Celebrating its five-year staff reunion juuuust in time before turning six, the itty-bitty 1,500-square-foot Mist Lounge is bustling as usual, with drinks being briskly served, consumed and refreshed, again, as usual. Inside, former employee Andrea Duran plays hostess to about 50 names from her now-coveted “little black book,” rather like old times. Since her days at Mist—first as a bartender, then as host/promoter—Duran’s name has become golden, a must-have at the ropes of select clubs around town, but it was here that she got her start, and as it turns out, so did many of today’s top nightlife shot-callers.
When Light Group opened Mist Lounge at Treasure Island in January 2003, Tabu hadn’t even opened at MGM Grand (that would come on February 28), and the word “ultralounge” was still just buzzing.
Mist’s original GM Andy Hersch, now the senior director of nightlife at the Hard Rock, recalls the months prior to the opening, when he and his counterpart at Caramel Sean Christie were divvying up their staff picks like fantasy-football teams. While it may not have come to blows—“only a couple,” jokes Hersch—Mist did score some incredible staff members, a few of whom remain to this day, beloved fixtures rather like the bar, the cozy leather couches and the potted plants.
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- Mist Bar and Lounge
Before moving on to GM Light, Hersch hired Duran as a bartender. From day one, she attracted a clientele still loyal nearly six years later. Duran was given Saturday nights to promote alongside another familiar face, Tao Group’s Brandon Roque, and there got a taste of marketing. And she was just about to get her chance to shine as VIP services manager of the venue she says Light Group was putting into the space that became Tangerine. When that venue passed on to Pure Management Group, Duran herself passed into Mist history and remained with Tangerine.
Now director of customer development at Blush, Duran reflects on the role Mist played in her coming up. “Instead of serving people, I think I was building relationships.” Light Group’s requirement that staff take an active role in filling their venue via staff-generated guest lists (now an industry-wide standard) was avant-garde, shocking even. But that training subsequently made Duran a force to be reckoned with. “I think I learned a lot from [Light Group’s] marketing strategies.” Truly, Mist has been a hatchery for some of nightlife’s biggest fish.
Just a few months in, James Reyes took the helm as GM, replacing Hersch. At that time, “it was raw,” he says, “it was brand new; it was just the beginning of the ultralounge craze.” For Reyes, “the No. 1 thing was to be a part of the Light Group.” Reyes got his wish and later worked his way through Caramel, Light and Jet to become the VP of nightclubs and lounges for the company. But humbly, Reyes says he learned two important lessons at Mist: “Developing a family and a team atmosphere and … that you don’t have to be in a big room to make a big impact.” Mist is a little room indeed, and little has changed since Hersch and Reyes’ days. “I have really fond memories of the people who work there …” Visiting his old stomping grounds one night, Reyes actually met his future wife! “That’s probably my fondest Mist story!” he says, blushing a little through the phone lines. Across the board, Mist’s GMs agree: “The staff in the room is what sells it.”
One of Reyes’ hires, young intern Nick Kaptain, put in his time and quickly became a host for Mist’s karaoke night before arriving at director of marketing. “I looked at each night almost like it was its own venue,” says Kaptain, under whom Mist launched countless promotional nights and events during his four years there. Without constantly reinventing itself in a Madonna-like fashion, Mist clung to relevance while others came and went. It was this challenge Kaptain says he found alluring; the ability to nurture the crowd and schmooze kept him charged. “That bar was carried by the people that worked there.” Was and, to hear contemporary fans tell it, still is.
To paraphrase Reyes’ own reflections, if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere