LAS VEGAS — After a long Las Vegas night spent scoring at the slots, you could join the bleary-eyed masses at the buffet line — or you could keep the party raging at Sin City's hottest pools.
Vegas, which has become as famous for its "daylife" as its nightlife, peddles daytime debauchery at adult-only, clubby pools featuring renowned DJs, celebrity hosts, bottle service and cover charges.
"It's the same thing as going to a nightclub; it's a meat market," said Josh Waitzman, owner of onTheSceneVEGAS.com, a hosting company that helps visitors get into exclusive pools and clubs. "You're standing in line to get in, and women are going to be treated better than men are."
The trend started seven years ago at Rehab, a Sunday pool party at the Hard Rock Hotel that has grown into a 3-acre mecca of hedonism, with swim-up blackjack tables and hourlong lines. A few more pool clubs have opened since.
To beat the lines, people often have to arrive before the pools open, pay a hosting company to arrange entry or tip the door host handsomely, Waitzman said. They can also shell out a few thousand bucks to reserve cabanas, which come with flat-screen TVs, gaming consoles, misters and stocked minifridges. All seating and cabana charges are based on a minimum purchase of food and drinks.
On a whirlwind summer Saturday afternoon, a photographer and I visited six pool clubs to soak in the scenes and rate them on a 1-5 scale (5 being best). Ratings are based on the attractiveness of the venue, the vibe of the party scene and the crowd.
The pool season generally extends from March to October.
—Encore Beach Club (at Encore at Wynn): 5 stars
An impressively attractive see-and-be-seen crowd wandered the spotless deck and dipped calmly in the three tiered pools when we visited around noon, the mood mellow and sophisticated (we were assured the party would get crazy later). The pool aims for a European vibe, trading hip-hop for dance music reminiscent of clubs in France's St. Tropez and Spain's Ibiza, though we heard mostly Top 40.
This luxurious 60,000-square-foot club, opened Memorial Day weekend, is the newest addition to the pool scene. An outdoor gaming pavilion, with six blackjack tables and a craps table, sits under the shade alongside a long, full bar.
The spacious, airy pool deck, bathed in bright reds, yellows and whites, was lined with 40-foot palm trees and ringed by 26 plush cabanas and eight bungalows with designated infinity pools.
The lowdown: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday to Monday; minimum entry $40 for men, $30 for women; $150 for a deck chair, $1,000 for a daybed or floating lily pad; cabanas start at $3,000, bungalows at $5,000; 3121 Las Vegas Blvd. South; encorebeachclub.com
—Tao Beach (at The Venetian): 2 stars
Tao Beach was getting ready to host Pamela Anderson's birthday celebration when we arrived about 1 p.m., and the place was teeming with bodies: oiled bodies, tattooed bodies, hard bodies swollen from the gym, bodies that kept brushing against our bodies as we tried to squeeze through the Bali-themed space.
At 18,000 square feet, Tao Beach doesn't have a lot of breathing room during peak hours, though that seems to jibe with the high-energy nightclub vibe it's going for. The blaring hip-hop and pop music had people dancing on the daybeds and inside the smallish pool, where patrons were packed shoulder to shoulder.
Decked out in orange and brown tones, with 12 cabanas, 40-foot bamboo trees and Asian-inspired bar decor, Tao Beach is also open at night as an extension of Tao Nightclub. Mondays through Thursdays the pool is topless optional.
The lowdown: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. daily; entry $20 for nonlocal men on weekends; all others free; chaise longues free; daybeds $200-$1,000; cabanas $500-$2,500; 3377 Las Vegas Blvd. South; taobeach.com
—Azure (at The Palazzo): 3 stars
Though just a short stroll from bustling Tao Beach, Azure's 12,572 square feet feel a relaxing world away. Around 1:30 p.m., a few people were sprinkled across the four scattered pools, which were divided by waterfalls, flowers and landscaped greenery. A couple of drummers provided entertainment.
Azure aims for low-key carousing, with massages on the menu and bikini-clad servers offering frozen grapes and samples of Wolfgang Puck food to guests lounging poolside or in the 22 cabanas. A rotunda overlooking the Strip provides shade and a quiet refuge.
Though low-key, Azure is still a party, and when Rihanna's "Rude Boy" came on, guests started batting a beach ball around the pool. Surprisingly, the blue-green daybeds looked somewhat dirty.
The lowdown: 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday-Sunday; entry $20; $50 for lounge chairs, $500 for daybeds and $1,000 for cabanas; 3325 Las Vegas Blvd. South, palazzolasvegas.com/azure
—Bare Pool Lounge (at The Mirage): 4 stars
The entry to Bare resembles the winding pathways at the zoo, but this path leads to a topless pool party. Guests were grooving to Michael Jackson when we arrived shortly after 2 p.m., crowded in the smallish main pool while a cooling mist hung over the pool deck. The intimate 11,000-square-foot space, themed in earthy white, brown and orange hues, had an infectiously social and friendly vibe, and even the six cabanas were designed to encourage interaction.
The most attention-getting feature at Bare — besides the half-dozen women lounging topless — was the glass-encased infinity pool that comes with the VIP daybeds, housed on a raised platform so you can see the bodies of those dipping.
The lowdown: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. daily; entry $40 for men on weekends, $20 Mondays through Thursdays; free for women; $100 for chaise lounges, $250-$650 for daybeds, $300-$850 for VIP daybeds, $500-$1,500 for cabanas; 3400 Las Vegas Blvd. South; barepool.com
—Liquid (at Aria): 4 stars
All pool clubs say they're "upscale," but marketing director Paul di Longo insists that Liquid means it. "The key is controlling the door," said di Longo, who seats the 16,000-square-foot pool deck like a nightclub and tries to maintain a 50-50 male-female ratio. "The benefit of being small is that you can pick and choose."
Soccer star Landon Donovan was there when we arrived around 3 p.m., as were members of the band Cobra Starship. A lively crowd of women sporting bikinis and high heels and men with armband tattoos frolicked in and around the main pool, which is filled with salt water for optimum buoyancy.
Open since March in the new City Center complex, Liquid has a restaurant with seating in the shade for 50 people. Eight double cabanas containing two of everything — two 40-inch flat-screen TVs, two safes, two PlayStation 3s — line the edge of the pool deck alongside two VIP pools.
The lowdown: 11 a.m.- 6 p.m. daily; entry $20 for men ($40 on Saturdays), $10 for women; $500-$1,000 for a daybed, $1,500-$2,000 for cabanas; 3730 Las Vegas Blvd. South; lightgroup.com/las-vegas-liquid-pool
—Wet Republic (at the MGM Grand): 3 stars
The sprawling, 53,000-square-foot space was bursting with a thumping energy when we got there shortly after 4 p.m. Throngs of 20-somethings were dancing with their drinks in the two immense saltwater pools, equipped with underwater speakers.
A huge screen over the DJ booth flashed trippy images of undulating shapes and colors. Behind it, a 2,500-square-foot shaded lounge area houses a swanky 60-foot marble-topped bar, TVs and comfy couches where people noshed on food from the Wet Republic kitchen. We were told cocktail "push-ups," alcoholic ices, have been particularly popular.
Past several cascading waterfalls and turquoise umbrellas, six bungalows with three private jetted pools overlooked the scene.
The lowdown: 11 a.m.- 6 p.m. daily; entry $20-50 for men, $10-20 for nonlocal women; $50-$150 for chaise longues, $250-$1,000 for daybeds, $400-$3,500 for cabanas, $750-$5,000 for bungalows; 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. South; wetrepublic.com.