Cool blue light pulses over the stage, where a duo from local reggae favorite Haleamano does silky-smooth covers of Marlon Asher, Bob Marley and Justin Timberlake. Shots and Champagne keep a 21st birthday crew busy while a couple unwinds with pork tacos and $3 Shock Tops. The mood is right, buzzing but chill, in this new supper club in a Chinatown complex. The name is right, too, because the Waterhole is about everybody coming together.
Tnes Madolora, the “mastermind,” takes a knee, sipping a mixture of cognac and Grand Marnier and nodding to the groove. The next moment he’s hauling liquor boxes to stock the bar, oiling the machinery of his dream.
It breaks down into many dreams realized since he came to Vegas in 2005, from streetwear brand HippoEsthetics to monthly hip-hop party Tuesday Blend, Japanese curry spot Kaba to mobile app Fashion Fit Log. In fact, the team behind this “Waterhole Kingdom” has taken over all three floors of the building.
“Remember Voltron?” Madolora asks, looking at business partners Jayar Tolentino (promotion), Christian Pacquing (talent) and Sean J. Suginaka (operations). “We’re just doing everything that we like doing, pretty much—music, art, fashion, just lifestyle.”
The Waterhole feels like a culmination, a laid-back lounge with a distinct musical vibe every night. Special events are common, from a listening party for dystopian hip-hop artist Phoenix Orion to October 14’s Ink, Drink and Eat Till the Brink, with a tattoo contest, fusion dishes by Top Chef alum Gene Villiatora and beats by in-house DJs like Alfred Aplus and Moose the Coolest. But the weekly default is 100 Below (“slow jams; nothing goes over 100 bpm”) on Mondays, Freestyle Forward (think Stevie B, Cover Girls) on Tuesdays, the food-centric Grub, Guzzle & Groove on Wednesdays, Case of the Classicks (old-school R&B and hip-hop) on Thursdays, reggae feast Riddim in the Red on Fridays and underground stuff for Secret Bass on Saturdays.
The sound is colorful, but as Madolora says of the Waterhole Kingdom, “Hip-hop is definitely our forte.” The new club invites the scene’s creative forces to let loose, whether that means an EP release or DJing an afterparty in a neighborhood with some history.
“In the early ’90s, that’s where Presto [One], DJ Five and the whole group—that’s where it was birthed from, these Chinatown parties. So it’s like coming back,” Tolentino says, adding that relationships and word of mouth have been key for the 4-month-old venue.
The guys admit they’re wearing lots of hats, working long hours and stressing about the right mix of entertainment, struggles that come with any new club. They poured everything into the Waterhole. Suginaka says that the day it opened, there was maybe $200 left in the coffers, but momentum has steadily built.
At midnight on a Friday, JKRAZY spins a 45 of dancehaller Tony Curtis’ take on R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly,” and dozens of bodies move under stylized portraits of a lion, a crocodile and a hippo—Madolora’s totem. Because it’s powerful, and because it feeds so many parts of the ecosystem. “This is our dream. It’s just time to blow up now,” Suginaka says.
Madolora smiles. “Voltron, man. Voltron.”
The Waterhole 5115 Spring Mountain Road #123, 702-971-4720. Monday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-4 a.m.