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December 18, 2014

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Las Vegas nightspots through the years: Those that left an impression and why

Las Vegas was not dubbed “The Entertainment Capital of the World” for nothing. Ever since the 1930s, people have come to what is now known as the Strip to drink, dance, smoke and revel into the early morning hours.

Las Vegas resort and entertainment venue owners have continuously attempted to push the envelope through the years, adapting their late-night offerings to the changing times and tastes.

Today, eight of the top 10 revenue-generating nightclubs in the country reside on the Strip, according to trade magazine Nightclub & Bar.

Through the decades, various hot spots for nighttime carousing have come and gone. Here’s a look at some of the places that left the biggest impressions.

    • The Pair O' Dice Nite Club, sits aside Highway 91 in this 1930s photo. The Pair O' Dice was the first nightclub on the Las Vegas Strip. Its main attraction was gambling before gambling was even legal in Nevada. The property was bought and turned into the 91 Club in 1939, which itself was rebuilt as the Last Frontier in 1942.

      Pair O Dice

      The Pair O’ Dice Nite Club was built on Highway 91, later to become the Strip, in 1931 and was one of the first nightlife spots in town. Its name was changed to the Ambassador Club in 1936 and then to Club 91 in 1939.

    • The El Rancho Vegas awaits commuters on Highway 91 (which would later become The Strip) in this late 1940s photo. The El Rancho was the first hotel casino on The Strip to offer gaming, lodging and dining in one location. A long train car can be seen in the distance heading toward downtown.  At the time, the economy of Las Vegas was still reliant on the railroad between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles.

      El Rancho Vegas

      Opened in 1941, El Rancho was the first resort on the Las Vegas Strip, and it quickly became a place for the rich and famous traveling from Los Angeles.

      The El Rancho featured two entertainment venues: a dinner theater that originally was called the Round-Up Room and was later known as the Opera House, and Nugget Nell's cocktail lounge.

      Headliners included Chico Marx, Betty Grable, Sophie Tucker, Lili St. Cyr, Dorothy Dandridge, Yma Sumac and Joe E. Lewis.

    • Sammy Davis Jr. roars with laughter as he and fellow Rat Pack members Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and Joey Bishop perform together at the Sands' Copa Room during the 1960s.

      Copa Room

      The Sands’ Copa Room, opened in 1952, was the legendary home for the Rat Pack and took its name from New York City’s Copacabana Club.

      Along with the Copa Girls, the main attractions were the well-known stars booked by Copa Room bandleader and musical conductor Antonio Morelli.

      Through the years the Copa Room played host to a variety of acts, such as the Rat Pack, Count Basie, Judy Garland, Lena Horne, Jimmy Durante, Nat King Cole, Tony Bennett, Wayne Newton and Bobby Darin.

    • Poolside at the Landmark Tower hotel.

      The Landmark

      The Landmark opened in 1969, and the top-level observation deck also doubled as a disco club. The Landmark’s showroom played host to famous celebrities such as Danny Thomas, Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.

      Another club, Teenbeat, believed to be the first nightclub in the country designed for teenagers, opened in 1962 and lasted until 1968.

    • The Las Vegas Hilton

      Barbra Streisand was the opening-night performer in 1971 when the Las Vegas Hilton opened. The resort became the regular venue for Elvis Presley, who performed there until his death in 1977.

      Liberace headlined the Hilton showroom during the 1970s, drawing sold-out crowds twice per night.

    • Jubilation/The Shark Club

      In 1978, Paul Anka’s disco club Jubilation opened on Harmon Avenue near the Strip, and it was considered one of the first true dance clubs in Las Vegas.

      Newspaper articles from the time say the $3 million, 10,000-square-foot restaurant and club claimed to be the largest disco in the world. It was also said to be the first club to use metal detectors to find weapons on patrons as they entered.

      A spokesman for the disco told a newspaper the security was needed “because this is still the wild, wild West, and an unusually large percentage of people in Las Vegas carry guns with and without a permit.”

      Another big disco club of the time was The Brewery on Paradise Road.

      In 1987, Jubilation was redone and renamed The Shark Club, in honor of UNLV Running Rebels basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian. It was reborn as a rock club, and famous acts such as the Gin Blossoms and No Doubt performed there early in their careers. It closed a decade later.

    • Utopia/Empire Ballroom

      Utopia opened in 1996 just north of the MGM Grand and is regarded as the last Vegas nightclub before clubs moved inside the casinos. It boasted pyrotechnics and a booming, state-of-the-art sound system.

      Utopia closed in 2001 and, four years later, the space was reopened as the entirely redesigned Empire Ballroom.

      The new venue attracted top-flight DJs to its warehouse-sized space, which featured a rooftop area for escaping the cacophony of the club. Empire Ballroom closed in 2008.

    • Dancer Jennifer Torres performs during the Thump! show, an infomercial for Thump Records, at Club Rio at the Rio hotel-casino Friday March 5, 2001. LORI CAIN / LAS VEGAS SUN

      Casinos welcome nightclubs

      Club Rio opened in 1995 as the first nightclub, as we think of them today, inside a casino. The space became well known for industry and Latin dance nights and also hosted live acts such as the Beach Boys, Sammy Hagar, Paula Abdul, Montell Jordan, C&C Music Factory and Erocktica. Club Rio closed in 2006.

      Two years later, Ra opened inside Luxor Hotel and Casino. Along with the other pioneers of the this era, Ra was one of the first to bring in nationally known DJs. Ra was also host to Pleasuredome, a weekly Wednesday night electronic music event for locals. It also was ahead of its time in the use of visuals to go along with the music the DJ was playing.

      Ra also closed in 2006.

      Studio 54, at the MGM Grand, opened in 1997 like Ra. Studio 54 also helped set the tone for the emergence of nightclubs as a main resort attraction. It closed in 2012.

    • Dancer Cassandra Mistak adds to the ambiance at the nightclub Light at the Bellagio in Las Vegas Sunday, May 18, 2003. Photo by Sam Morris

      Race to be the Best

      After casinos proved that nightclubs could be good revenue and traffic generators in the mid- and late 1990s, the race to one-up the day’s hottest club began.

      Bellagio Resort and Casino opened Light in 2001 to much fanfare, and it was one of the forebears of the megaclub era. Light is credited with being the first Las Vegas nightclub to require bottle service to be seated in one of its VIP areas. Light closed in 2007.

      The 25,000-square-foot Rain opened in the Palms in 2001. Rain is known for its special effects like cascading water, fog and bursts of flame that shoot out from metal frames above the dance floor. The upper levels offer VIP cabanas and ultra-exclusive, members-only suites accessed by a biometric thumbprint scanner.

      In 2005, Caesars Palace unveiled the 36,000-square-foot Pure, which brought in celebrities to create buzz for the club with multiple rooms, each with its own style and music. The Venetian’s Tao, still one of the highest revenue-generating clubs on the Strip, also opened in 2005.

    • Redfoo at Party Rock Mondays at Marquee in the Cosmopolitan on Dec. 19, 2011.

      The Club as main attraction

      When the Encore opened at the end of 2008, instead of a concert hall, theater, volcano or some other attraction as the main draw, the resort’s entertainment offerings were built around the 40,000 square-foot XS.

      The Cosmopolitan's Marquee opened almost exactly two years after XS. Marquee includes multiple spaces and different music in each area and, like XS, is adjacent to a pool area where revelers can also mingle outdoors.

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