A flush of clubs: A look back at those we miss

If it’s 1997 — and in this photo, it is! — the party is on at Club Utopia.
Las Vegas Sun

It was Thursday night at the grand opening of Christian Audigier at Treasure Island, the first nightclub operated by the so-named fashion designer, that I asked a few longtime Las Vegans which now-defunct clubs on or off the Strip they now miss.

Nobody said they missed Tangerine, which occupied the spot now home to “CA.” That is probably because, but for some muted tones, dark-red hues and wall art of body art, the new CA effectively mirrors the old Tangerine. Same layout, same splashy view of the Sirens show. Same deal, pretty much.

Nevertheless, as the sun set behind this fabulous new club, we did conjure up a few bygone Vegas haunts that have shuttered and we wish hadn’t. Here’s my list; feel free to make your own:

Pink E’s: A lot of strange stuff went on in the parking lot of this club, located north of Tommy Rocker’s on West Flamingo Road, which closed in 2005 to make way for a high-rise that has not been built. The pink pool tables, assorted bar games like table tennis and shuffleboard and a steady rotation of hard-rock acts (Warrant rocked the house there, as did an Ozzy Osbourne tribute act) made Pink E’s a fun duck-in. It reminded me so much of Jack Rabbit Slims from Pulp Fiction, though the milkshakes were cheaper.

Drink & Eat Too: A beacon on the corner of Koval and Harmon, the Drink was a multileveled dance haven that was the first club I entered in Vegas that actually enforced a dress code. The night that Carrot Top and Dennis Rodman hit the stage with the Boogie Nights – this, during an off-night of the NBA Finals, in which Rodman’s Chicago Bulls happened to be competing – is a singularly vivid Vegas memory. Vivid, in the sense that it is also somewhat foggy, but it happened – Carrot Top was handed a tambourine and instructed to play it, while Rodman belted out a few lines of, “Boogie Shoes.” Whether or not Rodman or Carrot Top were in town, the routine on Thursdays was to hit the Hard Rock Hotel first, then hustle over to the Boogie Nights’ performances for some regretful white-guy disco dancing, then cruise back to the Rock (usually driven by a peeved cabbie who resented the $5 fare from the club to the hotel). The place closed in 2000 to make way for Ice, itself now a memory. The Ice sign is still up, or at least was a few days ago when I drove by, wistfully.

Club Utopia: It was stark-white – or was it jet-black? It was both, or neither, inside the in the hangar-sized club that became the Empire Ballroom (which itself closed earlier this year) just north of the MGM Grand. It was like this: “Let’s hit Utopia!” and the next conscious thought was, “Where the hell did I park?” Club Utopia boasted a wailing 32,000-watt sound system and a rooftop respite area to clear your noggin. It survived a fire before finally shutting down, quietly and un-Utopianlike, in 2003.

Shark Club: When I asked a good friend, who is actually a pretty well-known and highly regarded member of this community, to name a club she missed, she didn’t hesitate. “The Shark Club.” Why? “I don’t know if it was actually so much fun there, but I can tell you I was a lot more fun there.” Located near the corner of Harmon Avenue and the Strip, the Shark Club was originally known as Jubilation when opening in 1978. Borrowing from Jerry Tarkanian’s nickname, it became the Shark Club in 1987 but closed a decade later as casino clubs like Club Rio began sucking away its patrons. But its legacy lives on as a breeding ground for some famous rock acts; No Doubt and Gin Blossoms played the Shark Club early in their careers.

Fremont Street Reggae and Blues Club: Club owner Terry O’Hallorhan said he always did well when he booked non-blues acts, an unfortunate reality when your business uses “blues” in its title. The venue that occupied the space that is now Neonopolis (speaking of the blues) was split, half-reggae, half-blues. The reggae side was known for a continual stream of Rastafarian beats, and as the best locale in the city to experience a contact high. On the blues side, the Sunday night-Monday morning all-star jam session packed a wallop; if you tumbled from the club any earlier than 4 a.m., it was a school night.

Mad Dogs & Englishmen: The first time I ever saw a full show by The Fab, the city’s great Beatles cover band, was a Mad Dog’s. That was in 1998, a night when Breakfast With the Beatles host Dennis Mitchell and I threw back some Sierra Nevada Pale Ales and howled for “Rocky Raccoon!” Another tribute band, a Jimi Hendrix act, used to raise the roof at Mad Dogs each Sunday. One night I was working on a story about the band and was staking out the lead singer, a flighty/talented fireball named Charlie Miranda. I sat in on an entire three-hour evening of blaring Hendrix classics to interview Charlie after the performance. As the band closed with “Purple Haze,” Charlie caught my eye and gave me a quick nod, which I took to mean, “Y’all will be interviewing me in a moment.” But then he wondered off the stage to a door leading to the back of the club. I never saw him again, ever. Mad Dogs didn’t last long after that. The building itself, located on 515 Las Vegas Boulevard South between Bonneville and Lewis, is still there. Nothing has taken that spot, the door is still open and the bar is still in place, probably waiting for me and Charlie to return and finish our business.

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