Covering nightlife means access to some of the best clubs the world has to offer. While it’s always interesting (and typically rather fun) to check out all of the freshly opened hot spots and trendy venues, I often find the best times occur in the quirkiest of spaces, far off the strobe-lit beaten paths of Las Vegas, New York City and Miami. That sentiment held true on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe this past weekend.
There for a 30th birthday bash of some friends, we found ourselves doing what most people do in foreign territory and relied on the recommendations of locals. After the hostess, four servers and one inebriated bar patron weighed in during dinner, the conclusion was unanimous: Crystal Bay Casino (CBC). Located on the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, the casino enjoys a later liquor license (serving until 4 a.m.) and a slightly more populated local scene. “Plus there’s a DJ, live bands, a dance floor,” one server said. “And girls,” she smirked, noting the 25-plus guys in our group of 30. Considering we'd only encountered nine other human beings during a two-hour bar crawl the night before (all men), we were sold.
Pulling up out front, it felt like a scene out of "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." A fair amount of neon dotted the weathered façade, and there were plenty of wary-eyed locals who shot us cautious glances, given our rowdy and raucous demeanor. Piling through the door, I simply asked the security guard, “Where’s nightlife?” With an eye-roll, he pointed over his shoulder toward the back of the small casino floor.
Walking back, we entered the Crown Room, a 6,900-square-foot venue with a huge stage. The 550-person establishment was open to the casino on both sides and featured a large wraparound bar in the back, a sizeable dance floor in the front and horseshoe booths around the perimeter. On the stage was a seven-piece Rastafarian band in the midst of rocking out for the 50 or so guests scattered around the room. The sound system was remarkably good, booming from Meyer speakers hung from the room. And the $150,000 lighting system from Martin was impressive, moving heads whirring. There even appeared to be a smoke machine subtly hazing up the room.
Most importantly, the room was free of the normal pretentiousness and posturing that comes from upper-echelon clubs. There was no doorman and policies to contend with. No VIP areas marked with additional velvet ropes and unfriendly bouncers. No image tables, no bottle service and no promoters. There wasn’t even a dress code. Young guys in baseball caps and jeans mixed with high-heeled girls in pretty dresses.
Because of all of this, the diverse crowd, few in number as it may have been, had palpable energy. Those who opted to break out dance moves on the hardwood did so with such conviction and enthusiasm, it was impossible not to want to join in at some point. And when your feet got tired, a simple retreat to a booth on the side of the floor meant you could relax without the pressure of having to buy additional drinks to sit. The laid-back vibe of the Crown Room meant each patron could enjoy the experience however they wished, a mindset that always makes for a happier crowd.
When the band wrapped up at 1 a.m. and the lights came on, the entire crowd moved from the Crown Room to the Red Room, a mere 100 yards away across the casino floor. The Red Room was a smaller space, about 2,500 square feet. Here, the decor was rather cheesy — red walls, zebra and cheetah print floors and booths and pinhole light emitting diodes (LEDs) mimicking stars on the ceiling — but the atmosphere drowned out the tackiness.
The crowd filled the space quickly and it was packed in a matter of minutes. On the small stage, a local DJ was really getting into his set, a mixture of mashups, house, Top 40 and a track or two of electronica, making sure bodies were in motion the entire time.
As promised, there were plenty of local ladies around, and we struck up a few conversations. Gesturing around, a friend asked one school teacher if “this was the best nightlife Tahoe had to offer.” The woman didn’t miss a beat before replying, “Of course. Good music, good friends and cheap drinks. What could be better?”