A Locals Guide to Las Vegas Nightclubs

I’m not a Vegas local, but I’ve been a frequent visitor since 1953, about a year before Elvis showed up as a lounge act and earned $150 a week and tips. Does that qualify me as a local? Hell, that just about qualifies me as much as that first prospector who staggered into the dusty town with his mule and bought a ten-cent glass of redeye at the local saloon.

I’m a bit too old for the regular nightclub scene today, but every pit boss in town considers me an expert on the nickel video poker machine. Seriously, I have many friends and relatives, old and young, who live and work in Vegas. After polling them, I believe my list of the best Vegas nightclubs is as legitimate as anything can be in Sin City.

Of course, this short list can’t possibly cover all the places in Vegas for fun nightlife. Where you want to spend the evening depends on your own orientation, strangeness and personal tastes. You have hundreds to choose from: gay, all naked, lap dance, cross-dressing, slummy, celebrity posh, good food, lousy food, no food, no reservation, reservation or we break your kneecaps, rich cardholders only and you-name-it-you-got-it joints.

After considerable research, most of it, unfortunately, by phoning Vegas friends and family, here are my top clubs, more or less:

Generally most of my young Vegas friends insist the Palms Hotel has the best clubs in town. There’s Ghostbar, they claim is the hottest nightclub in town. It has a somewhat formal, for Vegas, dress code, so most of the patrons are young, rich and snotty. Another room there, Rain, is, if possible, even hipper, more snottier and richer.

Attendance is strictly monitored, so that only the elite VIP crowd can get in. However, if you do finally get past the bull-necked bouncers, you may rub shoulders and other body parts with celebs, and maybe get a peek at Britney’s upper and lower extremities, or Paris Hilton modeling the latest in L.A. jail fashions after she does her time.

There’s also a Playboy Club at the Palms. You probably won’t see 80-year-old Hef there romping with his 12-year-old blonde sleep-overs, but there are plenty other dirty old men in toupes, Botoxed skin and leisure suits boogying as well as their hip replacements allow. All of the Palms clubs are expensive, but this one is out of sight, even if you use Hef’s reading glasses to peruse the menu and wine list.

Body English is at the Hard Rock Hotel. This is a couple of blocks off the Strip, in a rather modest hotel, but if you expect cheaper prices, fugget about it. Despite its plebian name, it is one of the most expensive in town. It attracts mostly young, hip, look-at-me crowds. This may be the best nightclub in town to mix with and meet other young singles looking to hook up with other young singles. You know … what happens in Vegas, etc. The music is loud … what else at the Hard Rock … with the most heavy stuff coming from various smart-ass disc jockeys. If you’re lucky, you may be there the night Kevin Federline is spinning the discs. Or, is that unlucky?

Maybe if Body English isn’t hip enough for you, try movin’ on over to The Joint almost next door in the same hotel complex. The crowd is a bit older, and much of the music harks back to the earlier days of rock’n’roll. You may meet some old-time rock celebs, perhaps some getting a bit long in the guitar, frequenting this Joint and groovin’ to the music while they sip their Kaopectate cocktails.

Mix Lounge at Mandalay Bay is one of the most expensive and breathtaking venues for boozers and late diners in Vegas. Patrons ride up more than 60 stories in a glass elevator to get to it. There’s even a patio on the outside for those brave and sober enough to venture out on it. Great views and ambiance for young lovers and honeymooners who may be staying at the Mandalay Bay, one of the most luxurious resorts in town. It has its own ocean beach, complete with wave for surfers. Anyone staying in one of the hotel’s suites or patronizing Mix had better be very rich young lovers, have wealthy parents or a seven-figure movie contract.

Tao at the Venetian Hotel is getting the rep for attracting a current crop of overpaid pro sports jocks and TV stars a bit lower on the social scale from Britney and Paris. True to its Asian name, the club is artfully decorated with all kinds of fake Asian statues, plants and dim lights and bright colors. The music is loud, mostly contemporary R&B, rock, hip-hop and other sounds designed to explode eardrums of anyone over age 30. Conversations are impossible, but who talks? Also very pricey, but what isn’t in Vegas these days?

Tryst is at the latest Vegas megaresort, The Wynn. It’s an indoor/outdoor club. It sits right below an almost realistic plastic hill with a towering waterfall. So, along with the earsplitting rock music and roaring waters, talking must be done with sign language or notes written on napkins. Like most of the top joints in Vegas, this one is frequented by the super-wealthy, mostly kids whose parents have too much money, so expect to make reservations and, unless you can slip bribery bills, you’ll wait in long lines before gaining entrance.

VooDoo at the Rio, is a couple of miles off the Strip, but is one of the most dressy clubs. So it also attracts social types and wannabes. Sitting atop the Rio, it has lovely views of the Strip and the mountains surrounding Vegas. It features an eclectic menu, and is famous for its mouth-searing New Orleans Creole specialties.

Red Square at Mandalay Bay doesn’t include Lenin’s Tomb and marching guards, but it does have a sort-of abstract monument to Russia’s first Commie boss. He’d be appalled at the super-luxury of this dacha. It has other national treasures from the land of the Cossacks, with all kinds of vodka drinks and upscale Russian dishes. Cost is somewhere near the annual budget of the Russian government, but the place is colorful, musical and lots of fun for the slightly-older than Britney and Paris crowd.

Sand Dollar Blues Lounge is way out west of the Strip, but maybe it is fair to list at least one Vegas joint that won’t empty your bank account while you’re enjoying the music, food and ambiance. My local friends, both old and not so old, love this place. As the name implies, there is a variety of live music, with the traditional blues featured prominently. The place never closes its doors, so you can get a drink at 5 in the morning if you don’t mind seeing the employees cleaning the floor, sweeping up the trash and a leftover patron or two.

When I first went to Vegas in 1953, and visited some of the clubs, drinks were 50 cents, dinners were $2.50 and I remember seeing an entire floor show in the Copa theater at the Sands Hotel starring Frank Sinatra for five bucks. Don’t expect any cheap prices at today’s Vegas clubs. The only five-buck cost you’ll have will be the tip you leave the waiter or bartender for one drink, and that will probably only get you a sneer.