"vodka soda please"

"vodka soda please"

This weekend, I was in Las Vegas. My family are Jets fans, and the Jets were playing the Raiders at the shiny new(ish) Allegiant Stadium, so naturally Vegas was a trip that needed to be taken. I can't talk about the game at all because I'm a little scarred by the Raiders fans stomping on our grave afterward. I am so sensitive, a terrible sports fan really. It's hard to recover from someone screaming at you, "Welcome to Vegas, you New York losers! The house always wins! Ahahaha!"

Anyway, the Vegas trip was also the perfect excuse for my personal Vegas Nightclub Redemption Arc. Like Daniel Ocean at the beginning of Ocean's 11, I had unfinished business in the City of Sin.

I'm a late-in-life clubber. "The club" fascinates me. I spent the bulk of my twenties at rock shows and dive bars. I don't think I went anywhere where you could conceivably purchase bottle service until I turned 30. As such, I treat the club less like a social event and more like a science experiment, because my age gives me a bit of ironic distance from which to observe the proceedings (while wearing a lab coat).

But it's easy to get overwhelmed in a nightclub, especially a Las Vegas one. Similar to the casinos they occupy, Vegas nightclubs have an atmosphere that is specially designed to overpower your will and drain your wallet. Each institution is like a school bully that turns you upside down and shakes you until your lunch money falls out of your pockets.

The last time I was in Vegas was during the Bernie 2020 campaign. I was running around filming the hosts of the podcast my husband produces for a documentary that never got finished. We were going door-to-door canvassing, being really irritating in the press room of the Democratic debate, and otherwise absorbing the Vegas energy. It was fun but also unfamiliarly stressful to me, so when we had a free night, I suggested blowing off some steam at the Hakkasan nightclub in the MGM Grand.

The first mistake of that night was "pregaming" with something called an Irish Trash Can (named, I think, because the drink was green in color — among its ingredients were blue curacao and Red Bull, which turned each other swampy when mixed). The second mistake was doing shots of tequila at the club, which cost something like $900 each, because the "well tequila" there was Patrón Silver. The third mistake of the night was the opening DJ playing multiple remixes of the song "High Hopes" by Panic at the Disco. The vibes, frankly, were off. Things got fuzzy. I pulled the ripcord and we dipped. It was not a great showing on my part.

I was excited to try again, 3.5 years later. Benny Benassi was scheduled to play at Marquee, in the Cosmopolitan. I love Benny Benassi's song 2002 "Satisfaction." That shit still slaps after all these years. The stuttering, bend-y synth line gets me every time. Same with the robo-voice. Push me / And then just touch me / So I can get my / Satisfaction. Surely seeing Benny would be a fun time.

And from a strategic standpoint: the Chainsmokers were playing down the road at XS, in the Wynn. Benny Benassi is 56 years old. The Chainsmokers are in their thirties. I made a bet — as you do, in Vegas — that the crowd for Benny would be maturer and calmer than that of the 'Smokers.

Last time, at Hakkasan, I pre-paid for tickets. This time I did some internet searching for how to optimize my experience, and the internet pointed me to an app called Discotech, which helps one get on "the list." Vegas nightclubs are all about TIERS. There is not one universal experience. It is as stratified as our current socioeconomic society. (I originally wrote "stratisfied," perhaps combining stratification with "Satisfaction"...) The more money you pay, the better an experience to which you are entitled. And though "the list" itself costs no money to access, being on "the list" offers one a feeling of exclusivity that money cannot buy. Do I feel lucky? Do I, punk?

The gender binary is alive and well in Las Vegas. Presale tickets are more expensive for men than women. And whatever I did on the app to get me on the list also granted me — just me, not my husband — an hour of free drinks, from 11:30pm to 12:30am. This benefit was designed to get people in the club on the earlier side, so that by the time Benny took the stage, it would look as busy and popping as a club in a movie scene. A delicate balance, the Vegas nightlife. They want people to come in and spend money as soon as possible. But to get people to come in, they must offer incentives. Breadcrumbs. Treats.

It was time to go to Marquee. We made our way inside, past 100 or 200 black-suited security employees, to find a dance floor already heaving with party people. The free drinks did not include Red Bull, which was fair enough. Vodka soda, please — The Drink for When You Can't Think of What to Drink.

Marquee's dance floor was...small. That's the thing — they don't really want a ton of people dancing at the dance club. Only enough to provide the visual texture for the evening. Ideally, instead of dancing on the dance floor, you will purchase a table where bottle service girls will pour you vodka cranberries out of fluted carafes, and you'll dance at the table instead. This experience costs thousands of dollars. It's also the only way you get to sit down. So it's a strange vibe. You must pay for access to a chair or couch. If you don't, you are relegated to a crowded dance floor and must hope you do not wilt.

We were having a blast, though. The music was loud and European, a mix of house and trance. The lights were programmed to dazzle. Everyone legitimately seemed like they were in a good mood. The crowd was sprinkled with people in bridal veils and birthday sashes. Despite the charged gender-atmosphere of the club, it seemed like everyone was being respectful to each other? Not always the case in situations like this? My favorite place to dance in New York was Nowadays, a club where they stop you in an alcove at the door and read you their consent-themed social contract before you're allowed to enter. I thought about the concept of a Nowadays Vegas and lightly chuckled to myself.

After getting sweaty on the DF (dance floor), we wanted to take a break, so we walked toward the back. This is where we noticed there was an unoccupied VIP section, and possibly because the aura of the club was so transactional, I decided to play way against type (lawful good) and sit in a section we did not pay for. And get this: they let us. I guess it wasn't a super busy night. Sitting felt great. Defying the fragile economic laws of the club felt even better.

"Satisfaction" finally came on and we got up to dance to it with vigor. I observed Benny in his DJ booth, elevated above the crowd. This couldn't have been the most scintillating night for him, but he seemed to approach his DJ duties with a lunch pail attitude. Confetti filled the air and landed in our drinks, turning them a strange, cloudy hue. A girl swept her phone flashlight across the floor. I asked her what she was looking for, and she said she had dropped her vape. I helped her look for a while. The vape was long gone, but I found a whole-ass wallet instead, which I brought to a bemused bartender. Sometimes the metaphor of Las Vegas becomes too literal.

Emboldened by my previous boundary-pushing, I took things a step further. There was a young man who was sitting alone at a large VIP table, closer to the dance floor than our previous perch. We approached the entrance and asked if we could just sit at the back of his section and gently bop. The man welcomed us with open arms, and even offered us his carafes of vodka and juice! We chatted for a while. I asked him what might have created the occasion for a VIP table on this special night. Birthday? Promotion? There was none. Just another night, another dream. The chairs were super comfortable. When you finally get to sit in this town, it's cushy as hell.

After a little more socializing, it was finally, absolutely time to leave. We walked back down the Strip with miniature bottles of Evian in hand. I woke up with confetti in my purse, and a business card for a Tao Group promoter who I had spoken to upon leaving, giving him a positive verbal review of the Marquee experience. "Reach out directly next time," he had said. Chris woke up with a whole, unsmoked cigarette in his jacket pocket. It seems we had come out ahead, at least for the night. I hope that girl found her vape!