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Victor Drai toasts No. 20 at The Cromwell

Victor Drai has managed what seems unattainable in VegasVille. The nightclub icon has maintained his mystique over two decades while operating in the same hotel, surviving several ownership changes and a move from the cellar to the penthouse.

Dubbed Drai’s After Dark, the chic nightlife hideaway at The Cromwell notched its 20th anniversary on Sunday night. Dressed loosely in a white shirt, jeans and navy-blue jacket, the club’s founder and deacon accepted a Key to the Strip from County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani (impressive) and a hug and handshake from Michael Gaughan (even more impressive).

An icon among resort operators who today owns South Point hotel-casino, Gaughan owned The Cromwell in 1997 when it was known as Barbary Coast. Drai’s opened that year, a then-curious pairing of high-end restaurant and pulsating nightclub underneath street level on the Strip. Drai’s quickly developed a reputation for randy behavior that stretched until dawn, helping establish the late-night, nightclub culture in Las Vegas.

Among other distinctions, Drai’s was one of the first clubs to charge premium prices not only for cocktails and bottle service but for bottled water ($7 in the late-1990s, if memory serves). Club-goers often spilled onto the Strip at 4 a.m., wincing under what was known as “God’s Flashlight.” The activity was often reckless, but Drai the businessman was sharp and smart, turning a robust profit and engineering a groundbreaking partnership with Steve Wynn to develop Tryst and XS at Wynn/Encore.

After a fleeting but profitable three-year partnership, Wynn eventually bought Drai out of those clubs in 2010. But Drai continues to thrive high atop the corner of Flamingo Road and the Strip.

Holding his commemorative key, Drai said he has not felt that single epiphany that made him realize he’d made it as a top nightclub figure in Vegas.

“I don’t think that way,” said the Moroccan-born Drai, who turns 70 next month. “I’m always moving. I’m not looking back, and I’m really not looking too far ahead. I am in the present. If you do things right, good things will happen. And even when you fall, especially in this business, you need to get up.”

“I don’t think of success or failure. I just think of the doing.”

No doubt of that. With its 70,000-square-foot nightclub space, Drai’s After Dark remains a coveted destination for nightlife dwellers, offering indoor and outdoor enclaves high atop on the roof of The Cromwell. The club offers 150 VIP tables, dazzling LED screens and, eight pools, and 10 real palm trees that stand 35 feet high. Drai’s reps have frequently, and cheekily, thanked Wynn for developing the Fountains of Bellagio, in full splendor from the club’s pool deck.

Drai’s live entertainment has kept pace, too. The list of headliners in residency in the Drai’s Live series have included Chris Brown, Trey Songz, G-Eazy, Jeremih, Migos, Lil Wayne, Big Sean, Wiz Khalifa and Rae Sremmurd.

Drai has pulled back his schedule and allowed his top-level executives to run Drai’s at The Cromwell. Those who joined Chris G. in honoring Drai at the club on Sunday included Drai’s son, Dustin; Drai’s After Hours General Manager Marc Snanoudj; Drai’s Las Vegas managing partner Brian Affronti; and president of Drai’s Management Group Michael Gruber.

This group will lead Drai’s into the next nightclub frontier, whatever that might be.

“The team I have is like family. They don’t need too much out of me,” Drai said. “We have changed with the times. Whatever the next trend is, we will find it.”

John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. Contact him at jkatsilometes@reviewjournal.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.

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