Mark and Jonnie Houston are the twin towers of L.A. nightlife. But these two hip-slick brothers, who are seeking to reshape the club scene on the Las Vegas Strip, do not always think alike.
This was evident more than a decade ago, when Jonnie yearned to explore the nightclub industry.
Mark had little interest.
“I didn’t want to do it,” Mark says. “So, when my brother picked up our first bar, that pushed the needle to make me want to get involved in nightlife. But if it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t be doing it.”
That Hollywood spot was known simply as Piano Bar, which opened in 2008, and quickly became known as a cool hang where the cocktails were strong and the music was live and lively. The fraternal twin brothers paid for that club with money they’d made in their previous careers running a chain of pager and cellphone shops.
Piano Bar’s momentum helped spark an L.A. nightclub empire, which includes such chic spots as Break Room 86, Black Rabbit Rose, Bronson Bar, No Vacancy, Good Times at Davey Wayne’s, and La Descarga.
As the 39-year-old brothers say, it’s funny how things work out. Mark likely would have been fine (and enjoyed continued success) selling smartphones. But the Houstons had a knack for customer service and interior design suited to nightlife, which they are delivering to On The Record, the nightclub opening on New Year’s Eve at Park MGM.
On the Record is the first Las Vegas club in the brothers’ Houston Hospitality company. The venue is not large by Vegas standards, at 11,000 square feet (the Hakkasan Nightclub at MGM Grand is nearly eight times larger), but promises a wealth of ingenuity. Four separate venues are presented in an indoor-outdoor space, where the main entrance is across the casino floor from The Park Theater.
The blueprint is most often described as a speak-easy, with throwback design and music choices that date as far back as the early 1960s. Guests enter through a fully functional record store — aptly titled The Record Parlor — where vinyl albums will be on sale.
The Record Parlor also will provide a spot to reside and relax, with a rotating cocktail menu, and can accommodate up to 25 guests. The space will serve as an homage to the Houstons’ affection for old music with famous albums displayed in wooden wall cases. The cocktails will reflect that classic panache, too, as bartenders will pair drinks with song titles.
If, for example, a patron orders “Pretty in Pink” by the Psychedelic Furs, a cotton-candy infused cocktail will be served.
“The Record Parlor is like a library filled with records that Mark and I have been collecting, featuring a lot of rare recordings that you’re not going to get to listen to anywhere else,” Jonnie says. “Everybody in the Record Parlor will have their own set of headphones to listen to their own selected soundtrack, and have their own unique experience. I don’t think anywhere else in the world has that.”
The retro design and tenor of the club extends to On the Record’s DJ booth, which is a decommissioned 1963 Bristol Lodekka passenger bus well-known in Great Britain in the 1950s and ’60s.
“We are creating a vibe and a social environment for people to connect,” Jonnie says. “People think we’re just in the industry of selling booze, but we actually care about creating a vibe.”
The Houstons’ inherent instincts for the bar scene is a family characteristic. Their father, the late David Wayne Houston, was known to frequent bars during the boys’ formative years.
“It’s funny how you grow up around a theme like a bar business,” Jonnie says. “I mean, the first beer I had was on my dad’s lap at five years old. I remember it vividly— and spitting it out.”
The brothers learned, over time, what they wanted in their clubs — and what to avoid.
“It was either these giant meat markets, or dive bars where you couldn’t go on a date without some guy hitting on your girl and maybe getting into a bar fight,” Jonnie says. “We wanted a cooler version of a bar
where you could bring your date and feel comfortable and safe.”
The Houstons decided on the Park MGM after years of scouting Strip resorts and potential partners.
“We turned down a few major hotels, yes,” Mark says. “Not only do we believe in the project, but MGM (Resorts) is very interested in having us as a real partner.”
The brothers say that most major nightlife operators in Las Vegas were interested in the concepts that led to On the Record.
“We have a lot of friends in the business, and we talked to everyone in Las Vegas,” Jonnie says, noting such colleagues as Jason “JRoc” Craig and Ryan Labbe of Clique Hospitality and twins Cy and Jesse Waits of Palms resort. “We feel there is an audience for what we have planned, definitely.”
The Houstons, who intend to reside in the city at least part time, say they have a vision extending at least a decade out. Because parking and resort fees cause many Las Vegas residents to avoid the Strip, they said they are working on a plan to provide free parking for locals.
“The experience starts when you leave your house and you ask yourself, ‘Why am I going to this place?’ Well, we’ve got you covered from when you ask that question,” Mark says.
“We’ve noticed, especially, with the Golden Knights that there is a relationship between T-Mobile Arena, the Park Theater and the (Park MGM) hotel,” Jonnie adds. “There is a sense of community in the location, so we’re going to create an incentive where patrons who come to On the Record won’t feel that pinch of paying for parking.”
The Houstons are eager to turn the new club into a genuine locals’ hangout. One of their first initiatives after announcing the club this spring was to enter into discussions with Life is Beautiful to host the festival’s official after-party. Those details still are being ironed out, but the effort is an indication the Houstons know where to find Las Vegans with similar entertainment tastes.