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April 21, 2014

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The Strip:

Wine angels’ scale a four-story glass tower for the perfect Chardonnay

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Leila Navidi

Wine angel Daphne Lucas demonstrates her skills before dinner service at Aureole in Mandalay Bay on Friday, July 13, 2012.

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Wine angel Eboni Lomax demonstrate her technique for retrieving wine before dinner service at Aureole inside Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on Friday, July 13, 2012.

Daphne Lucas saw her dream job on television when she was barely out of high school.

Women called “wine angels” wore Catwoman suits and dangled from wire cables strung from the ceiling of a four-star restaurant. They glided up and down, fetching bottles of wine from a stainless steel and glass tower four stories high.

“I thought it was the coolest thing I’ve ever seen,” Lucas, 29, recalled.

Two years later, Lucas herself was strapping into the harness, getting ready to fly. A friend had told her about a rare opening for one of the two wine angel positions at Aureole inside of Mandalay Bay.

Lucas was hired for the job despite having no stunt or acrobatic training. That was seven years ago.

Eboni Lomax already had been working as a wine angel for two years when Lucas was hired. Lomax, 31, had been a hostess at the restaurant before getting promoted. She was a cheerleader in high school but otherwise had no training for the job.

The first question both ladies were asked on the job interview: Are you afraid of heights?

“They want to make sure you’re up for the job,” Lucas said. “It’s kind of scary going up, and they want to make sure you’re not going to freak out.”

“I couldn’t go all the way up my first day,” Lucas recalled. “I was terrified, just because it was new and I really didn’t know how to move around in there.”

The $1.2 million tower, which debuted when Aureole opened in 1999, was inspired by Tom Cruise’s famous cable drop in “Mission: Impossible.” It includes space for 10,000 bottles and is kept chilled to 55 degrees with 70 percent humidity. Restaurant designer Adam D. Tihany designed it in part to fill the restaurant’s 50-foot ceilings.

Corners pose the biggest challenge for the angels.

“It’s pretty narrow,” Lomax said. “The cables take you up and down, so when you have to get the bottles on the corners, you have to kind of kick off the beams and use your body weight.”

Each cable can hold up to 1,000 pounds (scores more than the angels weigh), and the ladies wear earpieces and microphones clipped to their collars to talk to sommeliers on the ground. They tote the bottles of wine in holsters that hang by their thighs.

Lucas and Lomax can sail to the top in 10 seconds. They said they’ve never dropped a bottle.

People stop to watch the angels from a viewing balcony outside Aureole. Lomax said they see flashing cameras from high up in the tower and often wave to onlookers.

The wine angels give Aureole national recognition in a city where it’s difficult to stand out. The ladies have been featured on “Oprah,” VH1 and the Travel Channel. The restaurant regularly makes “Best of Las Vegas” lists.

The angels are outgoing and comfortable in the spotlight. They interact with diners. They have even helped people propose by delivering diamond rings and champagne.

“That’s one of the best parts,” Lomax said. “I’ve held up banners with proposals from inside the tower. One time there were a lot of couples, and all the women were looking around and wondering, ‘Is that for me?’ Then the woman turned around, and he was on one knee.”

While they’ve had their jobs for the better part of a decade, the ladies know they can’t be wine angels forever. Lomax is studying accounting while Lucas wants to become a sommelier.

But neither is ready to give up her job yet. Being a wine angel is as cool as Lucas dreamed it would be when she first saw it on TV.

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