Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

We're back with part three of Jeff Simpson's 'Advice for The Strip' column here at Simpson on Vegas. In this episode, it's the other side of the Center Strip.

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Once again I'm continuing with my consulting trip down Las Vegas Boulevard. In this column, the third in a series, I'm taking a look at the southern end of the Center Strip, from the Imperial Palace south to the Caesars Palace and Bill's.

Imperial Palace

I really enjoyed chuckmonster's trip review of the IP over on VegasTripping, and he captured the essence of what the Imperial Palace is and whom it should appeal to. The IP is a solid budget property that offers frugal visitors -- the young, the less affluent, the hard-core gamblers and the partiers who want to save most of their money for the tables, machines or drinks (or some combination) an almost-decent place to crash that, without pretense, has most of the elements a Vegas visitor needs. It will be interesting to see what Caesars Entertainment will do with the property as part of its half-billion-dollar Linq project. The company has already said they are dumping the Imperial Palace name, totally reworking the property's Stripfront and exterior design and improving the design to allow more flow-through from Harrah's and the Flamingo. Those changes all make good sense. The O'Sheas-type experience, although maybe not its name, will be re-created somewhere on the new property's casino floor, an element that should be popular with younger guests. Cheap drinks, low minimum bets on table games and the supposedly popular beer pong (I don't get it, but OK) will undoubtedly be included. I like adding an O'Shea's-type party area to the casino as well.

Dr. Dave Schwartz says Caesars executives told him they don't plan to do any room refurbishing, at least in Linq's first phase, but I'd recommend they strongly consider it as soon as possible, especially if the company decides to pin its valuable Horseshoe brand on the property. As for other changes, I'd start with the parking garage, a hellhole with crazy posts, dead-ends, weird indoor garage doors and parking spaces tighter than (insert your own joke here). The auto museum never really tied in to the Imperial Palace theme and I guess there's no reason it couldn't be kept if it actually draws visitors. (I've never seen it and neither have any of my out-of-town friends and relatives.) If it doesn't draw, of course, it should be replaced. The dining options outside of Hash House A Go Go seem like relics of the '60s. There's no reason they can't be modernized, decor and menus alike. Of course the Linq restaurant options, which will be right next to the property, will be a big plus. The hotel needs a nice, modern pool. The Linq will take care of the IP's weird Stripfront bar set-up, separating the casino from the street and its exceptionally down-market porte cochere (if it can even be called that). That bar has always seemed to me like one of the lamest property Stripfronts, more off-putting than even those at the Tropicana, Circus Circus and Bally's. (Well, maybe not Bally's) The retail offerings are relics of the past but somehow fit the property. They should be updated but keep price-points that fir the renamed and improved hotel. And, finally, spend some money to make sure the escalators, elevators (thanks, Chuck) and HVAC systems work well.


Project Linq is slated to eliminate O'Sheas at its current location and may kill its name forever. But as long as it exists O'Sheas should continue to target young drunks (I'm sorry, I mean value-conscious partiers). My only advice for the property that seems to know its customers: Make sure you don't let the impending closure allow custodians to run out of Dry-Sweep.


Renovate the non-Go hotel rooms. Swap out the retail with more modern offerings. Except for the UPS Store, which admittedly is strange in a Las Vegas resort (I want a Flamingo mailbox address) but I like it. Linq will undoubtedly energize the now dormant north side of the property, but the pool and the animal sanctuary should be preserved and, hopefully, improved. The Flamingo has a crappy garage and hopefully Linq will provide some relief on the parking front, not add more cars to an already short supply of spaces. While I'm on the subject, clean up the garage, especially its elevators. And quit giving the best spaces to car rental companies. The casino could use some live music and a little more energy. Get rid of the time-share hucksters (this applies to all Caesars properties -- the most egregious violators -- and, in fact, all casinos that allow them to bother customers. That is terrible customer service). The Margaritaville Casino planned for the new northern Stripfront seems like it will be a decent attraction for mid-market customers. I hope Caesars doesn't spoil it with lousy table game odds and exceptionally tight slots.

Bill's Gamblin' Hall & Saloon

This place used to be a two-fisted gambling joint when Michael Gaughan owned it. It no longer is. I don't know what it is about the Bill's nightclub, Drai's, but its clientele seems like the most obnoxious and irritating in the city. If the long-discussed plan to convert the property into a Drai's boutique hotel is true and if its customers are the same it will be the most annoying property on the Strip. My advice for the forseeable future is to fix up the rooms and casino, go back to Michael Gaughan-style restaurant offerings and offer a great-value, high-quality cafe as well as an excellent fine-dining joint to reward your comped gamblers. Bring back loose slots and table payouts and be generous with the comps (I know that's not the Total Rewards style, but this little place needs to have its own character). The garage is tiny but space constraints make improvement unlikely. Maybe Linq can help out there as well. Whatever Caesars Entertainment does with Bill's in the short run the property's premiere location justifies an eventual redevelopment, perhaps as part of an eventual Flamingo redevelopment.

Caesars Palace

The biggest problem with Caesars can't really be fixed: Its crazy-quilt, patched-together layout. The property needs more close-in parking (go higher) and more garage elevators. Caesars has done a great job with its Forum, Augustus and (presumably) Octavius towers and the Nobu addition will remove an old tower and should replace it with an excellent one. The remaining old rooms should be renovated or removed and replaced as soon as possible. In general I like the Roman theme (columns, statues, etc.) but I also like the modern hotel towers and big rooms. The property could probably use another nightclub and a changeover of Pure. While the Forum Shops are great the in-hotel retail is sort of stale and could be updated (See: Cosmopolitan, Bellagio, Encore or Wynn Las Vegas).


Read archived comments (9 so far)
August 28, 2011 6:52 AM Posted by parchedearth

You will be lucky if any resort puts money into parking unless they start charging. There just aren't enough guests who need (non-valet) parking. Employee parking is about the only reason to build a new garage.

I just can't see them re-creating the true O'Sheas experience inside Linq. I'm guessing it ends up as a small irish-themed area off the IP casino. They are not going to want their new project to end up like an extension of carnival court.

I see the biggest upside as the new dining and bar options available to Flamingo and IP guests. I can't wait to see what they do with the north side entrance of Flamingo.

August 28, 2011 8:29 AM Posted by Jeff in OKC

Great post, Jeff. I look foreword to each one.

For perspective, the Auto Collection at Imperial Palace is my favorite thing to see in Las Vegas. I have been 15 times, at least. I try to go each trip to Las Vegas, which is now 3 or 4 times a year. Lisa and I have it worked out where she goes to the Forum Shops and I hit the Auto Collection. It is a great and varied collection of cars, probably the largest collection of post-war Rolls-Royce and Bently autos, middle-class cars from the 60's and 70's with less than 1000 miles and anything else you could imagine seeing. I get entertained and educated every visit. If you are a car person, it's not to be missed, IMO.

August 28, 2011 4:53 PM Posted by detroit1051

Jeff, you really surprised me when you wrote that neither you nor visiting friends have been to the Auto Collection at IP. I'm with Jeff in OKC; I've visited many times and always find it interesting. Is The Auto Collection an independent operator? Maybe the collection was sold to them after Engelstad died.

August 28, 2011 6:52 PM Posted by Jeff Simpson

I'm not opposed to checking out the Auto Collection and the comments from Jeff in OKC and detroit1051 have convinced me to visit soon.
parchedearth, I can't imagine resorts will start charging for self-parking (although LVH and Venetian have done it during busy conventions) but I hope you're wrong about the garages. LVCVA stats show a substantial number of Las Vegas visitors are drive-ins and any resort business that wants to serve customers well should realize that '70s-style garages no longer cut it.

August 28, 2011 8:15 PM Posted by jinx

Very good points Jeff, and I think you hit on a number of key things that I hope Caesars does do with the properties. For all the crap Caesars gets, there are some things they've done well. They made Osheas relevant, I can remember under Park Place it was barely an afterthought, Caesars essentially made it Casino Royale 2.0. There is a need for it on the strip, although I'll admit I can't stand to be in there past 3pm.

You also make some great points on the IP, they do need to retain the, for lack of a better word, 'charm'. A complete whitewashing or even Trop style remodel would probably kill all character the place has. The rooms that never got redone before Harrahs took over need to at least be brought up to that level, and the 'deluxe' rooms that were done before Harrahs bought the property need a refresh, but I don't think they need to go overboard with it. New carpeting throughout the property would go along way for most sins too.

August 29, 2011 4:52 AM Posted by detroit1051

Jeff, in all my trips to Vegas over the years, I always rented a car and used the free self-park garages. I agree with you it would be a mistake to nickle and dime visitors by charging for parking. That issue has always been a gripe with me about Atlantic City.
Since I haven't been to Vegas in a few years, I wonder whether parking garage cleaning has become an easy target for expense reductions. Wynn, Bellagio and Mirage garages were always clean and convenient. However, even five years ago, Harrah's garage was notoriously dirty with beer bottles and food wrappers scattered every few feet.. MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay weren't much better. One of the things I liked about LV Hilton in the old days was being able to park in the surface lot off Joe W. Brown and enter by Man O' War.

August 29, 2011 6:48 AM Posted by Sam

Hey Jeff, great insights - let me add mine, as a 27-year-old former "value-conscious partiers" turned actual gambler who has spent ungodly amounts of time in these properties.

First, IP has one under-the-radar restaurant with potential - Ginseng 3. It's run by Koreans, yet it wastes its time making generic "Asian" food - believe it or not, the few Korean dishes on their menu are actually pretty legit. They should embrace the SoCal Korean cuisine fad, and just make it a late-night tofu, bibimbop, and galbi place. Would cost nothing.

The odds of any property improvements going into IP are about 0. It makes money the same way an old apartment makes money - it costs the landlord next-to-nothing, and brings in something. The strip is saturated with luxury, and all the demand (if you can call it that) is at the low end. Just who is IP going to attract with a new pool that wouldn't go there already?

Finally, the Flamingo, the old bird, when you walk around her, you can still feel that this was a DESTINATION when it first opened. Even now, when you play in their casino, it just feels a step up from the Ballys/Harrahs cadre. I think the potential to do her justice and clean her up exists, and I'm afraid Caesars will go the wrong direction. Love your ideas of getting rid of the crap rooms.

One final note on that, the "entry level" rooms at all of the CZRs properties are almost be honest, the "Classic" rooms at CP are closer to the "Classic" rooms at IP than they are to the "Forum Tower" rooms at CP. This is just a terrible fact that CZR has ignored. The entry level rooms at their non-IP properties all really need a boost. They did a good job at Bally's with the renovated tower (the North tower?). They need to extend this to the "Roman Tower".

And finally, my pet peeve - CZR will continue to lose players like myself if they keep putting out these crap games and keep cutting back on cocktail service (I know they let off a ton of CW's at Harrahs in March, and the service there goes through literal droughts now). Most 24-year-old $5 and $10 players will become $15 and $25 players sooner than you realize - and CZR has driven me away with their failure to reward my play. Oh well, Mandalay Bay seems more than happy to send me FreePlay and weekend comps...

August 31, 2011 8:53 AM Posted by Phil

Put me on the list of recommending the Auto Collection as well. Although I'm a car nut, every visit I make you can tell its not just car guys in there. Its about seeing old friends in a way. Since Blackhawk and Don Williams took over, the inventory is constantly changing since they actually sell the cars, so its always new every visit. I don't know attendance #'s, but it wouldn't surprise me if that place draws on average 300-500 people a day. When the market was good, Blackhawk used to sell more than 20 classic and exotic cars a month out of there, now its probably half that amount.

By the way, I exchanged emails with Don's son who is the GM there to discuss the Project Linq announcement and according to him, the remodel will not effect the Auto Collection, as for now, the Auto Collection is here to stay.

I only parked in the parking garage at Imperial once, but I made a wrong turn somehow and found myself in an inescapable corner. It was like I entered a new dimension, a black hole. Still love the place and loved the original porte cochere, it had a setup like all casinos back in the day prior to building that pagoda out front.

I agree with the earlier comment about Flamingo still having an aura about it, even though the glory days are gone. Personally I'd wish they would bulldoze Margaritaville. Last time I had the unfortunate pleasure of walking past it, you had the usual guys holding bottles of beer trying to pick up every girl that walked by. I'm sure not everyone that goes to Margaritaville is like that, but I swear I see that crowd everytime hanging out on that balcony along the sidewalk.

I agree wholeheartedly on Bills, it should give the vibe of an Orleans/Suncoast/South Point, meaning good value, clean, middle class guy vibe with loose slots. No clubs, but live entertainment (Fat Elvis, the legendary Cook E. Jarr).

Finally Caesars, its a shame that with multiple owners came the maze it is today. In its heyday, there is no doubt in my mind it was the greatest hotel in the world. I agree Pure has had its run and has to go, but more than that is the mess that is the bar/Serendipity restaurant/outdoor arena area. It seems so out of place and bad feng shui (not an expert). I just get a bad vibe over there. You go upstairs, then down stairs, it doesn't seem a part of Caesars at all.

September 5, 2011 4:49 PM Posted by socalduck

Good point about that bastard corner at Caesars, Phil. Very disjointed, and on my last visit there a lot of creepy people hanging out in that area.

I have not been to the Auto Collection in six or seven years, but it really is interesting, especially if you are fond of American muscle cars, which they had in abundance on my last visit. I'm glad to hear it is going stay.