BILL ORDINE Dance clubs going casual

Blame it on the Rio -- the one in Las Vegas, that is -- for jump-starting an entertainment trend of dress-to-thrill nightspots that have become as ubiquitous as belly-buster buffets in Sin City.
The all-suites casino-hotel on Flamingo Avenue just west of the Strip opened Club Rio and the VooDoo Lounge in the early 1990s, targeting a young-adult clientele that Vegas had simply been ignoring. But there was no ignoring the long line of twenty-somethings that snaked through the casino waiting to get in to the Rio's dance club, and other hotels quickly followed suit.
Ra at the Luxor, Studio 54 at the MGM Grand, rumjungle at Mandalay Bay, Light at Bellagio, Rain and Ghostbar at The Palms, and Baby's at the Hard Rock are just some of the clubs and lounges now dotting the Vegas landscape at night.
Most are characterized by velvet ropes and stiff cover charges at the door, and exorbitant drink prices and DJ music of indeterminate style but robust volume inside.
Now, the Rio, where it all started, is trying to take the lead again with a club that represents a stark departure from the slinky pretentiousness of the chichi hot spots to something both more casual and, quite frankly, risque.
What's new
BiKiNiS at the Rio, the latest entry in the highly competitive scramble for the Vegas club crowd, has a South Beach theme. In keeping with that theme, waitresses wear, what else, bikinis and a filmy sarong. The club's staff dancers perform in something called an exhibition shower, an updated version of Jennifer Beals' 1980s "Flashdance." Steve Davidovici, an independent nightclub consultant who helped open BiKiNiS, said the difference between the beach-style dance club and its competitors will be more than, uh, skin deep.
Unlike the dancers, patrons won't be getting soaked, although there is a cover charge ($10 for out-of-state men before midnight, $20 after; out-of-state women are $10, but local women get in free).
"Not everyone in town wants to be forced to buy a booth and a bottle," Davidovici said. A Brooklyn, New York, native and onetime prize fighter with a short-lived ring career, Davidovici was referring to the common nightclub practice of charging customers from $150 to $1,000 for table seating and a bottle of wine or liquor. "Things are a lot more casual here," he said. "People don't have to dress up. They can sit around the pool that we have in an upstairs room and just have a good time." The club's Lava Lounge even plays disco.
Davidovici has been involved in the Vegas club scene from the beginning, having helped to open Club Rio, the VooDoo Lounge and others. He also helped put together the Vegas version of Coyote Ugly at the New York-New York hotel-casino, where the casting call for bartender-performers brought 3,000 applicants, from the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes to the Oakland Raiders cheerleaders.
All in fun
The staff there are flair bartenders of the first order, juggling bottles, breathing fire, dancing, and interacting with customers.
"If a guy walks in with a tie on, the girls will harass him until they get him to take it off, but it's all in fun," he said.
Customers can dance on the bar, but only if they're women.
And the nightspots just keep opening up.
Andrew Sasson, the co-owner and operator of Light at the Bellagio who also has clubs in Manhattan and Southampton, is planning two new Vegas lounges -- Caramel, also at Bellagio, and Mist at Treasure Island. Both are scheduled to open on Super Bowl weekend.
Sasson says the tone at Caramel will be in keeping with the upscale atmosphere of the elegant Bellagio.
"It will be a place where you can have a pre-dinner drink or come in later in the evening, and it will still be hopping," he said. "And you'll hear old-style rock 'n' roll, Frank Sinatra, Elvis."
Mist at Treasure Island will cater to a midscale crowd, and the drinks will be less expensive. Neither bar will have a cover charge.
"Something that's been missing from Las Vegas are actual self-contained bars; they're either lobby bars or casino bars. These are going to be places that have a warm, inviting environment," Sasson said.
"Places that feel young but aren't obnoxious in the way that is sometimes associated with young places, like the loud music."
XContact Bill Ordine at

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