Friday, Aug. 27, 2010 | 12:09 p.m.
Three explosive major changes -- and maybe a fourth -- erupted yesterday in Las Vegas’ nightlife scene that could change the mega-bucks industry forever:
*Nightlife czar Victor Drai picked up the biggest check he’s ever seen in his life when hotel mogul Steve Wynn bought him out of his deals at Tryst and XS in the Wynn and Encore, respectively.
*Solid rumors circulated that The Light Group, which operates a slew of nightclubs and restaurants including Jet in The Mirage, The Bank in the Bellagio and Haze in MGM CityCenter’s Aria, is the probable buyer of the Hard Rock Hotel, including all of its restaurants and nightclubs.
*Surrender operator Sean Christie explained the mysterious feud and stories that started after DJ Jazzy Jeff cut his set short by an hour during the tribute early yesterday to DJ AM, who died a year ago from a drug overdose in New York.
First, I confirmed last night in an exclusive interview with Victor that he has split from Steve, XS and Tryst, but fellow partners twins Cy and Jesse Waits will continue to run them while Victor branches out in a massive new Strip project that will be announced officially in the next three to four weeks.
“It was the biggest check of my life -- the largest one I’ve ever seen,” Victor told me last night in his first discussion of the split. “It’s all true -- we have split, but please point out that it’s totally amicable. Absolutely and very friendly.
“My friendship with Elaine Wynn and Steve Wynn remains. He has been an amazing gentleman in this. He knows exactly what I am planning to do, and he approved and gave me my freedom to go do it. We have had a wonderful relationship over the years, and we both know that will continue despite reports to the contrary.
“We’d discussed it for a while earlier this year. It was agreed to. In my mind, I was ready to stay on for another year to help make the transition, but then they decided we could do it earlier. It came as a little bit of a surprise that it all happened so soon, and we wrapped it up Thursday morning. Obviously, I am very happy because it is the best ending. It will continue to be a beautiful relationship. But I’ll admit it was quite fast and rather sudden that they let me go to get started on the new project.
“Steve was a real gentleman throughout. He was good, fair and generous in my buyout. He placed no restrictions on what I’m going to pull off next. He knows fully what I am going to do and is very supportive of what I want to do. We should be able to reveal those dramatic plans in maybe three or four weeks. My team will all stay with him, and I say sincerely God bless them. It will take two years before I have everything completed with the new project, so there are no problems with them all staying in place.
“At the end of the day, both Steve and I can look very proudly at what we achieved. I look up to him and hope in a small way I can do for Vegas a little of what he accomplished for this great place.”
I’ve known Victor for 25 years now when he was a film producer (One Red Shoe, Weekend at Bernie’s) in Los Angeles and dating British actress Jacqueline Bissett. He opened his first Drai’s in Hollywood 17 years ago, which became an incredible hit restaurant club. He opened Drai’s in the Barbary Coast 12 years ago and said that he’s just had the biggest year there ever. Earlier this year, he opened a new Drai’s at The W Hotel in Los Angeles, “and that is doing amazing, too,” he said.
I asked him if he celebrated the massive payday windfall last night. “It’ll take a few days before I’m ready to celebrate. Then there may not be time because I’m already flying back and forth between Las Vegas and Los Angeles getting the new project rolling. Inside me, I’m a little sad because I created those amazing spaces at Wynn, and it’s like seeing the kids going off to college finally, and you feel the same way. I am very happy, but there’s a strange feeling at the same time.”
Victor said that XS became the biggest club in the world and combined with Tryst the two most successful, moneymaking clubs on Earth. He laughed: “Now my new challenge will have to become No. 1 again and beat what I did before. But I did this because I wanted to leave something really solid for my two children. Call it a legacy for them. It’s more than just the money: This will be something very solid for them that will last forever, even after I’m gone.”
Rumors are already rampant at Wynn that Steve, Cy and Jesse will close Tryst this year, give it a complete overhaul with renovations and a new look and name to reopen late next spring.
Victor did not want to talk about other rumors that suggest he’s involved with the total mega-million-dollar makeover of Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall, formerly Barbary Coast, that we first reported back in July. “You’ll get it all first when we make it all official, Robin,” he promised.
THE LIGHT GROUP AND HARD ROCK HOTEL?
Solid rumors also surfaced last night concerning the Hard Rock Hotel, which we have reported here at Vegas DeLuxe over the past two weeks involving its alleged possible sale. Highly reliable sources tell me that The Light Group owners Andrew Sasson and Andy Masi have been surveying the property and its restaurant and nightclub operations several times in recent days.
The Hard Rock operates Vanity, the former Body English nightclub due to become an after-hours hangout and several restaurants, but the New York investment bankers who effectively run Morgans Hotel Group have been sprucing it up readying a potential sale. The new rumors come just weeks after a new president was named and contracts were signed with Angel Management Group here to run Rehab.
Despite that, The Light Group executives have ordered a lockdown on any and all information about the Hard Rock rumors. But there have been several different reliable confirmations that Andrew, who engineered the sale of 50 percent of his sprawling Light enterprises to Dubai’s Zabeel Investment Group two years ago, has been inspecting the Hard Rock facilities and is interested in “making a deal” if that actually hasn’t been already worked out in continuing negotiations.
The Light Group was to have opened Harmon Hotel, a luxurious boutique and spa property at CityCenter, but it’s gone into limbo over construction disputes and a shortened tower height because of structural matters. Andrew has made no secret within his company of running a hotel casino as the next logical step in its growth.
DJ JAZZY JEFF AT SURRENDER
Surrender and Blush nightclub operator Sean Christie asked me last night to clarify the confusion and controversy involving DJ Jazzy Jeff at the tribute to the late DJ AM yesterday at his Encore Beach Club and Surrender.
Eyewitnesses there reported that Jazzy Jeff was asked to cut short his 2-hour set after 20 minutes of back-and-forth conversations between his manager and Surrender executives. “He was very professional about it,” my spywitness said. “He closed his laptop, packed up his stuff and was walked out by security. It was all abrupt right in the middle of a good energy night. He didn’t even get a chance to say anything about DJ AM, who regarded him as his mentor. You have to say that was a little sad and bizarre, particularly when he wasn’t being paid for the gig and flew in voluntarily from Philadelphia.
“The crowd seemed to love it, but it was obvious the Surrender people didn’t. It was all about him not sticking to the format.”
Sean told me: “Let me clear up all the misconceptions. He was absolutely not thrown out. Our security staff always escorts our VIP guests in and out of the club. It’s a protocol, and this was nothing different. There’s a huge difference between being escorted out safely and being asked to leave.
“We also paid all the expenses of airfares, hotel rooms and other costs for he and his crew. We picked up all the expenses, and we paid his fee, which was donated right to DJ AM’s charity. And at the end of the day, we must remember this was an event that raised over $10,000 for his charity.”
I explained to Sean that reports had flashed within the nightlife world because of Jazzy Jeff’s own tweets raging about the situation. “This wasn’t because he’s a bad DJ,” Sean responded.
“In fact, he’s great, but in my professional opinion, he didn’t know our format. Industry Night here is very popular with the crowd because of the music, and it wasn’t working this time. It simply wasn’t going over well. It wasn’t horrible, but it wasn’t going great. It was mutually agreed he’d play for less time than planned.”
Meantime, Jazzy Jeff will resume his run of DJ duties at Rain in the Palms in mid-September.
PURE MANAGEMENT GROUP SHAKEUP?
Hard on the heels of these three stories last night, my nightlife colleague Jack Colton, who helped me considerably with this story, told me that there also was a continuing shakeup at Pure Management Group, which operates Venus Pool Club and Pure in Caesars Palace, LAX in the Luxor and Social House at MGM CityCenter’s Crystals. Confirmed this morning: David Krause, a very senior executive with PMG responsible for advertising, marketing and talent bookings, is leaving today, setting off a wave of other shakeups.
Jack summed it all up best for me: “It seems as if every summer ends and fall begins with major changes and shakeups in the nightlife world of Las Vegas. This year, it’s no different -- except on a much bigger scale. This really changes the entire dynamics of the Vegas nightlife scene.”
The Wynn emailed the following statement at 1:01 p.m.: “In order to pursue other interests, Victor Drai has entered into an agreement with Wynn Las Vegas allowing him the ability to pursue a wide range of business opportunities, which would necessitate reducing his responsibilities with our company. Hence, the relations that have worked so well for both Wynn Las Vegas and Victor Drai have come to an end on the best of terms, with the warmest possible feelings of both parties. Speaking for Mr. Wynn and myself, we wish Victor well in his future endeavors,” said Andrew Pascal, president of Wynn Las Vegas and Encore.
Jesse and Cy Waits, who have run Tryst and XS for Victor Drai, will remain, along with the men and women who have worked in the clubs since their inception so that these operations will enjoy complete management continuity.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.