It’s approaching 10 p.m. on a Wednesday evening, and a steady stream of women fills the patio at Encore’s Botero restaurant. Some come in pairs, but most are in packs of four or five, gingerly shuffling down the steps of the main restaurant in micro-minis and stilettos with the keen awkwardness of newborn deer. It’s time for the first drink of the night.
Gathered on plush couches, they begin to relax their postures over black cherry Cosmopolitans, then more so after a server delivers plates of lettuce cups, sushi and other small bites. They chat in reserved voices as a DJ spins the kind of sexy but unobtrusive electronic music suited for one of the designer boutiques next door.
An hour later the music rises, and so do some of the women. The plates are empty, the Cosmos have turned into shared punch bowls with comically long straws, and the din of polite chatter has given way to laughter and spirited discussion. Their initial stumble is now more of a strut: Some playfully bump hips and sway to the beat, while others sidle up to the handful of men lingering by raised tables. A promoter invites a group of women to XS, the line for which is just becoming visible through the patio’s glass panels. A brunette and two men ponder the fate of their evening, wondering aloud whether they should call it a night or head to a club. The brunette considers her empty glass, then starts toward the bar. “Or we can just stay here!”
Enter the newest iteration of a Vegas supper club, a nightlife one-stop shop. Though a far cry from the Rat Pack-endorsed steak-and-scotch cabarets of yore, the easygoing, playful spirit of these late-evening dining spots remains the same.
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“It can be a pregame-for-clubbing nightlife experience, but it’s also a place for people who are interested in that scene but don’t necessarily want to be in it,” says Botero GM Carissa Villafana of the restaurant’s supper club, which launched in July. The club tails Botero’s older, more affluent dinner crowd, opening at 9 p.m. on Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Thursday and at 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
The supper club picks up where the lounge scene popular several years ago left off, augmenting it with food and nightclub elements, like guest DJs, to return to a more social nightlife experience that still has a party feel.
“It’s a great dining experience that, as the night progresses, will become more energy-driven, so as we get later in the night, we hand it over to the club,” says One Group CEO Jonathan Segal about Bagatelle, the supper club-cum-beach club property slated to open this fall at the Tropicana. “The place you arrive is absolutely not the place you leave.”
For Segal, the supper club isn’t just about a return to intimacy but also a consolidation of the nightlife experience. In the gutted club space that was once Club Nikki and then RPM, the cables and concrete chunks aren’t much to look at, but Segal’s vision is nonetheless clear: a single destination that bypasses the difficult transitions and long waits that accompany a night out on the Strip.
“You can spend up to an hour of your time transitioning from venue to venue. We don’t want to go through that; we deal with it because we have to,” he says. So if you can create the whole experience in one environment, you’ve got a big advantage.
Bagatelle combines the full range of venues—bar, restaurant and club—in an expanded single-tier dining area featuring private dining rooms, traditional banquettes and club-style booths, all of which flank the main dance floor and two bars. A night at the venue might mean stopping by for a drink at dusk, dining on fine Mediterranean fare with friends, then enjoying another round of cocktails as the lights gradually dim and the dance floor fills. Or one can simply pick and choose. The key, Segal says, is in the transition.
“You don’t say, ‘Okay, it’s 11 o’clock, turn up the music, turn off the lights.’ That’s very uncomfortable,” he says. “It needs to be a progression, so that all of a sudden everybody looks around and realizes they’re at a party, and then they realize they are the party.”
At Botero, the supper club is both a destination and a transitional point, as club promoters dine with clients or hunt for new ones to shuttle to Surrender, XS or Tryst. But for those in search of a night that’s a little more low-key than VIP, it’s also a great way to keep the costs of clubbing at bay. In contrast to Bagatelle’s “white tablecloth” fine dining, Botero features a modestly priced menu of small bites inspired by its main menu (steak-stuffed tater tots, pork belly sliders) so you’re sated but not stuffed for a night out. The $6 top-shelf cocktail specials and shareable punch bowls ($72 for four to five people) also make for a welcome alternative to the lines and tabs inside the club—or elsewhere on the Strip, for that matter.
Though the traditional supper club – white tablecloth surf n’ turf dining, liquor, dancing and entertainment -- helped define Rat Pack-era Vegas, its roots trace back to the Midwest. Supper clubs originated as Prohibition roadhouses whose locations outside city limits made them among the first establishments to be granted liquor licenses when Prohibition was repealed in 1933.
Whether supper clubs return as a fixture of Vegas nightlife remains to be seen; however, like day clubs and brunch parties before them, supper clubs are one more way for resorts to keep clients on property and partying.
“If we know XS has 100-plus people on the list for tonight, those people are gonna want dinner,” says Ronn Nicolli, director of strategic marketing for XS and Tryst, of the inspiration behind Botero’s supper club.
“We want the customer to stay Wynn-centric,” he says. “For me, a perfect day for a customer would be to spend the day at Encore Beach Club, take a disco nap, go to Botero for supper club and then hit XS or Tryst.”
Not a bad idea. Consider the Venetian’s Tao restaurant, a sort of proto-supper club that shuttles clientele to and from its neighboring lounge, beach and nightclub. As a result, it’s also the highest-grossing independent restaurant in the U.S. year after year since opening in 2005.
“This isn’t a trend,” Segal says. “It’s a new way of looking at the nightlife experience altogether.”