Exporting Las Vegas

Two companies transport the very essence of Las Vegas nightlife

Xania Woodman

We’ve got it, they want it, and whether it’s true or not, the perception that Vegas is the nightlife capital of the world, for some, is enough to want to call a piece of it their own. But there’s only so much prime real estate to go around, only so much space for megaclubs, and though the demi-Wynns and mini-Mandalays seem to pop up next to their parent hotels almost overnight, construction of a new club is costly and time-consuming.

“It’d need 25,000 square feet,” Opium Group Las Vegas managing partner Justin Levine has said of bringing Miami’s Mansion nightclub to Sin City. “The DJ has to be able to see 2,500 people, and 2,500 people have to see the DJ. It has to be one big room that feels like a mansion.” With such specific needs, Mansion Las Vegas is likely a few years away.

But owning a piece of Las Vegas in Las Vegas is not the only answer. Tobin Ellis, nightlife concept developer and owner of Bar Magic, says he is often solicited by out-of-town nightclub operators to copy an element of a Vegas club and plop it down in some suburban hamlet. “They’re blown away. They want to bottle it, take it home and unleash it in their markets.” While that may be flattering, it’s not necessarily wise. Instead, Ellis redirects their thinking, finding the essence of Vegas in their hometown project.

With 18 years in the nightclub and bar industry under his belt, former bartender Ellis now conceptualizes, brands and markets nightclubs, bars and lounges, designing every drink and training every staff member. Often, it is his seven years in Vegas’ nightlife industry that attracts new clients’ interest. Among other projects, Ellis—along with Ken Hall of High Spirits Enterprises and Francesco Lafranconi, the national director of mixology and fine service for Southern Wine & Spirits—designed the beverage program for Tangerine. Since then, he has taken bottle service on a wild ride, serving up $100 martinis tableside from carts in the venues he’s touched.

“You can’t just have the style of Vegas; you’ve got to have the long-lasting substance to back it up. You can’t just say you have the best drinks in town. You have to actually have them. The companies that deliver on that promise, those are the ones leading in the market.” One such company is Pure Management Group, which, like Ellis, has successfully exported its brand and brought it to a completely different market, noting wisely that some elements do not necessarily translate, and tweaking accordingly.

“It’s really just like a Vegas nightclub,” says Aura GM Candace Carrell. But that’s where the similarities end between Pure Management Group’s club at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas and its design twin, Tabu from Vegas’ MGM Grand (both designed by internationally renowned architect Jeffrey Beers). The handsome 9,000-square-foot club has overcome challenges worlds away from what one encounters running a club in the U.S.

“You really have to know the culture, the people. You have to understand what you’re getting into, the different demographics of the customer base.” Carrell and the rest of the staff imported from Vegas (including Assistant General Manager Dan Bondy, VIP Marketing Director Blake Anthony and Door Manager Christian Mazzoleni) had to learn all this and more when they moved to Nassau for Aura’s April opening. While there is no sales tax, there is a 15 percent autogratuity added to food and beverage sales, transportation can be difficult as there is an additional 40 percent tax on car purchases, and get this—a carton of milk costs $8!

While there are a number of clubs in Nassau and Paradise Island, Aura is the hot spot of choice, and it shows in the clientele. “They see that this is a pearl in the middle of the ocean,” says Carrell, who adds that 30 percent of the world’s billionaires have homes in the Bahamas. In the time I spent at Aura, America’s Next Top Model 8 winner Jaslene Gonzalez, 20, sat at the table next to me one night, and the very next night Dave Navarro kicked back with his girlfriend at that same table. So stars—and really anyone—can get a taste of Vegas without leaving paradise.

Xania Woodman thinks globally and parties locally. And frequently. E-mail her at [email protected] and visit to sign up for Xania’s free weekly newsletter.

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