Thursday, March 11, 2010 | 2 a.m.
- Las Vegas' top five nightclub bathrooms (3-11-2010)
First came casinos. Then lounges. More recently, swish nightclubs and ultralounges.
What's the latest overindulgence in nightlife decadence?
Step into the nightclub bathroom.
These restrooms are elegant and chic, a place where women hang out, doll up, sip their cocktails, talk freely about guys — and maybe spy on them through special mirrors — and even, on occasion, use the facilities.
For this, much credit goes to Charles Doell. His California firm, Mr. Important Design, specializes in nightclubs and restaurants, but the big buzz is over the bathrooms inside those places.
"I'm doing a restaurant in Florida now and they're like, 'We want people to say they want to have sex in this bathroom,' and I'm like, 'OK, I'll try,'" Doell laughed.
There may be no higher concentration of eye-dropping restrooms than in Las Vegas, each with its own defining qualities. Walk into a bathroom stall at Mix, on the 64th floor of The Hotel at Mandalay Bay, and you're greeted with a panoramic view of the Strip. At Rumjungle at Mandalay Bay, peekaboo spy windows allow a foggy view into the opposite sex's restroom.
Doell's contribution to the Vegas bathroom scene is the recently finished king (or in this case, queen) of Las Vegas loos, at Hard Rock's newest club, Vanity. It sprawls over nearly 2,000 square feet of the 14,000-square-foot nightclub, like some giant, exclusive refuge for women. They enter through a foyer with floor-to-ceiling mirrors and a large, cushion-topped round sofa beneath futuristic glass globe chandeliers.
Sure it has only 11 stalls and six sinks. But that's not the point. Most of the space is dedicated to primping and gossiping. It is, says Doell, an extension of the nightclub itself — and to some people, making a visit to this girl's room may be their nightclub highlight.
At Vanity's restroom, instead of one large mirror where everyone is compared against everyone else, Doell brought in individually lighted vanity mirrors and red-velvet, cushioned seats, continuing the club's self-important theme. The designer flanked the walls with two larger-than-life photographs by Miles Aldridge — an eye and a pair of lips, both dripping in gold paint.
Gold-plated faucets were cut from Vanity's budget, Doell said. Tough times bring tough sacrifices.
But on the other hand, Vanity operators plan to take the concept of a bathroom attendant one step better, hiring makeup and hair teams to offer touch-ups to clubbers in distress. Vanity Managing Partner Cory McCormack said it's all about catering to the wants of 25-year-old women, even if it means they're spending less time at the bar. They brought in three-way mirrors to combat wardrobe malfunctions and every girl's best friend, great lighting.
"It turned out to be a real place to hang out," Doell said.
And because patrons spend so much time in there, cocktail waitresses duck in to the bathroom to take orders.
To distinguish the restrooms at Palms, the design firm 555 International covered both the men's and women's bathroom walls with photos of Playmates spanning decades; stall doors give a full-frontal and backside view of girls photographed specifically for the space.
Karen Herold, vice president of design for 555 International, said bringing the risqué images into casinos that have long banned nudity wasn't easy, but the design team toned it down by printing the photos on mirrored doors and applied glass beading on others.
Upstairs at Moon nightclub, the design firm used stainless steel fixtures and used clear glass on the exterior side of the stall, far above the sidewalk below, to sate anyone's desire to be an exhibitionist.
"It was all about the idea that you're in a bathroom with a full glass window. No one can really see you — but there is that fear," Herold said.
She won't say what these kinds of bathrooms cost, but hinted that they're more expensive than one might imagine. Such is the cost of adding another layer of luxury to the nightclub experience.
"The bathrooms are the most important part of the club," Herold said. "It's a surprise element. Everything you do with design in there really pays off."
Designers say the U.S. has lagged behind Europe in developing exquisite public restrooms.
For Doell, demand from his clients came after designing a restroom at a club called Mercury in San Francisco in the late 1990s. In the women's room, Doell created a stall that opened up to secret bar area rather than a toilet, where girls could spy on their unknowing dates on the dance floor through a two-way mirror.
"After that, I did other projects for a while that didn't include bathrooms and then it all came roaring back," Doell said. "People want it. They want to have a fun, weird experience in the bathroom."
Jon Sparer, principal at YWS Architects, says such bathrooms "are calling cards. They set you apart."
When YWS helped design the bathroom at the Flirt Lounge at the Rio, next to the Chippendales showroom, it included a gossip pit — purple leather couches and vanities in the bathroom's entry — at the request of women polled by the designers.
"They've got all the eye candy from the guys out there, and then they can come back and compare notes in the gossip pit," Sparer said.
If the bathroom business sounds a little sexist, that's because it is. All it takes to keep men pretty happy is to put a TV screen on the wall above the urinals, designers say.
"It's for the same reason men get charged cover and women don't," Sparer said. "You want to cater to the women because the men will be there anyway."