Women of Nightlife: The Pink Pages
These ladies do it all, from booking the DJs to running the show to owning the joint - and they do it as only women can
Thu, Oct 2, 2008 (midnight)
Illustration by Autumn Whitehurst
Stephanie Costello: owner/producer, Ultra Violet Extreme Performance Artists
Entrepreneur Costello discovered the flying trapeze while working for Club Med and moved to Vegas to join the circus (literally) in 1989, and the rest is history. Or rather, her-story. Go-go dancing at the Shark Club (one of Vegas’ earliest nightclubs), Costello met nightlife icon Frankie Anobile. Following a stint as an original Treasure Island pirate-show stuntwoman, she met another icon, Mike Milner. The three finally united at Studio 54, where for the next eight years Costello awed crowds with 15-20 live aerial performances each week. In 2001, Ultra Violet became her medium for giving clubs extreme body-painting experiences like Tryst’s 300-themed Halloween party in 2007 and aerial acrobatics like those she provides on Saturdays at Krave.
In her own words: “I think this planet would be a much better place if everybody were doing something they love to do. I am an artist with a business mind. I plan on using my business mind to provide fellow artists and myself with the opportunity to do what they love. Ultra Violet is the vehicle.”
Nightlife—a “boys club”? “Oh yes. I am hard-pressed to find a female general manager that runs any nightclub in Vegas. Do you know any?”
Deb Grimmel: entertainment marketing, Tao Group
Production assistant on a Spike Jonze-directed video is a tough act to follow for a first gig in LA. Unless your second is being personal assistant to Rob Zombie. Grimmel then transitioned to being the “right hand” of nightlife magnate Brent Bolthouse. Co-managing Camp Freddy with one hand, wrangling celebrities with the other, Grimmel parlayed her experience into an entertainment-relations manager position when Bolthouse merged with SBE in 2005. For having landed on the Vegas nightlife scene just one month ago, Grimmel has certainly hit the ground running and is now charged with facilitating all celebrity events, outreach, film, TV and music events at Lavo, Tao and Tao Beach.
In her own words: “If you are strong, work hard and are driven, you will succeed. You do have to have a thick skin. If you don’t, you will probably get eaten alive. This is not an industry for the faint of heart.”
Nightlife—a “boys club”?“It is a little bit of a boys club, but there are some incredibly powerful women who have paved the way for women like me, like [NY nightlife doyenne] Amy Sacco and Jen Rosero [Bolthouse’s partner].”
Suzanne Phillips: president/owner, Suzanne Events
It’s gotta be rough. Nearly 6 feet tall before her 18th birthday, Phillips was scooped up from her home in Northern California and sent to Europe for two years of nearly constant print and runway modeling. Following a decade-long pit-stop in New York City, Phillips settled back into her native state, this time on the shores of Venice Beach, where for the last seven years she’s planned and produced events for everyone from Steven Tyler for Junker Designs to magazine-sponsored events with Jane and Details. More than merely an event planner, Phillips builds lasting associations between trend-influencing communities and today’s hottest brands, or as she puts it, “between the right people and the right product.”
Phillips commutes from Venice to Vegas for events, and for the last two years she has done so weekly to oversee her signature event, Indulge Fridays at Body English. Indulge has seen exponential growth since its debut, from 700 attendees to a consistent 1,200 each week. Indulge turns 2 this November.
Nightlife—a “boys club”? “Nightlife management is—I call it—the Testosterone Zone.”
Tiffany Masters: event coordinator/promoter, CatHouse
Little Tiffany from Kansas told her mother she would walk a red carpet someday—she’s been working to make good on that promise ever since. Moving to Vegas was an accident, according to Masters, who visited on a writing assignment in 1999 and simply never left. A published journalist and TV personality, Masters now also includes on her resume owning Vegas Cabana Candy/Rock Candy mood directors and Vegas Arm Charms Events. But it’s her Vanity Wednesdays and The Closet Sundays at CatHouse that keep her busiest these days.
With the tutelage, support and friendship of many of Vegas’ more respected owners and operators—Victor Drai and Tony Verdugo among them—Masters withstood harsh rumors during the “adult journalism” portion of her career. She boldly offered to throw a party if anyone could produce evidence that her relationship to the adult-entertainment industry was as anything but a writer. Happily, she reports, “No parties yet!”
In her own words: “I see how beautiful, intelligent women have worked hard and still knock their heads on that glass ceiling or are used as a ‘marketing tool,’ and not for their skills. We have come a long way with the help from a mentor to many of us, Shannon DuPont. However, there is still a very long way to go.”
Lisa Pittman: music director/creator of CandyBar, Krave Nightclub
Pittman’s entrée into the service industry came as something of a surprise. Fresh out of college, Pittman, a drummer, answered an ad for a “new venture” at MGM Grand casting singers, dancers and musicians. Selected along with 30 other drummers, Pittman was hired thanks to two nights’ experience tending bar as a performing bartender with plans for a drum kit on her bar top. When 54 finally opened, the drum plans were scrapped, and an entire staff of entertainers thrown into the weeds. From bartender to VIP bartender, front door, management, events coordination/promotions and finally DJ, Pittman made the rounds before departing to open CandyBar—“for girls who like girls”—at Krave in November 2007. That done, she was handed the entertainment and marketing position for the whole club. With club competition at an all-time high, Pittman predicts that music will be the success factor moving forward.
Nightlife—a “boys club”? “It can be a boys club for sure. There have been a lot of male vs. female upsets in the industry. We all can remember when at every club the bar staff was entirely male ... and then almost immediately, it became all-female. Men for the first time got ousted out of good bartending jobs for their big-breasted counterparts. I think that stirred the pot a little and changed the working dynamic between men and women in the clubs.”
These may be some of Vegas’ Leading Ladies, but they certainly aren’t the only ladies! Is there a female go-go dancer or DJ that just rocks your world? What about your favorite bartender, cocktail server or VIP host? We want to meet her!
Please send us the full name, title, and place of business for your favorite Leading Lady, and a maximum of 250 words on why she’s tops, and we’ll post the best entries online! Click here to nominate! Please include your full name and contact information as well as a photo of your submission, if possible.
Kirsten “Kiki” Kuzmirek: marketing/Tao Goddess Card program, Tao Group
Trolling Craigslist after her LA doggie-daycare biz failed to take off and the Vegas pet store she was managing closed, Kuzmirek, a Palm Beach, Florida, native, found herself answering an ad for independent VIP hosts. Packing a theater degree from the University of Florida, she quickly learned how to sell nightclub, strip club and limo deals and be a skilled host. But the mystique of the inner workings of the nightclubs (as well as the “heavy handshakes” at the doors) intrigued her enough to dive right in … straight to the bottom of the food chain as a parking-lot flier jockey. It’s been a steady climb upward ever since.
Today, Kuzmirek’s baby is the Tao Goddess Card promotion, which—how apropos—rewards Vegas’ elite ladies just for being their lovely selves.
How do you change or improve Las Vegas nightlife daily? “With a smile, a positive attitude and packet of drink tickets!”
Nightlife—a “boys club”? “There is definitely a fraternity aspect within Vegas nightlife! Each club is like its own frat house. The boys take care of one another and frequently pledge new members. On the flip-side, I think the strong women in the industry stick together. We’ve formed our own sorority.”
Kara Lewis: director of marketing, Tao Las Vegas
Seriously considering adding therapist to her job title, Lewis has her hands on enough projects overseeing the day-to-day at Tao’s marketing offices that you can bet she hears and sees it all. Responsible for the creation and execution of all image and branding events, as well as all the ads, invitations and fliers that arrive in our inboxes and mailboxes, Lewis has a critical eye for design thanks to her fashion merchandising and marketing studies at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology.
Lewis got her start in restaurants at the age of 16, another accidental tourist in the service industry, as she did her school homework right on the restaurant bar. That is how, after a bartender went home ill, she was unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight. The second Lewis turned 18 she moved straight on to the nightclubs, and—aside from a two-year detour crisscrossing the country planning events for NASCAR—has remained there ever since.
Nightlife—a “boys club”? “I think at one point nightlife was considered a boys club, but because the industry is so forward-thinking, women have been able to make great strides working in upper management in nightlife.”
Kalika Moquin: marketing director, Bare Pool Lounge, Light Group
With two years of political-science studies under her belt, Moquin quit her home state of Montana and invested all her energy into getting, as she calls it, her masters in nightlife entertainment. Five years of climbing the nightlife ladder has earned Moquin incredible respect among her peers for her work as a promoter opening Jet and for her complete dedication to Bare Pool Lounge, and to her baby, the Vegas Prom, turning 4 this week, where else but Bare.
In her own words: “The mentality in Vegas nightlife has completely changed. It used to be that the customers had to fight to be accepted past the velvet rope. Now, with so many options, the clubs have to fight and work hard to attract, wow and own a customer.”
Nightlife—a “boys club”? “Oh yes, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. It was the boys who wrote the handbook and built the business I love so much … I admire their strength and dedication to this industry and am proud to say that I’m a woman in nightlife who has earned their respect and been given the opportunity to work with and learn from the best!”
Zarnaz “Zee” Zandi: marketing/DJ booking/VIP host manager, Angel Management Group
When the nightclub next to Zandi’s coffee shop changed over from The Metz to Utopia in 1996, Zandi says, “that was it,” and she was instantly a goner. House music and house DJs have been her life ever since (that and her 7-year-old son).
As Vegas’ resident Queen of House, Zandi gets to draw upon all of her best skills daily. Booking top DJ talent for Wet Republic, Tabu, Studio 54 and Wednesdays at Body English is a cinch for Zandi, who has spent the last decade getting on a first-name basis with every DJ who takes a crack at Vegas’ decks. Utopia, House of Blues, Risque, Ice, Jet and now AMG’s venues—all have benefited from the presence of the Queen.
Beyond booking, the Seattle native knows her way around a velvet rope but jokes that she is by no means “the biggest hustler.”
In her own words: “Every time I blink my eyes we have a new venue outdoing the ones before. I do think Vegas is over-saturated; however, if you do things right as far as events, staff and service, you will succeed.”
Nightlife—a “boys club”? “Not really anymore. Nowadays we have a lot more qualified, hard-working women at the top of the nightlife world. If you are good, nobody can take that away from you.”
Jodi Myers: president of customer development, Light Group
Post-9/11 Vegas was the picture of a destination city in shock—layoffs, hiring freezes, tourism in decline … Undeterred, Myers and her boyfriend (now husband) were Vegas-bound, in search of a warmer climate and a faster pace. Not likely to find a job in her field of speech communications, Minnesota native Myers arrived in Vegas with seven years of nightclub experience already logged, so it was a cinch that she turn to nightlife in a time when so many were looking for work. She took a job cocktailing at Light Nightclub, but what she found was a whole new career.
Her loyalty spoke for itself when she helped open The Bank in Light’s footprint, first as managing partner, and now tasked with her presidential duties in customer development. She has found that as a woman in a powerful position, she occasionally encounters discrimination in the form of not being taken seriously. That’s where that communications degree must come in rather handy. Perseverance even in the good times, says Myers, is the secret to success.
In her own words: “Las Vegas nightlife is ever-changing and growing, therefore becoming more and more competitive. To compete you have to be more creative and think for the future.”
Natalia Badzjo: operations manager, ND’s Space (opening Spring 2009)
Some of the hardest work in nightlife occurs before the venue has even opened its doors. That’s where Badzjo is right now, up to her lovely Estonian ears in pre-opening planning for ND’s Space’s imminent arrival, owner ND (Nicole Durr) herself soon to be a new power-player on the nightlife scene.
The pay cut from Badzjo’s first gig as a Tabu cocktail server to Studio 54 management was a massive one, but necessary to fulfill the goals Badzjo set for herself as an international marketing and finance major. Badzjo visited Vegas on vacation in 2001 and fell in love with the town and the opportunities it offered. She went back home, finished another year at Tartu University and then transferred to UNLV in 2002.
Badzjo says, “It is a thousand times better to have common sense without education than to have education without common sense.” She counts Mike Milner, Candace Carrell, Frankie Anobile, Cy Waits, Brian Buechner, Michael Morton and Steve Wynn among her many mentors, crediting them with much of her post-collegiate education.
In her own words: “I was taught not to wait for inspiration to start a thing. ‘Action always generates inspiration. Inspiration seldom generates action.’ –Frank Tibolt.”
Jessica Blair: nightclub photographer
The thought of settling down and having kids in tiny Warwick, Rhode Island, felt all wrong for Blair, who, in 2002, wanted nothing more than to bust out of her comfort zone and gain some true life experience. She threw her clothes into the car, and her next stop was Vegas.
Blair always possessed a flair for photography but credits her mentor, Tracy Lee of NapkinNights.com (herself one of Vegas nightlife’s Leading Ladies, who was traveling and therefore unable to participate), for taking her under her wing at the very time that Lee’s photo-based nightlife website was exploding, and for making Blair her first protégé.
She definitely sees photography classes in her future, but for now, locals and celebrities alike can continue to count on her making them look good in the clubs. To support her photography habit as well as a penchant for spontaneous road trips, Blair also waits tables at Ra Sushi.
In her own words: “Las Vegas nightlife can only get bigger and better. The competition in the industry continues to push the level of service higher and higher, and I’m anxious to see where it ends up.”
The worst to shoot: “Celebs. Many of them have huge egos and can be very rude.”
Michelle Dell: sole owner/investor/operator, Hogs & Heifers Saloons, NYC and Las Vegas
West Village to the core but increasingly a Vegas girl (hey, she gave up the New York driver’s license), this complex women who has lived a thousand lives despite her near 40 years, began yet another adventure when the brand she scratched out of the very pavement of New York’s Meatpacking District landed smack-dab in the center of Vegas’ own cement jungle, on Third Street, Downtown.
The $1 million Dell needed to open her second location came from the sweat of her own brow, not the deep pockets of a mysterious cadre of anonymous or celebrity investors as is so often done, which frees her up for dancing on bars, riding motorcycles and generally being “a tough-talking, hip-swinging badass.”
In her own words: “No lemon, no lime, no salt, no sugar, no olives, no onions, no tomato juice, no pineapple juice, no frozen drinks, no margarita glasses, no martini glasses, no wine and no fucking whining!”
Nightlife—a “boys club”? “To some extent nightlife is definitely a male-dominated industry and as such is somewhat of a boys club. However, that being said, I personally believe that this fact has more to do with the lifestyle choices that tend to attract men more then women.”
VIP hosting/VIP services
Shannon DuPont: executive VIP host of nightlife, Hard Rock
Quite the dilemma. As one of the first (if not the first) female VIP hosts in a Vegas club, DuPont had a lucrative position at Baby’s, which she helped open, but she also had offers from N9NE Group and Light. She worked her way through both before “coming home” to the Hard Rock to open Body English. After she sold everything she owned just to get from Florida to Vegas, the Hard Rock literally became a home to DuPont. Hosting in an age before texting, DuPont recalls times when she worked and partied for a year straight without taking a moment for herself. Her return to the Hard Rock—this time with husband Cory McCormack—iced DuPont’s cake, and her meteoric rise continues to this moment: As executive VIP host she runs the show at Rehab and is even a managing partner in Wasted Space.
Where is Vegas nightlife headed? “Nightlife is exploding in Vegas. The new trend is to have nightclubs in every casino … They are trying hard to have everything you need under one roof. Also, the nightclub business is getting very competitive. Some nightclubs forbid their employees from going to other clubs.”
Jeanette Ivy: bachelorette/celebration director, Light Group
Vegas likes to celebrate—birthdays, bachelor and bachelorette parties, divorces. … Somebody has to wrangle all of those celebrants, and Ivy is up to the challenge. After cocktailing (Roadrunner, Hard Rock, N9NE Group) and a brief adventure in Australia, Ivy returned to her hometown and a new challenge: the creation of Light Group’s bachelorette-party program. Thanks to a recent spate of bachelor and birthday parties, she’s finding her cup overflowing with celebrations.
In her own words: “Women do have an advantage in this industry, and most especially the beautiful women. Entertainment has always focused on beautiful women, and Las Vegas pushes that to new limits, as it does with everything.”
Nightlife a “boys club”? “Nightlife is run mostly by men, but the women working in the industry are the ones who make the statement.”
Where is Vegas nightlife headed?“I see an over-saturation of clubs causing some major closings. Only the ‘big boys’ will survive—the clubs that are diligent in their marketing and watching who they attract and why. Some places will try to compete by lowering prices, but that may attract the wrong kind of clientele. Who ever thought that circus acts would actually occur in nightclubs!?”
Brandy Beavers: executive casino host, Palms
“Vegas is a city driven by sex. Intelligent women are sexy. Combine looks with the brains, and you’ve got a bona fide money-making machine.” That pretty much sums up Miss Beavers, who’s made short work of winning people over, whether it’s been from behind the screens dancing at Shadow Bar, as a bunny hostess at the Playboy Club or today, wheeling and dealing on the casino floor.
With a background in production and a cosmetology and esthetics license, Beavers has carefully crafted her own classic, pin-up image. Beavers’ seductive voice garners new fans as she hosts her series of updates on Sirius’ Playboy Radio: The Bunny Business with Brandy Beavers, On The Ball with Beavers (sports) and Backstage with Beavers (celebrity performers).
Nightlife—a “boys club”? “I went from a bunny suit to a business suit overnight. That’s quite a hop. … Fearing not being taken seriously, I stowed away my buxom figure under demure Anne Taylor suits, even sporting ties from time to time. It takes a special girl to fit in with the boys club. You have to have a little tomboy in you, think like a guy sometimes. In the end it’s all about respect—giving it and earning it.”
Brooke Mitchell: door host, Rain
The second Mitchell turned 21, she left her hostess position at Drai’s Restaurant. She just had to see what happened during nightclub hours! Cocktailing at Whiskey Sky fit the bill. Then, ready for the big time, the girl from Oregon moved on to Baby’s, met her future husband and slid over to V Bar to work with him. As a door host, Mitchell soaked up all the fabulous fashions and finally, four years ago, started her own line, Filthy Mouth Clothing. She also made a move to Rain.
Wristband girl was no picnic at first, but it soon gave way to point host and finally door host. “When that clipboard landed in my hands, and I was to determine who to let in … it all began!”
A universal Vegas truth? “People drink too early when they come to Vegas. So many people are wasted by, like, 10 p.m., and by 2 they can’t walk. My advice: Start slow, don’t even do dinner until 10 p.m. Vegas is open late; there is no hurry.”
Nightlife—a “boys club”? “I would say in the higher-up area, yes. I don’t see many women directors of operations at nightclubs. At the same time, though, the men in this industry in Vegas love women, and love to surround themselves by women, so I don’t think there is any shortage anywhere.”
VIP hosting, independent
Lory Ambrosini and Kim Ehler: co-owners, Wingwoman Tours
Packing a double girl-power punch, the duo of Ambrosini and Ehler brings together two completely different backgrounds (leisure studies for Ehler, communications and music for Ambrosini) but with a unified goal: giving tourists the best clubbing experience possible. That means the safest, best fit and led by a savvy local. The fact that their hosts are beautiful, talented and intelligent doesn’t hurt business, either!
In her own words: “At 37, I am definitely not your typical club girl!” Ambrosini says. “Even behind the scenes, everything is geared toward pleasing the male aesthetic, and I just don’t play that way … Plus, we are turning the tide by bringing in a lot of female customers who have money and power and intelligence and run the boys around a bit. Eventually it will even out!”
Nightlife—a “boys club”? “Ninety-nine percent of the people we deal with are men,” Ehler says. “So in a sense the power nightlife scene is a ‘boys club.’ The VIP hosts are mostly men, and they have all the power. You want in, you better have relationships with the VIP hosts. On the flip side, it’s the women they call upon to drive the business, so you tell me, who really has the power?”
Yvette Brown: CEO/president, Vegas VIP Hottie Hosting Inc.
Maybe it’s the British accent. But wherever Brown has gone since arriving in 2002 to perform in the Golden Nugget’s Spirit of the Dance show, people just seem to remember the bubbly blonde. That came in handy when she began VIP hosting independently. Growing her notoriety into a full-fledged company, VegasVIPHottieHosting.com was born, and has swelled to include a roster of over 11 ladies and even one very lucky male host.
According to Brown, no little thing like gender will get in the way of her success; being female has been “neither an advantage nor disadvantage. The VIP service we provide is what really makes my business. Really, the economy has more to do with how my business does than my gender.” No surprise then that Brown is currently working towards her BA in business.
“This industry is product- and economy-dependent. It’s also a matter of marketing, and hard work.” In these interesting economic times, Brown notes that her target client’s entertainment budget has been the first thing to go. But as she additionally attracts an international and celebrity clientele, Brown is confident both she and Vegas can withstand the downturn. “I have all the confidence in this city.”
Monica White: co-founder/managing partner, Vegas Passport
If Vegas is a one-stop shop for dining, shopping, gaming and entertainment, then Vegas Passport has got to be the one-stop shop for clubbing. Except it comes to you in a neat little package of passes that actually work. For the five years since White arrived from Tahoe, she’s made sure of that, solidifying relationships on trade and a shoestring budget to create a club pass package that can be ordered online and not require a living, breathing VIP host. Staying on top of an industry where clubs close without so much as a word of warning (as well as keeping tabs on a rambunctious 10-year-old) keeps the single mom plenty busy!
In her own words: “Nightlife is a boys club; they all know each other, and some clubs have alliances and rivalries. I believe women are likely to set aside differences and that the end result of success is most important.”
How do you change or improve Las Vegas nightlife daily? “We direct traffic and send tourists to the clubs even during the slow season. We market the clubs on major travel sites like Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity, etc. … All of our products are put together at Opportunity Village.”