At the conference, there were a host of vendors pushing the alcoholic envelope in all flavors and form factors. One perennial favorite was the jello shot, which you can now enjoy in Original Jel Shots packages that don’t require refrigeration or from machines that make hundreds of them in minutes, like Jevo, which happily bills itself as the “Keurig of Jello Shots.”
The evolution of cocktails has had a notable impact on preferred drinking establishments, which had to adapt to the changing preferences of a new experiential generation. In Chicago, taverns, once popular neighborhood watering holes, have plummeted from 7,000 in 1947 to less than 1,321 today. They are simply no match for clubs that provide the type of entertainment pictured above.
The changes are also notable in the types of drinks in vogue then and today. In the 1950s, gin was the preferred mixer, and cocktails included the Dry Martini, Gimlet, Tom Collins, Gin Rickey and Singapore Sling. Today, the spirit of choice is more likely to be vodka, and modern cocktails include the Cosmopolitan, Margarita or Apple Martini.
Because vodka is basically flavorless, it’s an ideal mixer for the more sophisticated cocktails preferred by Generation X-tasy. U.S. sales of vodka exceeded gin in 1967 and surpassed whiskey to become the country’s biggest-selling spirit by 1976. Gallup reports that 26% of consumers now name liquor as their beverage of choice, the highest in 25 years of tracking.
Las Vegas is a natural host for the Nightclub & Bar conference. Since the city legalized gambling on March 19, 1931, it has become the Disneyland of adult entertainment, a reputation it gratefully acknowledges with its unofficial slogan, “entertainment capital of the world.”
But it wasn’t until the now infamous reinventor of Las Vegas, Steve Wynn, opened The Mirage in 1987 that the very definition of experiential entertainment would change forever. Wynn single-handedly put Las Vegas on its current course of palatial excess. From the bulldozer dust of the old Dunes hotel rose his second oeuvre, The Bellagio, which features a multi-million dollar art collection, including chandeliers of hand-blown glass by renowned artist Dale Chihuly.
What Wynn did with The Mirage was not unique. Circus Circus had preceded the grandmaster of flash a decade earlier. But it was Wynn’s mastery of pomp that helped Las Vegas become home to 12 of the top 20 largest hotels in the world. The world’s largest is the combined The Venetian/Palazzo, which boasts a mind-boggling 7,092 rooms. In 2017, 42 million people visited Las Vegas, up from 30 million in 1997. That was five years before Las Vegas began luring visitors with its now world-famous “What happens here, stays here” marketing campaign.
But Las Vegas is not only host to the world’s largest hotels, it’s also home to seven of the 10 top grossing nightclubs. The XS Nightclub, which Steve Wynn opened at the Encore hotel property in 2008, secured its top spot on the annual Nightclub & Bar Top 100 list for the third consecutive year after generating about $105 million in 2014, the last year the organization released data. Hakkasan at the MGM Grand ranked second with an estimated take of $103 million, while Marquee at the Cosmopolitan came in third at $85 million. Together, the top 10 nightclubs alone generate some $500 million in annual revenues.
Las Vegas also leads the nation in restaurants. Tao Asian Bistro, the restaurant that funnels dinner guests into the Venetian Hotel’s Tao nightclub generates some $65 million in revenues each year, making it the highest grossing, independent restaurant in America.
And what could compete with Tao? Its 60,000-square-foot interior features a 20-foot golden Buddha, and enough stylish, scantily clad people gyrating on its upper dance floor to provide copious eye candy for any of the 600,000 annual diners who spend $70 on average per meal.
Their incentive? Free access to Tao nightclub where, late in the evening, long lines form, like at all of the other celebrated clubs in the city. Once dance fans slip by over-sized 350-pound doormen, they line up again at the bar, where they often wait three-deep for a chance to scream their orders to bartenders making hundreds of $18 cocktails hourly.
It’s part of the experience, as many like to say. And when it comes to experiential excess, Las Vegas and Dubai are capitals of Generation X-tasy, an Ubertrend that ripples through society leading to a host of sub-trends, many relating to what was once considered a vice.
In July 2017, the state of Nevada legalized recreational marijuana, joining eight other states and Washington, D.C., where recreational use of pot is now legal and 29 states plus D.C. where medical marijuana is legal.
But Generation X-tasy is far more than merely an Ubertrend of vices. Its impact stretches from loosening mores to ultra-extravagance to the extremely dangerous. The 1% have driven the trend of ostentatious luxury to limits previously unknown. How about a $250 million house? Or a $5 million car, the Koenigsegg CCXR Trevita? Care for a $190 hamburger? How about a $100 bottle of water?
Those latter two extravaganzas may appear relatively affordable but are comparatively outrageous nonetheless. And pricing is not the only factor when it comes to measuring excess, ingredients and weight are also being pushed to the limit.
Here’s the description of “Belly of the Beast”: Angus beef patty, tater tots tossed with pork belly, Serrano chile, melted cheese and hot Cheetos paired with Korean mayo, BBQ sauce, and ranch topped with four sunny-side-up eggs and weighing 10-1/2 pounds. Served, where else, but in Las Vegas at the Truffles N Bacon Cafe.
And the danger? Would you believe that cheerleading has become a dangerous sport? Since the early 1990s, emergency room visits for cheerleading injuries nationwide have more than doubled, far outpacing growth in the number of cheerleaders, according to the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research.
All part of a trend that seeks to provide the ultimate experience. Las Vegas may lead the world in that regard, but the trend has spread rapidly across the globe. Macau now generates three times more gambling revenues than Las Vegas, $28 billion annually, compared to $6.4 billion. And Dubai leads the world when it comes to experiential architecture. Generation X-tasy will only spread further as consumers become increasingly bored with the status quo.
In an 1893 play, Oscar Wilde penned his now-famous line: “Moderation is a fatal thing, nothing succeeds like excess.” Were Wilde alive today, he would find plenty of evidence to support that prescient observation. Or as the American people have been saying since the 1980s: “Been there, done that.”