Playboy Resurrects Nightclub in Vegas
Sunday, October 1, 2006; 9:40 PM
LAS VEGAS -- It was late 1985 when Hugh Hefner walked into the grand opening of Playboy's Empire Club in Manhattan, the latest attempt by the magazine company to freshen its suave, sexy image.
A quarter century of success in running such clubs was on the wane and a new gimmick was thought to be needed to attract a new audience of women _ male bunnies.
"I thought, 'This is the end of it,'" Hefner recalls, chuckling. "And indeed, within a year or so, it was."
Now, two decades after rising feminism and a fading nightclub scene helped close the last U.S. Playboy Club in Lansing, Mich., in 1988, a new Playboy Club is set to open Oct. 6 in Las Vegas, just as fresh and retro-hip as a pair of bell-bottom jeans.
"Things that become old-fashioned in a certain time frame, in a new time frame take on a whole new kind of mystique," said Hefner, the 80-year-old founder and majority shareholder of Playboy Enterprises Inc. "That is exactly what happened to all things Playboy."
The original clubs, staffed by bustiered Bunnies and spurred by the sexual revolution, spanned the globe in their heyday in the 1960s and '70s, from Chicago and New York to Manila, London, Tokyo and the Bahamas. At their height, 22 clubs were in operation, employing more than 25,000 Bunnies and boasting more than a million "keyholders," or members.
But they ran into feminism on one side and easily accessible explicit adult content on the other.
The Margaret Thatcher government challenged and then revoked the club's casino license in the U.K. in 1981. It forced the closure of the London club, once the company's most profitable operation, and led to the inability of Playboy to obtain a gambling license for a hotel-casino in Atlantic City, N.J., shortly after.
"Once we lost the gaming, we were really not able to financially carry the rest of what we were doing," Hefner said.
The last overseas club closed in Manila in 1991.
Today, Hefner's original idea of providing a roadmap to urban life by urging men to appreciate food, music, high ideas _ and beautiful women _ has taken on a new cachet.
"If you look at the magazine even in the early days, there were features on decorating your apartment, cooking, buying nice clothes, buying wine," said James Beggan, associate professor of sociology at the University of Louisville. "I think that they've always been ahead of their time in advocating what later becomes known as the 'metrosexual identity.'