Nightlife

Culling the herd

Trader Vic’s, the Brew Pub … Is this the start of nightlife Darwinism?

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Trader Vic’s
Courtesy of Planet Hollywood

"Come get drinks while u can,” the late-night text read. “Noir Bar goes LAX Bar in one week.” Crap. And then it got worse: “Specialty drinks are done.”

Whoa, wait a minute. Am I prepared to live in a world without Ken Hall’s peanut butter and jelly cocktail? No, but I suppose my heart—along with my bar tab—will go on. If it’s true, and Noir does eventually succumb to the pressures of the bottom line, becoming a regular ol’ bar and part of LAX, Vegas cocktail culture will be dealt a harsh blow. Unfortunately, Noir is an appendage to a larger venue, and if LAX can’t keep the lights on and the power running, then Noir, like a conjoined (albeit smaller) twin, will die.

Said to be having trouble filling LAX on Thursdays, PMG routinely closes LAX along with Noir’s Mandalay Place entrance and fills Noir via LAX’s main door. This arrangement became permanent last week. Inside Noir, the curtains that usually shield onlookers from the LAX entrance-bridge above are now drawn back like a neon sign pointing out that a speakeasy exists here—a fact that is irksome to fans of the secretive, decadent nook.

But if a drink is poured in a speakeasy, and there’s no one around to drink it, does the bar make any money?

It’s Darwinism at work, I fear. The survival of the fittest, the natural selection of the venues possessing the attributes necessary to thrive in this new, somewhat hostile environment. As the song goes, people are still having sex, but are they still going to nightclubs, dancing and paying for heavily marked-up bottles of liquor? All evidence points to yes, but there are fewer of them, they’re doing it less often, and they’re splashing out less for it.

But let’s not exterminate our dodos before they’ve hatched. Other venues have already gone to their graves: Sugarcane Lounge closed and reopened not long ago as Sugarcane Live, but hasn’t been heard from since. The curtain finally fell on Ivan Kane’s Forty Deuce, which—God willing—will be reopening at summer’s end. The Monte Carlo Brew Pub is scheduled to go on July 12. And Christian Audigier’s neighbor, Social House, is said to be packing its bags for points elsewhere.

Even the happily situated Trader Vic’s is folding its hand, which raises the question: How do you say “goodbye” in Polynesian? Actually, it raises the question: How could something on such an amazing plot of land possibly fail? The answer is, it was something of a flightless bird.

Two must have been terrible for the theme-y restaurant/lounge concept, which celebrated its grand opening on November 9, 2007. This is a tragedy, as Trader Vic’s had a lot going for it. For one, the name and pedigree. Victor J. “Trader Vic” Bergeron invented the original Mai Tai, and Tiki culture benefited heavily from this and his other contributions.

Then there’s the location. The venue sits right on the Planet Hollywood frontage, with an on-Strip deck that invites pedestrian traffic, an entrance to the Miracle Mile and a two-story open floor plan with a seemingly floating staircase and a lounge with a glassed-in corner with views of both the Bellagio fountains and a straight shot up Las Vegas Boulevard. A billion-dollar view from nearly all angles.

But shortly after opening, the erstwhile Lounge at Trader Vic’s suffered an identity crisis, cycling through several incarnations in just a few months, first as Head Candy, then Starr Bar and, when that was through, the Lava Room, where we briefly heard the vocal stylings of crooner Jimmy Hopper. What happened after that is anyone’s guess, as much of the industry gave up on the venue, despite that billion-dollar view. Trader Vic’s is said to be remaining open until the new plans for the space are announced, which should be soon, and there are currently 26 Trader Vic’s locations worldwide.

Well, better make that 25.

I fear that, like the bump erased off Jennifer Grey’s nose, a Vegas without Noir Bar (and yes, even without Trader Vic’s and the Brew Pub) is like yet another starlet conforming in the hopes of getting more gigs. “I had the time of my life!” I may cry from my corner, clasping my PB&J cocktail tightly. But increasingly, I wonder if anyone is listening.

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