Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

All Articles Published: March 2005

March 28, 2005

Wynn Las Vegas: What Do You Want to Know?

Posted by Hunter

As some folks already know, we have a trip booked arriving 5/1 and I plan on blogging the entire stay with pictures, etc...

Since they are having a media blackout of sorts, I'm hoping to provide some interesting coverage for folks.

So, I want to know...

What are you going to want to know about the hotel from the boots on the ground?

I'd like to have a coverage plan to make sure I check everything out for people.

Let me know!

March 24, 2005

Wynn Las Vegas Approved By Gaming Commission

Posted by Hunter

The Nevada Gaming Commission unanimously approved Wynn Las Vegas and all of its key employees for licensing today. That's the last regulatory hurdle that needed to be crossed for the resort to open.

Last time we visited Mandalay Bay, Luxor and Excalibur in our walk down the Las Vegas Strip. That first column generated a lot of responses so we're back with the next installment.

This time around we're going to check out four casinos which range in age from the 50s to mid-90s... Let's get started!

The Tropicana

The Tropicana opened in 1957 and is one of the last remaining 'original' hotels on the Strip. It's had quite a long and important place in Las Vegas history but this ain't school so we'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

Since it's opening, the hotel has been remodeled and expanded several times. It currently features over 1,800 guest rooms and is owned by Aztar Corporation. If you haven't visited the Trop before and it's on your list, you had better hurry... The place is unofficially scheduled to be imploded and re-developed in the next year or so.

For a resort almost 50 years old, the place has aged fairly well. The casino is a typical Vegas job of about 30 years ago. Low ceilings in most sections, large chandeliers, and friendly dealers. This place was built as a super-luxury joint and much of that craftsmanship is still evident. The don't make 'em like they used to and the casino at the Trop is a great example of that. One complaint - Corona bottles don't fit in the drink rack at the craps tables! Who the hell designed that?

The hotel is made up of two hotel towers, of which the Paradise Tower is preferred - it's held up better over the years. No matter what you do, avoid the garden rooms. They are part of the original motel structure and are ragged. For a property at this price level, the pool is great. It's pretty large and there are multiple waterfalls that make it a pretty great place to hang out and have a cocktail, plus they sometimes have swim-up blackjack in the summertime.

In general we recommend checking out the Trop as a piece of history that will no doubt be gone soon. It's hard to harsh it for some of the less than great aspects as the place is twice as old as I am.

Photos of the Trop:

MGM Grand

The green giant at the corner of Tropicana and Las Vegas Blvd, MGM Grand is the largest hotel in the city (and by some counts, the world). It's got over 5,000 rooms which basically means it is way too big to have great service or any feeling of intimacy.

What's Good About MGM Grand?

Skylofts - The recently opened Skylofts are located on the top floor of the Grand Tower of the hotel. They're a new form of super-luxury accommodations including a very high level of personalized service. These rooms used to be their penthouse suites and they were completely gutted to convert them to the new setup. The rooms include high-end media centers, TVs in all bathrooms, spa tubs, steam rooms, and butler service. Basically, the concept is a plush apartment in New York or London, only these are inside the world's largest casino. Despite the fact much of their room product is just average, the Skylofts are well designed and executed.

The Mansion - This is THE high-roller hangout on the Strip, opening in 1999 at a cost of $112 million. The Mansion is a set of 29 villas located on the side of the property with the largest clocking in at 12,000 square feet. Beyond incredible accommodations, the Mansion has both a private gaming salon and the semi-public 'Mansion Casino'. While most people will never see The Mansion, let alone stay there, we have to acknowledge the impressive setup MGM Grand has added to the hotel.

Some Restaurants - Over the course of the last couple of years, MGM Grand has added or remodeled most of its restaurants. While some are still dogs (Rainforest Cafe, the buffet), there are some winners. If you're looking for a good meal, try Emeril's (owned by BAM chef Emeril Lagasse), Nobhill or Seablue. Beyond just the food, most of the outlets have pretty interesting architecture, which stands out from the expanse of mediocrity that is the rest of the hotel's decor.

New Sportsbook and Poker Room - Just opened in the area at the front of the hotel, the new sportsbook features all the latest tech plus exclusive skyboxes for high end players. The new poker room is just next door and again, they created an entirely new space filled with brand new tables. It isn't operating quite yet, but it is very close.

What's Bad About MGM Grand?

Size - This place is too big. That means long walks everywhere, long waits for everything, and the general feeling that you are gambling at Costco. When you enter the casino you see what looks like a football field or airplane runway of slots. A huge open rectangular expanse. It's uninspired and boring. If it wasn't for the fact that they have 5,000 rooms to fill the casino, this place wouldn't be a draw for gamblers.

Low Build Quality - The hotel was originally targeted as a family destination, with a theme park and large pool complex onsite. It's $1 billion price tag was staggering at the time but that wasn't based on high end building materials, it was due to the sheer size of the resort. Many parts of the resort have low-end ceilings, furnishings and fixtures... Now, this is becoming less true as MGM Grand is basically rebuilding itself (they have spent over $600 million since the place opened) as the years go by but it is still evident. The Grand Tower was redone a few years back and while it is now more tasteful, the main room product isn't a luxury product. For years the Emerald Tower rooms were the red headed stepchildren on property. They were originally rooms in the Marina, a small resort that was on the site before MGM Grand was built. MGM has recently re-done the Emerald Tower rooms as the 'West Wing' and upgraded the furniture and decor. We haven't seen these rooms yet in person but the rooms haven't been expanded or enlarged, so they are still pretty small compared to the Grand Tower and suite options.

We're Not So Sure...

KA - The new show from Cirque de Soleil is probably a winner. I haven't seen it yet so I can't say for sure but from what I've heard, it's pretty amazing. So, I'm fairly confident saying this is a win except for one thing... Another freaking Cirque show? With this, the show coming at The Mirage and Steve Wynn's Cirque-esque Le Reve, it's getting a little out of control.

West Wing - See 'Low Build Quality' above... I'd like to see them for myself.

Overall MGM Grand is not the kind of place that I think of when I am looking for a place to stay in Vegas. While it will provide many visitors with a Vegas experience, it lacks any real style, interesting architecture or tasteful decor.

Photos of the MGM Grand:

New York New York

The 2,000 room hotel on the corner of Las Vegas Blvd. and Tropicana has been a major visitor draw since it opened in 1997.

What's Great About NYNY?

Exterior Facade - NYNY has a great exterior. Designed to look like New York City in the 1940s (there never has been a World Trade Center in the design), the hotel tower is fashioned after famous city landmarks and even features a small Statue of Liberty.

Some Restaurants - Some of the food outlets are quite good. America and Gallagher's both come to mind as above average food choices. None of the restaurants are out of this world fantastic but they can hold their own against most other Strip resorts.

What's Bad about NYNY?

Casino Design - While the exterior is brilliant, the interior is a mess. The ceilings in the main casino are at 35', which clearly sucks out all the energy in the casino. The entrances from MGM Grand and Excalibur, which bring in thousands of people a day, require you to take an escalator down to the casino floor, another design flaw. This place should be hopping and its usually only moderately busy. These are huge flaws but it doesn't look like MGM MIRAGE is making any big changes anytime soon.

Guest Rooms - Put in basic terms, they are nothing special. There are something like four different guest elevators, good luck finding the right one. Once you get to your room, you will see that it is pretty small and not all that special. For the kind of rates they are usually trying to get, the rooms just don't cut it. You're better off spending less and ending up at the Aladdin or about the same and hitting TI. This place wasn't built to satisfy the really high end customer or even the discerning hotel guest. It's certainly more focused on the mid-market.

NYNY doesn't really have any other exciting amenities to discuss. Yes, there is a roller coaster that can be fun to ride, but when you're in the casino its just plain loud. No great pool. No great nightlife. No great nuthin'.

Photos of New York New York:

Monte Carlo

If you like the Monte Carlo I should apologize in advance. I'm probably gonna piss you off.

What's Great about the Monte Carlo?

Lance Burton - This show is a lot of fun. Not only is the magic hard to figure out, the guy has some pretty good jokes! I recommend this show, especially if you have your kids with you in Las Vegas. It's the kind of show that everyone can enjoy.

Brew Pub - They make some great beer right here on site. The food is only average but the beer is worth the trip.

Return on Investment - This place was built cheap in a great location. It has made a ton of money since it opened based on its proximity to must see attractions and fairly successful marketing. Actually, I'll probably write an entire article on this topic sometime in the future, it's pretty interesting stuff.

What's Bad about the Monte Carlo?

Everything Else - This has got to be the least inspired casino built in Las Vegas in the last 20 years. The theme is executed so half-heartedly. The casino is a football field sized warehouse with absolutely no interesting features. The pool is a sort of mini-Mandalay Bay (designed by the same folks) and the hotel tower is built with the same cheapo construction that plagues Luxor and Mandalay Bay. Thin walls, spotty service and cheap finishing touches. There is onsite tennis, which some folks will certainly enjoy... Still, this place is just seeping in mediocrity.

Photos of Monte Carlo:

That's it for this episode of Stripping... Next time we'll look at Aladdin, Paris, Ballys and Bellagio, which should be a pretty interesting episode considering all the problems the Aladdin has had, Ballys long history in Las Vegas and Bellagio as the current king of the Las Vegas casinos.

March 23, 2005

March Madness Indeed!

Posted by Hunter

Just returned from a three night adventure at THEHotel... Yes, I realize that I lambasted Mandalay in my last 'Stripping' article and I stand by what I wrote (actually, I believe it even more now)... You'll also remember that I really like THEHotel and that was home base for this trip, which included some great food, terrible gambling, back to the room at 5am and a great time with friends.

Most trip reports are usually quite boring so I'll just re-cap a few highlights here.

Also, *some* of the photos I took have been posted to flickr. The rest will be up in a week (ran out of space for this month). See the photos here:

Some Highlights and Observations

  • Wynn Las Vegas: Both 'really coming along' and still 'quite unfinished'. It's amazing how much they can complete in the last month before the opening date. Driveways still need to be poured, landscaping installed, signage completed, etc... That said, it's really shaping up, as you can see from the photos. Maserati and Ferrari logos are visible on the area to the North of the main entrance that will house the dealership. Signs for the retailers are visible on the South side. Much of the mountain landscaping is now installed and they are building a bridge that will go over a small river/lake at the LVB/Spring Mountain entrance. It doesn't look like the lake is filled yet, or if it is, it's only partially filled. I would expect they would have to get on top of that pretty soon as the Bellagio lake took 90 days to fill. The hotel tower looks great at night and you can see it from practically anywhere as it is sooooo tall. You can see the golf course from the monorail and it looks fairly complete. The massive waterfall at the 18th hole is running and looks a lot like the volcano at The Mirage. Correction: Thanks to one of our readers, we now know that the lake IS full, at least on the interior side.
  • THEHotel and Mandalay Bay: THEHotel is still great, Mandalay still sucks. Actually, I got a good dose of the non-existent customer service at MBay on this trip... I discovered that room service at THEHotel is GREAT (and not too expensive), maybe the best hotel room service I have ever had. One thing I had forgotten that is a bit strange - no security checking keys at THEHotel elevators. Most of the MGM Mirage properties have this, even a more mid-range joint like Treasure Island... Not that I expect those dudes to deter anyone interested in causing real problems. I still think the property is in a bad location, all the way at the end of the Strip. Never had long taxi lines leaving THEHotel though, which was nice.
  • House of Blues Foundation Room: For those that don't know, this is a members only club (jacket not included) on the roof at Mandalay Bay. The view is similar to MIX (open to the public) but since it is private, it's never that crowded. The four in our group ended up there late Sunday night thanks to a casino host hookup and it was great. My wife hadn't seen the place and she was floored. It's always fun to show people something new.
  • Body English: This is the nightclub at the Hard Rock, formerly Baby's. I'm not a big nightclub guy, I usually spend my time in the casino... But, the ladies love to dance and this time we planned a night out on the floor. We reserved a table, which made all the difference in the world. Instead of having to wait in line to get in or at the bar once inside, we had our own cocktail waitress and security dude. Most people get sticker shock when they look at the prices of the alcohol (it is by the bottle) but if you have a bunch of people in your group it makes a ton of sense. Who wants to waste four hours of their night standing in line to get into a crowded club where you can't even sit down? That's just about the most retarded idea I've ever heard.
  • Motley Crue: This trip was planned around this show at the Hard Rock. We got tickets as a Christmas gift and everything went from there... We arrived a little late and we missed a few songs... How have the years treated these dudes? Vince Neil's voice seems to be completely shot. He tried hard but there were a lot of notes he just couldn't hit. The band themselves rocked, they were really tight and it was fun to hear all of those 80s rock anthems cranked out live. Tommy Lee did the 'chick cam' where he took a camcorder and encouraged female audience members to flash the camera - just like the real 80s!
  • Delmonico: The best thing at The Venetian never disappoints and this was no exception. Great food, great wine. This might be the only sure thing in Las Vegas.
  • MGM Grand Sportsbook: Checked out the new book at MGM Grand, which is not totally done yet, despite press releases to the contrary. The book is open but the poker room and new bar (Centrifuge) aren't. Anyway, a nice upgrade for the MGM as it now has one of the nicest books in town.
  • Gambling: Why do I like gambling? It's actually quite vexing since I seem to be on the worst losing streak ever, having not had a winning trip in about a year (that's at least 10 trips). This time around was no different... Only this time I was the lone craps player in our small group so I was basically playing with a bunch of strangers the whole time. Awesome dudes! Lotsa fun! Sign me up for another trip... Oh wait... I'm going back in five weeks...

That's it for now. I am most of the way through the next 'Stripping' installment and we're prepping for live coverage of the opening of Wynn Las Vegas coming very soon!

March 20, 2005

Foundation Room

Posted by Hunter

Foundation Room

March 20, 2005

Wynn Las Vegas

Posted by Hunter

Wynn Las Vegas

March 20th - Moving very quickly now. Looks like there will be water/lake/river right out on the street. They are building a bridge out to the street.

March 15, 2005

Encore at Wynn Las Vegas

Posted by Hunter

Originally designed as a second tower for Wynn Las Vegas, documents filed with the SEC show that the scope and cost of the project has expanded.

The 20 acre parcel will now be developed into a free-standing casino resort, still being planned under the codename 'Encore'. The hotel tower will feature 2,000 full suites and a significant amount of casino space. The two resorts will be integrated via their public areas.

Encore is expected to open in 2008.

March 12, 2005

Wynn Updates Web Site

Posted by Hunter

The Web site is up! All the details!

Wynn Las Vegas.

March 10, 2005

Live From Las Vegas Next Week

Posted by Hunter

Next weekend (Friday-Monday) we'll be photo blogging live from Las Vegas through our connection.

Entries will be posted here with photos from Flickr. This trip includes the Foundation Room, Body English, Delmonico, Sensi and Motley Crue.

This trip we're staying at THEHotel... Yes, I lambasted Mandalay in my last STRIPPING column. As I said, THEHotel is still a great place to stay and that's home base for this trip.

Anyway, set your calendars for some live from Vegas action.

March 6, 2005

Changes at Bellagio - How Are They Doing?

Posted by Hunter

California here we come... right back where we started from... I�m on the runway heading back home from Philadelphia. Man, it was cold. I can�t wait to get home. Did you know that you can unlock the restroom on an Airbus A320 by adjusting a latch that is located behind the �Lavatory� sign on the bathroom door? At least on this United Airbus. The flight crew told me not to tell anybody... Whoops...

Bellagio was Steve Wynn�s ultimate design for a mega-luxury supercasino. It was built as Mirage++, clearly based on the same design principles but with higher quality everything and the benefit of lessons learned.

Up until he left the company in 2000, his fingerprints were all over the hotel. The in-house video and announcements were recorded by a woman that spoke with an Italian accent, replaced soon after he left with a native English speaker... I kinda liked �Bellaccio� as the pronunciation on the video tour! His meticulous attention to detail was unmistakable.

After Steve left, the hotel continued under the stewardship of his right hand man, Bobby Baldwin (at least until recently - Bill McBeath of The Mirage is the new president of Bellagio while Baldwin is his boss as the head of Mirage Resorts). Baldwin recognized a good operation and didn�t stir things up too much. Until December�s Spa Tower opening, the biggest changes were the addition of a nightclub (Light), replacing the Allegro Lounge with Caramel and swapping out the Sam�s/Nectar/FIX restaurant space to come up with something that worked.

Anyway, since Las Vegas� (currently) most high-profile casino has undergone some changes, we want to take a look and see if Bellagio is still Bellagio.

What�s Good

Dining: FIX and Sensi - If you compare Bellagio circa 2000 to today, we have two new restaurants on the scene. Forget that there have been intermediaries, those joints failed miserably. Finally, the hotel has winners with two new spots and since I�ve tried both, I feel qualified to comment. Each has tasty food and attentive service. Neither is inexpensive, so don�t look for these restaurants to fill that void at this hotel. Since most of the customers at Bellagio are less worried about the tab, I think both joints are a good fit. When dining at FIX, try the Bobby Baldwin Sliders, at Sensi, the corn soup and the lamb are both �don�t miss� items.

Guestroom Renovations - Turn the clock back to late 2003/early 2004. Management saw the upcoming Spa Tower looming and were worried that guests would feel that one set of rooms were preferable to the other, based on amenities and the age of the furnishings, etc... So the decision was made to renovate the Bellagio Tower rooms (also notice that Mirage Resorts guestrooms are almost all on a five year refurb schedule: 1998-2003 at Bellagio, 1992-1997 at TI and 1998-2003 at Mirage). The plan was to use the new designs for the Spa Tower rooms as the new standard in the Bellagio Tower. This meant a bit more marble in the entryways, mechanical curtains in all guestrooms (formerly restricted to suites), along with new furniture and color schemes. Along with these timely upgrades was a change we don�t love - room key cards instead of metal keys. We�ll discuss this below...

Good? Bad?

Casino Color and Design Choices - If you take a close look at the casino carpet and wall coverings, you�ll notice there are several test patterns being checked in the casino. It is most noticeable in the area near the restaurant Jasmine. The new patterns feature a lot less color and we�re just not sure if we like them. They are also featured heavily in the Spa Tower public areas. There is a chance they won�t be rolled out on the floor but they�ve been in place for months. I�ve heard rumors that Donna Baldwin, Bobby�s wife, is responsible for these changes. I don�t have evidence to back that up but that�s my guess based on a few stories I�ve heard.

Casino Floor With Massive Signage - Under the Wynn Doctrine, Bellagio�s slot machines generally didn�t have large attached signage with flashing lights, at least not many that were breaking from the customized style that IGT and Bally Gaming designed for the hotel. These days the slots are done up just like they are in any other casino and while there isn�t anything particularly �wrong� with that, it is certainly worth mentioning as this changes sight lines in the casino.

Porte Cochere Changes - So far I haven�t gotten the details confirmed by the hotel but I do know that the outside bell desk and main entrance are currently being refurbished. Rumor claims this includes a small waterfall and other improvements. We�ll share updated information as we have it. I can�t imagine this being too �bad� but we�ll see.

What�s Bad?

Brain Drain (Is Everyone Heading Back to Wynn?) - It�s no mystery that Wynn Las Vegas has �poached� many key employees from Mirage Resorts. Let�s get serious. There are only so many capable managers and line workers and they want to work for Steve - that�s where the true loyalty is. Also, based on my conversations with employees at MGM MIRAGE properties, some are a bit dismayed at the changes that have occurred and are looking for a new start. There is no denying that some top MGM MIRAGE folks, many that work at Bellagio, are heading for Wynn Las Vegas when employee training starts this month.

What Happened to the Keys? - When Wynn built The Mirage, he decided to use magnetic metal keys instead of the plastic key cards that are used in most large hotels. When Bellagio opened, it too used the metal magnetic keys. It is a nice touch that differentiates the hotel and makes an impression on the guest. Well, with the new Spa Tower and the Bellagio Tower remodel, the guestrooms now use traditional plastic key cards while the suites still use the metal keys. I think that�s a shame and I�m not sure why management decided to make the change.

The bottom line is that Bellagio is still very much the hotel that Steve built. While some changes have been made, the spirit of service remains. It�s a nearly 4,000 room hotel that is run like a boutique and quality remains high. Clearly they are concerned about their high end business and employees being poached by Wynn Las Vegas but that�s only natural. Not everyone will jump ship and both hotels will thrive. The competition from Wynn will push Bellagio to keep quality high.

Thoughts? Share your comments below.

Visit our Bellagio photos at Flickr:

March 4, 2005

Wynn Las Vegas Resturants

Posted by Hunter

We've added all of the confirmed Wynn Las Vegas restaurants to our Wynn page:

March 1, 2005

Bill McBeath Named President/COO of Bellagio

Posted by Hunter

As anticipated, Bill McBeath moves from The Mirage to Bellagio as MGM MIRAGE management shakes up the team with the Mandalay acquisition. We expect Scott Sibella to move from TI to The Mirage, but that is not yet confirmed.