Exclusive Interview with Marklen Kennedy of Tao Beach

by Marc Jay
04.12.2010

Marc Jay: There aren’t many nightlife legends in Las Vegas, but I just happen to be sitting with one right now. Mr. Marklen Kennedy has been here coming on 10 years now and has played all different kinds of roles; but for the past two years he's been based right down here at Tao Beach. I think Tao Beach, itself, is about four years old, but there have been a few changes since last season. Tell us about what’s gone on here and what your role is at Tao Beach.

Marklen Kennedy: Tao Beach has turned into a nightclub without a roof. Since pool parties have come in to this saturated nightclub market, they've kind of become one of the go-to mainstays when people come into town. Four years ago, 70% of the industry in this town, gaming-wise, was being fueled by the gamblers and the money they brought into the casinos. Now, it is reversed and 70% or more of that comes directly off of what we do in the service industry through restaurants, nightclubs, shows that are in town, these kinds of things. I came on to Tao Beach last year. I wanted to bring the same mentality that we have for the nightclubs to the daytime.

Marc Jay: What's new for Tao Beach this season?

Marklen Kennedy: This year, we've added five new cabanas. The DJ booth and the fountain that were here previously were a little disconnected from the party itself, so we took those out and put in three great cabanas and then added two more right behind them. Our size was about 18,000 square feet, so now with the new stuff we’ve gotten, we’ve added another 2,000, maybe 2,500 square feet. We put money into remodeling with new foliage, new bamboo, new trees, new everything; and all the furniture inside the cabanas is going to be new. We’re still going to have air conditioners, refrigerators, game consoles, and televisions in each one so you can watch the World Cup or keep up with your fantasy football. We have wireless internet so you can just link right up for anything you need. We have a movie library if you want to rent movies while you’re here and a game library for X-Box, so you can get all the games that you want.

Marc Jay: Today is actually only a mock service, and for people who aren’t in the industry and don’t know, it’s kind of a friends and family day because we haven’t officially opened. Still, there must be like 900 people here, and they’re all beautiful. For anyone who hasn’t been to Tao Beach before, why should someone come to Tao Beach as opposed to another pool in Las Vegas? What makes Tao Beach different?

Marklen Kennedy: I think what makes Tao Beach is the brand mentality of what “Tao” is – in the nightclub, the restaurant, what Lavo is becoming, and what Tao Beach now is part of. It isn’t about volume or trying to get in as many people as possible. I think it's our DJs, our energy, our attention to detail that sets Tao Beach apart. The cocktail servers that we have at the beach have been trained in the nightclub, so they work at Tao Beach just like they do in the nightclubs. You’ve got a busser, security guard, your cocktail waitresses – the same exact service you'd get in the nightclubs, you’re going to get at Tao Beach.

Marc Jay: Besides the changes with Tao Beach, I know there’s been some changes in your life, as well. You’ve been ordained as a minister – is that somewhat correct? And if so, are you going to be doing weddings out here at Tao Beach?

Marklen Kennedy: This is an idea I’ve been thinking about for probably five years. I've had people say to me – from celebrities, down to a guy out of Iowa – “Hey we’re coming in town, we want to get married.” This has gone as far back as Tara Patrick and Evan Seinfeld. I was working at this restaurant and they came in. They were talking about getting married and I set up the whole thing in a half hour – limos, getting to the little white chapel, telling them how to get their marriage license and everything else. Also, when Nikki Hilton got married out here, I set up the limos for them. I facilitated this stuff. So I started thinking, if they need to go off property, if they’re going away when they are having such a great time, why not just do it myself? So, I did some research, found out a way I could get ordained as a minister and perform weddings legally, and I am now a Reverend. I can perform weddings, baptisms, and abolish your sins (laughs). One of the great things that we are looking at is maybe even doing a confessional booth, bringing it into one of the themes of our weekly parties, like “Confessional Thursdays: nothing that is locked in.” There could be a reality show based around it where people come in and we ask them, “What did you do wrong this week?” They can wipe their slate clean, tell everything they did, then go back without all the guilt and shame. It could also be retail – t-shirts, hats, there’s all kinds of things. I might even run for Mayor.

Marc Jay: So does your business card actually say “Reverend” now, or is it still just going to say your name?

Marklen Kennedy: It will just say “Marklen” at this point – the noun, the verb, the adjective.

Marc Jay: I think I met you about nine years ago, back when I was at Mandalay Bay and you were at Light Group, and as I recall I gave you a little tour of Mandalay Bay and introduced you to some hosts; but the clubs have kind of evolved since then. When the Light Group came in, there weren’t really many clubs and really no bottle service. Now I think we are over-saturated with clubs. Where do you think the nightlife world is going?

Marklen Kennedy: I remember the actual time and date that you brought me over there. I was so impressed at that time because you had an office and a name plate on your door. When I’d go around, no one else had a name plate on their door and people had business cards and so it was just a great thing. We all wanted to be like Marc Jay because he was the first guy I met out here who could actually prove who he was, because a lot of people in the town were talking a big game. And you're right, out here there wasn’t really bottle service per se when we started over at Light. They had had a few places – The Drink was around a bit, Babies was kind of new, Rain was one year old at the most, Voodoo had some bottles going... But I was coming out of the Hamptons and we had a couple of clubs out there. We took the pricing that we had there and brought it here and nobody knew what bottle service was. We didn’t know how to market, we didn’t know who we were going after. When I got here I didn’t have any knowledge of who the people were in this town; I had to meet them bit by bit. So Marc was very influential in making introductions. At the time, RA was one of the premier clubs here. They had some cutting-edge technology, all types of things that nobody knew about yet. So once we got out here I remember going up and down Sahara Boulevard and going into every car dealership (my family’s in the car business). I walked in and said, “Where’s your GM? We’re opening up a nightclub and I want to invite you guys down.” The market was not here yet as far as how we wanted to market it. We got to know the locals and bit by bit it just turned into this. I even remember going into Chili’s, I think, and they had a fishbowl full of business cards that said, “We will give you a free lunch” and I just took all the business cards because we didn’t know anybody at all. Over time, all the different things that we put into place created a type of strategic marketing. Hey, I got to befriend this person, develop a relationship with him, now he’s got the customer. I need to be the conduit between his customer and my venue.

Marc Jay: It’s funny because when you look at nightlife now, the top ten people that run nightlife, you’ve known them, you know, before they even got here, when some of their jobs were kind of obscure and a bit unusual. As far as the people we know in the Light Group, really influential people like Corey McComack, what was their role before that? What were they doing a few years ago?

Marklen Kennedy: I love the stories from Vegas because everybody got here from another place. Larry Murphy at Blush was a meat salesman and I remember he sold beef. Greg Costello was a stock broker. Corey McComack worked at a zoo and he has these great stories about trying to yell at the silverback gorilla and not realizing that this gorilla could have jumped over the small, little moat and rip everyone’s arms off. The only guy that I think didn’t have another jobs is Sean Christie and I think he started doing nightclubs when he was four. But coming from Light Group is an interesting thing because it was such an amazing training ground for the entire town. Every one of the key people I know here in Vegas at some point worked for Light Group. The only person I don’t think ever did was Stevie D. There is Jesse who worked at Light (he was a barback), Corey was a host, Larry was a floor manager, Sean Christie was a host. You go through and everybody in this town, at some point, worked in a facet of Light Group. 

Marc Jay: So getting back to Tao Beach, I know you’ve invented something new called a “beach comber.” Could you tell us what that is?

Marklen Kennedy: Eight years ago, a host was truly a great title to have. If you were a host for a nightclub in Las Vegas, it was like being in Reservoir Dogs when they come walking around the corner in slow motion. They’ve all got the great suits, the sunglasses and just looking right out. They all needed their own theme song. Now, the market has gotten really saturated and everybody is a host – even if they're independent, which means they are not contractually working for a club, or it’s somebody who is calling himself or herself a host and working at a small bar or lounge. I wanted to find a way to not demean people by giving them the title of a “junior host” or a “promoter.” By being up at the beach, I invented this thing called a “beach comber.” they are helping the overall picture of the party.

Marc Jay: Tell us about the programming. What do you have going on throughout the week and over the weekends?

Marklen Kennedy: We are open seven days a week at Tao Beach. On Monday through Thursday, It is more for the hotel guests and people coming into town that want to chill out in a great party atmosphere. We’ve got a full lunch menu that’s catered through our Tao restaurant, so it's still an absolute party, but the big days we push are going to be Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Friday is called “Good Fridays.” It is a great push. It is our local industry day for people who work in the service industry, people that are going to be working all week and want to come down to the beach, chill out, have some drinks, get their tan going. On Friday, Saturday or Sunday we’re going to have major, as they say, “world-class DJs.” We’re always going to have recognizable DJs coming in who are going to be a great sell. Everything has got to be able to sell, but not just be great for us. It’s got to be great for the customer. On Sundays we have “Sunset Sessions.” You are one of the people that started it, so a great amount of responsibility and success has been based on you, Marc Jay. This year with the new cabanas and everything else we’re going to put in a large amount of programming with the DJs coming in.

Marc Jay: How would someone contact you if they want to get married or something? What’s your website or email address?

Marklen Kennedy: There are two things we’re going to do on the marriages. One, you can completely have a legitimate wedding where it’s planned out – you can call up to a year in advance for me. You can also do it so it’s a marriage certificate and kind of like a souvenir. You can come down, have a great time and go, “You know what, let’s get married.” It is an amenity, so it's added on, like you wanted to buy sunscreen, sunglasses, flip flops, anything else. So, we're doing it two ways. We're not really stressing the marriage stuff. We might end up, sometime this summer, having a huge celebrity couple get married. It could be a great marketing tool and a lot of fun, but as far as the wedding goes, all you have to do is email me ([email protected]) or call the Tao office at 702-388-8588.

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