of Rande Gerber's Whiskey Chain of Club/Lounges Is As Local
As It Is Chic
By Ryan Malkin
If the man with the most bars
wins, Rande Gerber has left the competition in the dust. Unlike
many nightclub owners, Gerber – perhaps best known as
Cindy Crawford’s husband – never worked at a bar
or lounge. He simply couldn’t find any place that he
really liked going, so he opened a place himself. That small
lounge where Gerber was first able to have “drinks with
some friends, be waited on by cute waitresses and play [his]
music” was The Whiskey, which opened in New York City
in 1989. Since then, Gerber has opened 17 bars, clubs or lounges
and has even more in the works. The latest addition to his
Midnight Oil company, which runs the chain, is Whiskey Sky
in Las Vegas.
Your success has been remarkable.
How do you keep your spaces so popular among locals and visitors
alike? I think it’s word of mouth. I’ve
been in business for over 10 years now, and the celebrity
clientele that I have has been very loyal. They know that
their privacy is going to be protected. I think it starts
there, and that attracts the other clientele. Everyone feels
comfortable at my places because there’s such an eclectic
mix of people. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve never
had anything fail. Even so, I do keep the lounges fresh. If
I do a renovation it’s not because I’m trying
to change the vibe or the ambiance; it’s just to keep
things clean and fresh.
The majority of your bars are in W
hotels. How did you hook up with them? I had seven
or eight places on my own when the W group approached me.
They were developing this concept of boutique hotels and thought
that we would make a good team, and it just evolved from there.
It’s been a great match. I create an atmosphere for
the people staying in the hotel where they don’t have
to leave to experience New York nightlife or Chicago nightlife.
With so many bars, how do you make
them all feel unique? Although the ambiance and vibe
are similar, the design and music varies quite a bit depending
on the location and the clientele I’m trying to cater
to. I make them feel different through design and music, which
attracts the people and keeps them coming back. The design
and music dictate what the place ultimately turns into. There’s
always a great buzz in the beginning, then each space creates
its own personality as time goes on.
So do you give a lot of power to your
managers in terms of creating that personality? No.
After I design the space and decide what kind of music I’m
going to play there, I hire all local people to work at the
places and make sure that all of the people that work for
me have been to my other places. For example, before we opened
Las Vegas, my managers came to New York and worked with me
for a couple of weeks. Then I sent them to Chicago, Boston,
and to my other places so they understand the people involved
in the business and the clientele that we attract. We want
a great local crowd and a good mix between guys and girls,
straight and gay, black and white. That eclectic mix of people
is what keeps a place going.
When did you decide to open a place
in Las Vegas, and why did you open up off the strip?
I’d been looking at Vegas for probably three years,
and opening on the strip did not interest me much because
it would be too difficult to control the clientele. When you
open up in a huge hotel with 3,000 or 4,000 rooms, you need
to let people in that are staying in the hotel. It’s
difficult to control the vibe without being able to control
the people. I decided to open in Henderson, which is about
10 minutes off the strip. For me it was important because
it was really catering to locals and to the people who know
my places from LA and New York. You’re in Vegas, but
you’re not dealing with the strip, which is nice for
a change. And because we have control of our space, you never
read [in the press] about who’s there and who was doing
what. That’s an important element in the longevity of
what I do, and it keeps those customers coming back.
Whiskey Sky in Vegas is a live music
venue as well as a lounge. Is that something you’re
going to be doing at other locations? The reason
I did live music by the pool is because I have a lot of friends
that are musicians, and there are many times when they come
by and just want to play. It wasn’t to open a live venue
and book acts. You can be sitting around the pool, or in the
pool, and listening to Counting Crows or whoever might drop
by at the time.
Besides that did you do anything different
in Vegas that you haven’t done anywhere else?
Yes, in Vegas there’s a lounge area and there’s
a club area. In the lounge area I put in a more powerful system
than I usually do because it turns into a club on Thursday,
Friday, and Saturday nights. It’s kind of a fine line
because you want to put in a system that’s efficient
up until 10 o’clock, but you want to be able to turn
it up after 10. The system’s got that great bottom end
and the place gets pumping. That’s the main difference.
In my other places if it’s a club, it’s a club;
if it’s a lounge, it’s a lounge. You need different
sound systems and different lighting for the different vibes,
and here I really tried to create it all in one.
How important is music in your clubs?
Music is one of the most important aspects. I want to make
sure that all of my places have a great sound system; a system
that musicians would really understand. I want a musician
to come in and say, “hey, I can do a listening party
What kind of music do you have your DJs spin at Whiskey Vegas?
Early in the night it’s mellow rock ‘n’
roll. As the night goes on we turn it up and play more soul,
funk, and disco. I talk to all the DJs and give them something
of a play list, and they take it from there. If they see people
dancing, that’s what I want; that’s what it’s
all about, at least after 10 o’ clock. Before that it’s
more or less a place to come have a few drinks and talk to
your friends. It’s difficult to not repeat anything
though, because my DJ comes on at 9 pm and we’re open
‘til four in the morning. That’s a lot of songs
being played, so I try not to put a DJ on more than one night
per week. Although I’m loyal to my DJs, I’m always
challenging them to come up with new music for me.
Did you do anything edgier design-wise
to go along with the Sin City vibe? It’s a
little more modern or contemporary; a little more James Bond
without being tacky. I wanted to add a bit of Vegas, but didn’t
want to have the glitz and tackiness of Vegas. You can go
a little bit over the top with the design without feeling
too much Vegas.