Cheers For The Elite



Each Member 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.

Whiskey Sky Vegas

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 here.”
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.

Copyright 2002 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2002 TESTA Communications