his plan worked. Being 13 years old I felt that it all tasted disgusting and I never went back to it.
“When I go out, the clubs offer me bottles of vodka left right and center for free, but when I ask for something like a water, they make me pay for it! It’s a little funny when you think about it.” Like many whom I would eventually speak to, Marc feels that too many people in our industry drink far too much for their own good. “I look at all of these new young hosts who are downing Patron each and every night—surely at some point it is going to catch up with them.” As someone who is very outspoken in favor of the idea that clubs which encourage employees to be out drinking should provide some sort of safe transportation at the end of the night, Marc makes his own positive effort by offering himself as a personal taxicab to others at least three nights a week, “especially for my brother, who is just an awful driver to begin with.”
I don’t drink: because of work
The next evening I spoke with Jessica Blair, a nightclub photographer who works five or more nights a week and feels that if she drank every time alcohol was offered to her it would boldly contradict her healthy lifestyle and ultimately turn her into a raging alcoholic. “I see drunken people as entertainment, and I use my working as an excuse if I’m offered alcohol. If I can’t get out of a shot, I dump it out on the floor and hope no one notices.”
Speaking with Jessica reminded me of something that I hadn’t put together before: Of everyone who works in the nightlife industry it seems that photographers are the only group that regularly abstains.
“When you think about it,” Blair continues, “most people who work in this industry are supposed to be out partying and making sure that everyone has a great time. As nightclub photographers, our job is to be able to effectively move around the club and cover the entire scene by interacting with strangers and explaining to them why we would like their picture.” Sobriety makes this an infinitely easier task, as one can assume that it would be difficult to carry around business cards, a drink and $2,500 in camera equipment. Still, Jessica says, “From past experience, and I’ll swear by this, I take way better pictures when I’m intoxicated!”
Wait, could it be possible that I have—gasp!—been drinking too much?
After the first few nights of partying sober, my body had to adjust to not having any alcohol in its system for the first time in quite a while. The symptoms were by no means severe, but I felt a little like someone who had stopped smoking cold-turkey. This merely strengthened my resolve to join the nondrinking crowd, and I set out for my next evening’s assignment: to be one of the guest judges for a girl-on-girl kissing contest at Tao. While I wouldn’t say I was experiencing any real cravings for alcohol, it was helpful to have something so … engaging to occupy my time, and I can certainly think of a few worse things than gauging the way two (or three!) women kiss.
Across the club, Tao marketing manager Mike Snedegar was celebrating his 30th birthday after six proud months of sobriety. Mike was well-known prior to this as someone who partied hard and drank often. “When you first get into the industry you are young and want to party. Then you hit a point where you realize this is a career that you can make money at.”
Perhaps then it’s time to cut out—or down—on the shenanigans.
I don’t drink: because something had to give
The original reason for his sobriety, Snedegar explains, is that he was tired of taking cabs, looking for his car keys and of being famous for always losing his BlackBerry. “I mean, how many times did I have to ask people for their [BlackBerry Messenger PIN] again because I had lost my phone? I realized that I wasn’t happy about something, and took myself out of it all until I figured it out.”
When he first stopped drinking, his friends brushed it off as just another declaration after a long night out. “People always say that they are never drinking again when they are feeling the effects of a long drunken weekend, but my friends eventually realized I was serious and were very supportive about what I was trying to do.” Through it all, Snedegar found some of the most surprising responses to be from those whom he would have least expected. “I’ve had a lot of people call me in confidence and ask me how I did it and if I could help them to do the same.”
As for the looming question of whether or not to imbibe on his birthday: “I debated back and forth for a while, and everyone was asking me if I was going to drink. I was like, ‘I’ve gone six months. It’s my birthday, why not?’” As things go, Mike reports he woke up the next morning with the worst hangover he has endured in a while, and reaffirmed to himself once again that “this is something that I’m not going to do again for a very, very long time.”
I don’t drink: because I made a commitment
In the distant past, DJ Justin Hoffman had a problem with both drugs and alcohol that, in his own words, “got a little bit out of control.” After making the move to Las Vegas from Boston nine years ago, Hoffman sobered up somewhat, but not fully. “Three and half years ago it got pretty bad again. So bad that another DJ helped put me into a rehab center in California. I stayed for three weeks, got cleaned up, and that was it.”
After treatment, Hoffman credits his continued sobriety to the participation in programs that support recovering alcoholics. And even though he is surrounded by alcohol while at work, Hoffman isn’t alone in his sobriety; even though it isn’t official company policy, DJs at Tryst nightclub have an unwritten rule about not drinking on the job. “The thing I’ve noticed is that the DJ’s who are sober perform much better, those who drink while they play get sloppy, get tired and train-wreck their records,” Hoffman explains. “It isn’t like you are going to function better with 12 shots of Patron, and the way I see it is—this is your job.
“Stopping drinking is one thing, being comfortable being around alcohol is another thing entirely,” Justin adds. He offers his support for anyone who might be battling with an addiction and feels they could use his guidance. “Obviously I don’t want to put my phone number out there, but I’m pretty easy to find if you need me.”
This year, I toast to moderation
By the end of the week I found it increasingly easier to remain pleasantly sober in the midst of a virtual sea of alcohol and realized just how much more productive I could be after a good night’s rest and with a relatively clear mind the next day. This isn’t to say that I will be going 100 percent dry for years to come … but it is nice to know that I can.
In the end, I think Dave Williams, a 54-year-old local publicist, summed it up best: “‘Party’ is a state of mind. You are either a fun person and having fun, or you are not. Admittedly, the boozing intensifies either condition.”