Is Harrah’s “Pool After Dark” The Most Ingenious Nightclub Concept Ever or the End of Civilization As We Know It?
The first thing you need to know about the Pool After Dark (henceforth known as PAD) is that it is very, very glamorous. Ask any Long Island girl here, stuffed into a tube-sock of a dress and teetering on six-inch heels, her hair blown out to the consistency of tissue paper, and she’ll confirm this. There are many girls from Long Island at PAD, as well as girls from Jersey (North and South), the Northeast and South Philly. Boys, too—somebody’s got to pay for the drinks. But it’s the girls you notice.
During the day, the Pool is of your standard-issue hotel variety, filled with doughy, pasty middle-aged men lying on chaises, sneaking furtive glances at young women in bikinis as their equally doughy and pasty middle-aged wives lie next to them, absorbed in Danielle Steel. The Pool is landscaped with soaring palm trees and assorted other flora and fauna and enclosed in a huge glass dome, which creates the feeling of being inside a very stylish terrarium, or perhaps the Roman Empire as decorated by Snooki. Thanks to some magical air system, it doesn’t smell chlorinated, like the pool at the Y, but rather, at night at least, like a mixture of vanilla and vodka.
And oh, those nights. The nights are what have made the Pool famous, or more accurately, infamous.
The Pool opened on Memorial Day weekend 2008, a work in progress, or what Howard Weiss, who has a very long and fancy title but is basically the director of partying, charitably calls “a little chaotic.” Over the ensuing four years PAD has refined its act, mainly through a muscular programming-and-marketing annual budget of two million bucks, much of which is spent on luring D-list celebrity hosts—ranging from Vanilla Ice to Nicky Hilton to Dennis Haskins (a.k.a. Mr. Belding on Saved By the Bell)—and spreading the gospel of the Pool’s glitzy allure through 65 independent party promoters, who all have email lists bursting with wannabe Kendras.
“It’s a very important asset. We’re looking to I.D. this as the biggest pool party on the East Coast, and working to make it the biggest pool party in the world,” Weiss tells me one afternoon in his office in the bowels of Harrah’s. Ibiza may have something to say about that, but Weiss’s chutzpah is admirable. He’s only 30, absurdly young for a casino executive, but one look at him explains why he’s been so successful at making PAD a must-visit destination for the turks willing to pony up a grand for bottle service and the tarty girls who love them. Weiss’s hair is gelled to porcupine perfection, and he’s tan and fit and square-jawed in a Survivor-contestant sort of way. In a word, he can market to his target demographic because even if he isn’t them, he’s of them.
“Here, they can feel like they’re part of the celebrity’s entourage, because they really can get that close,” he’s saying. “You see that with Kendra, when we bring her onto the red carpet for pictures and then bring her inside. People want to be part of that energy, part of that celebrity experience.”
Like Nicole, a bride-to-be from Toms River whom I meet on my first night at the Pool. She’s having her bachelorette party in a cabana (total price: $3,600). Nicole has wedged her, shall we say, Rubenesque body into a rather unflattering skin-tight mini-dress, and is wearing a name tag that says HELLO MY NAME IS … THE BRIDE, BITCHES! “I like that it feels upscale,” she says of PAD, sipping a Grey Goose, cranberry and club soda. She looks around at the swirling pastel lights, those towering palm trees. “And that it’s like you’re in the tropics.”
When I check in on Nicole and her girls a few hours later, they are, predictably, a little looser, bopping around their cabana, which has now been roped off. “We had to,” says Kristen, Nicole’s maid of honor. “People kept just coming in.” At PAD, exclusivity is everything.
“I’m not loving this,” Nicole says to me, thrusting her drink in my face. “Try this.”
I take a timid sip through the straw. “Tastes okay to me,” I say.
“Ha! You just sucked on a penis!” she laughs, and I see that she’s indeed correct: Her straw is in the shape of a pink phallus, complete with testicles. She takes a long, slow draw. “Mmmm, yummy.”
One of her gal pals sidles up to me. “You should try mine,” she says. “Mine is black.”