Drai’s Enterprises partner Michael Gruber is parlaying Victor Drai’s after hours following into Las Vegas’s first major record label.
Michael Gruber—seen on the roof of Drai’s—has made a career of injecting adrenaline into Vegas nightlife.
On a blistering evening in July, I catch up with Michael Gruber at Drai’s Beach Club, atop The Cromwell. Gruber is gamely posing for photos in the 100-plus-degree heat and offering a rundown of where he’s spent his week: St-Tropez, London, Manhattan, Vegas. In a few hours he’s catching a red-eye back to New York City. Michael Gruber isn’t a household name in Vegas, but his fingerprints can be found on some of the Strip’s most innovative ideas of the year. He is the managing partner in Drai’s Enterprises, headed by entertainment/restaurant/nightclub entrepreneur Victor Drai. The two men have been partners for seven years, and this year the company rolled out Drai’s Beach Club and Nightclub, as well as the new Drai’s After Hours, The Cromwell’s basement club-slash-speakeasy for 24-hour partiers. It’s no coincidence that After Hours has returned to its original basement location, where for 16 years it was the post-club hangout for every industry worker and club kid in the city.
It’s also no coincidence that Gruber is the driving force behind another After Hours, this one a record label, with strategic partnerships engineered to shake up the world of electronic dance music. After Hours Records, the first major label headquartered in Las Vegas and the first located on the Strip, is a collaboration between Drai’s Enterprises and Turn First Artists, the London-based management group that handles artists such as Iggy Azalea and Rita Ora. Gruber approached Turn First CEO Sarah Stennett with the label idea, and they eventually struck a deal with Capitol Records for a three-way partnership designed to offer emerging EDM artists everything they need to boost their careers.
The exterior of Drai’s.
From Gruber’s vantage point, the goal is to find “interesting producers and artists who are about to turn the corner.” And operating three venues—the Beach Club, the Nightclub, and After Hours—means Gruber has a pretty good handle on who the rising stars are. The idea is that Drai’s Enterprises can provide its talent with something that other venues can’t: the opportunity to build a following by performing at the various Drai’s clubs—anywhere from five to 20 times a year—before crowds that change nightly but are loyal to the brand.
“You get a fan base,” Gruber explains, “and from that fan base you grow a core. From that core, these artists can perform in venues around the globe and create great music.” Of course, what’s good for the artist is also good for Drai’s: The company is holding a lot of real estate at The Cromwell and needs to fill it nightly. But speaking to Gruber, it’s clear his work is a labor of love. “You want to discover, you want to break, you want to nurture, and you want to create,” he says. “That’s obviously what you want to be involved in.” But he also wants After Hours Records to serve established performers—ideally as a distribution channel for international artists who need exposure in the US. “It’s an injection of adrenaline into an overseas artist’s career that they sometimes need,” he says. And if a star with worldwide appeal wants to play the Nightclub and release a single on After Hours Records, that would be just fine, too.
A gold record for Queen Latifah’s Black Reign album.
A record label has been part of Gruber and Drai’s plan right from the beginning. “We were talking about this from the day we looked at who we were going to put on the DJ stand,” Gruber says. “For the last 10 years, this town has been breaking artists. Why not use the clubs and actually give the artists a platform and an opportunity to have record deals?”
Ideas for additional Drai’s clubs—in locales from Vancouver to Bangkok—have been floated, but managing the everyday operations at Drai’s, he says, is what keeps his juices flowing. Last spring the $100 million-a-year company had 50 employees. By July that number had jumped to 600. With a knowing smile, Gruber adds, “This is just the beginning.”