LAS VEGAS -- Marc Barnes is cranky. He's had but two precious hours of napping, and it's showtime again -- 11 on Sunday night, time for the grand finale of the three-night exclusive party he has thrown during the 56th annual NBA All-Star Weekend here, time for more beauties purring at the bar, more Escalades purring at the curb, more Moet bubbles purring down more celebrities' throats.
But not his, of course. Marc Barnes doesn't drink. He doesn't smoke. He chews watermelon gum while he grouses about how hard it is for a "perfectionist" to bring "9-to-5 professionalism" to the nightclub world, where most employees get it done on their own schedule, under their own relaxed rules. And here, during his first venture in Sin City, it's even tougher than at home in Washington, where he can project consummate cool at his own place, the Northeast nightclub Love.
"I'm trying to be more corporate. Trying to change people's thinking," says Barnes, 43. He doesn't identify who these people are, exactly, but he's clearly angry about a few delays in his venue's setup.
Even getting to work is a challenge. Hundreds of thousands of revelers and basketball lovers have jammed the Vegas strip, making driving even three short blocks a 30-minute stress test. He adjusts his tweed jacket, part of his typical uniform of polo shirt, khakis and spotless Air Force Ones and heads off into the neon night.
Shift work for the impresario.
"There is nothing like All Star. It's amazing to me. You have every class of black there is. The billionaire, the millionaire to the middle class to the poor. This is the event," Barnes said.
Some call the annual All-Star Game and its attendant scene "Black Hollywood" weekend, as African Americans of all social and economic groups converge to party and parade around and perhaps bother to see one of the star-studded basketball games. And while most of the ladies' skirts were misdemeanor-short, a majority of the Hummers and limos were stretched. Barnes tries to host at least one function every year during this time. This year, he went for three.
Friday night, sports commentator Kenny Smith hosted a celebrity poker party. Saturday night, partiers joined host Cleveland Cavalier LeBron James for a party. Barnes said both events attracted between 1,500 to 2,000 partiers; on hand were ballers Vince Carter, Tony Parker and actresses Rosie Perez and Victoria Rowell. But Sunday was the final big party with Oscar-winning actor and singer Jamie Foxx. This was the culmination of a plan that started back in September, when Barnes first flew out to Vegas to see if the two-level, 25,000-square-foot Empire Ballroom would fill the bill.
"This is Marc Barnes man. He's Congress," Foxx said as he arrived Sunday night among a throng of reporters and screaming fans before being ushered to his VIP table at the center of the dance floor. "Marc Barnes doesn't just throw parties. They're experiences."
The Marc Barnes experience is going to have modelesque minglers with Platinum Cards who know how to behave. Celebrities, business leaders and politicians have relied on Barnes to make sure their occasion comes off without a hitch; at Love (formerly Dream), Bill Clinton once grooved onstage for a DNC fundraiser. Beyonce has graced the premises. Gilbert Arenas had a stupefyingly outrageous birthday party there just last month. Himself sculpted in ice, himself surrounded by ladies in only the briefest bits of gold lamé, all just because he turned 25. Here, competition for the sophisticated hip-hopper willing to pay up to $200 to party with Barnes was stiff, especially when there were dozens of other parties going on throughout the city. At Empire, $4,000 bought a VIP table for the evening. Barnes had committed to providing $300,000 in receipts over the weekend to Empire's owners, in return for opening their club. With another couple thousand showing up Sunday, Barnes met his mark. While he declined to talk about the weekend's take, he said his revenue from the weekend set a record.
Moet Hennessy USA signed on as a sponsor, said Jason Parker, the firm's events coordinator, because "Marc Barnes knows the hip-hop community. He has a vision and knows how to throw parties."
A father of four whose wife, Anne, coordinates Love's catering, Barnes has spent more than 18 years throwing parties. He owned Republic Gardens on U Street before moving on to his club off New York Avenue.
In April, Barnes is expanding his reach in the District. He plans to open his latest venture in the city, a restaurant-lounge on 14th Street between K and I called Park Place. And this summer, Barnes plans to be one of the main hosts for the WNBA All-Star Game in Washington. While in Vegas this weekend, Barnes met with Sheila Johnson, owner of the Washington Mystics, to outline his plans to make the women's All-Star Weekend nearly as full of buzz as the men's.
"We want to put on the most amazing event ever and show that D.C. is unlike any city in the world," he said.
But first he had to get across the Strip. Days after arriving here Feb. 11, Barnes anticipated the traffic morass and rented six scooters for $150 a day, and his hawkers were soon zipping around giving out thousands of poker-chip invites to the beautiful and sophisticated.
Barnes, who stayed at the upscale Bellagio resort, flew in 33 of his own employees -- disc jockeys, assistants, promoters, and the stunning women in tight short black dresses who keep the glasses filled and are called servers. He approved of Empire's floor plan; having only one way in and one way out helps the event promoter control security in what can be a precarious business. In D.C., before the $6 million Dream reopened as Love, Barnes's club had enough problems with beatings, a stabbing and an armed robbery on the premises that local police nicknamed the place "Club Nightmare."
In Las Vegas, revelers at Empire were patted down before gaining admittance. Vegas police, who arrested hundreds during the weekend, reported that three people were shot in incidents early Sunday at the MGM parking garage and at a strip club, according to television station KVVU. And a brawl broke out early Monday at a nightclub in Wynn Las Vegas while two celebrity rappers and their entourages were inside. But there were no reported problems at the Empire.
Dre Thomas of Logan Circle, who described himself as a "major fan" of Barnes's parties, attended two of his All-Star events. "Best parties in the country," he said.
As the music throbbed into the early morning and the bodies writhed and the business cards discreetly changed hands, Barnes paced. Chewed more watermelon gum. He reviewed how the snow machine was dropping dry flakes onto the dance floor. He checked how the spotlights were pitched. He walked down to the red rope to look at IDs. He collected money from the hundreds lining up to get in.
The Marc Barnes Experience, brought to you by a guy in khakis who works nights.