In the trend-driven Las Vegas nightlife industry, Victor Drai’s team often seems to be a step ahead of the pack—from launching the city’s most successful after-hours party to incorporating groundbreaking, high-tech design into Drai’s Nightclub and Beach Club. So when Drai’s managing partner Ryan Michael Craig told LasVegasNightclubs.com last year that the club was starting a live concert series, moving away from an over reliance on EDM DJs, we wondered if the rest of the industry would follow suit. Craig predicted that live music and diversity in genres would be the two biggest movements in Vegas nightlife for 2015. Drai’s Live has since featured performances from The Weeknd, Iggy Azalea and Chris Brown. We checked in with Craig recently about the concert series and his company’s latest venture, building a lounge and dayclub in not-exactly-warm-and-toasty Canada.
How have the Drai’s Live concerts been going?
It’s gone incredibly well for us. Our gamble was to see if the live events worked. If everyone’s focused on one thing in the club, it was a risk. For the artists and entertainers that we’ve booked, it’s been a success every time. So we’re going to stick with that formula.
Usually with the Drai’s Live performances it’s a 45-minute concert, not just one guy but a full band, with production, lighting. The performances on Sundays are specifically related to hip hop, and steadily every night our numbers are growing. We’ve had Nas, Busta Rhymes, J Cole, Too-Short. [The artists] get there early, sing five or six hits, hang out. It’s a different vibe that’s unique to Sundays. I’d put it up head to head against any other club’s industry night.
Along with that we’ll still have DJs. We want to be the venue that takes the DJ and makes his reputation, rather than [bringing in someone who’s] already a headlining DJ.
How does what you’re doing reflect larger trends in nightlife?
I feel like 2015-16 is going towards those live performances rather than a focus on the DJ. The DJ will still be relevant, but I really see [the draw] being an actual concert or something to see rather than the guy pushing the buttons.
I also see the music format pretty aggressively changing. Since house music is already mixed, live acts are generally pop, hip hop and R&B. I see that music being played more in every club—Omnia building a hip hop room, Hakkasan using their hip hop room, Surrender booking Ice Cube and Ludacris. I feel like we started this new trend in Vegas, and I see it getting bigger and bigger, similar to where house music was a few years ago. Then it went all house and barely any hip hop, and now it’s trap and a bunch of different variations of hip hop.
I see that as more radio-friendly. When house started out it was very commercial, and then it transitioned to every DJ wanting to play that one banger song at 12:30, 1:00 a.m. that every other DJ was playing. Nobody’s creating any amazing original music now.
A Bloomberg News story a few months back talked about the tremendous first year you had at Drai’s, that you had a profit margin of 50 percent and were giving a boost to Caesars’ recovery. How do you explain your success in a very competitive environment?
We run at the highest profit margin of any club in town, because in our first year we weren’t paying DJs $400,000 to get a $500,000 gross. It’s a way better percentage.
If we can get for Sundrai’s someone who people grew up with in the ’90s and they may not command the price of a Tiësto but they still have a huge following, that’s what’s cool about those Sunday nights. It’s—I don’t want to say retro, but bringing back old memories.
One of the other things we have is the 24-hour experience with the beach club, the nightclub and the after hours. People have tried to open an after hours and not been successful. That’s a very tough market to break into. If you’re a customer who just spent 10 grand on our rooftop, or at Hakkasan, you’re not trying to spend 10 grand on after hours. People are going to go where they’re comfortable, familiar with. The fact that the location’s on the Strip helps. We don’t promote the DJs, people just know they’re going to hear great music.
Omnia [the Hakkasan Group’s new club at Caesars Palace] just opened and is getting a lot of attention, with some people saying it incorporates the best elements of other Vegas clubs. For example, like Drai’s, it has a rotating chandelier. What’s your take?
I think they did a phenomenal job with it; it’s one of the most beautiful clubs I’ve ever seen. I wish we’d done some of the things they did.
They adapted some of our ideas. But it’s really modification based on the market trends. We identified some new things, and they spent another $6 to 8 million before they opened redesigning their stage after we announced our live concert series. The chandelier is super-unique, but maybe part of idea could have been spawned from our chandelier.
They face the same challenges we do—it’s such a big room, how do you fill it every time?
Las Vegas faces increased competition as other cities—from feeder markets like San Diego to international destinations like Dubai—step up their game. How will Vegas continue to stand out as a unique party destination?
I travel quite a bit to stay up to date with everything. Those cities close at 1 or 2 in the morning and ours just gets started at that time. People come out here on vacation and those cities, it’s where they live. With all the increased gaming and hotels in other cities, Vegas is still unique. It’s going to be a minor challenge, obviously, but I don’t think it’s the biggest challenge we face. Vegas is definitely a destination city and I don’t see it slowing down.
You’re creating a Drai’s at the Trump Vancouver in Canada, opening in August 2016. Tell me about that.
Instead of being a megaclub, it’s like an upscale lounge. Drai’s in Vegas is about 70,000 square feet on the rooftop, and this is about 10,000, so it’s much more intimate. It’s got beautiful views. It also has a see-through atrium, with a pool with a cover on a hydraulic lift. During the day, you’ve got a daytime pool club, and at night you can cover the pool and that becomes a dance floor.
A dayclub in Canada? How long is pool season there?
It’s pretty small. That’s why this hasn’t been done before. But the fact that we have an atrium, it gives us the opportunity to temperature-control the inside even if it’s 40 degrees outside.
We’ll probably do the music programming a little bit closer to when we open. I feel like it’s important to bring Vegas to another city, but even more important to follow what’s popular there. You don’t want to make a mistake of ‘It’s our way or the highway,’ when really they’re educating us. I think a lot of people that have opened in Vegas and Miami in the last few years have learned that lesson.