“… I will compare it to cancer. You need to cut all of it out before it kills you. The good thing about this city is it has a history of driving the cancer out, burying it within an unmarked, shallow grave far from the neon glow of its former host.” –Branden Powers, Poetry
YES, IT’S A SCANDAL
After a dramatic house fire comes the investigation. When the embers have cooled, in come the brains to pick it apart and answer the question, “What happened here?” The Privé scandal—and yes, it’s a scandal—has had nearly the same effect on the Vegas nightlife scene. But even after the August 4 decision by the Clark County Commission to postpone Privé’s liquor-license appeal, things are still heated, the smoke still thick as ever.
There are people who would see this incident go down in the history books as an act of God rather than peel away the layers to reveal the facts, however unappetizing they may be.
I, for one, would rather know the truth. So I’ll be knee-deep in the wreckage for the next few months if anyone needs me.
Note: If it seems like this analysis doesn’t draw us any closer to a definitive conclusion and you’re feeling frustrated, then you’re right; I’m frustrated, too. That’s because the final chapter of Privé’s troubles—whichever way it goes—hasn’t been written yet and was this week put off further still by a two-week postponement. In the meantime, we can only reflect on what’s been done and said, and on what industry members are themselves saying in response.
THE PRIVÉ EFFECT
At Jet last Friday, a group was being seated in a VIP booth when their assigned cocktail server gathered them around. “If I could get everyone’s attention,” she said. I’m paraphrasing, but she basically went on to explain: I just want to let you know that we run a clean environment. We have a zero-tolerance policy for drugs, so if you get caught doing anything illegal, you will be expelled without a refund.
Being savvy patrons all, the partiers presumed aloud that this was a reaction to the Privé scandal. Yeah, she answered, everybody has to be really careful now. We always were, but now even more so. Perhaps she took her mandate a little too seriously. But it serves as a harbinger of things to come.
It may take some time for clubs to internalize what has happened here and to make major, lasting policy changes accordingly, something that should be patiently encouraged, though there are understandably already some knee-jerk reactions.
Someone posed the question the other day, which of Privé’s alleged offenses is the most egregious? I think one need only observe where the Privé effect eventually has its greatest consequence to figure that one out.
- Related Stories
- Regulating morality? (08/06/09)
- What they're saying about the Privé scandal (08/06/09)
- Privé appeal postponed until August 18 (08/04/09)
- Former Privé security director speaks out against allegations (7/28/09)
- Privé denied temporary license (7/28/09)
- Inside the last night at Prive (07/28/09)
- State and county agencies react to the Prive issue (7/26/09)
- Prive liquor license denied, business to cease (7/23/09)
- Prive bad rap a wrap? (7/13/09)
- Planet Hollywood fined for tenant's behavior (7/16/09)
- Club Guide
If it’s the liquor-related allegations, of over-serving patrons—some of them allegedly minors—and then “leaving them unattended in the casino in various states of consciousness,” I would expect to see the biggest crackdowns occur at the door, at the bar and in the VIP booths. If it’s the alleged assaults and batteries, prostitution and lewd activity, I would look for increased uniformed security and for casino landlords to become permanent presences in the affairs of nightclub tenants.
Meanwhile, it’s possible that other clubs might see increased traffic, what with there being one less club to compete with. Nite Tours, an independent VIP hosting company that frequented Privé every weekend, reports having had to change schedules around to accommodate clients who ask for Privé, sending them instead to Tao or Rok Vegas.
On the other hand, could the Privé effect turn in an unexpected direction? Weekly contributor and nightlife observer Jack Colton says, “Tourists I’ve spoken to have generally reacted by saying, ‘Prostitution, lewdness and excessive drinking? Sign me up!’”
CH-CH-CH-CH-CHANGES (TURN AND FACE THE STRAIN)
I asked industry members what operators should be doing now in response to the Privé scandal. “What they should have been doing all along,” answers Poetry Nightclub partner Branden Powers. “Operating their businesses legally and paying closer attention to those they entrust with overseeing them.”
The role of key employee, which played such an important part in last week’s show of force by the county, will, I think, come with even greater scrutiny in the future. Having a clean background check and a little witty in-person repartee before the Nevada Gaming Commission might no longer be enough to get all the “ayes” in someone’s favor. Since there’s usually plenty of time between when an applicant begins working in a key role and when they actually come before the board, should that time not function almost like a probation period? And shouldn’t it always have?
“I would think that a venue like Privé, [which] was operating on a temporary, privileged license, would realize this and go above and beyond to ensure the security of their investment and the welfare of their employees and patrons,” says Beauty Bar manager Joe Garcia.
AN OUNCE OF PREVENTION BEATS A $750,000 FINE
“Education, training, and hands-on involvement are always the best way. The ownership of the club should be held responsible for their own management staff and the operations of the club. The hotel should hold tenants accountable if they are not part of the ownership structure.” –Michael Cornthwaite, owner, Downtown Cocktail Room
it’s been cyclical throughout the years, whether the nightclubs are run by outside management companies such as Light Group, N9NE Group and Tao Group, or as partnerships in the cases of Rok Vegas or Blush, or are run by the casinos themselves like Body English, Studio 54 or Risqué. By all appearances—and judging by what numbers are made available—it would appear that the four-walled deals with management companies perform better overall. Of course, except in this case where the casino claims it had no idea what was going on in the club or, if it did have knowledge, failed to act, which is even worse.
“Don’t wait for complaints.” Foundation Room Operations Manager Chris Olender says he would like to see a “one strike and you’re out” policy instituted to keep independent club owners in check. “There are so many good businesses out here that follow the rules and make sure the guests have a good time, but then there is that one that screws it up for everyone,” Olender says.
Olender adds, somewhat pessimistically, that until the Gaming Commission stops handing out fines and starts shutting down offenders, “nothing will change.”
“You start messing with a casino’s gaming license, you can expect the casinos to step in, kick out the management companies that operate their nightclubs and take them over,” says Branden Powers.
Indeed, on July 30, Planet Hollywood submitted a request to absorb Privé’s bars into its own liquor license and to “lease” the employees from Privé Vegas, LLC in an attempt to “avoid damaging Planet Hollywood’s operations and honor commitments currently in place with patrons.” This request was denied that same day as “not sufficient.”
A strong advocate for transparency between tenant and landlord, Poetry partner Powers just went through a long battle with landlords Caesars Palace and Simon Property Group. And now, Forum Shops tenant Chinois has closed, forcing Poetry to prematurely relocate to the Strip.
“Everyone will point fingers at one another,” says Powers. “The truth is they are all responsible. The casinos need to watch everything. They need to know who they are jumping in bed with. They need to be allowed access 24/7. Operators need to work hand in hand with the casinos. ... It’s for the betterment of all, especially the tourists, which is the lifeblood of our great city. Without them we are a dusty relic of an abandoned dream in the desert.”
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
Las Vegas is always being watched. And scrutiny of the nightlife industry just got more intense. Many wonder if the notorious activities they’ve allegedly seen or heard about—host pat-downs, tip-skimming—will be curbed by the added attention of the Privé effect. It’s too soon to know what that means for club life.
“Las Vegas has a magnifying glass on it at all times,” observes Nite Tours’ Darin Feth.
“Many smaller cities emulate the nightlife products that exist in Las Vegas. I don’t think it will have a negative impact on the Vegas image as many people will probably just think, ‘Oh yeah, that’s Vegas.’”
“I don’t think many people in the nation care, much less the world,” says Downtown Cocktail Room owner Michael Cornthwaite. “If they do, it probably just reinforces the ‘anything goes’ image of Vegas.”
Colton agrees that “the very nature of the ‘anything goes’ mentality that Las Vegas was built upon will always create these types of situations, regardless of how much regulation is attempted.” In other words, our very success breeds our troubles. “That’s part of why people love coming here.”
So we’re under the microscope but expected to behave erratically, per the “anything goes” image. Should anyone therefore be surprised when we act according to our supposed nature? A city—“Sin City,” I might add—is founded by crooks, and we’re shocked that there might be crookery afoot?!
Well, now that gaming, liquor and the general doing of business is regulated, in a word, yes.
Leave it to Colton to find the irony: “IRS raids, drug-enforcement task forces, gaming-commission complaints and prostitution stings? Las Vegas nightlife should pat itself on the back that it is finally a formidable enough force to draw as much [of a] watchful eye as it has in the past several years.”
Now if only we could get such acclaim for something legal.