When I pitched covering the Taylor Swift Effect at the Super Bowl, I was envisioning tracking down fans decked out in Eras tour apparel, gleefully trading friendship bracelets and then heading to a karaoke bar to belt out “Karma” together.
Instead here I was, in a strip-club Champagne room.
A $10,000-per-hour private suite at Larry Flynt's Hustler Club, to be exact. Strings of faux roses and fairy lights hung from the ceiling, illuminating a metallic tufted sofa. On a small coffee table rested a small arrangement of balloons, one of which read “Touchdown.”
It was difficult to envision Travis Kelce or Swift here, in a man cave where the red bulbs had been dimmed just enough to mask things I probably did not want to see.
Yet this is where the club is hoping Travis Kelce and Swift will come following the Super Bowl on Sunday, which is being held at Allegiant Stadium, less than two miles away. The 75,000-square-foot facility on the Strip is offering a package worth $1 million to the couple, including limo transportation, unlimited access to the pricey suite, a Champagne bottle parade, $50,000 to shower on the club’s entertainers and lifetime VIP membership.
The Hustler Club is just one of dozens of businesses trying to capitalize on the "Swelce" frenzy in Sin City this weekend. And on Friday, I decided to go on a tour of them.
Even if I hadn’t read about Hustler’s promotion on TMZ — where else? — it would have been difficult to miss the glaring neon billboard outside the club: “NOW AUDITIONING SWIFTIES FOR THE BIG GAME 2024 — SEE CLUB FOR DETAILS.”
The marketing brains behind the sign got the idea after noticing that many new dancers were auditioning specifically for Super Bowl weekend, and all its potentially bill-waving attendees.
“Travis was spotted wearing a Crazy Horse shirt once, so obviously he’s been to a strip club here before. So who knows, he might roll in here,” said Nick Vardakis, marketing director for GoBest, the network that manages the club.
I have no idea if Kelce has ever actually been to Crazy Horse, or any other strip club; I certainly have not. (When I let my editor know I was viewing the suite, her only request was that I wear a mask to avoid “strip club Covid.”)
It was 7 p.m. when I arrived, and I guess I’d been expecting, well, more action? There were only a couple of topless dancers slinking around poles, and barely any customers; apparently this hour in Las Vegas night life is equivalent to noon somewhere else.
Vardakis said the club has received a handful of calls from entertainers responding to the Swiftie billboard, though he seemed to have a realistic perspective about the odds of Kelce and Swift actually turning up post-game. On the off chance it happened, though, was the idea that the club would offer Kelce blond dancers who resembled Swift?
“Yeah, absolutely,” he said, noting that the general manager “would coordinate our top grossers” to keep him company. “We’ll have to see how the game plays out. He’s either going to be out celebrating or, who knows, she might leave him if they lose.”
Just then, a man stumbled out of a Champagne room and approached me. “OK, I gotta ask, seriously: Why is everyone wearing masks again?”
Cue the getaway car. It was time to move on to my next spot — another first for me — making a prop sports bet.
Station Casinos, which operates 17 properties in town, has added a Taylor-Travis-themed question to its 28 pages of Super Bowl-related bets this weekend: “Will Travis Kelce have more total receptions in the championship game than his pop star girlfriend’s total of 10 platinum albums?”
Wildfire Gaming, the company’s location on Fremont Street, was in a business park and attached to an IHOP. I opened the doors and was greeted by a blanket of cigarette smoke. I needed to make this quick, lest the smell linger in my hair. (Likely an unavoidable side effect of five days in Las Vegas, but a girl’s gotta try.)
I walked over to the sports betting station and inquired about the Swift bet. I had three options: 11 or more receptions, exactly 10, or nine or less. My boyfriend, who had accompanied me on this journey, pulled up some quick stats on his phone so we could try to make an educated guess.
The man behind the counter, in his 20s and slack-jawed, attempted to explain to me how the payouts worked. He struggled to make the calculations. “It’s all math,” he said and shrugged.
The smallest amount I could bet was two bucks, he said. (Yes, I was spending my own, non-company money on this.) But two dollars felt extremely lame. I went to the ATM at the center of the room and decided on $20. I put $10 on exactly 10 — giving Kelce and Swift a tie — while my boyfriend used his half on Kelce getting more than 10. If I win, I’ll get $35; he’ll get $50. The odds of me actually wanting to return to collect any winnings, however? Unclear.
I was far more excited about my next stop, anyway: the Little White Wedding Chapel. The site of countless celebrity nuptials, including Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck's in 2022, it is offering Kelce and Swift a free wedding, should the conspiracy theory about a possible Super Bowl proposal occur.
With a massive Elvis Presley sign out front with mechanically moving hips, the Little White Wedding Chapel was the first chapel in Vegas to offer a drive-through wedding option. It’s called the Tunnel of Love, and yes, you can literally drive through the gates and up to a window to get married, without stepping out of your vehicle.
You do need to have gotten a wedding license first. But unlike most cities, the Vegas marriage license bureau is open from 8 a.m. to midnight every day, including holidays and weekends, has no waiting period and doesn’t require a blood test. It’s still illegal to wed if you’re not of sound body or mind, of course, but the two-step process tends to weed out those who have partied too hard.
Melody Willis-Williams, president of the Little White Wedding Chapel, was already planning on offering anyone associated with the two NFL teams in the Super Bowl — players, coaches, staff members — free vow renewals when she heard the game would be held at Allegiant Stadium.
“But that was before the whole Taylor and Travis thing started,” she said. When the two began one of the most famous courtships in the world, she knew she couldn't let the opportunity slip by. “That’s all everybody’s talking about, right? And then she wore the white Grammys dress and I was like, ‘This is so stupid. We should just do a shoutout. She’s a serial dater, but she hasn’t yet got married.”
I withheld my personal feelings about one of the world's most successful women being branded as "a serial dater" and followed Willis-Williams around the property, which offers four different venues. My favorite, predictably, was the Tunnel of Love, where couples can pose on a vintage pink Cadillac under a roof painted with cherubs.
The venue became a favorite with celebrities after its late founder, Charolette Richards, decided to put Joan Collins’ name on the sign outside. Collins stopped by in 1985 — when Richards was on the brink of closure due to financial trouble — and her endorsement turned everything around. Since then, Michael Jordan, Kim Kardashian, Nick Jonas and Sophie Turner and many others have all said their vows here.
Willis-Williams likes to play up the business’ Hollywood ties. After Lopez and Affleck wed, the couple later shared pictures of the actor changing into his white tux in the men’s room, his phone held up to a graffiti-laden bathroom mirror. Afterwards, the president decided to anoint the spot “Ben’s Bathroom,” hanging a sign to the left of the toilet.
“We remodeled the other bathroom [after the wedding], took out the wallpaper and replaced the mirrors, but I didn’t do it in here. I was like, ‘Nope, it’s Ben’s.’ ”
Should Swift and Kelce decide to tie the knot Sunday night, the venue has already prepared a gold-and-red bouquet for her — even dusting the roses with glitter. Usually, this would run someone about $185, but again, it would be free for the famous pair. Not that getting married at the Little White Wedding Chapel is that expensive, anyway: You can do it for as little as $80.
“This is not your big, let’s have a bridal party, everybody walks down the aisle kind of thing. These are very simple ceremonies,” Willis-Williams said. “I call it the rock-star wedding, because you just get married and go party.”
The speedy nature of the affair, she contended, might appeal to Swift and Kelce, whose schedules are packed.
“She’s already flying in from Japan, and if they need to get it done, they just need to get it done that night. Let’s go,” she said, somehow kind of selling me on the idea. “I mean, JLo did it and just went home and then had a big wedding. If he wins, she’s in Vegas, his mom’s here? Bring that gorgeous Grammys dress, bring your man and let’s get her done.”
And if Taylor forgets the Grammy dress, well, "tell her to put on a winning jersey and let’s roll," Willis-Williams said. "He didn’t have time to shop but he’s got the Super Bowl ring. It’s impromptu! It’s romantic!”
Wait, could eloping with an Elvis impersonator serving as my officiant actually be kind of romantic? I needed to get out of the Tunnel of Love, stat.
The last destination of the evening was Flanker Kitchen + Sports Bar in Mandalay Bay, which has created a special menu entirely devoted to Swift and Kelce. The spot was offering a Swelce Sando ($24) filled with smoked brisket, cheese, pickles and onion rings and two special drinks: A “Shake It Off” milkshake ($15) and “Love Story” cocktail ($20).
We’d already stopped for dinner, so we decided to opt for beverages only. The coolest part of of the alcoholic drink — made with tequila, lime juice, triple sec, blood orange puree and simple syrup — was that it arrived with a Swiftie-related image dusted on top. Flanker’s manager, Christina Haddon, allowed me to select an image of my choosing, so we flipped through Google images until we settled on some cute pictures of the couple.
She led me back to the bar’s Ripples machine, a $2,000 contraption that uses plant-based extracts to print images on foam-topped drinks. Haddon placed the cocktail on a base that was quickly sucked up into the machine. Within 10 seconds, it descended again, now adorned by the couple’s faces.
I wish I could give you detailed tasting notes on the “Love Story,” but a) I don’t drink, b) I gave it to my boyfriend and c) I barely let him drink it because I was so fixated on taking pictures of it. He said it was “enjoyable enough and heavy on citrus.”
The milkshake, however? I got down on that. It was made with vanilla and double chocolate cookie dough ice cream, chocolate sauce and Squashies — Swift’s favorite candy from the United Kingdom and a deep cut that I had to respect.
I’ve never had Squashies before, which are a gummy candy with a marshmallow consistency, and I feel like I still have not; I did not spot any Squashies in the drink. I’m assuming they were blended in well, which is good, because gummy candy in a milkshake kind of seems wack.
Walking out of Mandalay Bay, I kept my eyes peeled for Swifties — fans in her gear, any of her music wafting out of a club. Nada. But there’s still one day until the Super Bowl. And if all else fails, maybe I’ll just head back to the Hustler Club. I’m bound to cross paths with at least one fateful auditionee lured in by that billboard.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.