There were still six hours left in my shift when I climbed onto a man’s shoulders in four-inch heels. It was a Friday night at Marquee, the hottest club in Las Vegas, and there I was, in a line of cocktail waitresses, waving a giant poster of the letter L.
Six of us were spelling out the name A-L-E-X-I-S (though, at that moment it read E-L-A-X-I-S), while our co-workers pumped bottles of Grey Goose vodka in the air and cheered for the birthday girl. The crowd was screaming and snapping photos of us, the highlight of a night they’ll probably never forget.
What I’ll never forget about my night as a Las Vegas nightclub cocktail waitress is how a stranger’s neck sweat dripped onto the hem of my dress and stuck to my legs, or how fake our smiles grew with each passing second.
My night began leaning against the wall of employee lockers, waiting patiently as one of the girls laced me into the Marquee cocktail waitress uniform, a skintight velvet dress that corsets up the back and front with black ribbons. It was sparkly, soft and suffocating, and Robbie, the thirtysomething waitress I would be shadowing that night, laughed as my face turned as purple as the dress.
There are no standards for hair and makeup, but most of the girls wear some variation of Robbie’s look: dark, crimped hair, heavily rouged cheeks, and bright red lips. Robbie is a veteran of the Vegas club scene, with more than a decade of experience, and has been at Marquee since it launched three years ago. Because the club is open only on Fridays, Saturdays and Mondays, she said, most of the waitresses see it as a side job: Some are in school, others are running businesses, but all of them are rolling in tip money—from $500 to $1,000 a night.
The sprawling 60,000-square-foot complex can hold 3,500 revelers and includes the hip-hop-inspired Boom Box Room and a more low-key Library (“There are actual books there,” one waitress whispered). Tonight, I would be working one of the VIP booths in the main room, where customers are required to drop between $1,000 and $10,000 on bottles of alcohol, depending on the night.
The lights dimmed and bass started pumping throughout the club, just minutes before the doors opened at 9:30. Robbie and I climbed onto the platform between our tables as the fog machine kicked on and started dancing to set the mood, swaying in time to the repetitive thump-thumps of the electronic dance music that would be playing all night.
Around 10, before our table had arrived, a group of eight former frat boys in their 30s wearing polos with popped collars ordered a few bottles of Grey Goose for about $450 apiece, and it was time for the first bottle presentation. We marched in a line, waving light wands above our heads, and climbed all over the booth, dancing and smiling in a spectacle designed to say, “Hey, look over here! See how much money these people are spending?”
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Our table of four thirtysomething men in checkered dress shirts arrived for their bachelor party at 11. One of them, a British fellow with bushy red muttonchops, informed me that they’d flown fighter jets that morning after just 15 minutes of training and that tomorrow they were going to blow up cars with bazooka guns in the desert.
The Marquee crowd is skewed to type A, and their characteristic sense of entitlement blossoms here under the strobe lights. “I’m surrounded by ugly-ass dudes,” one VIP shouted to Brian, the security guard assigned to our table. “I’d like to be near some nice-looking ladies. Take care of that.”
Instead of punching him in the face, Brian wrangled some women for the table. Though the security guards keep non-VIPs out of the VIP space, their real job is to make sure their guests are having the night of their dreams, which for the males means lassoing ladies to come drink vodka Red Bulls, dance and share enlightening conversation.
There was a sea of young single women in near-identical bandage dresses and painful-looking platform heels to choose from, many of whom were brought here by club promoters for this specific purpose.
“I hate culture and people, and I’m a Pisces,” I heard one of them shout over the din.
As cocktail waitresses, our primary job was to keep refilling glasses for our VIPs and their new lady friends as they became more and more intoxicated. We also lit their cigarettes and laughed at their jokes, but mostly we just stood, smiled, swayed and watched the go-go dancers writhing on poles until customers called upon us. I’d thought that they would treat me more like a stripper or an escort than a waitress. In fact, they treated me more like a servant. “For the most part, we’re invisible,” Robbie said.
Around midnight, I felt like someone had stabbed two sharp daggers through the bottoms of my feet. At one o’clock, when I was ready to crawl out of the club on all fours, Benny Benassi, an Italian DJ who had one hit in the early 2000s, took the stage.
This was the moment the whole night had been building toward, and when the first beat dropped, the club exploded. Bright-white lights outshone the red ones, spazzing and sparkling in front of the DJ booth.
Suddenly, I was weirdly euphoric and, like all the waitresses around me, got a huge burst of energy. Now this was fun. These girls were getting paid to party. I could do this all day. But that newfound enthusiasm was fleeting—it faded just minutes later, as the pain in my feet returned and a guest called for his eighth vodka Red Bull.
After I finished my shift, I limped back to my room in the hotel. A thousand dollars a night is a lot of money for serving drinks, I thought. The girls still swaying back at Marquee deserve every penny.