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Grab a gun for fun in Vegas
The sound of bullets and the smell of gunpowder is a combination of power and brawn that has people shelling out hundreds of dollars to fire automatic and semi-automatic weaponry.
For Vegas die-hards bored with the $750 tasting menu at Guy Savoy, the $250 Elton John tickets at Caesars or the $200, 000 baccarat bet at the Bellagio, this city is serving up a new way to find high-priced thrills. Machine Guns Vegas - an upscale indoor shooting range complete with skimpily dressed gun-toting hostesses - opened last week a half-mile from the Strip with an armoury of weapons and a promise to fulfill the desires of anyone wanting to fire off an Uzi or a vintage Thompson submachine gun. With its provocative mix of violent fantasy (think blowing holes through an Osama bin Laden target with an AK-47 ) and sexual allure, it is the latest example of how the extravagances and excesses that have defined Las Vegas are moving beyond the gambling table.
"OK, the Uzi is down right now - sorry!" Melissa Krause, a hostess dressed in a skin-tight black outfit and black boots, with a fake pistol attached to her hip, told a father and son who had driven three hours from Victorville, Calif. "Is there something else you wanted to choose?"
No matter. Before long, the son, Chris Neveu, 20, was standing between two range masters, a man and a woman, feet planted to the ground, eyes protected by goggles and ears by headphones. Hot shells clattered around his feet as his father, Paul, took pictures.
"They have a lot of weapons you wouldn't be able to find back where I'm from, " Chris said as he repaired to the VIP lounge, where the walls are adorned with machine guns. "Such as the - well, you can see them all around the room: the M-4, the M-16, the M-249 - a lot of exotic weapons. "
In the main lounge, Barry Burmaster, 54, of Williamsburg, Maryland, was giddy after he and three friends, in town for a convention, compared a stack of bullet-riddled targets.
"Twenty years ago, I'd spend $400 at the strip clubs, " he said. "Now, I just come here to shoot. "
This latest addition to Las Vegas entertainment is in a low-slung building, set among dusty fields and next to an Adult Superstore. Marked off by a few small signs, and with the main entrance at back, it recalls an after-hours club in Lower Manhattan. It has views of two towering buildings whose outsize names - Wynn and Trump - suggest a Las Vegas extravagance that by comparison seems almost quaintly outdated.
Las Vegas in general, and the Strip in particular, is no stranger to violence: Last year, there was a series of stabbings on the street, most of them involving people moving from casino to casino. But the owners of Machine Guns Vegas said that they would carefully screen customers and that their clientele would be made up of people who enjoy the sport of shooting.
This is certainly not the first shooting range here. Interest in guns is high in Nevada, particularly among tourists from countries that ban weapons. "From England, from Japan, " said Jasmine King, a former go-go dancer who now works as a hostess at Machine Guns Vegas. The Gun Store, another local destination for weapons enthusiasts, was teeming with customers the other day.
But unlike Machine Guns Vegas, the Gun Store is as much about selling guns and weapons paraphernalia as it is a shooting range. It is out of the way, more than three miles from the Strip, past the city's airport, with a check-in counter more reminiscent of the rental concession at a roller-skating rink than a swank nightclub. There are no hostesses in black.
The aspirations of Machine Guns Vegas are, well, different. "We want it to have a Melrose boutique feel to it, " said Genghis Cohen, referring to the upscale stretch of quirky shops along Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. Mr. Cohen, a nightclub impresario, is a managing partner of Machine Guns Vegas. "It would be like a boutique style of guns, " he said as he led a tour of his latest venture. "We will have artwork on the walls. "
"This is our VIP area, " he said. "Look - a cappuccino machine, nice big leather couches. Let's say you're the vice-president of the Palazzo or the Wynn, " he continued, referring to two of the city's fanciest resorts. "You're like, 'Oh, it's lunch break. I'm going to grab a sandwich and go shoot my gun for half an hour. ' "
There is not much to eat, though the club plans to sell prepackaged food eventually. But one can spend a lot of money here at a club that - and thank goodness for this - does not serve alcohol. (Not that you need to be Lewis and Clark, exactly, to find yourself a drink in Las Vegas. ) For $699, the top-of-the-line package, a client gets an array of 16 firearms, 1, 550 rounds of ammunition and a pass to the VIP lounge.
Mr. Burmaster's group opted for a slightly less costly Full Auto package: $399 for 10 machine guns. "We went macho, " said Wilbur Willis, 61, a printer from Chattanooga, Tenn. "We did the fully automatic. It was awesome: some older guns, some newer guns. "
Machine Guns Vegas seems so far to be drawing equal numbers of tourists and locals, some of them curiosity-seekers who saw its advertisements on the sides of buses or on its provocative come-hither website.
Behind two closed doors, Gricelda Fernandez, 22, who lives in Las Vegas, fired off a semiautomatic pistol under the watchful eye of a ranger. "I've never done this before, " said Ms Fernandez, who works as a go-go dancer. "It's really exciting - it's really easy. "
Charles McElhinney, a construction supervisor from Texas, brought his son, Brian, to the range for his 29th birthday. "I shoot a lot at home, " he said. "But this is something I'll never get a chance to do anywhere else: full auto. "
"Yeah, " said Brian, a limousine driver in Las Vegas. "That is pretty great - full auto. "
Mr Cohen, the managing partner, emphasized that all the range masters were military veterans with experience in weapons. "We have girls who work for us who are veterans, and have very successful modeling careers, " he said. "But they are also ex-veterans.
"The reason we did that is we didn't want someone to say, 'Ah, you just went to a strip club and got a bunch of strippers and gave them guns, ' " he said. "That's not what we did. We have veterans that are officially trained in the military in the use of firearms. "
Still, a big part of the club's cachet are the hostesses. There are no military requirements for the women who greet customers at the door, holding iPads and wearing identical black outfits. "It's called liquid leggings, " said Ms Krause. "It's supposed to look like leather. It's very light and stretchy. "
Thad Beavers, 33, a designer from Charlotte, North Carolina, eyed the hostesses as he prepared to head back to his convention. "I definitely like the business plan, " he said. "It combines everything;it is one of those things I wish I had thought of. "
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