During his 20 years in Las Vegas, nightlife pioneer Sean Christie has been involved in game-changing venues from Jet and Light to Blush and Encore Beach Club. At the 55,000-square-foot Encore Beach Club, Christie was at the forefront of the Vegas day-club boom, as well as the rise of the mega-club. He also helped jump-start the city’s electronic dance music scene by bringing in DJs like Calvin Harris, Steve Aoki, Skrillex, Deadmau5, Tiësto, and Swedish House Mafia’s Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso.
The new 10,000-square-foot Bellagio hot spot, where A-listers like Leona Lewis, Shaun White, and Nina Dobrev rang in the new year, is redefining the idea of dinner and a show in Vegas. Guests at the venue can eat chef Wesley Holton’s wagyu caviar rolls, truffle fettuccine, and lobster thermidor while enjoying live music and immersive productions created by Dennis Jauch, Kim Willecke, and Phil Shaw of No Ceilings Entertainment (which has worked on TV shows like America’s Got Talent and The X Factor). At any given moment, you might see a dozen performers onstage, with support from The Mayfair Jazz Trio.
The scene evolves from Prohibition-era jazz club to late-night dance party as the revelry progresses; one member of the creative team is choreographer Dana Foglia, whose credits include Beyoncé’s “Formation” video. There’s also a backdrop with no rival: the Bellagio Fountains.
“People come to Vegas for experiences they can’t get in their hometown,” Christie says. “If you see Mayfair, you’ll see that this is something that’s unmatched in America. You can’t get the combination of great entertainment and world-class food, beverage, and design in the best location elsewhere. It’s the 50-yard line of the Strip, overlooking the fountains.”
Christie and MGM Resorts chief hospitality officer Ari Kastrati visited stylish members-only London club Annabel’s and were “blown away by the design,” so they tapped Annabel’s designer Martin Brudnizki to work on The Mayfair Supper Club. Christie and Kastrati also found inspiration at Ibiza’s Lio, a hybrid restaurant, club, and cabaret venue.
“It wasn’t about doing Lio,” Christie says of Mayfair. “It was about how the environment was all-encompassing and a place where you could have a really good dinner and a really good cocktail and really good entertainment. We started working on how we can take this DNA and also look backwards at the glamorous supper clubs and lounges of the Las Vegas past.”
They also considered the locale on Bellagio’s man-made waterfront. The result is a transporting space that includes a sea-green Murano glass canopy, coral-inspired lighting, and a ceramic shell wall. It’s a place where Christie would love for guests to spend an entire evening. One tagline for Mayfair is “Dinner is just the beginning,” meaning that if you’re having a wonderful time, there’s no reason to go somewhere else.
“Vegas is the entertainment capital of the world,” Christie says. “There’s always going to be room for DJs, but there was an oversaturation of the marketplace. People want other things. There’s no need to build more giant big-box nightclubs.”
Fittingly, at the Park MGM resort that was unveiled in 2018, Christie is working with L.A. operators like Hollywood scene-makers Mark and Jonnie Houston, street food titan Roy Choi, and mezcal queen Bricia Lopez to create more intimate experiences.
The entrance to the Houston brothers’ On The Record speakeasy is through a two-story record store. Once inside, highlights include karaoke rooms and a Vinyl Parlor with high-profile guest bartenders. To get into Choi’s Best Friend restaurant, you pass through a neon-lit room that resembles a liquor store in L.A.’s Koreatown. Then you can feast on Korean barbecue and fierce, funky stews while a DJ plays.
At both On The Record and Best Friend, there’s a surprising wow factor before you even sit down at a table. Just walking in is an energizing experience. “There’s a nontraditional experience, and you’re visually stimulated,” Christie says. “Best Friend is born out of Roy’s brain and blood, sweat, and tears. What I learned from Roy is how to do wow in a different way. It’s the same with Jonnie and Mark. They’re known for their entrances. There’s that first moment of surprise and intrigue.”
Another way that nightlife has shifted in Vegas involves the integration of bold and exciting food. (“Twenty years ago, it might have been a bag of popcorn,” Christie says.) You’ll find this commitment to flavor-packed cuisine at Park MGM inside both Best Friend and Lopez’s Mama Rabbit lounge. At Mama Rabbit, an extensive collection of mezcal and tequila can be paired with carne asada tacos, queso fundido, or guacamole. Christie knows it’s important for Mama Rabbit’s food and cocktails to be a reflection of Lopez’s Oaxacan roots.
“Bricia educated me about her upbringing and culture and why we should be more progressive about the food,” Christie says. But you can also come by Mama Rabbit to play blackjack or see live music.
“People want the things they know and are comfortable with, but people also travel more now and have access to things visually via social media,” Christie says. “People are expecting more. It’s about experiential places and experiential dining, served up in different ways.”
Main photo: Denise Truscello for MGM Resorts International