There's no city better suited to the pleasures of an open bar than Las Vegas. The whole Strip was designed by gambling scientists and molded by admen and mathematicians over the span of decades to be the ultimate wealth vacuum. You can't beat it without a team of MIT super geniuses at your back -- or a press pass.
In addition to being the world capital of vice, Vegas is also the world capital of industry trade shows. If you work in PR or marketing, that means selling your soul to every passing journalist, industry analyst or buyer who so much as glances at your booth. For a journalist like me, it means free drinks and as many appetizers as I can handle. And I can handle approximately all of the appetizers.
The Las Vegas Convention Center is 3.2 million square feet of food courts, air-conditioned plazas and enough hastily constructed booths to challenge Central Park at the peak of the Great Depression.
When the Consumer Electronics Show is in town, every hallway is filled with displays and dotted with open bars. As a seasoned investigative journalist, I keep detailed notes on exactly where the most filling buffets can be found, and which vendors know good whiskey from bad.
And then there are the parties. If you've ever wondered how sites like Wired and Engadget pick products and services to highlight, the answer can be found behind velvet-roped entrances on the Las Vegas Strip during trade shows. Companies like Microsoft and OtterBox rent out the poshest nightclubs in Vegas and then ruin them with hordes of unwashed reporters and slick-tongued salesmen. Don't get me wrong. The parties are great for a whiskey sour or two, but once you're in the mood for fun, well, the last place you want to be is surrounded by marketers and tech bloggers.
On my last tech-blog-sponsored trip into the belly of the beast, I met up with a fellow journalist named Milton at the Shadow Bar in Caesar's Palace, which every employee was sure to tell us was "world famous." I hadn't actually heard of the place until an hour earlier. If I had to guess, their international acclaim stemmed from the back-flipping bartenders and their silhouette dance shows. Or they were lying about being world famous.
We decided the place didn't have the vibe we were in the mood for, but Milton was determined to use what it had to offer to fuel the night's journey. Milton had been British for almost all of his life, which meant two things. First, he was terrified of breaking the rules. And second, the first rule no longer applied after his second whiskey sour. Fortunately, he was on his second of the night when he recalled that there was an exclusive party down the Strip that sounded like it was just what we were after. So when I asked him, "Are we invited?" he flashed his gap-toothed smile and said, "We can be."
What followed was a British citizen teaching the most money-crazed city in America a lesson in shrewd capitalism. Step one of his plan unfolded at the bar. "I would like 23 beers, please," he asked the bartender with a smile. She stared at him, as did I. We had agreed to drinking like gentlemen tonight, and unless the definition of that word had changed, 23 beers was approximately 20 beers too many.
"It's for HP." Milton pointed toward a huge table filled with reps from Hewlett-Packard and their pet writers. "Just closed a deal. Now everyone has to celebrate." He said it like an exasperated grad student describing reckless freshmen beer bonging on the quad. And it worked.
She began piling a tray up with cold bottles of green imported beer and called for a waiter. Had I tried what Milton pulled off next, I'm sure that I would have been shot like one of the failed casino robbers at the start of Ocean's Eleven. Of course, if I had tried what Milton did next, I would have grabbed the tray full of beer and said, "I got this." Because Milton was British, he said "Oh, I'm certain I'll manage" as he noiselessly lifted the tray of beers from the bar and made his way in the direction of the HP celebration he'd just invented. When we got near the table, I assured him she was no longer looking and he moved quickly toward the door. I followed him, stuffing drinks in his pockets and the free laptop bags we'd picked up at a booth on the way in. He ditched the tray as I held the door for him.
"That isn't fair." I said as he passed.
"Just a trustworthy accent. That's all."
Loaded down with liquid incentives, we made our way toward the Mirage, only stopping to fill up the plastic-lined laptop bags with ice from a soda machine at one of the Strip's many fast food joints. We opened one of the beers each and enjoyed the freedom of Vegas' lack of open container laws.
The party we were after was being held in the bumping Revolution Lounge at the Mirage. Founded by Cirque du Soleil and loosely themed after a Beatles album, the Revolution Lounge is as psychedelic as a bar in a casino can get.
The bouncers outside the party looked exactly as sober and disgruntled as we'd hoped. They asked to see our wristbands when we approached, and Milton responded by extending our makeshift cooler of beers toward one of them. The other craned his neck over to look over at the contents. The bouncers looked at one another. There was a heart-stopping pause before the larger and balder of the two spoke up,
"Ahh hell, you guys are in."
Twenty three beers lighter, we stepped into the inviting womb of women, Sgt. Pepper's-era Beatles music and bright psychedelic lights.