A New Year means a new Vegas.
Well, in reality, things come and go so fast in Las Vegas it would be more accurate to say a New Week a new Vegas. But that’s part of what makes the city, and other gaming meccas around the world like it, so addictive beyond the boozing and debauchery. The constant changes make you want to come back just to see what chef has opened a new restaurant, what hotel has renovated, and what seedy strip joint has been closed due to mafia ties. Ah Vegas and the world at large, there are so many things I’m looking forward to this year. And thus, here is my list of the top five things I’m looking forward to both in Vegas and around the gaming world for 2016.
5. The Continued Degredation/Reorganization/Perfection of Wynn and Encore
My fascination with Wynn and Encore goes back to before Wynn was even finished and I spotted it on a drive through Vegas going cross country. Numerous trips later and having stayed in basically every room on both property I can safely say that I consider Wynncore to be both the highest of casino luxury in Las Vegas and at the same time the lowest. While Wynn has continued to hone itself through changing (for better or worse) their food and beverage offering and renovating the property in respectful and tastefully understated ways, the same can’t be said for Encore.
When Encore opened, and when I shortly thereafter stayed at the Tower Suites, I found myself an undeniable Vegas home. Service was impeccable (I mean, a horticulturalist visited my suite to check on the jade plants) and the property was serene, vivid, indoor and out at the same time, the antithesis of every other casino in Vegas and quite possibly even topping Wynn. Then the recession came and everything went to shit.
Grasping at straws, Wynn allowed Encore to slide into a club haven. Driven by the success of XS, the gorgeous atrium was gutted to become a day club. The lounge was turned into a raucous piano bar. One steakhouse turned into a slick version of an engagement ring to Wynn’s new wife and the other turned into a nightclub with high art at its center. Encore went from the height of luxury to Palms Place East with a higher budget.
This year Encore is completing a (light) room renovation. But with the addition of the gambling Encore Player’s Club I’m guessing not even that will keep it from sliding further and further into the role of slutty sister to Wynn. Just keep your hands off the Tower Suites and maybe there’s hope, Mr. Wynn.
4. The Completion of The Park and T-Mobile Arena
Ever been to a show at the Grand Garden Arena? Yeah, so have I. While fun, intimate at times, and nice to have an arena type setting on the Strip, there’s a deep seeded hate in my body of the GGA as a venue that I can’t let go of. I don’t know, perhaps it’s the fact that unless you cab directly to it you have to make your way through what’s basically a maze of a hotel that is the MGM Grand. Oh, and hauling ass through the back halls of the hotel, food court, monorail station, etc etc all while bumping into or being shoved by thousands of asshole revelers make it not necessarily my idea of the ideal setting for going to see what could be a show.
I think all of this was evident to MGM as well when they decided to build their arena, now christened the T-Mobile Arena, along with the park between Monte Carlo and New York New York. Tied in with proximity to their two largest properties, City Center and MGM Grand, the arena along with the park should allow for a much less tiresome experience to see Dave Matthews or iHeart Radio’s 18-hour marathon concerts. (Been there, done that, moving forward.)
I’m not usually a venue snob, or one who looks forwards to places such as this, but trust me on this, I’ll give my life to never have to do the MGM event shuffle ever again. And the arena will allow for a lot more variety in entertainment offering. That is something I will truly never get tired of in a city that often gets limited by the size of certain venues. Now, just don’t let everything get fucked over by TicketMaster. (Who am I kidding.)
3. The Rebirth of Downtown Las Vegas As A Destination
If you’ve seen my review of the Golden Gate and baccarat_guy’s praises of The D here on the blog, it’ll be no surprise to you that we’re all starting to see the kind of change that no one would have imagined would happen in downtown Las Vegas materializing in a way that’s escalating and growing. No longer are luxury rooms and gaming experiences limited to the Strip. You want a deluxe suite with great dining and incredible service? Hit Fremont and DT3.
I would be remiss to mention the person who I personally feel from a professional standpoint has made this change possible, Derek Stevens. His work transforming the old Fitz into The D, with rooms for every budget including some of the most beautiful suites I’ve ever seen, as well as turning the historic Golden Gate into a party palace with the same variety of historic reality and Vegas luxury in it’s own suite wing, has helped to kick start downtown to fix itself up, brush off the dirt and bring attention back to where it all started.
Add in the not quite failing but not succeeding Downtown Grand and Steven’s newest purchase of the old Las Vegas Club and I’m itching to see what happens downtown in 2016. Oh, and if you’ve not been to the Downtown Event Center for a concert yet you’re missing out. And did I not mention the Life Is Beautiful festival and East Fremont? What isn’t going on downtown now.
2. New Culinary Experiences
I make no shame in saying this about myself. I love food. I don’t just love food, I am food’s dirty mistress. And where do I go for amazing cuisine, despite living in Los Angeles which has one of the best food scenes in the world? Well Las Vegas of course. L’Atelier? Done it. Gordon Ramsay Steak? On the VIP list. Picasso? I’ve done my share of 4 hour meals on the patio. Vegas brings out my inner glutton. Finessed glutton, but glutton nonetheless.
This year in Vegas promises to be yet another for important culinary gains, some planned, others filling in the gaps caused by tragedy. On the latter, we all know that the world and Vegas lost a rock star in Kerry Simon. But what loss leaves will be replaced despite emotions. And beyond that, the hotels are currently switching venues so quickly it’s hard to keep up. Aria changed over numerous bars and restaurants in the last few months alone (try Carbone, trust me on this) and Wynn has also seen major shifts with the closing of Brotero (I know, not the name, but the feeling warrants the nickname) and rebirth of Bartolotta as a new concept and Lakeside’s new head chef (thank god).
All of this adds up to one thing. For better or worse, Vegas will have a brand new mix of dining experiences in 2016. I’ve got myself ready. Bring it on folks…it’s time to be impressed all over again just like I’ve been year after year.
1. Wynn Palace
If you, as a lover of Vegas and or Gaming and or Luxury, were to tell me you weren’t excited about Wynn Palace opening this year I’d slap you, spit on the ground in front of you, then turn around to call you a liar dramatically. What isn’t there to be excited about in Wynn’s newest toy? The Cotai based megaresort takes every last bit of Wynn DNA, cranks it to 1000%, and then gives it steroids just to make sure there’s no mistaking that this might well be Steve Wynn’s swan song.
Performance lake? Check. Gondolas shaped like dragons? Check. More hotel rooms than his other two Macau properties combined. Double check. And rooms that from what I’ve seen take Wynn luxury into the zone of cool, calm, collected and high art? All that and more. Toss in a few night clubs and a design aesthetic that from what we’ve been teased will put all of his other resorts to shame and you’ve got all the makings of the kind of hotel that we casino nerds dream about at night.
I cannot wait to see the impact that Wynn Palace has on the Cotai Strip and the gaming world. I hope that Wynn finally gets it right, combining all of the pieces into a coherent hole that takes it above and beyond the top. And from what we’ve seen, if anything less happens we’re all going to be in the wrong.
Honorable Mention: Lucky Dragon
I would be remiss not to quickly mention this little gem. With the revival of the area caused by SLS’s modest success, seeing another M-style luxury hotel go up just off the strip is exciting enough, but toss in amazing design and a true homage to Asian gaming thematics and you’ve got a property that’s likely to be a hot destination for those in the know. I hope this Dragon breathes fire.