In recent years, nightclubs on the Las Vegas Strip have trended toward the big and bombastic. They resemble thumping megachurches erected to worship celebrity DJs, with booths that rise above the crowd and LED walls or chandeliers in place of stained glass. They may have smaller side rooms or patios, but in general, these party palaces are not designed with intimacy in mind. They invite visitors to join something massive and intoxicating, to be part of a throng and lose themselves in a crowd.
But not everyone wants to enter the fray. So this New Year's Eve weekend, the Park MGM will open the doors to a venue with a different take on casino nightlife: On the Record.
Set off the newly rebranded resort's casino floor, On the Record is the first Vegas outpost for Los Angeles-based Houston Hospitality and will join a forthcoming restaurant from chef Roy Choi, a location of Italian food hall Eataly and a NoMad Hotel by Sydell Group on the resort's upper floors.
On the Record is an 11,000-square-foot "hybrid" speakeasy and nightclub that pulls inspiration from casino dance halls, downtown's neighborhood bars and Strip production shows for a multifaceted venue with thoughtful cocktails, an energetic vibe, an entertainment element and a record store.
Houston Hospitality is a collaboration between twin brothers Mark and Jonnie Houston, who stepped onto the Los Angeles scene in 2009 with Piano Bar, followed by Pour Vous, Dirty Laundry, La Descarga and Harvard & Stone, among others.
Twins Jonnie and Mark Houston are the creative team behind On the Record. Photo Credit: Max Barsness
"We've been traveling to Vegas for many years now, since we were young kids," said Mark. "Every time we've traveled back, we've always had this feeling of, what if we did something out there?"
For their Park MGM nightspot, the Houston brothers spent some time investigating what the city already offered, going to clubs, dining at restaurants, stopping by bars and shows.
"We looked at what Vegas locals and travelers would be inspired to come check out. We can't just come from L.A. and force this," Mark said, adding that they wanted to create a space that complemented what the city already does well and to give people a new option for their after-dark revelry.
"With our space, it feels like three concepts in one that complement each other. You're constantly exploring and discovering," Mark said. "You can kind of roam around and see something you haven't seen."
Fittingly, On the Record will make its first impression with an actual record store, a petite retail outlet that will focus not on a specific genre of music but on curated selections chosen by musicians, artists, the brothers' famous friends and perhaps resident performers at the resort's Park Theater.
From there, patrons will be escorted upstairs, where they'll enter a nightspot that includes indoor and outdoor spaces, various seating arrangements, decor that pays homage to different eras of music and a bar that transforms into a stage to host surprise performances throughout the night.
Hidden within On the Record, the Record Parlor is an intimate listening room where guests can choose songs from a curated vinyl collection and sip cocktails concocted to match the chosen tunes.
Mark nods to light-up floors, repurposed boom boxes and tons of "unicorn moments," unexpected delights that demand to be Instagrammed. Outside, a 1963 Bristol Lodekka double-decker bus will house a DJ booth. Inside, the semisecret Record Parlor will welcome guests to an intimate, music-inspired escape, 20 people at a time.
"The Record Parlor is kind of special," said Jonnie. "For Mark and I, it's kind of like a hidden jewel in the middle of the space. It's going to be our own personal library of unique, classic records that we're going to collect in the space."
Choose a song or an album from the vinyl library, and the bartender will mix a drink to match your tune selection. "If you chose to listen to 'Pretty in Pink' by the Psychedelic Furs, [the bartender will] create a unique cocktail for you while you listen to that album. He'll take you on a whole journey," Jonnie added.
The Houstons are known for creating themed bars and lounges with clear storylines and concepts, like 1980s karaoke joint Break Room 86 or the Prohibition-inspired speakeasy No Vacancy. Usually, they said, they can point to a couple of songs that embody the idea and help them stay focused on the environment they want to create.
But for On the Record, which the brothers believe will appeal to a wide array of Vegas visitors, that task is a bit trickier.
"This concept is so universal that we can't choose one [song]," Jonnie said. "We're embracing every era, every song with what we're creating here. It lets us open up our palate and embrace everything."