If you’ve been to Vegas, you’ve heard about it or stood in line to get in. Marquee, the superest of the superclubs, sprawls over an astonishing 60,000 square feet. It allows you to party very, very hard. For just thousands of dollars! Would you like bottle service at one of our dance-floor tables? That’ll be another $10,000. How about a 30-liter bottle of champagne to share with a dozen women you’ve never met? $250,000. How about we get Kim Kardashian to come? $100,000. Devin Friedman explores the world, adds it all up, and explains the mysteries and the pitfalls of the hottest club on the planet
When you see the entrance to Marquee at 11 P.M. on a Saturday, you know why the promoters call this process “bringing the shitshow.” Massing out front were, by my estimation, at least 2,000 people. Packs of Asian bachelorettes sucking on cock-and-balls lollipops. Pods of probably either Libyan or Italian princes of the overclass in blazers and exposed solar plexuses and calfskin loafers and Adrian Grenier knit caps. Teams of 29-year-old white men in untucked dress shirts and heavy cuff links who stood stunned mute by the endless throng of women wearing almost identical vagina-length dresses that perpetually seemed on the verge of revealing at least, at least, a butt cheek—though by some invisible force above the hemline never, never ever did. It wasn’t just for show, either, this massing of people. Las Vegas isn’t New York, where part of the social psychology is the difficulty of entrance. “We don’t do a door-hold just for the sake of doing a door-hold, so we can look busy,” one of the owners had told me. Inside, they were already at capacity.
A series of velvet ropes tranched the guests into classes—extreme VIPs, semi-VIP hot ladies, unrich ladyless dudes who probably wouldn’t get in before 2 A.M. I guesstimate the general-admission line was a quarter mile long, stretching past the Cosmopolitan hotel’s curated “shopping experience” and into a recessed hallway of Pentagonian proportions.
This was maybe the sixth or seventh night I’d been to Marquee. On other nights I would show up before the club opened, so I could observe the hidden machinery and ascertain how the people who run the place go about manufacturing the communal fun-gasm that made Marquee the highest-grossing nightclub in Las Vegas and very likely the universe. But tonight I was with a bachelor party, and in honor of the occasion we’d decided to avail ourselves of a table reservation. A table reservation requires guests to spend between $1,000 and $10,000, depending on the night, and among its perks is access to a special line. The table line is the line you’re supposed to see from other lines and think: Why am I not in that line? Or: Why didn’t my boyfriend get me into that line?
A trim woman wearing smart business attire and a clear Secret Service earpiece greeted me as if she had been waiting all night to see me. She had a tiny envelope with my name on it, and into this tiny envelope she deposited my driver’s license and credit card. She then passed the envelope to a man in a dark suit, a VIP host, who shook my hand with similar warmth. All the suited functionaries at Marquee that night treated me as if I were an important business partner in a business where important business partners may or may not be bought prostitutes.
An elevator car with glass walls, lit like a lounge, was waiting. The desperate sounds of human beings begging doormen and imploring homeys to hurry up because I’m waiting for you at the entrance, son, were silenced by the shush of the closing doors. A woman in a white short-sleeve shirt, whom you might call an elevator host, pressed a button on the control panel and then began a speech prepared to last precisely the duration of one elevator ride to the fourth floor.
Hello, gentlemen, she said. My name is Laura. When you step out of the elevators, you will find our Boom Box bar, down the stairs. Upstairs is the Library, our exclusive lounge. And just outside, you’ll find our main level. There is a bar straight ahead, and to our right the dance floor, where your table is. Benny Benassi will be DJ’ing tonight. We have 60,000 square feet of nightclub. Our outdoor space is open. Roam the club. Find some ladies. Bring them back to your table. The elevator jostled us gently as it stopped. Welcome to Marquee, gentlemen. Your party starts…now.
Part of the branding concept at Marquee is: Overwhelm the guest. And when we walked into that main room, we were indeed overwhelmed. Like it physically drew the air from our lungs and then replaced it with something that felt and tasted like vaporized Red Bull. The room had no visible ceiling. It was a clamshelly cavern of a place that glowed reddish and pulsed, with a dance floor at its focal point, layers of bottle-service tables perched around it, and a forty-foot LED screen above the DJ stage. The sound system cost $1.5 million and was built to rock a space as big as Madison Square Garden. Facing the speaker arrays was like walking into a strong headwind.
At our table, our VIP host handed us off to Joe, our semipersonal security guard. Joe wore the same suit and earpiece that all our assorted hosts wore. He told us how pleased he was to hang with us tonight and then stepped back into the human flow-stream, crossed his arms, and waited for a chance to protect us.
At the same time, a team of men in all black, like the people who change sets in off-Broadway plays, arrived at our table with the parts of our movable bar unit: a two-tiered silver tray for cut citrus, several carafes of mixers, and finally, a bowl of ice embedded with glowing battery-powered ice cubes, carried by a man with an LED flashlight in his mouth to further illuminate the thing as if it were bearing the Heart of the Ocean (from Titanic). Our waitress, Jessica, gave us a menu. We chose what it seemed like we were supposed to choose, a $950 bottle of Grey Goose vodka identical to the $950 bottle of Grey Goose vodka that every other table had. When Jessica disappeared into the gyrating throng, Joe approached.
“Do you just want to sit back and chill?” he said to us. “Or do you want me to go find you some girls? Do you have any preference on girls?” What were the five of us—four married, one affianced—supposed to say? I would like someone without any of the hepatitises? I would like someone who will get impossibly turned on when I’m taciturn at cocktail parties?
Later another security officer would tell me, “Some guys get racial and say, ‘I only want Asian girls’ or ‘white girls.’ Or they’ll be like, ‘We only want blondes’ or ‘brunettes.’ But a lot of guys say, ‘We don’t care, just bring us some sluts.’ ”
For the moment, we told Joe, we would just chill. You know. Because we’re cool like that. Because for right now, we were still busy being overwhelmed—by the Funktion-One sound system, by all the bottles of champagne and vodka being consumed (conspicuously), by the overwhelming scent of sex (the room was perfumed with bosoms and tushies), overwhelmed by the oontz and oontz and above all by all these fucking people.
Thirty-five hundred: That was the club’s capacity. Over the course of the night, 6,000 souls would enter and exit Marquee. How exactly do you get 6,000 people to want to come to the same nightclub on any given night? How do you get 6,000 people, all from different places, who don’t know one another, many of whom have never been to this nightclub, many of whom don’t ever really even go to nightclubs, to decide communally that they’re going to Marquee? Especially when there were twenty-five other nightclubs right here in Las Vegas that could have strobed them with the same seizure-inducing lights, where equally busty women in similar magician-assistant outfits could sell them the same Grey Goose and cranberry while exactly the same music played in rotation every single night (and by “exactly” I mean, like, more or less the same ten songs).
“That,” the owners of Marquee told me, “that is our secret sauce.”
The story of Marquee begins—which makes sense if you think about it—circa 1993 in Cancún, Mexico. One enterprising high school senior from Manhattan had organized a spring-break trip for nearly a hundred of his classmates at various private schools in, or affiliated with the culture of, Upper East Side Manhattan. It makes sense because maybe what we’ve got at Marquee is spring break for grown-ups circa 2012. And also because spring break in Cancún was probably the closest thing you could get to the club lifestyle if you were 18 years old. Jason Strauss, the enterprising senior in this story, organized the trip with a contact he had cultivated in the travel-agenting business and sold the packages himself. Among that cohort was the daughter of Peter Gatien, a man who pretty much dominated both the nightclub world of the 1990s and the headlines of the New York Post almost a decade later, when he was on trial for various charges, of which he was later acquitted, related to the sale of Ecstasy at his nightclubs—plus there was a scandal involving the murder of a club promoter named Angel Melendez, which didn’t actually have anything to do with Gatien but happened in his world and became tied to him and was also the basis of the movie Party Monster.
“Peter’s daughter heard that I did these parties uptown at the Surf Club,” Jason said. “That was where all the Waspy preppy-type high school kids went when they graduated college. Very synonymous with the Dorrian’s crowd. So she went once and told [her father] about us. When this happened, it was the pinnacle of his career. He had all four megaclubs going at full blast in Manhattan. Limelight. Palladium. Tunnel. Club USA. All of them packed every night of the week. Doing numbers like the world’s never seen. Four megaclubs of that level. She convinced him on a Thursday to give us the upstairs room, which was overlooking the Thierry Mugler room.”
Now, I didn’t know what any of those things were back in the ’90s, when they meant something. But what you have in the paragraph above is the whole of the ’90s New York nightlife scene in shorthand. If you fully footnoted every proper noun in that paragraph (the club-kid Ecstasy movement basically started in Gatien’s clubs; Dorrian’s is where Robert Chambers, the “Preppy Murderer,” met his victim; Limelight, the dominant club of the decade; Thierry Mugler, a fashion designer whose perfume my grandmother once asked me to buy for her as a Hanukkah present), you’d have a workable outline for a Bret Easton Ellis novel. The salient point here is that Jason and his partner, Noah Tepperberg, were promoting at Peter Gatien’s Club USA when they were in high school.
Marquee is owned by a kind of syndicate. A chunk is controlled by the Cosmopolitan hotel, which is owned by Deutsche Bank. But practically speaking, it belongs to the Tao Group, a collection of “hospitality industry” veterans, which is itself basically controlled by five New Yorkers. (Their group is named for their restaurant Tao in New York, a 300-seat den of conspicuous consumption that came to be an emblem of pre-crash excess and brought the Las Vegas ethos of spectacle, volume, and unchallenging menus to New York City. Tao in Las Vegas was opened in 2005 and has been the highest-grossing restaurant in the country since then.) And among those five partners, it is Jason and Noah who are responsible for creating the parties, for filling every nightclub property they own every single night they are open. Jason and Noah are 38 and 37 years old, respectively. They now own, in whole or part, or run four nightclubs in Manhattan (Avenue, PH-D, Lavo, Marquee New York), three in Vegas (Lavo Las Vegas, Tao Nightclub Las Vegas, Marquee Las Vegas), and a restaurant and pizza chain in New York, plus a new franchise of Marquee in a casino in Sydney, Australia. It’s fair to say that they are among the most, if not actually the most, powerful people in the nightclub industry in America who are not named Rihanna.
Over the course of a month or two, we had several conversations. One of them was the day after Noah had returned from opening the Sydney property.
“Even the bathrooms were clubs,” Noah said, talking about the innovations they built into the club in Australia. “Our bar in the bathroom did $7,000 in one night. Just a rollaway bar.”
Jason nodded his head: That’s right, you fuckin’ heard it. “I haven’t seen a bar in a bathroom since Tunnel.”
You can kind of see how the chemistry between Jason and Noah works. Jason is handsome and prone to fixing his hair while he speaks to you. He is just tan enough so that you wonder whether he is naturally that color. He’s superserious about electronic dance music and keeps the satellite radio in his Denali tuned to “Electric Area” and presents as the kind of guy you want to be with on the night when occasion lands you at a fancy nightclub. It’s wrong to say that Noah is a lovable schlub, because he’s not that schlubby. I’m not implying that he isn’t handsome, though I am implying that he is bald and sweats more than Jason, and I don’t think he’s ever had a tan in his life. When he opens his mouth, accentwise, the Manhattan of the 1990s, of the Beastie Boys and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, comes out. Jason is pals with millionaire DJs from Amsterdam; Noah is friends with, like, Jay-Z and Paris Hilton. And also everyone. It’s just very, very easy to like him.
They opened their first nightclub—Conscience Point in the Hamptons—when they were in their midtwenties. “It was a big pair of balls,” Jason said, “putting up half a million dollars” when they were fresh out of college. Then, to confuse the metaphor, he added: “To lift up our skirt like that? Big balls.”
Conscience Point became a symbol for an era of excess in the excessive Hamptons, when celebrities and old-money debutantes and new-money superrich decided to realize their similarities were greater than their differences, so why not go to parties at one another’s mansions? Conscience Point was where the debutante/publicist Lizzie Grubman famously drove her Mercedes SUV into a crowd outside the club, possibly on purpose. You can’t overstate the amount of media attention that got. It was an incident that captured both the indecency of the scene and our indecent fascination with it.
“Sixteen people laid out,” Jason said. “It was pretty scary.”
One other tabloid moment that came to represent an era: when Rachel Uchitel, Tiger Woods’s sometime mistress, revealed he was hooking up with quasi hookers in Las Vegas nightclubs. Another of Rachel Uchitel’s purported boyfriends? Jason Strauss.
The point being that Jason and Noah have come of age in, and presided over, an era of nightlife when the industry, and the culture in general, moved away from a kind of authenticity-based, gritty, underground quasi-scary trip-to-another-world experience in favor of an exultant celebration of $3,000 bottles of champagne, a change Noah and Jason endorse.
“Starting our career right when Peter Gatien was in trouble is probably a sign,” Jason said.
Then Noah said, “We were the only two guys who didn’t do drugs. That’s the type of nightlife I created. This safe, professional, legitimate nightlife. We created a Disneyland-type experience for adults. Where there’s no feeling of living on the edge by going there. When J and I started, a lot of the people in nightlife were these half-shady people, and we saw that as the totally straight ones, we could create something.”
Part of that innovation, especially in Las Vegas, was removing what had been considered a vital part of the lure of the exclusive nightclub: the exclusivity part. When you party with Jason and Noah, you don’t need to be cool; you only need to be able to pay.
“Here’s what I think the driving force behind Vegas is,” Noah said. “The people who go there, very few are from New York or L.A. or even Miami, where they have great clubs. Where do they have clubs like the ones they have in Vegas? They have mini versions of them in New York and L.A. But those don’t exist in the other forty-six states. You can find it, but you have to go to Vegas. That’s what’s happened to Vegas. It’s become kind of the nightlife capital of the world.”
We watched the two DJs who opened for Benny Benassi press buttons, clap their hands over their heads, and smile unconflicted, sunny smiles for two straight hours. They had matching straw porkpie hats and might have been twins. We had our ice changed, and we had it changed again, even though we didn’t need to. We watched Marquee’s “mood director” come out in a giant felt robot head and go absolutely ape on the dance floor. Then, around midnight, Benny Benassi took the stage. It turned out Benny Benassi is a guy from a town near Milan, Italy, who looks like a well-tanned menswear-shop owner who uses leave-in conditioner. He had one really giant club hit (“Satisfaction”) in the early aughts and is now one of the class of maybe a dozen and a half DJs who get paid anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000 to show up at a Las Vegas nightclub and play music for three or four hours.
This is a function of the electronic dance music (EDM) phenomenon, which blew up in America about three years ago when the Black Eyed Peas recorded “I Gotta Feeling” with the French DJ David Guetta. If you want to understand the message and vibe of the music, go YouTube that one. It’s cotton candy, it’s confection, pure upness, not so much a song as an anthem, almost remedial in the simplicity of its message and lyrics (tonight’s gonna be a good night), that sounds a little like if the heightened heartbeat of someone on Ecstasy were amplified and musicalized. It means only one thing: Yay! Fun! Yay! Fun! Woo! Yay! For a more recent version, see Rihanna’s collaboration with Calvin Harris, “We Found Love.”
Benny clapped his hands over his head and smiled a smile identical to that of the porkpie twins, a smile that could be called Mentos-commercial happy. And when the people cast their eyes upon him, suddenly the needle of the apeshitometer got buried. People went almost as ape as the mood director. Though, you know, no one could go as ape as the mood director. That’s his job.
All around us women were dancing on makeshift stages—tabletops, banquette benches, dancing plinths. There must have been a hundred of them, and all of them, like really all of them, were wearing virtually identical tiny dresses and platform shoes that used to be a kind of sartorial wink that meant: I get paid money to give blow jobs. Which, this being Las Vegas, a few of them really do. It’s like all the women banded together to try to camouflage the actual hookers. You know that scene in V for Vendetta when everyone has to wear the Guy Fawkes mask so no one knows who the real terrorist/freedom fighters are? It’s like that, only with magic butt dresses. Now, some of these people—the go-go dancers, the waitresses, the bartenders, etc.—work for the club. But not most of them.
Like straight pornography, a nightclub is essentially about girls, in that both males and females spend most of their time, and judge the quality of the product, by looking at the girls. (And it’s girls, not women. You won’t hear a single person at Marquee use the word women.) Management displays girls in the nightclub with the same kind of gaudy extravagance with which hotel owners in Dubai display fountains and pools and other profligate uses of water. One of the superhuman tasks that management performs nightly is to stock the club, like a trout pond is stocked, with thousands of women. (The doormen try never to let the Y-chromosome level get north of 50 percent.) And for that task, the club employs more than eighty full-time promoters.
On another night, I met one of them: Bhagya, a man of thirty years with a shiny bald head and lethally sharp trouser creases. In other cities—New York, Los Angeles, Wichita Falls for all I know—a promoter is supposed to bring in an assortment of cool people. In Las Vegas, promoters specialize in either rich people or women. And mostly it’s women. On the night we first meet, Bhagya has about 200 women on his guest list. He is from New Orleans and moved to Las Vegas five years ago, after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his family’s chain of gas stations. Over the course of that time, he’s diligently built a clientele of women. He used to wear a fake wedding ring so he didn’t seem threatening, but now he knows how to approach women—at another club or at a hotel pool—using only his innocuous charm to protect him from getting maced. I asked Bhagya what kind of women in particular he looks for.
“Elite girls,” he said.
“You know. Good-looking. Up girls.”
Noah and Jason told me that in New York, they take great care to curate the girls; if you’re not a model, if you don’t have an avant-garde fashion sense, if you can’t maintain a look of aloof boredom even while seated next to Jay-Z, you may not get past the velvet ropes. In Las Vegas, all you really need to get into a club is the lack of a visible penis. Which isn’t to say they don’t prefer some women to others.
If a woman is “elite,” she’s given drink tickets and delivered personally to a bottle-service table so that there’s some nice ornamentation when the table customers arrive. The “filler” girls—that’s what they’re called, filler, like the cornstarch in the McNugget mix—are taken to a special line near the Boulevard Pool, filtered through an entrance, and set loose to roam the club. All this is done before the crush starts, before the bottle-service customers arrive, so that dudes who are paying thousands of dollars don’t have to walk into an empty club. This is called “painting the room,” and it’s also the reason all the waitresses are obligated to dance for an hour before the shitshow begins in earnest. If you come early, you’ll see them all standing at attention, smiling, doing this kind of torso twist, with feet planted, that looks kind of like the central agitator in a washing machine.
Being “elite,” though, doesn’t just mean that you’re attractive.
“They don’t want reserved girls at the table,” Bhagya said. “They want people who are up there going crazy, jumping around, drinking.” He laughs. His Sri Lankan accent is barely noticeable: It registers merely as a kind of playful singsonginess. Then he said the only thing there was to say: “I mean, at the end of the night there’s only one thing that guys want. They want it to be, you know, a good night.”
But Bhagya, that’s not really something that you can guarantee, right? It’s part of my theory about how the nightclub is fundamentally a lie, the same way going to Disney World ends up being fundamentally a lie: the fallacy of fantasy fulfillment. Like the nameless sorrow one feels when one realizes one will never really meet Dumbo or become friends with Snow White, so is the nameless sorrow one must feel when one exits the club realizing none of those breasts were for you.
“It’s not something anyone would want to guarantee,” Bhagya said. “But listen, guys come to Vegas for one reason? Trust me, girls come to Vegas for the same reasons. I have [female] friends, and I go to their rooms to hang out, and they open their suitcase, and they have all their condoms in there. They have prepared! That’s got to say something about how, when they come out here, nothing matters.”
We watched Benassi. We had Joe take us to the private bathroom (that’s a service he provided, “bathroom walks”) and felt as if we had paid to pretend we were kind of famous. We had our ice changed twice in fifteen minutes. (We were now timing it.) We watched people raising their hands in the air, either in a kind of Euro tomahawk chop or in an uncomfortably heil-like gesture—this has replaced the booty grind now that electronic dance music has replaced hip-hop in some clubs—and dancing pretty much without moving their feet.
We saw that our ice hadn’t been changed in half an hour and started feeling kind of irate. We let Jessica pour rounds and rounds of drinks for these female Asian chem majors from Cal who kept waving and winking to their boyfriends who were railbirding it on the lower level of the dance floor, watching as their dates got their free drinks on. We saw, at the table behind ours, that a member of the bro posse we figured was either Lebanese, French, or Israeli had vomited. Like really vomited. It was as if a Hale and Hearty Soups had exploded at table 96. But it didn’t take a full minute before a team of men in black materialized, equipped with an arsenal of towels and cleaning solvents, to scrub the area, and the puker, absolutely pukeless. They were a vomit pit crew. In no time at all they had propped the guy up, faced him toward the dance floor, poured him a glass of ice water, and disappeared. This puke would not derail the (extremely lucrative) fun at table 96.
And the music never stopped. Like there was never a pause, there was never a caesura or anything. EDM is essentially a series of buildups and “crashes” (that’s when you’re really supposed to go ape) that are totally predictable and seemingly interchangeable and make you feel—as DJ Spider, who works at clubs owned by Steve Wynn, told me—like you’re on a roller coaster that just keeps going. Like forever. Which makes it super fun if you’re on Ecstasy (or “molly,” which is pure MDMA without, say, amphetamines), and sometimes maybe like you’re the only one who doesn’t get it if you’re not.
It’s one of a thousand different ways the management invisibly kept the club fires stoked, the energy level impossibly high. Like how, as we drank more and more and it got later and later, three o’clock and then four, they began emptying the outer reaches of the club—the pool deck, the Library—and pulled everyone in toward the dance floor. So that from our high-priced bottle-service real estate we still had the valuable sensation that we were at a place where the party, like the music (or the Ecstasy), would never, ever end, where more and more girls could be fed in from still more flights out of Kansas City and Sacramento and you could start to think that the you who has a job back in Pittsburgh or Irvine doesn’t exist, and also that after this you’d better go find some coke or else deal with the reality that awaits you back in the rollaway suitcase in your hotel room. Or if you’re the fourth-generation heir to a toothpaste fortune who doesn’t have a job in Pittsburgh (and there are people who come here they can drop $500K in a night and not feel bad about it), that there’s a world where no one has those jobs, that this is the one place built for you.
But Marquee isn’t just a nightclub. It is also what’s called a dayclub. If you think about it, it’s just logical. What’s the invisible barrier to the expansion of the nightclub? The night part. Why not keep the cash registers going from noon until six as well?
On a Saturday at the end of April, Marquee held the grand-opening party for its dayclub season. At the door a large man was filtering the crowd. “So this is the first day the dayclub is open?” I asked him.
“No,” he said. He looked like a Samoan linebacker and smelled like a fine barbershop. “It’s been open. It just hasn’t been grand open.”
I could hear the roar before I got there, and when I walked onto the pool deck, the dayclub provided, if it’s possible, an even more dramatic entrance than the nightclub. The sun was hot and bright in a surgical, shadowless way. You could take in the entire tableau in extreme midday-in-the-desert detail. Every pair of pink bikini bottoms, the glint off each nipple ring, the desert grit glommed to sweaty skin. With the dry air, and the sense that there’s no atmosphere here, it felt like we were all partying on one of the lonely moons of Mercury, if Mercury had any moons. There were no fewer than 1,500 people here. Hundreds of them were glued together on the dance floor in front of the DJ booth at the far end of the club, where a tiny Swedish DJ named Avicii was performing. In the center of the deck was a rectangle of green-blue pool with water so cloudy you couldn’t see your hand in it. (One security guy told me, “I’d never go in there. Semen, feces, blood, vomit—that’s what makes that pool cloudy.”) Some patrons lounged near the entrance, where the casino had installed outdoor blackjack tables and posted dealers in bathing suits. One row of private cabanas lined the left side of the club, and another lined the right. But the majority of the square footage was taken up by $500-plus chaise longue chairs so tightly packed together it seemed like a vast first-class cabin on a new carrier called Ecstasy Airlines. On a round daybed at the foot of the pool, an Asian man in a headband lay diagonally, as if felled by a tranquilizer dart.
Jason Strauss met me at the door. He was in shorts, a pressed dress shirt partly unbuttoned, and sunglasses. He took my wrist in the way he does—it makes you feel the way a woman wants to feel with a man—and led me through the crowd. He and Noah had one of the cabanas that overlooked the trippy web of taxi and limo approaches to the new CityCenter across the street. I met a French model who was having her twenty-first-birthday party. I met someone who owned a gold mine and had Tom Cruise’s new haircut. I met a guy who worked for the royal family of Abu Dhabi. I met an investment banker from Deutsche Bank who helped broker the deal with Jason and Noah. He never stopped dancing or put a shirt on.
The New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker had rented the cabana two down from Jason and Noah’s. In a couple of months he would be marrying a woman named Anna Burns, who was once crowned Miss Hooters International. But today he was enjoying his bachelor-party weekend, lounging in the “infinity” hot tub all the cabanas are outfitted with. Champagne, being the featured beverage of clubs, was everywhere. People drinking it in flutes, holding it aloft as they danced, receiving bottles of it from conga lines of bikinied cocktail waitresses who tried their best to make an “event presentation” without the use of sparklers or glow sticks. Wes Welker himself—because the hot tubs are Plexiglas and the water is in a constant bubbly churn—looked like he was submerged, with board shorts, in a giant overflowing glass of champagne. And overlooking the crowd, another man was holding a bottle between his legs and in great thrusting motions spraying a $1,000 magnum of Dom Pérignon while below him women opened their mouths to receive his gilded French ejaculate. Let’s just say that everyone seemed to understand the subtext of the lifestyle.
(A note to dayclubgoers: If you don’t want quite this much of a scene, a weekday might be more your speed, and while it’s not officially “toptional,” like the pool at, say, Mandalay Bay, on the weekday I was there, three women—who looked like they were either Iranian, half Indian, Brazilian, Azeri, Peruvian, or possibly just white American—lay sunny-side up on a daybed. And while only one woman was dancing that afternoon—she had on a pool-soaked Burberry tie—the music was still so powerful that I believe I could see the Azeri breasts vibrate almost imperceptibly along with the bass line, the way water glasses do when a giant robot is approaching.)
At the grand opening, Noah appeared and smiled at me: This is crazy, right? The cabanas are raised from the main floor, and from a plinth we could overlook the crowd. The Funktion-One was blasting Avicii, and when the song crashed, the pool erupted into yet another round of synchronous splashing, so that I was surprised there was any water left to piss in. Confetti was occasionally splooged from cannons near the DJ stage, and at really exciting moments a “cryo” system would shower down actual snow. One plinth over, a professional handstander in lollipop sunglasses and a polka-dot bikini was standing on her hands. She lowered her chest almost all the way down and dangled her legs over the revelers, trying to blink away the sweat dripping into her eyes. No one paid her the slightest attention.
One night I met a man named Brad Honigfeld at one of Marquee’s tables. Brad is the single largest owner of T.G.I. Friday’s franchises in the world—seventy of them, plus forty-three Wendy’s and some chain hotels. He is 53 years old, balding, with a belly, and he loves nightclubs. He goes to one of Jason and Noah’s clubs in New York or Las Vegas five nights a month. We spent an hour or so together at his table on the dance floor at Marquee while he mixed vodka cranberries and occasionally disappeared into his mindscape to feel the music in some deep, deep part of himself where only DJs tread.
When he resurfaced, he poured himself another drink and said, “Nothing gets me high like this music. It’s like Circa Lay at a nightclub.”
“Circa Lay! You know. The people running on the wheels.”
He meant Cirque du Soleil. He’d had a lot of vodka cranberries. He ordered more.
“Another bottle, another thousand bucks!” he said. As a businessman, he gets a little giddy thinking about the profit margins of this place. He also considers himself part of the hospitality business, and he appreciates the way Noah and Jason do hospitality.
“I don’t know these guys. I’ve spoken to Jason five times in my life. But they have guys who know who I am. They have a way of knowing all their clients.”
It’s Brad’s vision to bring the high he feels, the nightclub vibe, to the world we all live in even when we’re not in Las Vegas. A couple of years ago he opened a yogurt shop in New Jersey that’s basically a yogurt dayclub. “I do a yogurt concept with the music,” he told me. “It’s based on DJ culture. When you come in, it’s like a nightclub.” And if you think that sounds like a stupid idea, consider that this 1,100-square-foot yogurt shop netted a million dollars last year, and Brad is opening ten more.
When you see them moving through the nightclub in their black platform boots, the cocktail waitresses seem like comic-book characters: tough and giant-breasted, in fishnets and heavy eye makeup. It’s kind of jarring to see them with the lights up at the pre-service meeting before Marquee opens. At seven thirty or eight they’re all couched-out near the dance floor in love pink sweatpants and leggings and furry Uggs, eating salads out of Tupperware and applying astonishing amounts of complexion-altering makeup from little clear plastic makeup bags they all stow near the service bar. They look older and more tired, and they look more average and less fantastical. I hardly recognized Nikki Bee, a waitress I’d met a few nights before, when I saw her sitting cross-legged discussing the takeout from a salad concern.
Nikki Bee, 25, is from San Jose, California. Before moving out here, she’d helped open up a Hooters back home, managed a hair salon. She once had a job driving the little Red Bull Mini Cooper around, doing events. She has braces and seems at once to be brittle and unsure of herself and incredibly determined. She worked sixteen-hour days all last year—waitressing from noon until 4 A.M. in platform heels—so she could buy a house out near Spanish Trails.
“I just feel like I’ve seen it all,” she told me when I asked her about her job.
“Like Pitbull throwing thousands of dollars in the air like it’s just napkins,” she said. And there was the prince from Indonesia who would spend, like, $90,000 a day at the club, for weeks at a time. “He lived in the bungalows out near the pool, and he’d come to the club in, like, slippers.”
Nikki told me about Kim Kardashian’s birthday party last year; Kim was reportedly paid $100,000 for throwing it at Marquee. Nikki’s friend had waited on her.
“She came an hour and a half late, and then she left after twenty minutes,” Nikki Bee said.
I asked Nikki Bee if she liked her job. She said the same thing pretty much all the cocktail waitresses told me about working here. “People come here to have a good time,” she said. “I’m seeing everyone at, like, the best night of their year. The best night of their life!”
But doesn’t it get tiring, acting like you, too, are having the best night of your life every night?
She won’t say that, but what she will say is that she likes that no one knows what she is actually feeling. It was almost as if her point was that it’s not hard for her as long as it’s mostly fake.
“Like no one knew the day I bought my house,” she said. “I loved that no one knew that but me.”
Marquee is one of those places in which it’s impossible to tell that you’re drunk until you leave. And even here, there does come a time when you do have to leave. Either because you’re just too drunk or because you want to check out some other spots too so hit me up later I’ll tell you where I’m at, bro, or because it’s 5 A.M. and the nightclub is closing and the dayclub won’t open for another five hours.
The night of the bachelor party, we were among the last to leave. You exit the club through a dedicated exit, totally discrete from any of the various ingresses. Whether you walk out at midnight, right as the party is at its apogee, or at 4:30 A.M. as we did, there’s just this tidal flow of women carrying their painful heels while they walk barefoot down the stairs like ladies leaving a wedding, and bros carrying other bros down like firemen carrying smoke-inhalation victims. We entered in a tranched class system, but we all exited together into an echoey sheet-metal-and-spray-on-fire-retardant stairwell devoid of any kind of, as Noah calls it, wow factor. It gives the lie to the notion that you were ever anywhere other than a converted convention space. Our experience was no longer being managed. Laura the elevator host wasn’t here to deliver a speech about how much fun we’d just had.
And did we? Have fun?
Going to a nightclub, like going on vacation, sometimes gives rise to this really stressful internal-feedback loop that initiates when some dark part of your brain transmits a pretty obvious question: “Am I having fun?” Then: “Is this fun? What about that?” Or, “Those people look like they’re having fun—are they pretending like I am?” Or, “I should be having fun, but am I really? How about now? Or…now?” And then this other part of your brain says, “Shut up, this is your dedicated night for fun, you paid all this money for it, and if you’re not having fun now, maybe you’re not capable of fun, so please for the love of God just shut up.” “Okay. Okay… But how about now?”
I think this is what Ecstasy is for. I think it closes the door to that part of your brain. Another way to deal with that anxiety, the balm Jason and Noah offer, is to make the customers believe they are at the party that other people wish they were at. Marquee must always feel like the place to be tonight. “We always have photographers on hand,” Jason told me. “The key is to recap it the next day so we can be like, ‘Look what you fucking missed.’ ” For the club to be hot (or in the parlance of people who go out, “good,” as in “Is CLUB GQ good on Thursdays?” or “CLUB GQ used to be good, but isn’t anymore”), you have to feel like you’re walking into a party that’s reaching that brief apogee one party in a dozen reaches. And the corollary of the principle is that this apogee must be sustained for at least four hours, predictably, every night. That they are able to pull that off, that’s the special sauce.
And the beauty is that none of it needs to be real. That’s beside the point. People want to believe. Las Vegas works because the dupes are willing parts in the con. You don’t gamble because you think the odds are in your favor. You don’t pay $3,500 for a table because you think that’s how much the drinks should cost. You pay money to go on the ride.
And now the ride was over. The reason they keep exiters separate is for the benefit of the people entering: How can it be the place if people are streaming out? Seeing exhausted women carrying their ho shoes under their arms while they search for a cigarette just kind of breaks the spell.
Outside, there was a long line of weary clubgoers waiting for taxis. But there was no line for the VIP limousines. What’s $100 more, on a night that costs $3,000? We slumped into the back of the limo. The driver aimed the car, shot us from the concrete driveway chute and out into the early morning. If you guys like, he told us, I could arrange a table at a strip club. Any strip club you want.