Sunrise or bust

Where have all the afterhours gone?

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"It’s 8 a.m. Do you know where your soul is?” I scan that final text and switch my phone off. I reek of smoke, booze and other people’s sweat. I’m certain I’ve just sheared a day or two off my lifespan. But my mental coffers are bursting with all I heard tonight and the fervent promises of what’s to come. More, bigger, louder, better—it’s intoxicating. It may be killing us softly, but so goes it with decadence. We’ve sacrificed our brain cells to the gods of progress.

Sunday, October 26, 2:30 a.m.

Vegas afterhours. Let’s see. There was The Rhino, Drai’s, Glo at the Hop, SRO, Utopia, Seven (Rubber), Ice, Empire Ballroom, Teatro … Today, only Drai’s afterhours remains. It’s hard to make a fortune on afterhours: big name DJs are expensive, and the real nightcrawlers tend to drink water. The math is rough.

Drai’s is pretty quiet at 2:30 a.m., but it seems everyone got the memo to show up at 3. There’s a massive hit, and the door springs to action. Inside, Drai’s is preserved better than a museum in that it’s actually improved over the years. The back room, now a VIP hip-hop room with a two-bottle minimum, is about to get further renovation. And since the restaurant closed in February of 2007, the kitchen might be converted into an intimate rock room. The crowd is still predominantly older Europeans, aging scenesters, younger Los Angelenos and some die-hard locals. Sunglasses and lollipops are still in. “I just play cards. And listen to house music,” proclaims Levi, a professional poker player. He says Drai’s wraps up these days around 7 a.m., and then he goes to Seamless.

I tackle the field sobriety test that is the Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon parking ramp and head out. When the prime-time clubs close, afterhours takes over. We used to head to Ice, and when that closed, Empire. No more. That party moved to Tabu and now to Studio 54.

At 4 a.m., 54 is doing better business than I’ve seen there even in prime time. Jack Lafleur is spinning for tourists dancing wildly downstairs, and locals networking wildly upstairs—this is the executive afterhours, hot from 3 to about 6 a.m. Nightlife-industry veteran Tony Verdugo is holding court at his own table, where he catches my ear. “Mark my words,” he says, “the days of bottle minimums are over.” He’s working with the Trump team now, he reports, and has recruited the likes of Guy Wilson (Spearmint Rhino, Penthouse Club). Construction starts tomorrow on Eden Gentlemen’s Club, due to reopen as the Velvet Lion in December, with a January grand opening ... just in time for the porn convention. The team’s long-term goal is to put the first topless club into a casino within three years. “I wanna revolutionize the gentlemen’s-club industry the way I did the nightlife industry,” says Verdugo. I depart, my head swimming with visions of Donald Trump getting a lap dance.

Just a few weeks old, Afterhours Obsession at Penthouse is the baby. Jeff Bomb spins in the darkened Key Lounge; the lights and other elements will be installed by the Halloween grand opening. With a plethora of cushy VIP booths (some hidden behind a two-story scrim) and two unisex bathrooms, the digs are comfy. But just a stone’s throw away, bachelor parties are hootin’ and hollerin’ in the strip club. A new set of doors are on their way, too, to further separate the spaces. It’s definitely the afterhours for a hard-partying subset of locals.

In the last fleeting moments before sunrise, we hit Seamless. It’s the perfect hybrid between a gents’ club (with all the requisite pole-working, top-dropping action) and the late-night industry afterhours scene, fueled by house music and Patron. Onstage, a frenzied crowd just inches away, Hart spins for DJs Scooter & Lavelle, Scotty Boy and Paul Martinez, plus an actual pimp and folks working through whatever is it they’re on tonight. It’s honestly the Pleasure Island scene from Pinocchio! I take to an empty pole for a second and squeal, “Hee-hawww!”

Seamless’ John Musso pulls me into a tête-à-tête. Solidifying all friendships, new and old, we do a shot. He toasts, “To the only hours—afterhours.”


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