Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville

Wasting Away Again in Vegas
Posted April 18, 2005

Attention Parrot Heads! Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville restaurant has opened on the Las Vegas strip, at the north corner of the Flamingo Hotel and Casino.

The 35,000-square-foot, three-level space is a collaboration between The McBride Co. (Miami), designers for all Margaritaville locations, and Illuminating Concepts (Farmington Hills, Mich.), a multimedia firm known for blending architectural and theatrical lighting with acoustic design, projection systems and special effects.

Using the Margaritaville at Universal City Walk (Orlando) as a prototype, Illuminating Concepts hoped to improve on a thematic design that McBride had done a few years before.

"Margaritaville is not a place per se, rather a state of mind," says Mark Borus, senior project designer, Illuminating Concepts. "There was no desire for the team to create a themed environment. Instead, our goal was to create a place that authentically imbued the Buffett beachcomber/ feel-good lifestyle."

And to that end, there is no Jimmy Buffett memorabilia. Rather, it's an environment that reflects his lifestyle. That way, visitors who are not familiar with Buffett or have never been to a concert are not overwhelmed with in-your-face Parrot Head mania. A casual, tropical place of swaying palm trees, fishing boats, rustic bars, a live band, an "in-flight" seaplane and even a volcano that erupts with margaritas helps people get away from it all.

The "live" volcano rests in the middle of the restaurant. Upon entering Margaritaville, diners pass through a grotto passage underneath the volcano. This concrete and steel structure also forms a canopy over part of the main bar. There are two volcano shows designed by the McBride team to both entertain and create a buzz for a must-see attraction in Las Vegas. The first show is a series of sound effects coupled with a Jimmy Buffett video and the down-pouring of green margarita mix. The lighting and sound systems respond to timed cues, all tied to the video playing on screens throughout the space.

The second show features actors interacting with the crowd. One climbs the volcano and slides down, with the Margaritaville mix smoothing the way. The finale finds an actress being dropped into one of the giant blenders and saved by a giant chrome fish hook that is lowered to fetch her out. All of this is supported by lighting and sound coupled with fog pouring out from the top of the volcano.

The restaurant's booths resemble boats, adding to the island theme. After 10 p.m., the dining room doubles as a dance floor. A scaled model plane is featured overhead with working props. The plane is illuminated with a number of focused fixtures at all angles to avoid becoming an obstruction to the dance floor and dining tables. Intelligent moving lights were also used to animate the tables with break-up gobo patterns, as guests listen to and watch the videos projected onto the "sails."

"The lighting needed to set a mood for this type of experience," says Borus. "Lighting immerses the visitor in the Margaritaville environment through visual drama and flexibility."

Client: Caesars Entertainment, Las Vegas
Margaritaville Holdings, Palm Beach, Fla.

Design: The McBride Co., Miami
Pat McBride, president
Eric McBride
Terry Guilbeau

Lighting and Multi-Media Design and Implementation: Illuminating Concepts, Farmington Hills, Mich.
Ron Harwood, creative director
Mark Borus, project design manager
Michael Shulman, project manager
John Bartley, controls & dimming
Scott Stephens, control systems design and creative programming

Architect: TSA Nevada, Las Vegas
Mark Zwagerman

General Contractor: Penta Building Group, Las Vegas

Mechanical Engineer: Hanson, Springfield, Ill.

Audio/Visual: JBL Audio, Northridge, Calif.
Crown Audio, Elkhart, Ind.
Sanyo, Chatsworth, Calif.

Painted Ceilings and Murals: Oatis Design Alliance, Denver

Flooring: Arcon Intl., Las Vegas

Lighting: Martin Professional, Sunrise, Fla.
Indy Lighting, Fishers, Ind.
Capri Lighting, Atlanta

Rab Lighting, Northvale, N.J.

West Marine, Watsonville, Calif.

Props and Decoratives: George M. Raymond Co., Orange, Calif.
Trans Forms, Montreal
Commercial Cabinets, Las Vegas

Signage/Graphics: The McBride Co., Miami

Photography: Ron Harwood & Scott Stephens, Illuminating Concepts, Farmington Hills, Mich.