Here's my full review of Encore including four restaurants, the spa, and other notes from my December trip. Enjoy!
I was prepared for a disaster. You've got to have a very high tolerance for pain to agree to spending the opening nights of a 2000-room, 5000-something employee casino resort and essentially becoming a paying guinea pig. But having thoroughly enjoyed Wynn Las Vegas over the years and knowing that Encore would further improve on the same concepts, I made sure I booked my reservations for December 22-24 the first hours they became available.
This won't be a play-by-play. I spent the vast majority of my time at Encore so a significant portion of this report will be dedicated to reviewing Wynn's latest digs and sharing opening night highlights.
The resort was set to open at 8pm, but hotel guests were given priority and allowed to check-in as early as 12pm, enjoy the restaurants, etc. The casino, however, was roped off completely since Nevada gaming laws keep casinos from blatantly segregating gamblers. These eight hours of early access allowed me to give a thorough walkthrough of the resort without the distraction of droves and droves of people.
In short, the casino is marvelous and actually lives up to typical Steve Wynn superlatives. Yes, the entire floor is truly flooded with natural light. The atrium paralleling the Las Vegas strip is massive while the anti-reflective glass lining the back wall of the casino overlooking the pool is magnificent. As expected, the attention to detail is exquisite. The juxtaposition of exotic fabrics and woods, reoccurring--and often beautifully subtle--butterfly motives, and rich colors are a real treat for the eyes. While in many respects more elegant than Wynn a few hundred yards away, Encore feels even more upbeat and casual. The chambered casino, which divides the 70,000 square feet of gaming into smaller sections with use of columns and heavy drapery, is a welcome departure from the more open layout of every other casino in town; you always have that comfortable sense of privacy you get when playing in a high limit room, even when playing $10 blackjack.
And yes, there was plenty of $10 blackjack. Some tables were 6/5, but most were 3/2 using six decks. There was also plenty of $10 craps, $25 pai gow (both variants), $25 mini baccarat, and $100 midi and big tables during the day. Those are the kinds of minimums you'd expect at MGM and are lucky to see at Wynn and Caesars. Considering the level of property that Encore is, the minimums are relatively affordable. Bartop video poker also has a very strong presence with games at quarter levels and 8/5 pay tables all the way up to full pay high limit machines. All denominations of slots, including plenty of penny machines, line most of the southern half of the casino floor.
The whole design emphasizes guest convenience. You can walk from one end of the casino to the other in literally less than a minute and one brief walkthrough of the circumference of the gaming floor will give you a solid idea of the entire resort. All guests, whether in the Resort Tower or more exclusive Tower Suites, are not subjected to walking through the casino and their elevators are right by the front desk. Most of the north side is dominated by table games with the south side dedicated to slots. Pai gow and baccarat is, not surprisingly, on the northwest corner of the resort just outside Tower Suites. This division, combined with the chambered casino, atrium on one side, and glass wall on the other, makes getting lost at Encore nearly impossible.
Tower Suites and Rooms
I had the opportunity to stay in the Tower Suites for the opening nights, which just like the Tower Suites at Wynn Las Vegas, is surely striving to surpass qualifications for the Mobil Five Star award.
The moment my car pulled up, I was greeted by a bellhop and escorted to the Tower Suites greeter who sat me down and took my license and credit card to give to the front desk receptionist. While sitting, I was offered complimentary champagne, a warm towel, and chilled water. The champagne was just an opening day perk, but all the other amenities are included. I was also given a choice of several newspapers for delivery in the morning and was walked up to the elevators by the receptionist. This level of service was downright embarrassing--I loved it!
Encore's Tower Suites lacks back door baccarat access or a private pool like at Wynn, but what they lack in amenities, they make up for in smaller spaces and service. With just over 300 rooms, Encore Tower Suites is smaller than Four Seasons Las Vegas and though it was sold out opening night, you'd never know it. The hallways are even shorter than the Wynn Las Vegas variant and the distance from entrance to elevators is immediate. At nearly all times during the day, exiting the elevator would have you met by three bellhops, two concierges, and one greeter whose job is to make sure you never open your own doors and that your stay is nothing less than spectacular. Unlike Wynn, because the lobby doesn't have a restaurant inside, they're able to regulate access checking room keys before entering the lobby which--even during the craziness a couple hours after the opening--kept it a tranquil retreat that I constantly took advantage of.
The standard Tower suites, which are really no different than Resort suites but on the more exclusive side of the building, raise the bar for accommodations in Las Vegas. Mine was 700 square feet because it was on the inside of the building's curve facing north. South facing rooms are exactly the same but 40 square feet larger and have spectacular views of the south strip. As you enter, you'll notice the layout is much the same as that of Wynn Las Vegas' until the partition. To your right is a massive bathroom, a closet after that, and then the bed facing the windows. Beyond that is where Encore really shines as there is a partition with cutout in the center for what I believe is a 42 inch LCD television. As you walk passed the partition, there's a sofa with chaise on one end, an office, and of course, floor to ceiling windows. The television in the partition swivels 180 degrees to allow viewing from both bedroom and living rooms.
The levels of finishing in the accommodations are unsurpassed in Las Vegas. Only the highest quality marble and fabrics are used. I loved the light touches of gold and crown molding; these are things generally reserved for higher end suites, not a resort's most basic accommodations. The room is also brilliantly designed for a guest's convenience. A console on the bed controls all the lights, drapes, and even the privacy button so that if you forget to turn it on after going to bed, you can do so without getting up. Should you choose to turn all the lights off from the foyer, they dim in just the right amount of time for you to find your way to the bed. It's incredibly thoughtful. There are also copious amounts of storage space for everything you've packed. Maybe my situation was unique, but another plus is that rooms attached to suites have a gap of a few square feet in between connecting doors minimizing noise. I never noticed I had neighbors on my floor even though the Tower Suites were sold out.
While not a true "suite," Encore's rooms are the nicest standard accommodations in town. The level of detail and attention to a guest's convenience takes it above and beyond even THEhotel's standard suites.
I was given a tour of both a Parlor and Salon suite. The Parlor is just a more expansive standard room with properly separated living and seating, larger bathrooms, and massage room. The Salon suite is really something else, though. It's traditional, elegant with one-of-a-kind furniture, lush fabrics and silks, but no less Las Vegas with a 60-inch plasma television and massively scaled artwork adorning the walls. There are also rooms called "Apartments" which I was not able to see that are exclusively for high rollers. These end-of-the-hallway units come in two sizes: single story, 3000-something square foot, two-bedroom suites or two story, 5800 square foot, three-bedroom, and game room palaces. There are no ground floor villa units a la the Fairway or Apartment Villas at Wynn.
Opening Night Highlights
Wynn really rolled out the red carpet for us opening night customers. People were taking advantage of the free champagne throughout the resort and every bar was serving complimentary drinks from 5-8pm (!). Spread among his top players was millions of dollars in promo chips and money called "first bets." These high rollers occupied the tables and slot machines to be among the first to make bets at Encore. Near the atrium, thousands gathered and a few of us were lucky enough to pass the velvet ropes where more champagne, wine, and hors d'oevres were served. At about 7:50pm, Steve and Elaine Wynn took center stage. Wynn gave a brief speech on the economy, the evolution of Las Vegas, and how he considered every one of us there that night as his friends. Then, with the clock ticking and thousands of people dressed to the nines anxious to place their first bets, Wynn let open his pearly smile and slowly exclaimed, "Let the games begin!"
It was utter pandemonium. As Frank Sinatra blasted throughout the casino and a bunch of us made our way to a craps table, I couldn't have dreamt of a more perfect opening night. One of the first rolls of the hotel went for a solid half hour and I turned $30 into $200. We cashed out and made our way to Sinatra where we were seated right next to Steve and Elaine Wynn and family. Joining them were Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf, and Ron Popeil (yeah, the guy you watch on late night infomercials--"you just set it and forget it!"). Tim Poster, former owner of the Golden Nugget, came by to see how our table was doing and chatted with us a few minutes as well. After dinner, I made my rounds and shook hands with George Maloof, Tom Breitling, and Andrew Pascal. I'm not a sucker for celebrities, but always show my admiration for head honchos in the casino business. Chuckmonster of VegasTripping.com, described Encore's opening as one of the top ten nights of his life. I think all the casino junkies that I was with would agree.
Steve and Elaine just before opening (sorry about the cell phone quality shots).
Restaurants and Bars
Encore has five restaurants and several bars, most of which I was able to give a sampling of. By far my favorite bar in the resort is the Eastside Bar and Lounge. It sits right against the wall of glass that overlooks the pool. Service was excellent during the open bar before they were letting guests in, but was awful the next, more crowded night. The Lobby Bar and Café serves light fare and is right next to the resort elevators. It's a nice spot for a quick nightcap before going to bed, but the terrible service and general lack of atmosphere won't have me coming back any time soon. The Southside Bar had the best bartenders and is a nice spot to watch some games while sipping on drinks and playing video poker.
The first restaurant I tried was Society Café Encore. It's Encore's all-day restaurant (though not 24 hours) and a step above even higher-end casino coffee shops. Before ordering, they brought homemade potato chips with a special dip and warm, soft pretzels with their own special sauce. Both of these were excellent. The crisp calamari included a superb lemon sauce bursting of unique flavors while my breakfast entrée of sausage, eggs, toast, and potatoes was very good (but there's really only so much you can do with typical breakfast fare). One appetizer, three entrees, and three coffees came to only $65 including tip--very reasonable considering the level of service and atmosphere of the restaurant.
Wazuzu is their Asian inspired restaurant serving sushi, Chinese, and Thai dishes. It's a small room overlooking the casino with a giant dragon made completely of crystal lining its back wall. I wish I could say all the same great things about Wazuzu that I did for Society. It's a very small restaurant and needs to start taking reservations as I had to wait 45 minutes to be seated for lunch. Once we were finally seated, we gave our orders right away which included coconut curry, barbeque, and orange chicken. You're given a scale of one through five in how spicy you'd like your dishes. We chose four and were practically breathing fire. While the service wasn't bad, I believe the kitchen was severely understaffed since it took another 45 minutes after placing our order for the first dishes to be brought out. The food, though ordered spicier than any of us would have liked, was superb. Three entrees, three diet sodas, an order of edamame, and tip came to a grand total of $83. I'll try Wazuzu again, but only if they begin taking reservations or can seat me immediately.
As mentioned, on opening night several of us visited Sinatra for dinner. While it's Encore's flagship restaurant, it's no Alex, Guy Savoy, or Robuchon at The Mansion in terms of price. The food was exceptional, though all the complimentary wine and hors d'oeuvres during the preopening ceremonies had most of us ordering modestly. Service was always friendly though could have been a little quicker. The décor is relatively minimal paying subtle homage to Sinatra with memorabilia throughout and also features an outdoor patio that'll be one of Las Vegas' best dining spots once the weather improves. My order of veal and risotto was very reasonably priced and the meal was $65 for myself alone. I would most certainly return.
The final restaurant I tried was Switch. Perhaps Encore's most hyped, Switch's walls and ceiling literally change during the course of your dinner. While Encore doesn't have a "feature" a la Bellagio's fountains or Mirage's volcano, it seems like Switch is quickly becoming the tourist attraction of the resort as people lined around watching it while we dined. The food was fantastic. I had the caesar salad to start, bone-in rib eye as my entrée, and chocolate soufflé for dessert. The steak was excellent--not the best I've ever had (that title belongs to L'Atelier), but still a strong contender for one of the best steaks in town. With a modest bottle of wine, three appetizers, five entrees, six deserts, one cappuccino, and tip, the meal was a hefty $650 total but worth every penny. If I had to fault it, I'd say the "switch" happens too often. There are three different kinds of walls and ceilings that change during dinner and by the fourth or fifth "switch," I grew tired of it. Over the course of dinner, we saw eight or nine changes occurring every 20 minutes. If they timed it to every 45 minutes, I think it would be perfect.
One of the most hyped aspect of Encore was its spa so I made sure to see it for myself. The lobby and reception of the space is stunning encouraging you to shell out the $40 fee just to use the facilities. It's a striking space combining natural light and the latest in spa technology with a décor of THEhotel's-Bathhouse-meets-Wynn-Las-Vegas'-spa. Amid typical offerings of showers, steam rooms, saunas, and lounges are two hot tubs that have little half circles for each person to lounge back in. Inside these half circles are two jets massaging the lower sides of your back. In the same area are "Experience Showers" with twelve heads spraying at once to ambient music while the shower slowly changes through a spectrum of colors. A few deluge showers are also available, but they're nowhere near as great as the deluges at Wynn which really do wonders for your shoulders and upper back. Across that area are heated loungers while near the lockers is a "tranquility room" that is dark, quieter, and offers an assortment of teas and snacks. This was my favorite area of the spa--a truly relaxing space.
While obviously too cold to enjoy the pool, I took a walk around the area to get an idea of what Encore will have in store in a few months. The grounds are lovely with plenty of loungers in and out of the water, day beds, and cabanas that look like they might be the size of a standard room at Harrah's decorated in dark browns and earth tones. Some have questioned whether the pool area will be large enough for a 2000 room resort. While it won't have the copious amount of space that Wynn does, it won't be a Treasure Island either. Certainly, the pools were designed more for dipping than swimming so while they are small, the amount of loungers available should be enough. Overall, the way the entire space, topless pool, XS nightclub, Botero restaurant, and casino all combine seamlessly makes me even more excited about Encore once the temperatures start to warm up.
The Encore Esplanade has only a few shops and only three established brands: Hermes, Chanel, and the more recent Rock and Republic--their first ever boutique. I found all the sales associates happy, helpful, and thoroughly hooked up with XS management (wink wink). While the shops and the area in general aren't at the same level of opulence as Wynn's Esplanade, neither are the overall prices. Sure, Encore has unbelievable diamonds and Hermes, but you can also walk into Ensemble and buy $70 shirts and $45 scarves. Before you complain that that's overpriced, try to find that anywhere in Wynn or Bellagio's shopping areas.
The Sky Casino is UN-BE-LIEVABLE. It's a completely private, high limit baccarat salon 52 floors up with six private rooms and floor to ceiling windows overlooking north and south strip. I wasn't supposed to be in there, so my time was limited to literally a few seconds before I got the stare down. There's no question it'll attract the most baccarat action in the city.
The convention areas are elegant and on a much smaller scale than those of Wynn. The staircase leading to the Beethoven meeting room reminded me of the one that used to stand in Bellagio's Conservatory before getting torn down to make way for the Spa Tower.
Service in General
Damn near flawless. I can't think of a single moment where any service personnel I came into contact with didn't go above and beyond the call of duty. This was especially impressive considering that it was during opening day. I bought in for $40 at a $10 blackjack table and the pit boss asked for my Red Card eager to rate even only a few minutes of minimum play. I asked the concierge where I could get a suite tour and she walked me over and personally introduced me to one of the hotel managers across the resort. The housekeepers asked me when they can come back to service my room and sure enough, they were there the moment I told them to be back. When I called to have my car brought up from the Tower Suites valet, it was ready to go and waiting before I made my way down the elevator. These are the kinds of things that really set Encore apart. If I had to find fault, I'd say the kitchens of the restaurants are generally understaffed and while the waitresses at the bars are drop dead gorgeous, you can tell they were hired for their breasts and not their brains (not that I'm complaining). I don't expect these issues to remain for long once the resort gets its bearings, though.
It's without question the best overall resort on the strip. Dollar for dollar, it costs about the same as Wynn, but the space is more elegant and yet, the casino is slightly more affordable. Truly a worthy encore to Wynn Las Vegas.
I came in the night before Encores opening on a comp from MGM. While checking in, I asked if they had any Terrace Suites available. I was quoted $800, but I said I'd take it off his hands for $250. I felt pretty stupid for throwing out a ridiculously low price, but a few minutes later and a call to his manager and he said he could do it. Hell, it was so easy, he probably would have done it for $150. Moral of the story: you can negotiate upgrade costs.
The suite can be described as modern-artwork-and-flat-panel-televisions-meets-your-grandmother's-living-room. Whoever designed it should be fired. But you don't pay $1000 per night to stay indoors. This is a party suite of the highest caliber and that hot tub on the balcony overlooking the north strip made for a great hangover cure even if morning temperatures were in their 30s. Fortunately, I was indeed able to host some friends at the last minute and it was an enjoyable experience. Definitely worth $250 dollars, even if I had the room for only 18 hours.
I was on fire this trip. And that sucked. Why? Because with the economy, my usual $40 to $100 bets per hand had me down to about $10 to $30 spreads. Overall, I walked away up about $400 for the trip, though I couldn't stop thinking how much more it would have been had I had the same luck on trips from only a year ago. Still, I shouldn't be complaining.
Treasure Island's high limit room had $25 midi baccarat. That's the cheapest touch-and-tear-the-cards baccarat you'll find anywhere in Las Vegas and in the high limit room no less. Someone just needs to inject these dealers with a hint of excitement. I decided to force some kind of conversation out of them and asked how they felt about the Phil Ruffin buy out. The one and only response: "It's nice."
There was a dude at Wynn with two personal bodyguards and two personal assistants playing baccarat at the front of the high limit room spreading between $150,000 to $200,000 per hand. He had $500,000 on commission when I first began watching him and over $1,000,000 on there at the end of the night. This was all going on in Mandarin, but from what I could understand, when he demanded more credit, the personal assistants let the pit bosses have it for not having new markers ready for him to sign. It was only to his benefit: I got word that he had lost two million that night and another two million the night before.
A truly unforgettable trip. No, I didn't hit a single club of strip or dance variety and besides the first night at MGM where I don't remember a thing after 1am, I really didn't get that wasted drunk either. Still, to be in attendance at a casino's opening is an experience I recommend everyone participate in. Feel free to throw any questions my way. Thanks for reading!