Las Vegas nighclubs bracing for NFL Draft influx

Tao Group co-CEO Jason Strauss and The Venetian chief marketing officer Marcy Miles are shown i ...

The demand for VIP service for the NFL draft can be summed up thusly: Are there enough fly-top tables?

These are big dining tables that connect to create even bigger tables, fitting up to 30 guests, for large parties. These tables are designed for the influx of dignitaries arriving in Las Vegas for the league’s draft spectacular. They often book more than two dozen guests at a single fly-top table, then let the party roll.

Tao Group Hospitality co-CEO Jason Strauss is accustomed to hosting massive crowds on select Vegas weekends. But from turntables to VIP tables, the NFL has super-sized the challenges.

“Now we might be running out of fly-top tables, and I am having serious conversations about these tables,” says Strauss, who oversees the Strip’s largest nightlife and daylife company. “In 16 years in this business, I have never had that concern.”

The Las Vegas NFL draft is expected to draw at least 600,000 fans, which is how many people attended the 2019 event in Nashville, the last pre-COVID NFL draft celebration. Vegas was originally set to host in 2020. The vast majority of those tourists simply want to be near the festival-style events at NFL Draft Experience, the concerts at NFL Draft Theater at Caesars Forum behind Linq Promenade, or at the NFL Red Carpet Stage at Bellagio.

But there is a massive VIP crowd, too, and those folks have needs.

“We are seeing an outpouring of major, big-group business in our restaurants, and coming in to see our DJs and performers on draft weekend,” Strauss says. “So we have draft picks coming in with their agents, their groups, celebrating where they have been picked. You have corporate sponsors like Nike, Under Armor, Verizon — every NFL sponsor will be in Las Vegas.”

The NFL draft is like a major title fight, but bigger, Strauss says. The event falls in line with the recently announced Las Vegas Grand Prix Formula One event set for Las Vegas next year, the Super Bowl arriving in 2024, and the arrival of the Golden Knights and Raiders over the past five years.

“When you look at what Las Vegas has already achieved with our hospitality, entertainment, retail and culinary offerings, this is just another stamp for the city,” Strauss says.” We’ve been the entertainment capital of the world in so many ways, but now we are the sports capital of the world, too.”

Sports Illustrated’s draft party is set for Tao’s Hakkasan Nightclub at MGM Grand on Thursday, and the magazine is also taking up VIP cabanas at Tao Beach Club on Thursday and Friday. Super agent Rich Paul, known for such regal NBA clients as LeBron James, Ben Simmons, Anthony Davis, John Wall and Draymond Green (and also famous as Adele’s boyfriend) has booked Tao Nightclub on Friday for his Klutch Sports Group party. Paul is expected to have several clients in the NFL Draft, though it is not known whether he will actually be in town.

Tao Group’s nightclubs are open on Thursday and through the weekend in late-April, a rarity during a typically sluggish month with Easter and the Coachella music festival diluting the crowd. Hakkasan hosts Illenium on Thursday, Tyga on Friday and Lil Jon on Saturday. Eric D-Lux (Thursday), Martin Garrix w/ Justin Mylo (Friday), and Steve Aoki (Saturday) are at Omnia. Alesso and Flo Rida are at Tao Beach Club on April 29-May 1, respectively. All of those headliners are expecting packed crowds because of the draft.

Zouk Nightclub and Ayu Dayclub at Resorts World Las Vegas should swell with business, too. G-Eazy (Thursday), Tiësto (Friday) and Zedd (Saturday) are the Zouk Nightclub headliners. At Ayu, Jonas Blue (Friday) and Louis the Child (Saturday) and Breathe Carolina (Sunday) are lined up to meet demand.

Zouk Vice President of Nightlife Ronn Nicolli says, “This is the result of Las Vegas is being recognized as a true sports city.”

Nicolli is originally from Ohio. He has friends who attended the NFL draft in Cleveland, which hosted last year’s events.

“When I talk to people who are coming out to the draft, — friends, customers — there’s this excitement for it being in Las Vegas,” Nicolli says. “There is nothing that can replicate the feeling of coming out to Las Vegas, and really identifying that there is a sports culture that has now been established here.”

Nicolli is prepping for draft picks and their parties to take over the dayclub and nightclub at Resorts World.

“We are going to have a lot of young guys entering the league, and they’re also coming to Vegas,” Nicolli says. “This a huge day for them. They are looking to come to Zouk, or do dinner that night, and we have to take it very seriously. This is a very special moment in their lives. I’m excited we’re getting these calls. There is so much energy about this event for that reason, to have these star athletes here for that celebration.”

Nicolli moved to Las Vegas 20 years ago. Far different sports scene in those days.

“I remember that there was a disconnection between the city and sports back then,” Nicolli says. “We had had a minor-league hockey team (the Wranglers), maybe an arena football team (Gladiators) at the time. But trying to be present at the level of the NFL just felt like a disconnection. But now, obviously with the Raiders here, and the Golden Knights opening the door, we just have a different feeling.”

Dustin Drai, the vice president of marketing and entertainment for Drai’s Nightclub at the Cromwell says he has prepped for the NFL draft the same way he books Memorial Day Weekend, Labor Day Weekend or New Year’s Eve.

“We’ve been planning for this weekend for a long time, obviously for the 2020 draft, and we have known for a long time this is going to be one of the biggest weekends of the year,” says Drai, the son of Drai’s founder and nightlife pioneer Victor Drai. “We have a huge lineup. We’re really going heavy with our A-list talent on that weekend, and it is because of the draft.”

Lil Baby is headlining Thursday, Rick Ross on Friday, the controversial rap star DaBaby on Saturday, and Tory Lanez on Sunday at Drai’s Nightclub. Patrick Cornett (Friday), Ross (Saturday) and DaBaby (Sunday) hold court at Drai’s Beach Club.

A longtime Vegas nightlife exec, Drai says, “People are really looking at Las Vegas as the entertainment capital of the world in more ways than they have in the past. It was a lot of concerts, clubs, a lot of shows and residencies that people came in for. Now that we have major sports leagues and teams calling Vegas home, we are expressing all entertainment, including sports. I think it’s very cool.”

Wynn Nightlife hosts David Guetta on Thursday at XS nightclub. Saturday he’s at Encore Beach Club. Marshmello headlines XS on Saturday. The star DJ is among the headliners in the NFL Draft Concert Series at Linq Promenade/Caesars Forum.

Wynn Nightlife is hooking into the draft a night before the first round. On Wednesday, Encore Beach Club at Night hosts its “Hype at Night, Draft Edition” event. Wynn mainstay Dillon Francis is the headliner. The experience overtakes XS Nightclub and Encore Beach Club, laid out with illuminating football-themed décor.

And on the topic of illuminating, Rob Gronkowski is bringing his Gronk Beach Las Vegas to Encore Beach Club on Friday. XS Nightclub and EBC resident headliners The Chainsmokers are the featured performers.

A four-time Super Bowl champ, Gronk is also a champion of the pool party.

“You’re going to have thousands and thousands of people flooding the streets in Las Vegas just to check out the draft,” Gronkowski said in a Zoom chat this month. “It’s probably going to be one of the biggest drafts ever, because it’s in Vegas, and who doesn’t want to go to Vegas?”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.