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VEGAS4VISITORS.COM WEEKLY COLUMN BY RICK GARMAN
March 11, 2013
A Personal Note from Vegas4Visitors' Rick Garman
Just a quick thank you for all the support and well-wishes I have received over the last week. I am actually writing this week's column from the hospital where I am recovering from another surgery designed to figure out if the esophageal cancer that I thought I had survived last year has returned. It's been a lot of not fun but the kind words I have received from my readers has been a remarkable comfort and I can't tell you how much I appreciate it.
The good news is that so far, the tests are coming back negative for cancer and while I'm not 100% clear yet (and probably won't be for a long time), the doctors are cautiously optimistic.
Now, let's move on to Vegas because there are some really interesting things going on this week including an announcement of the first new major hotel-casino for The Strip in years - something I absolutely intend to live to see!
New $7 Billion, Asian Themed Mega-Resort Planned for Strip
It's like a blast from the past: a wild idea for a highly-themed, multi-billion megaresort on The Strip; the kind of thing we haven't seen in Vegas for more than a decade and didn't think we might ever see again. But this one is for real - or at least as real as wild ideas can get before they actually open their doors - and could be a game changer for Las Vegas, ushering in a new boom period for a city that has been stuck on bust for years.
Asia based Genting Gaming has purchased the mothballed Echelon site on the North Strip for $350 million and plans to build Resorts World Las Vegas, a massive complex of hotels, gaming, and entertainment that could cost upwards of $7 billion. The first phase will include:
- 3,500 hotel rooms with plans for thousands more in the future
- 175,000 square foot casino, making it just slightly bigger than the MGM Grand's and therefore the biggest in Vegas
- more than a dozen restaurants
- a Caesars Palace Colosseum challenging 4,000 seat showroom
- 250,000 square-feet of retail space
- an indoor water park that will start at around 300,000 square-feet with plans to grow it out to nearly three acres
But perhaps the biggest, most interesting news about the new resort is a return of the theme hotel. Pretty much since its inception, the Vegas Strip has been home to highly themed resorts, paying homage to the wild west at places like The Frontier, ancient Rome at Caesars Palace, and Arabian deserts at places like The Sahara and The Dunes. The 1990s saw an explosion of the concept with recreations of Egypt at Luxor, Italy at Bellagio and The Venetian, the Big Apple at New York-New York, and France at Paris Las Vegas not to mention castles, volcanoes, and pirate lairs. But that all stopped in the new millennium as new Vegas casinos became much more grown-up and serious with luxury being the only discernible theme at places like Wynn Las Vegas, Aria Las Vegas, and The Cosmopolitan.
Resorts World Las Vegas will have a distinctive Asian theme with the hotel towers capped by pagoda style roofs, the main buildings looking like a Chinese village, and kitschy Las Vegas style attractions like a replica of the Great Wall of China and the Terra Cotta Warriors of Xian. Plans are even in the works to create a Panda Habitat.
Part of the plan is to re-energize the Las Vegas gaming market with a more middle-of-the-road concept that can appeal to a broad base of potential visitors. But the bigger part of going the theme route is to lure middle-class Asian tourists to the United States to a property with an Asian pedigree and amenities. It's a gamble, to be sure, but one that could pay off big time.
Although this will be Genting Gaming's first foray into the Las Vegas market, they have a long history in the casino and hospitality industry with six major resorts in Malaysia, nearly four dozen casinos in the United Kingdom, a Resorts World casino and the Universal Studios theme park in Singapore, and a Resorts World property in The Philippines. The also own Norwegian Cruise Lines and operate the Resorts World casino in New York City. In 2011 they made major headlines when they purchased 14 acres on Miami's Biscayne Bay in anticipation of the state approving casino gambling.
Genting plans to use the bones of Echelon for the new project including a partially constructed hotel towers and parking garages and foundations for other buildings already in place. This will give them a head start in getting the property built but it is still expected to be 2016 or 2017 at the earliest before phase one comes online.
This could be the kick in the pants that Las Vegas has needed to get it out of the economic malaise it has not been able to shake. Although visitation is up, people are spending less and many of the casino companies are losing money due to high debt loads and operating costs. It is possible that this could finally shake loose development dollars on the North Strip surrounding Resorts World where the shuttered, partially constructed Fontainebleau and redevelopment plans for The Riviera, Circus Circus, and The Sahara have been stalled.
The latter recently got underway with a ground breaking for the SLS Hotel Las Vegas, an upscale property that will be built out of the shell of The Sahara and is due to open in 2014.
Vegas4Visitors Weekly Awards
The No Laughing Matter Award of the Week goes to Louie Anderson, whose show at Palace Station will be closing this month. Rumors abound that he will be moving to a new showroom elsewhere in Vegas but in the meantime you can catch him on the "celebrity" diving show "Splash" on ABC.
The Hell is For Vegas Award of the Week goes to celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay whose new season of the Fox cooking show "Hell's Kitchen" was mostly filmed at Caesars Palace. Ramsay has opened three new restaurants in Vegas over the last year. The show debuts March 12 on Fox.
The I Love the 80s Award of the Week goes to rocker Pat Benatar, who is rumored by LVRJ columnist Doug Elfman to be planning a Vegas residency with her husband Neil Giraldo. No location or dates have been announced yet but it will be another bit of the 80s rock nostalgia currently gripping Vegas with "Rock of Ages" and "Raiding the Rock Vault" currently playing at the Venetian and LVH respectively. The classically trained Benatar is best known for her hard rocking 80s hits like "Love is a Battlefield," "Hit Me With Your Best Shot," and "Shadows of the Night."
The Rising Prices Award of the Week goes to The Stratosphere, which has raised its resort fee to $12.99 per night.
The Going Green Award of the Week goes to the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign, which will get green light bulbs installed in honor of St. Patrick's Day. The green tint to the sign will run from March 14 through March 17.
The No Soup For You Award of the Week goes to the closures of four restaurant in Vegas: First Food and Bar and Rattlecan at The Venetian, both from Chef Sammy DeMarco, closed suddenly last week, and both Valentino at The Venetian and Nobill Tavern at MGM Grand will be closing down this month. No word on what will replace any of them.
Krave Massive Back on Track with Investment; Partnership with Caesars
A big story in the Las Vegas Review Journal a few weeks ago cast major doubt on the viability of Krave Massive, the proposed gay nightclub under construction at Neonopolis in Downtown Las Vegas. The article suggested that the project had run out of money and was in danger of never coming to fruition, a potentially damaging blow to the redevelopment of the shopping center and the surrounding neighborhood.
But Krave is now reportedly back on track with the investment of capital from one of Downtown Las Vegas' biggest supporters and a partnership with one of the city's biggest hotel companies.
Zappos.com founder Tony Hseish has jumped in to help support the nightclub's development, which is seen as a potential boon for Neonopolis and Downtown Vegas. The complex is being billed as the biggest gay nightclub in the world with over 80,000 square feet including five themed dance rooms (latin, hip-hop, country, pop, and progressive dance), three bars, a movie theater, a comedy club, and more. Guinness World Book of Records will even be on hand at the opening to verify that they have stolen crown of "world's largest" from a nighclub in Ibiza.
In addition, the club has entered into a partnership with Caesars Palace and The Flamingo to create room and club packages for guests. In addition to accommodations, hotel spa admission, and nightclub passes, the package will include shuttle service to and from the club in Downtown Las Vegas. It will be the first time a major hotel operator in Vegas has partnered with a gay nightclub operator and the first time they are offering shuttle service to a business they don't own.
The new investment and partnership announcements also came with an official opening date announcement: June 15, 2013, some six months later than originally planned.
Show Review: Rock of Ages
I'll admit it: I love 80s. 80s television (Golden Girls!), 80s fashion (shoulder pads!), and especially 80s music. Although I was definitely more on the pop side of Madonna, Prince, and Janet Jackson than I was on rock side of Quiet Riot, Twisted Sister, and Styx, I still have an appreciation for all things "Me Decade" so I was intrigued to finally see "Rock of Ages," the 80s rock themed musical now playing at The Venetian. I was interested to see how they would incorporate classic songs from greats of the era like Journey, Foreigner, and Pat Benatar into a narrative and the answer is this: cartoonishly.
The story, such as it is, centers around a Whisky a Go Go style rock and roll club on the Sunset Strip called The Bourbon Room. There are about a dozen or so different threads weaving through including budding love between an aspiring rocker and an aspiring actress, the breakup of a popular rock band, the evil plot of a German developer to tear down the Sunset Strip and build a strip mall, the relationship between the developer and his son, the relationship between the German developer's son and an anti-redevelopment activist, the machinations of a strip club owner with a heart of gold, and on and on and on. All of it is delivered with a wink and a nod, tongue firmly planted in cheek, and in a manner so over-the-top that its like a Busby Berkley musical redone with Bon Jovi songs.
It's meant to be fun and frothy in the manner of jukebox musicals like "Mamma Mia!" but whereas that one had a fundamental respect for the ABBA tunes it included, "Rock of Ages" treats the music like a joke. Granted, some songs like "We're Not Going to Take It" and "Cum on Feel the Noize" are ripe for parody, but others like "I Want to Know What Love Is," "Can't Fight This Feeling," "Keep on Loving You," and "Waiting for a Girl Like You," while perhaps not the pinnacle of musical genius, deserve at least a modicum of respect. By the time they got to Pat Benatar's "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" done by the effiminate son of the developer (who was wearing 80s aerobics gear for reasons I'm still not sure of) singing in German accented English ("Vie don't you hit me vit your best shot") I wanted to scream and not in "rock and roll!!" kind of way.
All of this is the fault of the source material and direction and not the very talented cast or backup band, who are all all great singers, dancers, and musicians. The actors playing Drew, Sherrie, and goofball/narrator Lonny at the performance I saw were especially noteworthy (Justin Mortelliti, Carrie St. Louis, and Mark Shunock respectively) although it is worth noting that the cast may be different when you see it.
I'm not suggesting that 80s music deserves a serious musical - I mean we're not talking about miserable people dying during the French Revolution here - but I do think it deserves a bit more respect than it gets in "Rock of Ages."
Show Times: Tue, Thu, Sun 8pm; Sat, Wed, Fri 7&10pm
Vegas4Visitors Rating: C
Hotel Revew: Nobu Hotel Las Vegas
Back in the good old days - you know, when Las Vegas casinos had money to burn (or at least acted like they did) - old hotel towers didn't fade away, they were imploded, often in a shower of crowd-pleasing pyrotechnics.
In today's more austere times that sees Vegas companies saddled with all the debt they racked up in the good old days, old hotel towers neither fade away or implode in, they get reborn, remodeled, and revamped into something more contemporary and competitive with the increasingly demanding market.
Such is the case with the old Centurion Tower at Caesars Palace, now the sparkly "new" Nobu Hotel Las Vegas. Originally constructed in 1971, the Centurion was one of Caesars first major expansions coming online only 5 years after the hotel first opened. It aged, as things do, and was eclipsed by the newer, bigger, and fancier towers like Palace, Augustus, and Octavius that followed it, leaving the Centurion to be the relative "cheap seats" in the otherwise high-class joint that is Caesars.
The new version is a partnership between Caesars and Chef Nobu Matsuhisa, of the Nobu Japanese restaurant fame. Chef, along with investors like Robert DeNiro and designer David Rockwell (who did the eye-popping Cosmopolitan), helped set the direction for the boutique hotel-within-a-hotel concept that involved a top-to-bottom remodel. Rooms, bathrooms, hallways, elevators; everything is brand new. While there are some things that are inescapable when updating an old building such as lower than modern-day standard ceilings, it is amazing what $30 million can do to erase pretty much every trace of what was there before.
The entry to the hotel is along what is now called Nobu Way, in between the Colosseum casino area and the main domed gaming pit. For those intimately familiar with the hotel, it's right next door to Cleopatra's Barge, the nightclub/showroom where Matt Goss performs regularly.
The lobby is more of a wide elevator bay hall but it is lovely, with intricately carved wood on the walls and ceiling, plus lots of amber lighting and glass accents. It has a Zen minimalist spa feeling to it, setting a tone that is distinctly different than the visual overload that is most of the rest of Caesars Palace.
They get away with not having a formal lobby by not needing to check people in at a formal front desk. Instead that function happens in your room with an attendant handling things via a wireless tablet and a green tea welcome soothing your jangled-by-travel nerves. You get there via high-tech guest elevators with touchless operation; just wave your room key under a scanner, the doors open, and you are automatically whisked to your floor without having to stoop to doing pedestrian things like pushing buttons.
The rooms seem bigger than they actually are in terms of square footage. While they may not be as big as those in more modern Vegas buildings like Venetian or Wynn, they are still plenty big for most. They come with a king or two queens, a big leather sofa capable of seating 6, a built in desk and entertainment center, a massive flat panel TV, a closet, and all of the usual conveniences like an iron and board, safe, robes and slippers, and the like. Above and beyond the usual include items such as Nobu approved mini-bar selections (Japanese popcorn and chilled sake? Yes, please!), turndown service with pillow and bath options, Nobu-scented sleep oils, an iPad docking station, and soft Italian sheets among other goodies.
The design scheme extends the Zen Asian theme that incorporates nature inspired artwork, hand-painted murals, and lots of sleek, modern furnishings. The color-scheme is a little muted for my taste - all slate grey and subtle browns - but the end results is undeniably lovely.
Don't forget the bathrooms, easily the most unique on The Strip. While everyone else goes for marble and expanse, these use their relatively compact footprint and heavy use of Asian inspired design to create a beautiful retreat. Teak fittings, stone tiles, and a deep bowl shaped basin are modern yet comfortable. An oversized walk-in shower comprised of traditional black Umi tiles offers multiple shower heads and a teak bathing stool, a commodity seen in traditional Japanese bathhouses. Bath amenities include a selection of products by Natura Bisse in a signature rosemary and white tea scent designed exclusively for Nobu Hotel.
Guests of Nobu have access to all of the Caesars Palace amenities including pool, spa, casino, restaurants, entertainment and more. The one extra you get for staying here is room service items from the big Nobu restaurant at the base of the tower.
Unsurprisingly, it is not cheap to stay here. Figure in the $200-$300 per night range during the week and $300 and up on the weekends. As usual those prices will flex with demand so you might seem them lower and you might see them a lot higher. Nobu also charges a $25 per night resort fee that includes Internet service, access to the Caesars Palace fitness center, and local calls.
Those costs might not be out of line if this truly was the boutique hotel experience they are trying to create here, but let's be honest: once you step out of the elevators you are thrust right back into the mega-resort madness of Caesars Palace with its crowds, noise, and roughly seven thousand mile trek to the garage, the valet, or The Strip.
Fans of the brand should absolutely give it a shot. You get a gorgeous, peaceful room with the Nobu touch plus all that Caesars has to offer. For everyone else I think it should depend on prevailing rates. A quick check showed that these rooms are usually even more expensive than the Octavius rooms at Caesars Palace, which are bigger, have better views and higher ceilings, and more traditionally plush furnishings.
Nobu Hotel Las Vegas is a success from a design, service, and atmosphere perspective but I think there are probably better overall options for hotel rooms in this price range.