Monthly Archives: November 2015

Lucky Dragon Seeks Public Bailout After Awkward Shortfall

Clear out your sad trombone’s spit valve, the Lucky Dragon hotel-casino project is running out of cash.

A few days ago, we popped by to check out the latest developments at Lucky Dragon, but, oh, so much has happened since then.

Lucky Dragon

Exciting, right? Buzz, meet kill. Keep reading.

When we first heard about Lucky Dragon, a new Asian-themed, boutique hotel near the north end of The Strip, lots of red flags went up.

The project would rely heavily on EB-5 financing, where foreign investors contribute capital (at least $500,000) to American businesses and in return can earn a U.S. visa.

Lucky Dragon raised $60 million this way, enough to get the project off the ground, and it’s made impressive progress. Enough progress, in fact (the hotel was topped off in Sep. 2015), to make this blog prematurely proclaim the Lucky Dragon could actually be a thing.  This blog is not unfamiliar with prematurity, trust us.

Update: What in the hell were we thinking?

Lucky Dragon hotel-casino

Interesting fact: In some Asian cultures, the number four is considered bad luck. We’re thinking this must also apply to “foresight” and “forethought.”

While some other Las Vegas projects have done well with EB-5 financing, it appears Lucky Dragon isn’t one of those.

Lucky Dragon has now come hat-in-hand to the Las Vegas Redevelopment Agency for a public subsidy, something called tax increment financing, or TIF. Presumably, getting the $25 million public subsidy would then trigger an additional $30 in funds from a bank, First Foundation Bank. Read more.

Lucky Dragon casino

Stuff is happening at Lucky Dragon. The question is who’s paying for the rest of the stuff?

What it all comes down to is Lucky Dragon made a financial leap of faith and began building without all the needed financing in place.

This move has SkyVue observation wheel written all over it. In case you missed it, that particular pie-in-the-sky project didn’t end well.

Lucky Dragon reps claim if funds aren’t received, “they’ll be forced to cease all development activity,” so we’d place a hefty wager there are any number of Asian investors scrambling to translate the letters “WTF” right about now.

Lucky Dragon casino Vegas

Lucky Dragon, please become a reality so we can skip ahead to the stories about your struggling due to the challenging location, thanks.

Please, Lucky Dragon, get your act together. Don’t punish us for optimism. Open in 2016, with your casino and your restaurants and your pool and your lounges and your spa, even though we’ll never go to the spa, but that’s not the point.

Open in 2016, Lucky Dragon, and we’ll even forgive your shady “Give us our tax increment financing or we’re taking our casino and going home!” tactics.

Because the last thing the north end of the Las Strip needs is a partially-completed, abandoned shell of a hotel. Fountainbleu Las Vegas already called dibs on that.

Update (11/18/15): The Las Vegas City Council has rejected Lucky Dragon’s subsidy request. Hey, it can’t hurt to ask.

 

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Harmon Hotel Demolition is Complete: Chronology of an Epic Las Vegas Fiasco

Las Vegas fiascos don’t come much bigger than the saga of the Harmon Hotel tower.

The ill-fated Harmon, part of the CityCenter project, was partially erected, then in 2008, engineers found building defects which made the building dangerous and uninhabitable.

Harmon Hotel demolition

At right, the Harmon Hotel on July 31, 2013, dubbed the world’s most expensive billboard.

Originally, the Harmon Hotel was designed to be 47 stories tall, a prominent feature on the Las Vegas Strip’s distinctive skyline. The Harmon was situated next to the Cosmopolitan hotel, and across the street from Harmon Corner, a shopping center.

Harmon tower demolition

The beginning of the end for the Harmon Hotel. Date: July 26, 2014.

When defects were found, construction was stopped at 26 floors.

A decision was made to demolish Harmon tower in a unique way: It would be dismantled, top to bottom and floor by floor.

Harmon Hotel demolition

A dark mesh works its way up the fact of the doomed Harmon tower. Date: Aug. 4, 2014.

The costs involved in this cluster of a building project are staggering.

It’s estimated Harmon Hotel cost $275 million to build.

Taking it down cost $173 million.

Harmon demolition Vegas

The Harmon starts to experience some shrinkage. Date: Oct. 18, 2014.

Yes, that seems like a lot of money, but everything’s bigger in Las Vegas, including our debacles.

Let’s just say there were a lot of fat, happy lawyers at the end of the whole Harmon Hotel ordeal. The legal battle over who did what to whom at the Harmon took four years.

Harmon Hotel demolition

Think of it as a passive-aggressive implosion. Date: Jan. 1, 2015.

To give you some idea of how complicated the legal issues were related to the Harmon tower case, there were a staggering three million digitally-stored pieces of evidence involved. Had the case not been settled, somebody’s hard drive would’ve been fried.

Harmon tower demolition

The Las Vegas skyline evolves, in reverse. Date: Mar. 1, 2015.

The Harmon Hotel was built and removed before hosting even a single guest.

Because of the Harmon’s proximity to other structures, an implosion was deemed implausible. Las Vegas always makes a big deal out of its implosions, but in the case of Harmon tower, the building went away with nary a whimper, rather than exiting with a hurrah. Honestly, we’re not even sure there are hurrahs anymore. They’ve been replaced by BFDs. And narys, you never see those anymore, either.

But you get the drift.

Harmon tower demolition

One of the best things about tracking the Harmon Hotel demolition was visiting our favorite “breastaurant,” Twin Peaks, across the street. Date: May 7, 2015.

Over the course of months, the Harmon tower was taken apart, a process mostly hidden behind a dark mesh.

Harmon Vegas demolition

The end is nigh, despite the fact there’s been no recorded use of the word nigh since 1984. Date: June 19, 2015.

Slowly and meticulously, with minimal disruption to the surrounding area and pedestrian walkways, what began as 26 floors became just two or three.

Harmon demolition

How a Vegas magician didn’t figure out how to take credit for the disappearance of the Harmon, we’ll never know. Date: July 12, 2015.

At one point, the Harmon’s builder, Tudor Perini Building Co., said it would cost $21 million to fix the building’s problems. But all the testing on the building, the same testing that determined it wouldn’t survive a magnitude 7.7 earthquake, made the building unrepairable. Ah, the circularity of the universe.

Harmon hotel

A momentary pause in the demolition to build the drama. Date: Aug. 3, 2015.

On Aug. 4, 2015, during an MGM Resorts earnings call, CEO Jim Murren said the company had “finished deconstructing the nightmare that was the Harmon.”

Harmon tower demolition

A day or two before the crane, too, went the way of the Harmon. Date: Sep. 1, 2015.

Eventually, the tower reached “ground” level, and the crane that hovered over the Harmon demolition went away, too.

Harmon building demolition

The Harmon demolition hits bottom. Date: Sep. 27, 2015.

The Harmon Hotel drama is destined to be one of the more remarkable enigmas of the Las Vegas Strip as the months and years tick by. Many Vegas visitors won’t even realize it existed at all.

Harmon Hotel demolition

Imagine the architects and hundreds of construction workers who built the Harmon collectively face-palming right about now. Date: Sep. 28, 2015.

In Vegas, buildings rise and fall with such regularity, we tend to forget what complex feats of engineering and construction we’re witnessing, until something goes sideways.

The future of the space formerly occupied by the Harmon Hotel is unknown, but an expansion of the adjacent Shops At Crystals mall, and the addition of more high-end retail space, seems a likely eventuality.

Harmon Las Vegas

If you build it, they will come. If you tear it down, they’ll still come, it’ll be super awkward. Date: Sep. 28, 2015.

Here’s our complete collection of photos taken during the course of the Harmon tower demolition. For posterity, and as a cautionary tale. Las Vegas history has a metric ass-ton of those.

Harmon Hotel Demolition

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10 Surprising Things About Las Vegas Nightclubs We Learned Cramming for a Radio Interview

We love being a guest on KNPR, the Las Vegas public radio station. We love it because
it makes us feel important, because it’s always great conversation and because we
always learn something.

Our most recent KNPR invitation was for a segment about Las Vegas nightclubs. While
we are not an avid club-goer, we are most definitely an avid club-observer, and not
knowing a lot about a subject has never impeded our ability to form opinions about
it.

Tao nightclub

Tao Nightclub’s name was inspired by a Chinese concept meaning “path,” “route” or “means to making a metric ass-ton of money.”

In the days leading up to our interview, we prepped intensively by doing our own
interviews with Las Vegas nightlife insiders. Many of the things we learned didn’t
make it on-air, but we figure you’ve got some time to kill, so here are some tidbits we found intriguing.

1. Clubs Sometimes Bus in Pretty People from L.A.

Las Vegas nightlife is a mysterious creature. For example, when a club isn’t filling
up with enough pretty people, it may actually bus in attractive people from Los
Angeles. Which is in an entirely different state than Las Vegas. More pretty people
creates more buzz, more buzz creates more business and more business creates more
revenue. Crazy, but true.

Tryst nightclub

Related: Suck it, diversity. See also #9 on our list.

2. Street Promoters Who Ask for Money Are Scam Artists

Club promoters on the Las Vegas Strip fall into two neat categories. There are those
working with clubs whose job it is to fill up the club with attractive people,
typically women. Others are scam artists, plain and simple. They create fake IDs and
often sell fake nightclub passes. How do you tell them apart? If they ask for money,
or a tip, they’re a scammer. Legitimate promoters aren’t selling anything. If you
encounter the other kind, flee.

3. “Bottle Rats” Are a Thing

There’s an entire subculture inside Las Vegas nightclubs industry insiders refer to
as “bottle rats.” These are women who roam the club looking for men with tables and
bottle service. They flirt until they’re invited into one of these exclusive,
expensive areas, and they mooch drinks. They’re not technically prostitutes, but the
practice is sort of the same business model, except without the sex. Usually.

4. Hosts Sometimes Ask for Photos Before Giving Comps

One of the realities of Las Vegas nightclubs is attractive, young women rule. Hosts
are highly-motivated to bring in that demographic, and will often give groups of
attractive women comps of bottle service. In one case, a Hakkasan host was outed as
calling guests “whales” and “hippos,” and all hell broke loose. The latest practice
is for some nightclub hosts to request photos of guests before approving their comp.
Wrong, sexist and superficial, yes, but also reality.

SLS Life Nightclub

Not every nightclub is a sure-fire money-maker. Life at SLS had high hopes but closed quickly and will soon be replaced with a live music venue.

5. It’s Not the Club, It’s the Management

Club-goers unfamiliar with Las Vegas often assume hotels own and operate their
nightclubs. Not the case. Hotels hire management companies to run their clubs, so
your experience is more a reflection of the management company than the resort
itself. There are just a few of these companies in Las Vegas, with the most popular
clubs being managed by just a couple of big players. Some companies get a reputation
for having less-desirable clubs. Before Light Group was bought by Hakkasan Group, its
clubs (1 OAK at Mirage, Light at Mandalay Bay, Bank at Bellagio) were considered to
be less cool, have shadier practices and less overall cache. The cult of management
companies is real.

Light Nightclub

Behind-the-scenes drama means Light Nightclub at Mandalay Bay won’t be Light might longer.

6. Hosts Are a Nightclub’s Sales Force

Nightclub hosts are what make Sin City’s nightclub business one of the most
remarkable success stories in the history of the city. Hosts, usually men, are the
hustlers who network and schmooze and pull in customers who are going to spend.
Nightclub hosts make a commission on what they sell, and they make tips on top of
that lucrative source of income. (It’s not uncommon for clubbers to spend $5,000-
$10,000 on bottle service during the course of an evening.) Interestingly, hosts pool
their tips.

7. Seventy Percent of a Club’s Revenue is Bottle Service

Bottle service is the engine that drives the massive profits of Las Vegas nightclubs.
A host’s job is to try and get customer’s to commit to a minimum they’re going to
spend before they ever step foot into the club, and to get them to spend more once
they’re inside. We’re of the opinion they shouldn’t call it “bottle service,” but
rather “celebrity service.” Because when you get bottle service, you’re a really big
deal, even if only for a night.

Lavo casino Las Vegas

Nightclubs make big bucks from cover charges and liquor sales. Lavo at Venetian recently added a new revenue stream, table games.

8. Nightclubs Have a Zero Tolerance Policy About Illegal Activity

Back in the day, hosts and other nightclub staffers would regularly supply customers
with drugs and prostitutes. The prime directive was to keep the customer happy, no
matter how outlandish the request. Now, however, the prime directive is, “WTF were we
thinking?” Clubs had their cages rattled by law enforcement to the point where now,
if you ask someone on staff at a nightclub for something illegal, you’ll be reported
to security and removed from the club. Staying open and making money are paramount,
and clubs no longer tolerate illegal activity of any kind. Sure, it happens, but the
nodding and winking by club staff and management is a thing of the past.

Update (11/20/15): Despite efforts to self-regulate, the Nevada Gaming Commission has made it clear nightclubs need to do a better job of monitoring potentially illegal activity. Read more.

Foundation Room

In 2014, the Foundation Room at Mandalay Bay was fined $500,000 for narcotics and prostitution violations. Pocket change for a nightclub, but the venue’s legal and PR nightmare reverberates even today.

9. The Customer Mix at a Club is a Thing

The make-up of a club’s clientele is of critical importance to the success of a Las Vegas nightclub. Nightclub managers explicitly tell their hosts who they want, and hosts deliver. This includes not only the gender mix but also the racial mix. Having too much of an “urban” clientele is nearly as dangerous as being considered a “sausage factory” (a club with too many men). Clubs generally claim to prefer a 2-to-1 ratio of women to men, but the truth is the ultimate mix for a nightclub would be 99% young attractive women and 1% wealthy guys who like to spend money to meet and impress them.

10. Nearly All the World’s Most Successful Clubs Are in Las Vegas

According to the experts, a full seven of the top 10 most financially successful nightclubs in
the entire world are in Las Vegas: XS (#1), Hakkasan (#2), Marquee (#3), Tao (#4),
Surrender (#6), Hyde (#9) and Lavo (#10). Both XS and Hakkasan each rake in more than
$100 million a year. Las Vegas has got this down cold.

Nightclubs in Las Vegas continue to thrive, and lots of nightlife newness is in the
works.

The new Omnia at Caesars Palace, formerly Pure, is crushing it in a world-class way.

Pure nightclub

Even when you’re big in Vegas, you can always be bigger. Pure is now Omnia.

Tryst at Wynn recently closed after a decade, with a new concept, Intrigue, in the works.

Intrigue Nightclub Las Vegas

Intrigue promises to move away from what it calls the “DJ phenomenon.” The rest of us refer to is as “You paid them WHAT?!”

Nightlife impresario Jesse Waits, formerly of XS and Tryst, has moved over
to the $4 billion Alon resort project.

There’s never a dull moment in the world of Las Vegas nightclubs, and only the strong survive.

If you’re hungry for more about Las Vegas nightclubs, you can check out our appearance on KNPR radio, along with Greg Costello, director of customer development for Hyde at Bellagio.

We’d love to hear your Las Vegas nightclub insights and experiences. We hate learning new things, but in this case, we’ll make an exception.

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SLS Las Vegas to Become Part of Starwood Hotels Tribute Portfolio, Whatever That Might Be

The owner of SLS Las Vegas, formerly the Sahara, has announced the beleaguered resort will partner with Starwood Hotels & Resorts to open the first W Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip. At SLS Las Vegas. So, SLS will be both SLS and W.

Yeah, hold onto your hat, this could get bumpy.

Starwood SLS W Las Vegas

Assuming you dislike reading as much as we do, just look at this image and go back to stalking your ex on Facebook.

The plan is for Starwood, a big-ass hospitality company (47 hotels for starters), to take over management of the Lux tower at SLS, and after a “renovation” W Las Vegas will open as a sort of hotel-within-a-hotel in mid-2016.

As a frame of reference, think Nobu at Caesars Palace or Four Seasons at Mandalay Bay or Delano at Mandalay Bay.

According to a news release, SLS Las Vegas in its entirety will become part of Starwood’s Tribute Portfolio, which will give SLS the benefit of Starwood’s sales resources and Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) loyalty program.

The Tribute Portfolio is a collection of four- and five-star hotels. Here’s a great overview of all this, as well as information about how this “soft brand” trend-slash-strategy allows independent hotels like SLS to take advantage of loyalty programs and reservations systems of much larger hotel companies.

You may also note that this whole scenario is further complicated by the fact Starwood is looking to reorganize or sell to another company, specifically Hyatt Hotels. The mind reels.

Once W Las Vegas opens, the other two SLS towers will be called “SLS Las Vegas, a Tribute Portfolio Resort,” which will make it nearly impossible to smoothly introduce SLS at dinner parties.

Until recently, SLS was affiliated with Hilton’s Curio brand. Relax, there will not be a test.

News of the Starwood partnership comes on the heels of SLS owner Stockbridge Capital buying out Sam Nazarian’s 10% stake in SLS Las Vegas.

SLS Las Vegas

This is the aforementioned Sam Nazarian. Long story.

Nazarian and his company SBE Entertainment were the driving force behind the $800 million renovation of the Sahara, but plans to exploit SBE’s customer base (the company runs successful nightclubs and restaurants in other cities) never came to pass.

Given a number of challenges, including location, SLS has not found a way to make what financial experts refer to as a “anything even resembling a profit,” but management appears to be taking dramatic steps to try and do just that.

SLS Las Vegas

The Lux tower at SLS Las Vegas during construction. SLS opened in August 2014.

A number of restaurant changes are on the way, including the closure of some existing restaurants and the addition of more value-oriented fare.

Also, the resort’s closed nightclub will be re-opened as a live entertainment venue, Foundry Hall theater, in partnership with live events company, Live Nation. If you didn’t know this already, you need to read this Las Vegas blog on a more regular basis.

As for W Las Vegas, the hotel-within-a-hotel will have a W Living Room (fancy terminology for “a lobby,” where the SLS VIP check-in is now), a dedicated entrance for W guests, a W-branded meeting and event space, spa, fitness center and an outdoor Wet pool and bar, presumably the current Lux pool, pictured below.

SLS Lux pool

The Lux pool will become Wet. W Las Vegas will try to capitalize it. We will not.

While W Las Vegas will be managed by Starwood, the rest of SLS will continue to be
managed by SLS. As if all this weren’t baffling enough, SLS Las Vegas is owned by Las
Vegas Resort Holdings, LLC. Which we sort of didn’t know until we read the news
release.

W Las Vegas won’t sound new to those who were in Las Vegas during the months leading
up to the financial downturn. W Las Vegas was gearing up to open a hotel-casino, but
the project was derailed.

W Las Vegas

In a reversal, W Las Vegas was owned by the recession.

Starwood may not have any hotels on The Strip, but they’re no stranger to Las Vegas.
The company also has The Westin Las Vegas Hotel, Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort, Four
Points by Sheraton Las Vegas East Flamingo and Element Las Vegas Summerlin.

So, what does it all mean to you?

Well, if you’re rooting for the success of SLS Las Vegas, like we are, it means the
current owners of SLS haven’t given up hope. They’re seeking out partnerships to fix
what’s broken, and they’ve hitched their wagon to a huge hospitality company with a
proven track record.

The mandate as SLS Las Vegas at the moment is to stop the bleeding (SLS lost $83.9 million in the first six months of 2015), so the prospect of tapping into a vast new customer database is likely to boost SLS Las Vegas not only in room occupancy, but new guests mean more gamblers, too. More players means a casino with more energy, and an influx of buzz and play and revenue means more openings than closings and a better chance of holding on until the north end of The Strip is revitalized by the opening of several new hotel-casinos.

SLS Las Vegas

To-date at SLS, it’s been a hard knock, well, you know.

If you’re a traveler already in the Starwood Preferred Guest program, you’ll soon have another hotel to try.

If you’re a fan of SLS Las Vegas, you probably won’t notice much of a difference, other than SLS employees looking a tad less nervous about job security. Whether they should be nervous remains to be seen.

Props to Stockbridge Capital and the management of SLS Las Vegas for setting a new course, and for being nimble enough to deal with all the surprises along the way. If this pans out, the latest twist in the SLS saga may be as “bold and strategic” as SLS says it is. About itself. Which isn’t awkward at all.

We love the joint, so maybe we’ll see you there.

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Tropicana Las Vegas Offers Free Shuttle Service to M Resort and Vice Versa

Guests of Tropicana or M Resort can now take a free shuttle between the two Las Vegas resorts.

The two hotel-casinos are now sister resorts, both owned by Penn National Gaming, so this is a sweet perk if you like either or both of these destinations. Penn National Gaming bought Tropicana for $360 million.

The free shuttle will pick up and drop off at the north entrance of Tropicana Las Vegas (pictured below), and at The M’s valet area.

Tropicana

The ride to M Resort from Tropicana should take about 20 minutes. Unless it’s raining, then it’ll be upwards of two hours, because Las Vegas drivers.

The free shuttles run every few hours, departing M Resort at noon, 2:00 p.m., 6:00 p.m., 10:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. The shuttle departs Tropicana at 12:30 p.m., 2:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m., 10:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.

The official resort Web sites say the shuttles are reserved for hotel guests, but slip the driver a few bucks and we’re pretty sure you’re cool either way. This is Vegas, not Provost.

Here’s the schedule in visual form, since you totally just skimmed the schedule we went to the trouble of typing, above.

Tropicana shuttle schedule

The shuttle schedule is set at irregular intervals to avoid needless “convenience” or “ease of remembering.”

Here’s the shuttle information on the Tropicana site, and on the M Resort site. It’s refreshing to see somebody on their Web team has their act together. One of the benefits of corporate centralization, no doubt.

It’s worth noting Tropicana also has free shuttle service to the Town Square shopping center. Don’t take that shuttle by mistake. There’s no gambling at Town Square. But nobody’s perfect.

While Tropicana and M Resort may be connected by ownership and free shuttle service, the resorts don’t yet share a common loyalty club, but that’s in the works. In time, both will be part of Penn National Gaming’s Marquee Rewards.

M Resort

M Resort can do no wrong with us. Each year, they host Joy Prom, giving people with intellectual disabilities an incredible night of food, dancing and a red carpet experience. Learn more.

We expect to see more guests using the Trop-to-M shuttle than the other way around (except to get back to the Trop), mainly because M Resort tends to serve a locals.

If you’re staying at Tropicana and need something to entice you to M Resort, look no further than The M’s conspicuously-endowed cocktail waitresses. Wait, buffet. The M’s Studio B Buffet. That’s totally what we meant.

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Billy Idol Will Perform 12-Show Residency at Mandalay Bay’s House of Blues Las Vegas

Die-hard fans of ’80s music are about to have a moment.

Billy Idol, whose hits include “White Wedding,” “Eyes Without a Face,” “Flesh for Fantasy” and “Dancing with Myself,” will perform a dozen shows at House of Blues inside Mandalay Bay in 2016.

Idol’s residency is being touted as his “first-ever multi-date residency.” Show dates are March 16, 18, 19, 23, 25 and 26, and May 4, 6, 7, 11, 13, 14, 2016.

Billy Idol

A teacher once described William Michael Albert Broad (his real name) as “idle.” He was going to call himself Billy Idle, but didn’t want to be confused with Eric Idle.

Idol will be 60 when he hits the stage at House of Blues—his birthday is Nov. 30. His recent reviews have been strong, so he’s showing no signs of slowing down and this blog is giddy as a baby in a room full of showgirls about Billy’s Idol’s stint in Las Vegas.

More good news for Idol fans: He’ll be joined by his longtime guitarist, Steve Stevens, a musician so good, they named him twice.

Billy Idol has had what music aficionados refer to as a “metric ass-ton” of hits, but there’s a special place in this blog’s heart for one of his albums.

Vital Idol album cover

The best things in life are vital.

To further whip Billy Idol fans into a frenzy, Las Vegas Weekly is offering a chance to win free tickets. We are currently entering to win every half hour or so.

A little-known fact about Billy Idol is he was nearly cast as the T-1000 in “Terminator 2.” The singer crashed his motorcycle prior to filming (Idol nearly lost a leg), and the part had to be recast.

Had Idol appeared in “Terminator 2,” his performance still would have been eclipsed by his cameo in “The Wedding Singer.” One, it was charming. Two, Vegas Air! Watch.

We’re looking forward to “Billy Idol: Forever” when the residency kicks off on March 16, 2016.

From “Rebel Yell” to “Mony Mony” and “Cradle Of Love,” we’re practicing our lip curls and spiking our hair in anticipation of what’s sure to be one of the most buzzed-about residences of the year.

Tickets for “Billy Idol: Forever” start at $79.50. All show times are 8:00 p.m.

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