Dressed in a tailored suit, Jesse Waits sits atop the backrest of an alligator-skin banquette. It's the early hours of a Friday morning in August at Tryst, the hugely successful nightclub one floor below the blackjack tables at Wynn Las Vegas. Alongside him a couple of leggy women sip champagne while a cocktail waitress in a bustier fusses with bottles of booze and an armada of drinking vessels. To one side of the crowded dance floor, a group of NFL players manage a harem of female fans.
But Waits focuses his attention elsewhere: At a nearby table a baby-faced Californian hotel owner in his early thirties dances solo, conducting the booming beats with devil-horned fingers, while his girlfriend, a voluptuous blonde in a hip-hugging skirt, looks on.
After ordering a couple of thousand dollars' worth of champagne, the hotelier tells Waits that he'd like some girls to party with. "As many as you want," Waits says. Tryst employees round up a half-dozen women and ask them if they'd like some champagne. Soon the millionaire is at the center of a marked-up Cristal frenzy. "He says he and his girlfriend are going to take a few girls back to the room," Waits says between sips from a bottle of Evian. "The guy's a rock star."
Over the next few hours the hotelier spends in excess of $25,000—helping Waits become a wealthy man. Tryst, in which he and his identical twin brother, Cy, are partners, generates annual revenues of $40 million, Jesse says, at a profit margin of 70 percent in an industry where 30 is the norm.
The Twins, as they're known around town, are also co-owners and managing partners at Drai's, a louche Vegas after-hours joint. And, with Victor Drai, who was a founding partner at Tryst, they plan to open a Vegas-style club at the W hotel in Hollywood in 2009. But their biggest act yet is the centerpiece of Steve Wynn's new Encore hotel and casino. Opening in December, the $96 million nightclub, called XS, will be the most expensive ever built.
It's easy to confuse the Twins. In addition to their buzz cuts and good looks, the 33-year-old brothers share a passion for martial arts and designer clothing. Both have mansions and children fathered with ex-girlfriends. They try not to mislead women about who is who, or as Jesse puts it, "pull a switcheroo." But, Cy says, it has happened. "I spent all night talking to this beautiful blonde," he says. "We got to my truck and she said, 'You're not Jesse—you're the brother!'"
Jesse makes the rounds at Tryst. He chats up Celtics star Paul Pierce before swooping in to guy-hug Floyd Mayweather. The welterweight boxer routinely pulls up to the Wynn at the head of a procession of associates driving Maybachs, Ferraris, and Land Rovers. He's been known to blow 30 grand in a visit.
After giving the champ his props, Jesse excuses himself to visit the kitchen with Cy and Drai, to sample the flash-frozen, liquor-spiked Popsicles invented by Drai. A former Hollywood producer once married to Kelly LeBrock, Drai is a sort of godfather to the Twins. He teams up with them on all their ventures.
The three men suck on Chupa Chup-size treats, declaring the lychee martini pops good, the mojito ones in need of fine-tuning, and the ginger-sicles just plain awful. Once the flavors are perfected, Drai hopes the drinks the pops are in will sell for $17 to $20 apiece. "We need the pink bubble gum," he says. "Those are the best—vodka and chunks of bubble gum!"
At about 3 A.M. the following night, while driving his Hummer across Las Vegas Boulevard en route to Drai's, Jesse blows through a red turn arrow. He doesn't bother checking his rearview for flashing lights. "I know the guys at Metro," he says. "You'd be surprised at the influence that comes from owning a club in this town."
Now as ubiquitous as slot machines, clubs are a relatively recent phenomenon in these parts. Before 1994, when Club Rio opened alongside the gambling floor of the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, Vegas nightlife revolved around lounge acts and old-school stand-ups. That changed when Club Rio brought in scantily clad waitresses and big-city DJs. The cavernous RA in the Luxor, House of Blues with its members-only Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay, and a revamped Studio 54 at MGM Grand soon followed suit. By 2001, celebrities were massing at the Bellagio's Light. When Tryst opened four years later, Vegas nightlife was a crush of velvet-roped operations: TAO in the Venetian, Pure in Caesars Palace, and JET at the Mirage. For the Twins, success was hardly a given.
The brothers started modestly, growing up with post-hippie parents in grungy no-name towns in Southern California and Hawaii. Their mom died when they were 5; their father, a Vietnam vet who passed away nine years ago, raised them with military-style discipline. They developed a strong work ethic and had little time for girlfriends. "I cuddled with my pillow when I was 20 years old, thinking, One day I'll have a princess," Cy says. "Now I don't know what girls want from me. They use me, and I use them right back."
Jesse, too, is making up for lost time. "I love girls," he says. "I love hot girls. I like tons of girls."
Forgoing college degrees, both boys ran through a series of flunky jobs. In 1996, at age 21, Jesse came to Las Vegas and got hired as a snowboarding instructor on nearby Mount Charleston. Through a client he landed a job as a greeter at Planet Hollywood, then steadily moved from club to club, bartending, working the door, training new employees. One of his former bosses, Andy Masi, now CEO of the Light Group, which has restaurants and clubs at the Bellagio and the Mirage, remembers him as "eager and confident." Jesse says that he's naturally shy. He abhors small talk, sometimes mumbles, and is surprisingly introverted around strangers.
"Vegas forced me to approach people and talk to them," he says. "I've never been able to bullshit my way into situations, and this is not a town for anyone who is quiet. But I find that people appreciate it when you mean what you say."
Cy took note of his brother's burgeoning success in 1999 and quit his gig as a machinist for an aerospace firm in Southern California. Soon he, too, was on the nightlife fast track, hosting high rollers at MGM's elite cocktail lounge, Tab. He had a knack for making guys with $500,000 lines of credit feel important. So much so that they'd occasionally hand him $10,000 tips. Within a few years the brothers had received a course in nightclub management.
In 2001, Victor Drai poached Jesse to run the door of his eponymous after-hours club. In no time at all, Jesse was overseeing the entire operation. Four years later, Steve Wynn opened Wynn Las Vegas, which featured an ill-fated nightclub called La Bête. Drai rode in for the redo. Needing youthful partners with good connections, he roped the Twins. He gave them a piece of the profits to do the heavy lifting, and rechristened the place Tryst. In October 2005, two months before the club's unveiling, the brothers got things rolling with a huge party at La Bête to celebrate their birthday. "The music was great, the vibe was great, the place was filled with high rollers," remembers Quira Manthei, who now works at TAO. "I wanted to go to Jesse and Cy's place every night."
Steve Wynn expected the revamped place to gross $18 million in its first year. The Twins more than doubled that. "Their fuckable rating is up there," says Roman Jones, who co-owns Mansion in Miami and Privé in Vegas. "They're at the club every night. Their work ethic inspires the people they employ."
Indeed, both can be spotted bending down to pick up tiny pieces of trash that litter Tryst's carpeted staircase, and both take it upon themselves to deal with unpleasantness—everything from a dude cutting in line at Tryst to a customer lighting a blunt at Drai's.
The brothers eschew costly advertising in favor of personalized marketing. They employ a team of fast-talking, sharply dressed hosts to recruit deep-pocketed customers (bottle service accounts for 75 percent of Tryst's revenues), keep track of their preferences, and make sure they're happy at all times—whether they need a table full of girls, a birthday cake ablaze with candles, their own theme song (played right before a bunch of bottles are carried out), or table-side performances by rappers like Xzibit and Ne-Yo.
When it comes to dealing with clients, Jones says, Cy and Jesse know how to "draw the most fun and the most money out of their space. They seat one big-bottle buyer near another and try to create a competition." After the Ricky Hatton–Floyd Mayweather fight last December, Tryst instigated a "bottle war" between two high rollers, who were provided with custom-made silk boxing robes and introduced by Michael Buffer (at a cost of $5,000). The winner, a stock trader from London—nicknamed the Fireman for his habit of spritzing Dom Perignon around—ordered $160,000 worth of champagne. The runner-up, a real-estate developer from Memphis, cleared $100,000. Bottles of Dom were being carried out 50 at a time. The club grossed $1 million.
"Where's the Drai-mobile?" Cy asks, standing at Wynn's valet parking, moments before Drai's limo pulls up. The 1993 Lincoln stretch is tricked out with a suede roof, wood trim, a bumping sound system, and a high-def TV—the customization a birthday present from the Twins. It's a fine ride for a Wednesday-evening jaunt to LAX.
After passing through that club and another, Wasted Space, a new spot at the Hard Rock, the brothers leap back into the limo with three blondes. Jesse has been avoiding alcohol tonight—running a finger across his throat each time someone offers him some.
As the limo rolls toward Las Vegas Boulevard, he and Cy strike up a debate about whom Drai favors more, eventually agreeing on Jesse. The thought hangs in the air for all of one beat before Cy counters, "Yeah? But I get more pussy." Drai beams. Jesse looks amused. Before anyone can reply to this assertion, Cy surveys the back seat. "Who's dated more of the girls in this car?" he asks. "I've gone out with all of them."
The group arrives at Spearmint Rhino, and their booth is quickly swarmed by a posse of strippers. Cy hands one $20 to go away. When her face sags in disappointment, he gestures toward a girl from the limo. "Give her the most outrageous lap dance I've ever seen," he says.
The stripper mounts Cy's friend, who puts up no resistance. Before long, she's making out with a guy in a corner booth.
The following day, looking a little worse for wear, Cy sits in the huge living room of his brother's home facing a large sixties-style painting of his mother. Hunched over his cell, he's firing off messages. "I'm sending out apology texts; sorry, sorry, sorry," he says. Come nightfall, his penance complete, he puts on an ivory-colored suit and gets back to business at Tryst. The club is so packed that Drai feels compelled to surrender his beloved front-and-center booth to an elderly Middle Eastern man, who enjoys a dance from a trio of off-duty strippers. In the world of the Waits twins, the customer is always the first priority.