Utopia at 13: Remembered and celebrated

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

Utopia is long gone, but the party lives on. While most of Team Hangover is too young to have experienced partying (legally) at the legendary Vegas nightclub, we have to wonder, why does the industry keep celebrating this particular club, which closed years ago? “We asked ourselves the same question when we started planning,” says Michael Fuller, vice president of N9NE Group and a former resident DJ at Utopia. “We started talking about what Utopia did for this community as a brand, as well as a lifestyle. It took clubbing to a whole other level back then, and it also was a breeding ground for a lot of the biggest names in this industry.”

Club Utopia remembered

Gino LoPinto of Vegas Alliance (and formally Utopia) agrees. “I think Utopia launched Las Vegas and was kind of the bridge to where we’re at today as far as nightclubs go,” LoPinto says. “With the way the scene’s coming back now, I think it’s important to still be a staple [event].”

The 13th anniversary of the club that spawned a culture and planted a seed for nightlife as we know it will take place February 14 and 15 at the Palms. “Every time we do [the Utopia] party, it’s a big, elaborate production,” Fuller says. “It’s commemorating and celebrating a lifestyle that doesn’t really happen very much anymore.” Paul Oakenfold’s Perfecto at Rain emulates the Utopia experience; new costumes, props and performers will be added on Saturday. According to Fuller, Oakenfold made one of his first U.S. appearances at Utopia, so Oakie will spin a special set just for the party, in addition to sets by original Utopia residents Fuller (aka The Funkler), Frank Richards and Robert Oleysyck. For those industry folks unable to make Saturday’s party, the resident DJs will continue the Utopia celebration Sunday night at Moon.

Five and a half questions with a former Utopia cocktail server

She’s a Los Angeleno now, but between 1999 and 2001 former Las Vegan Kim (who asked that her last name not be used) called Club Utopia her home, as its special-events planner by day and a cocktail server by night.

Describe a typical cocktailing shift during Utopia’s heyday

Twelve to 8 a.m., walking up and down the stairs in my go-go boots, trying to sell glow sticks, bottled water and cocktails. My favorite section was on the patio with DJ Frankie [Anobile]. After work we would all head to Spearmint Rhino and party until 3 p.m. the next day … Every night was wild.

You worked through the Millennium! What was midnight like?

Everyone was a bit nervous all night and there was a long pause at midnight before the crowd decided to celebrate.

What do you think about house music now?

I will always have a place in my heart for club music thanks to Club Utopia. I got to hear some of the best DJs in the world on a weekly basis … Oakenfold, Digweed, Sasha, Sandra Collins …

What role do you think Utopia played in Las Vegas’ nightlife history?

Gino LoPinto (left)

Utopia will always be remembered as some of the best times of my life. I was 21 years old and had moved to Las Vegas from the Midwest. It was like nothing I had ever known. I met some great friends at Utopia that I have bonded with for life.

In a word or 11, what is the club's legacy?

Biggest house music and—dare I say—Ecstasy nightclub in Vegas.

Learn any lessons?

Yes, just because someone has a glow stick doesn’t mean they are rolling.

Why do you think Utopia’s memory has outlasted even the physical club itself?

There was a strong kinship with the people that frequented the club that will never be forgotten.

Do you ever miss it?

No … My ears are still ringing from the bass!

This Sunday the Palms will celebrate Utopia’s 13th birthday. Will you attend?

I just might take a road trip from LA … If anything, it would be to support my friend and legendary Utopia promoter, Gino LoPinto.


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