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Hard Rock cranks it up once more in final Las Vegas party

Drue and J.J. Combs moved freely through Hard Rock Hotel late Saturday night. It was a somewhat uneasy experience.

“This is starting to feel weird,” said Drue, feeling uncomfortable not hoisting her drink tray. “I should be getting people drunk.”

“And I should be taking their money,” added J.J., accustomed to standing behind the felt. “Or, giving them money.”

Drue Combs has been a cocktail waitress at the Hard Rock since the property opened in March 1995. J.J. Combs is a table-games dealer who also dates to the hotel’s opening night. The couple had known each other but actually didn’t actually connect until meeting at a Halloween party in 2004.

He was a pirate, rum filling his flask. She was an angel in a Victoria’s Secret number, who, as he says, “never flew away.”

The couple married in 2007 and worked at Hard Rock Hotel throughout its history until ending their shifts Saturday afternoon. They are now off for eight months, as Hard Rock is converted to Virgin Hotels Las Vegas. The new resort is building to a November relaunch, and the Combs plan to clock back in.

“A hundred percent,” Drue said.

“But now we’re unemployed,” J.J. said. “We’re free agents!”

“We’re going to enjoy our pool,” Drue said. “We’re going to enjoy our time off.”

“And we’re going on a cruise,” J.J. said. “To Italy!”

Another staffer from the hotel’s opening called the closing party “surreal.”

“We’ve known it was coming for a long time, but we’re not feeling it until right now,” bartender Bernard Dixon said. “It’s coming to an end.”

Dixon is also taking the 10-week severance bonus and planning to be back at the hotel without being required to reapply for his old job. “Very rarely do you get to take an extended vacation for eight months and come back to work. I’ll be OK with that.”

Property president and CEO Richard “Boz” Bosworth recited his final toast to the Hard Rock at the Peacock Lounge facing the casino floor. He brought up a half-dozen staffers from Day 1, saying that telling the staff in August that the hotel would be shutting down this weekend “was a hard message to deliver.”

But the “Stick Around And Come Back” initiative did keep more than 90 percent of the hotel’s 1,850 employees in the fold until this weekend’s shutdown. The hotel officially closes Monday morning.

There is little debate the Hard Rock Hotel, its influence ebbing after a quarter-century, was ripe for a rebrand. The new ownership group’s operating partnership with Virgin allows the legacy to continue while breathing new life, and $200 million in upgrades, to the famous property.

“What’s the future going to hold?” Bosworth asked, his voice a croak from his myriad media appearances. “A newly designed property with 1,504 new chambers, an expanded casino floor, 14 new renovated restaurants, two new entertainment venues. This is the most dynamic, competitive hospitality market in the world. The Las Vegas community gets it. We’ve got an all-star team of partners we’ve aligned with.”

Bosworth, representing hotel ownership group J.C. Hospitality, ticked off the list: Virgin Hotel Group for operating the hotel, Mohegan Gaming for the casino floor, AEG Presents for booking The Joint (which will renovated). Curio Collection by Hilton is its customer-service program operator.

Bosworth also recognized current HRH officials and incoming Virgin Hotels execs. The casino floor was filled with well-wishers. More than one of those visitors suggested that the Hard Rock should have been announcing its imminent closing for several years, and holding sendoff parties every month.

The place was hopping throughout the night. The cover band All Request Live churned out classic rock from Peacock Lounge. Sean DeGraff Band enlivened Craft & Community. It was the last hurrah for a hotel that was a trailblazer for the contemporary Las Vegas tourist, who sought an experience beyond slots, blackjack and buffets.

“When I first walked into this building, I never thought I’d spend 25 years here,” Dixon said. “I’ve met some really good people here, I met the love of my life here. I saw some great concerts, Tom Petty and the The Rolling Stones. So many good times. I’m just looking forward to the new chapter.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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