March 16, 2012
By John Przybys

Click here to view grand opening photo slide show

The 18th hole requires you to make a forceful putt along Gene Simmons' outstretched tongue.

Well, of course it does. What else would you expect at a miniature golf course inspired by KISS, the iconic rock band that introduced fire-breathing, fake blood and the power of a few good chords to generations of teenagers?

On Thursday, the already ubiquitous power quartet expanded their global reach solidly into Las Vegas with the opening of KISS By Monster Mini Golf, an indoor amusement attraction at 4501 Paradise Road in Las Vegas.

In addition to an 18-hole miniature golf course whose design elements include laser effects, KISS members' oversized heads spouting from equipment crates like creepy jack-in-the-boxes and black lighting that makes everything glow like the '70s never ended, the complex offers arcade games (including the classic KISS pinball machine), event rooms, a KISS gift shop, the "Rock 'n Roll All Nite" Cafe and the "Hotter than Hell" wedding chapel.

Also visible throughout the center are such design touches as Vegascentric wall paintings depicting Oscar Goodman, Vegas Vic and Siegfried and Roy, full-sized costumed mannequins and an aquarium set into what looks to be a stack of Marshall amps.

Thursday's grand opening was equal parts ribbon-cutting, block party and rock festival, with a few to-be-expected measures of excess and over-the-top weirdness thrown in for good measure.

During the press conference, for instance, when an attractive questioner asked Simmons what his "favorite hole" was. Simmons appeared momentarily flustered as the crowd laughed, ultimately responding by mock-hitting the woman on the head with his glowing orange putter (which actually sounds sort of risque, too).

Or, in the wedding chapel, where a couple named David and Natasha Howard exchanged vows. The bride wore a full-length white gown with a black waist tie, and the groom wore platform boots and a leather body suit accented with spikes.

And, in the parking lot outside the amusement emporium, where a KISS tribute band played -- loud enough to drown out the sound of jets descending toward McCarran International Airport -- while KISS fans rocked out with heads bobbing and arms shredding air guitars or raised to offer the familiar two-fingered heavy metal salute.

Eric Cerza was there. He's 46 years old and said he has followed KISS for most of them. Why? "The characters," he said. "Gene and his personality."

Justin Farrand, 42, dressed for the occasion in a KISS T-shirt, a KISS pendant and a replica of Simmons' character's platform boots.

"I've been watching them since I was 10 years old," Farrand said. He saw his first KISS concert in Detroit and became hooked on the group's music, which "wasn't the same old, average music. It wasn't mellow. "There was just a good tempo to it. So when I got to see them, it was bigger than life."

At the face-painting table, Tina Headrick received a Simmonsesque transformation. She and her husband -- he preferred to not offer his name -- learned online about the center's opening and the KISS members' plans to attend, and traveled from Charleston, S.C. to be here.

"I've been a fan since I was a kid," said Tina, 41. "They're a great group and they give back to their fans."

The fans who turned out for the grand opening also included several Las Vegas VIPs and members of tribute bands dressed in full KISSian finery. A reception revealed enough costumed musicians on hand to staff at least 2.3 KISS tribute bands, and when they all shook hands, the universe, surprisingly, didn't implode.

Christina Vitagliano, founder of KISS By Monster Mini Golf, said the meshing of KISS and the amusement center was a natural, given the iconic nature of the KISS brand.

"To be brutally honest, I don't think there is another band we can do this with," she said.

Bailey Todd would agree. She's the cute 8-year-old wearing an "I (heart) KISS" T-shirt whose eye Simmons caught as he walked off the "black carpet" and on his way into the club. When Simmons saw her, he stopped, greeted Bailey, hugged the excited girl and gave her his autograph.

Later, as Bailey and her dad, Michael, were golfing -- starting today, 18 holes will set you back $11.95 -- Michael said he and Bailey came from Phoenix for the event and that Bailey has been a KISS fan literally all her life.

When did she first see the group? Bailey giggles.

"You were in your mommy's tummy, right?" Michael prompted.

"Yeah," Bailey said, giggling again and heading off to sink her putt.