Is Harrah’s “Pool After Dark” The Most Ingenious Nightclub Concept Ever or the End of Civilization As We Know It?
“You gotta find us some cute girls, man.”
Ryan is asking for my help. He’s 24, here with his boys from Yonkers. His friend Marco, 26, is getting married, and the boys have ponied up a few grand to rent one of the most expensive corners in the place, a bubbling hot tub that comes with bottles of Belvedere vodka and mixers. The Yonkers Boys look identical: buff, gelled, and outfitted in short-sleeve plaid snap oxfords, jeans and sneakers, like an army provisioned by Banana Republic. The girls at PAD may totter around in stilettos and dresses like sausage casings, but boys will be boys. Weiss told me that they used to enforce a stricter dress code, but eventually they gave in—guys want the girls to look nice, but don’t seem to care if they themselves do.
“They gotta be cute,” Ryan says. He’s still talking about the girls I need to find. “I don’t care about this”—he makes a circling motion around his chest—“but they gotta have this,” he says, making a cupping-ass motion.
The Pool After Dark may have a different vibe than the club at the Borgata— Murmur—or the new HQ at Revel, but in the end, all nightclubs boil down to what they’ve always boiled down to, which is dancing, getting wasted and getting laid, not necessarily in that order.
Allow me to introduce Exhibit A: Bennie the Jet.
His real name is Bennie Blanco, which is cartoony enough, but then again, Bennie the Jet isn’t a bad moniker if you’re looking for an icebreaker in a nightclub. Especially this one. Bennie is from Bloomfield, in North Jersey, part of 13 guys celebrating—you guessed it—the impending nuptials of one Donato, 26. Bennie has dressed to impress—a gray three-piece suit and red shirt and tie, accented by some funky bracelets and arrogant aviator sunglasses. He’s also, it turns out, hungry. “I could go for a McChicken and fries,” he says, addressing his cabana mates, “and a Big Mac, and a McGriddle—are they serving breakfast yet?” He watches me scribbling all this down, looks at me suspiciously. “You’re not from some gay magazine, are you?”
Like the Yonkers Boys, the Bloomfield Boys also want me to bring back some ladies—I’m beginning to feel like a pimp—and Bennie is serious about it. “You better come back. If you don’t, I’m gonna come for you. I work in construction.” He tilts his head. “You like me?”
One of his pals looks around, takes a forlorn swig of his beer. “Everyone here is in a bachelorette party. Everybody’s gettin’ married.”
Not everybody. Over the course of this (long) evening, I’ll meet the Staten Island Girls—one Kristin, two Melanies, an April and a Natalie—who are both happy (Melanie 2 won the flip-cup tournament at the Golden Nugget earlier; “It’s been a good day,” she says) and cautious about navigating the fog of sex that wafts through PAD. “They want to come up and dance with us, and I am just not in the mood,” April, a wiry 26-year-old brunette who works at a doctor’s office but talks like a cop, says of the guys who bump and grind their way around the Pool’s perimeter. “So I walk away. I’m rude. I am very rude to them.” But for every April …
“We’re gonna be here … all … night!!” screams Greyson, 26, a pixieish human resources manager standing ankle-deep in the water on the other side of the pool, dressed in white bridal crinoline (she’s getting hitched next month) and giving off a very un-April vibe. For one thing, she’s bopping with some shirtless dude. I’m beginning to wonder if the Bloomfield Boy was right—maybe everybody here is getting married. But by the time I wander back to the Yonkers hot tub, things are looking up—there are several girls with their feet dangling in the warm bubbles. John, a bald 22-year-old bouncer who looks like a younger Mr. Clean, invites two more to join.
I notice one of his buddies standing apart, distantly sipping a cocktail. “Well, it looks like your party’s started,” I tell him, nodding to the ladies.
He scoffs. “Sure, dude. Do me a favor: Take a good look at those girls. Then you’ll understand why I’m standing here, facing the other way.”
Ouch. I’m reminded of something a friend told me years ago during my own (mercifully long-past) clubbing days: The catch-22 of any nightclub is that while everyone is looking to connect, everyone also thinks he can do better. Everyone is always looking to trade up.
A mantra for the whole PAD experience. It used to be that you would spy some random celebrity and rush over to get your picture taken, a keepsake of your intersection with the famous: an old game-show host, the local weatherman. Or you’d pose with one of those cardboard cutouts of Bill Clinton or Madonna, giggling as you struck some silly pose. Then came reality television, and the whole concept of celebrity was upended. Because now you don’t have to pose with anyone else. Get a blowout, buy platform shoes, slap on enough Crest Whitestrips to turn your teeth the color of a porcelain toilet, and voilà!—you’re the star. All you need is a red carpet and bottle service.
No one is coming to the Pool to see Kendra Wilkinson—they’re coming to be Kendra Wilkinson. We’ve created an entire demographic that looks at her and sees not some vile media creation but a career aspiration. Call it the Kardashianing of America: If I just perfect my head-tilt, if I have the right boobs and the smarter mouth and I’m just a little more outrageous than everyone else, I too can have an entourage and free clothes and get invited to parties for the simple act of being … me. The Pool After Dark is less a nightclub than a training academy, feeding the desperate narcissism of a generation that has swept aside accomplishment for the seductive glitter of notoriety.
Or at least embraced the phallus-shaped drinking straw.