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Tahoe casinos betting big on new nightclubs

"Since Altitude opened, it has been the most popular nightclub in northern Nevada," said John Packer, director of entertainment for Harrah's Lake Tahoe. "Now it's going to be even better."

The venerable South Shore Room, and consequently Altitude, the nightclub that occupies it late at night, is going to get a $3 million remodeling. However, the focus is not the historic showroom but the much more contemporary nightclub.

The showroom opened in 1959 with Red Skelton headlining. Before that, it was a small lounge that hosted the big stars of the day, including Nelson Eddy, Dennis Day and Louis Armstrong. Then it became the site of some of the most-promoted events in nightclub history. Frank Sinatra and John Denver performed together. So did Bill Cosby and Sammy Davis Jr., and Davis with Count Basie.

The 1990s started to see a slowdown in headliner entertainment, but the South Shore Room still featured many stars. It also offered revues and Broadway shows, from "Mame" to "Sugar Babies." The new century has brought an emphasis on classic rock and blues.

The competition for the South Lake Tahoe nightclub dollar has been intense since June 2001, when Altitude challenged the longtime king of the hill, Club Nero at Caesars. The advantage moved quickly to Altitude.

"We had the tremendous size of the South Shore Room," Packer pointed out. There is so much more height, width and depth than they could have at Nero or will have with its replacement. We can make it snow, we can have foam parties, and we can have performers come out of the ceiling.

"With the remodel, we'll have all new floors, walls, chairs, booths, lighting and sound system, and new bridges and bungees. There are going to be built-in bars. It will still be the South Shore Room and be able to accommodate traditional entertainment, but it will be so much more."

The new club will not retain the title "Altitude" which is closed until a June 9 reopening. The new name is being kept secret for now.

The South Shore Room itself will return with its new look June 17, featuring what Packer promises to be "a really big show with a headliner never before seen here." He is not at liberty to say who that will be.

Meanwhile, next-door neighbor Caesars, which will become the Montbleu Hotel-Casino on Memorial Day weekend, has announced what will replace its Club Nero, which closed two weeks ago. The new nightclub will be called Blu and it will, said management, "set a new paradigm for nightlife at the lake." Blu promises the latest technology in lights, sights and sound, plus VIP cabanas with exclusive drink service.

Also at Montbleu, the Opal Eurasian Cuisine and Ultra Lounge is under construction. It will allow guests to "move seamlessly from a decadent meal into a sultry, intimate ultra-lounge setting." Opal will feature the innovative concept of "bar chefs," where bartenders visit individual tables and infuse fresh ingredients and herbs into original beverages.

The menu at Opal will feature unique tapas and sushi. Top regional and national DJs will appear, and the late-night action will bring out the hookah pipes and bongos.

"Dancing on the tables will be highly encouraged," and VIP tables and private rooms will be available.

Designer Paul Reder said, "Having lived and worked in Lake Tahoe for so many years, I have seen a lot of nightclubs come and go, but Opal and Blu will become the hottest venues to ever open in this area. In particular, the ultra-lounge concept of Opal is something that has never been done here before."

In the meantime, the Casino Center Stage at Harrah's will provide some upgraded free entertainment. Lydia Pense and Cold Blood play Saturday. The entertainment runs from 8 to 10:30 p.m.