Michael Morton is the mad scientist of Vegas nightlife. A founder of 9 Group, he’s the genius behind no fewer than seven very different destinations in Sin City: N9NE Steakhouse, Nove Italiano, Rain, Moon, Ghostbar, the Playboy Club (alongside Hugh Hefner) and the Palms Pool & Bungalows.
“9 Group exists to make people feel good,” he says. “And we enjoy ourselves while we do it. That’s our mission.” In Morton’s case, turning entertainment into a science is a family affair. “My dad [Arnie Morton, the creator of Morton’s The Steakhouse and president of the Playboy Clubs] had me scrubbing floors, washing dishes and working the line at Arnie’s and Morton’s when I was just a baby,” he says.
Morton also watched his brother Peter become a founder of Hard Rock Café. But he was determined to strike out on his own. In the ’90s, Morton cut his teeth in the Windy City, creating and operating Drink in Chicago, followed by the original N9NE Steakhouse and Ghostbar.
George J. Maloof Jr. noticed the runaway successes and in 1999 asked him to come to Vegas and open Rain Nightclub in Maloof’s brand-new Palms Casino Resort. Morton went on to launch the popular N9NE Steakhouse and Ghostbar at the resort in 2001; Moon, the new Playboy Club and Nove Italiano followed in 2006. Morton enjoys constant reinvention and trying to push the boundaries.
To him, that’s the only way to continue his track record of success. Currently on his plate: a roller-disco night at Rain; sexy afternoons at High Society, Vegas’ first “dayclub” at Nove Italiano; and the gauzy vertigo at Ghostbar’s 55th-story bar. “As I’m getting older, my team is getting younger,” he says.
“Who knew that a guy who throws parties for a living would have to have a grasp on Internet optimization? Nine years ago, there was a smaller pool of competition. Now it’s no longer enough to be current; we have to be ahead of the curve.”
While he focuses on the future with the laserbeam attention of a cutting-edge technology company, he never forgets that he’s manufacturing good times, not computer chips. “At the end of the day, it’s still a party,” he says. “That’s what we’ve always done best.”
Morton's 9 Most Unforgettable Moments
LEONARDO DICAPRIO. He celebrated his birthday with dinner in N9NE and then we hosted the afterparty in Rain. What an amazing night .”
EMINEM. “One night, he took over as guest bartender in Ghostbar. The bar was so jammed, it was hard to actually get a drink. But it was crazy fun.”
KID ROCK. “After his concert in Pearl, Kid Rock hung out at Playboy Club. On a whim, he jumped behind the DJ booth, grabbed the mic and played a set. Everyone went wild!”
THE STANLEY CUP. “The cup itself! John Grahame of the Tampa Bay Lightning brought it with him to N9NE Steakhouse to celebrate after they won the championship. That was a pretty awesome moment.”
PAUL OAKENFOLD. “The opening of ‘Perfecto’ in Rain Nightclub was a trip. It was his fi rst US DJ residency and a complete sensory overload. After experiencing that, I truly understood why he’s such a phenomenon.”
PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON. “He just walked into N9NE Steakhouse for dinner with some friends. The entire restaurant stopped eating and gave him a standing ovation.”
VICTORIA’S SECRET MODELS. “Listen, my wife is gorgeous, but even she agrees that dining with Gisele Bündchen, Adriana Lima and Alessandra Ambrosio at N9NE Steakhouse and then partying with them at Ghostbar after the Victoria’s Secret fashion show is every man’s dream—defi nitely in the top nine.”
MEATBALLS. “Every man’s other dream is Nove Italiano chef Geno’s Grandma’s meatballs, and I can have them again and again. Each bite is a new, unforgettable moment for the list.”
HUGH HEFNER. “My single favorite moment in nine years of 9 Group was walking with Hugh Hefner through Playboy Club the day before it opened. He was so happy that he had tears in his eyes. I’ll never forget it. He said, ‘The Bunny is back.’”