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June 28, 2016

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Wynn COO Sean Christie talks Intrigue opening April 28: ‘It is time for change’

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Christopher DeVargas

Sean Christie at Encore Players Club.

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The opening of Intrigue on April 28, 2016, is revealed on the final industry night of Tryst Nightclub on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015, at Wynn Las Vegas. Tryst closed Saturday after a decade to make way for Intrigue.

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The marquee outside Wynn Las Vegas on Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015, announces the opening of Intrigue on April 28, 2016.

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Charlotte McKinney, with Wynn Las Vegas Vice President of Operations Sean Christie, hosts the grand opening of Encore Players Club on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2016, at Encore.

With the arrival of the new nightclub Intrigue at Wynn Las Vegas taking the place of Tryst, nightlife is about to undergo a major change on the Las Vegas Strip. The “big box” Las Vegas mega-club is about to be challenged in a totally different way, and who else but Steve Wynn to lead the charge.

Steve’s COO Sean Christie is about to roll out the red carpet for the premiere of Intrigue on April 28 with former “Rock of Ages” star Mark Shunock as creative director —our Q+A with Mark was posted Monday. My first interview with Sean about Intrigue was posted Nov. 10, two days after Tryst was closed after a successful 10-year run.

I talked with both men before I left for Cabo San Lucas. Here is our Q+A with Sean:

Talk a little about the philosophy that you wanted to make Intrigue totally different from any other club in town and what this may portend in terms of a change in the nightlife scene — the overall vision, then how Mark fits into the plan.

You and I initially spoke about the idea that the club could change often, so depending on what day or month you attend, it could theoretically feel and look different. With Mark at the helm with his extensive background in Broadway shows and costumes and all the things related to choreography and entertainment, I think that all of those things that he is good at and he’s a part of that I would not consider myself good at would help in executing the vision so that people when they walk in, through the visuals, the entertainment, the DJs, the performances, all of these things make up the way someone sees and feels so that their experience theoretically would be different.

Mark is going to play a big piece, if not the biggest piece, but nothing is necessarily the biggest piece. … Meaning that it all goes back to Steve Wynn’s philosophy of God lives in the details. There are many, many components, and Mark being a big one of those components so that people can feel differently when they walk in so the club has more to like in terms of it being a popular place for a longer period of time. Giving the customer something different from any other place in town!

And to hang out more often and longer?

Yes, and, more importantly, not continually go for the same thing and the same experience over and over and over again. We want to consistently change it up. Maybe it could feel like where again I don’t like using too many Broadway references, but where essentially sets change and things like that. We want our nightclub to change in that way, but most importantly when you walk out, I don’t think that the emotion hopefully when you walk out is, “Oh, well, that’s a really cool theatrical thing I went to.” It should be, “Hey, it’s a great nightclub,” and all the things that we do that led up to it make you say that.

Relating back to Mark, all the vignettes whether it’s performances or staging through visuals and all these things, hopefully you just walk out, you had fun, and you tell a friend, “Oh, you’ve got to go because it’s a great nightclub.”

Intrigue is the whole club, but then there is the area when you walk down the stairs is the private club, which has not been named yet, on the left, which was the kitchen in the old Tryst. They removed the kitchen.

So Tryst is renamed Intrigue, and still to come is a name for the private club?

Or not. We’re not sure because we’re really trying to keep the lid on the idea that it is private, so even naming it is in question.

So private and exclusive, it doesn’t have or need a name?

Correct.

I have to mention this: The Act tried an approach at the Venetian that failed, and Steve changed Switch, which had different things happening every time you went for dinner, to become Andrea’s. What have you learned from the demise of the Act? From Switch?

With the Act, I think that, and again that’s why I keep referencing that Intrigue is a nightclub because it is, when you went to the Act any time, in my opinion, that it set people’s expectations up that it’s going to be a show that they’re going to see. So when I went to the Act, I felt like, “OK, great, when I get there, I can’t wait to see all of these avant-garde things that are cutting edge, that are going to keep me entertained.”

So I go there, I sit down with my friends, we start drinking and socializing, and things start happening on the stage. Unless you really know what you’re doing in terms of, and I think these things are more appropriate for a theater, you’re destined to fail because people are sitting there thinking to themselves, “OK, wow me with a show.” In Las Vegas where shows like “Le Reve” and “Showstoppers” that have $2 million-plus in costumes and all the amazing things that have gone on in this town with Cirque du Soleil, the bar is set too high for the positioning of it being more show than, in our case, a nightclub.

Switch — I think Steve would also be one of the first people to tell you at the end of the day, I felt like one of the critical flaws in Switch, and I thought it was a really interesting concept, is that when it initially opened, there was not a lot of traffic coming from that arrival porte-cochere because it was so underutilized because the Plaza Hotel never happened. That eventually became Encore Beach Club.

There was really no traffic flow, and it opened in the height of the recession. It took years after that for that area of our hotel to develop with Encore Beach Club, Surrender, Society and also a bar in Society. I think one of the most overlooked things publicly is our bridge going from the parking garage to the Encore Beach Club restaurant. All of those things made Andrea’s also possible. Switch didn’t have any of those things.

Going back to what Mark will be producing for you. You’ve talked at length about these acts, to make it different, it can’t just be Cirque people after hours with aerialists and singers and dancers because that’s not unique. How do you make certain that what he’s bringing in is going to be unique?

There are a couple of things. First of all, Mark is involved in everything. Mark looks at the world through a different set of lenses in a creative way that other people don’t, so having him at the table even when we’re talking about how drinks come out and things like that, more operational issues, it’s great to have him involved. He’s having input in everything, No. 1, and No. 2 is that also the elements of production that Mark is involved in are really supposed to take and play a back seat to the larger experience of the club.

When we look at acts and costumes and all those things, we are down to the minute detail storyboarding everything because we’re going to be frequently changing. So, if, for example, the first few weeks you know if we have working themes and things we’re working on, those things are supposed to feel like an overall conceptual mood that we’re all working from in specific time frames related to whether it’s a performance that we have outside Mark’s scope or a DJ or a celebrity birthday or a time of year.

Mark Shunock, Troy Burgess of ‘Rock of Ages’

Rock of Ages co-star Mark Shunock applies several fake tattoos while getting ready for the show at the Venetian Theatre on Tuesday, December 16, 2014. Launch slideshow »
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Sean Christie and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis attend Surrender and Encore Beach Club’s fourth-anniversary celebration early Thursday, June 5, 2014, in Encore Las Vegas.

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Skylar Grey, Andrea Wynn and Sean Christie attend Andrea’s first-anniversary celebration Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, in Encore.

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Sean Christie is flanked by Macklemore, right, and Ryan Lewis during Surrender's third-anniversary celebration Thursday, June 6, 2013, at Encore.

We’re trying to methodically have all those things interplay with each other and feel organic. If we do a really good job, the customer may even think it is very subtle, and that it’s just a high-end nightclub, but we know that all of the things that we have done down to even things at the tables for the customers and the different types of ice cubes that may change frequently and things at the bar that are giveaways or the lighter and what they say on them and how they feel; all of these things, that’s where we’re really digging into the details.

So our entire team, just like we want Mark to participate in being part of the operation, there is a core team that also is involved in Mark’s department. We’re all collaborating on all of it. These things are supposed to play very subtle support roles in the idea that guys like you and I are going to go in and have a blast with our friends.

Is it safe to describe it as a constant reinvention of the atmosphere and vibe of the nightclub?

Yes. As a result of that, to reinforce the nightclub message, I’ll let you be the first to know, we hired one of the top guys away from Hakkasan Group. Alex Cordova, who was the executive vice president of marketing, has signed on with us.

I want to understand how Mark’s vignettes become an attraction, yet stay in the background? Is that a correct understanding on my part?

It’s a way of saying it. Generally speaking, clubs are pretty fluid places. When you open a nightclub, after opening many, many of them after many years at this point, a lot of times you go into it with the expectation that it’s going to be one way, then you open it, and you see truly what the customer responds to.

We really want to bring back the idea that customers who come in whether you’re sitting at a table or you come in with your friends and are going to the bar and exploring or on the dance floor dancing, we’re trying to make it immersive for you so that you have more fun than you would have somewhere else.

If you walk into a nightclub at midnight and leave at 3 a.m., you know that you’ve had five lifetimes. We like to keep the energy in sixth gear the whole time, so a lot of the things we’ve talked about with Mark is the idea that some of the things are so subtle that the customer doesn’t know that the customer is the star of the show.

His contributions, these vignettes, these moments, they take place throughout all of Intrigue or just the private club area?

The entire club. These people are performers, Mark is a performer, they’re all creative, so they’ll also have creative liberty to as we go along once they learn the ins and outs. The Mark elements or the performance element of it will play small initially because I want to make sure that people’s perception of the place when they walk in is that it’s a nightclub. Anything that customers like grows.

Is the plan that he would change the setting, the scene, every month?

Well, he certainly is playing a big role in helping our collaborative team come up with the ideas, but we also have a video team, lighting team and sound team who are with our operations team, and Mark and a lot of these people are in house at Wynn currently. The trick is that we’re all working together so that if something happens or wants to happen, it’s a chain reaction so that the mood changes and you feel like it physically changes.

Does Mark have a crew of regular entertainers, or do they change, as well?

I think he has a core crew; I think initially he definitely has a couple of handfuls of people working every week. I think that because this community gets other gigs, I think that there will be a revolving door of action people, but he definitely has a group of people who I perceive to be his group.

Is this a beginning of a sea change in nightlife in Las Vegas by making it more intimate and interactive than the boxes that have existed so far?

That’s our goal. It’s funny because after our last interview, it created a lot of headaches for me … in a good way. Well, in a good and bad way, but I definitely had some explaining to do with agents, managers, talent, DJs, etc., on the idea that too much of anything is too much.

One of the things that makes a great city, if you go to New York City, you could stumble upon 15 things over a couple of blocks. One of the things I think that in Las Vegas nightlife is boring is all of the repetition. It’s not like Cirque also isn’t great. It’s just that when it saturates and when it’s every night and it’s basically a different form of the same thing, it gets mundane for customers.

It’s not that these big boxes, as you call it, aren’t spectacular and the DJs aren’t spectacular and that they aren’t executing at a high level. They are because Las Vegas still has the No. 1 nightclubs in the world. It’s the only town in the world that people are professionals in this field year round. It’s the only one. If you go to New York or Miami or Ibiza, it’s seasonal.

At the end the day, there is a very good chance maybe they’re an actor, a model, maybe during the day they’re at the beach and a little bit more laissez-faire. The line level staff in Las Vegas truly are professionals. They make a lot of money, they take their job seriously, and they identify themselves by where they work and what they do, and they’re proud of that. That is unique to Las Vegas worldwide.

It is time for change, it’s in the air, and we’re just hoping that we’re the first ones to break through and do it successfully. I think that places like the Act and Rose. Rabbit. Lie., it’s not that those places weren’t good, either. I thought that they were good. I hope that we’re not positioned for the same categories because we’re truly just trying to be a club, but I also think that they were too early. I don’t know that the town was ready at that moment for it. I feel like the town is ready for it now.

It makes you wonder why one nightlife group continues to make the same kind of big box?

The same designer, the same team, similar acts at different hotels. In my mind, it sounds like, “OK, you have “Mystere” at Treasure Island, you have “O” at Bellagio, you have “Zumanity” at New York-New York, you have “Ka” at MGM. The public only cares that it feels the same. They’re not concerned that every Thursday is hip-hop night. They care about how they feel when they walk up to the door and their experience inside the club. Intrigue will be completely different from XS and totally different from Surrender.

What has been the feedback for Encore Players Club?

Encore Players Club is completely different. It accomplished exactly what we set out to do, which was at certain points in the night certain demographics enjoy it for different reasons. It’s a meeting spot, and because we have a variety of things to hold your attention, people like Steve Wynn and Andrea go in, they enjoy it, and our club customers enjoy it before they club.

Gamblers enjoy it because it’s a livelier atmosphere on the casino floor, and there are things to look at and keep their attention while they’re gambling. It all goes back to the same thing, which is everybody in this town, including at Wynn and our nightclub, have to step up their game. What’s great about working with Steve Wynn is he challenges you every single day to do that. He is right now on a mission to do it again, and this nightclub is just one of those things.

Robin Leach of “Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous” fame has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past 15 years giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.

Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.

Follow Las Vegas Sun Entertainment + Luxury Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.

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