I stayed in an updated room at The Plaza this past week, just a few days before the official opening. This is my story.
If you want to see my pictures, they're here:
The new Plaza needs to decide what it wants to be.
Is it going after Strip-caliber customers like Golden Nugget? Is it shooting for retro like the El Cortez or Four Queens? Going for locals and speciality markets like Main Street Station or The Cal?
The renovated Plaza hotel in Downtown Las Vegas is officially re-opening on September 1st but it's been accepting guests for the past week or so. I was one of those people this past week and this is the story of my experience (for what it's worth, so was Chuckmonster from VegasTripping - his post is here).
My interest in The Plaza's renovation was sparked when they revealed they had purchased furniture originally slated for Fontainebleau. It's an interesting story of something good coming from a huge mistake. When I realized I'd have some overlap in town with their soft-open, it seemed like a good match. I booked.
I arrived on Sunday, August 28th, a few days before the official opening on the 1st.
It's hard not to notice that the building has been painted, though on closer inspection you'll discover that there are plenty of places that haven't had a new coat and still feature several decades of grime as a skin. Valet service was quick and simple - I was on my way to check-in moments later.
The new front-desk area is one of the highlights - it really does look nice. Everything is fresh, crisp and clean. After walking up to the desk, I got a preview of what might be the biggest problem with the property, if they actually aspire to moving up the food chain of downtown hotels.
The gentleman checking me in was clearly perplexed by the computer - looking at it with a tilted head and expression of complete confusion. Despite him muttering about things not making sense, his manager, who was standing next to him, didn't even look over and instead fiddled with his cell phone. It wasn't until the clerk called out that the manager explained whatever the various options on the screen meant. Ok, no problem - new computers I guess. Check-in took about 20 minutes after I had stepped up to the desk but now I was on my way to my room - 938 in the South Tower.
The South Tower is located all the way across the casino from the check-in desk, giving a great opportunity to take in all the floor renovations. If you've ever been in the old Plaza, it's like they firebombed and started over. The casino floor generally looks night and day from it's old appearance. Instead of a smokey, piss-esque smell, it's clean, fresh and nicely laid out. If you're just visiting the joint and all you see is the lobby and casino, you'll likely view this renovation as a home run - and from that perspective, it is. Other than the Nugget, it's one of the nicest floors on Fremont right now.
I made my way past the security guard and into the elevator lobby - the elevators themselves have new carpet but the other controls don't look to have been replaced. The buttons are very dirty and some of them don't light up, etc...
When I reached the ninth floor, I had the same problem that Chuck did - there's absolutely zero way-finding at all in the guest room corridors. You basically have to guess which way your room is and figure it out on your own. This is even true for the fifth floor where the pool is (will be). Good luck.
I opened the door to my room, 938, overlooking the bus depot and the distant Strip. My reaction?
The furniture is all new (and already scuffed!), though it doesn't seem to really fit the room. It's clear they had x furniture and y space and had to figure out how to make it work. Some oddities noticed off the bat: the bed had no skirt or comforter, making it look oddly bare, there's a big empty space between the desk and the window and the walls are mostly empty, save a large print of a vintage Plaza.
On closer inspection, I noticed that the in-room safe was locked open - turns out they didn't have the codes and couldn't unlock them until the safe company called back... which didn't happen in the 24 hours I was on property. Standard rooms don't have mini-bars, like most other Fremont hotels.
I unpacked my crap after taking some photos - I had some work I needed to upload and had planned to sign on to the WiFi and get it out of the way... Well, that wasn't happening. I couldn't get the WiFi to work (lots of error messages). A call to the desk and I discovered that it was known-non-functional and I was told it would be fixed on September 1st (official opening day). This turned out to be the mantra I got from the staff over and over when asking about stuff that didn't work. Will it all be fixed by 9/1? I have no idea. Some of it certainly could be but I have a feeling bits will persist into September and beyond. I asked jokingly what else didn't work and the person on the phone told me that the TVs only worked in about half the rooms.
As an experiment, I decided to post a note on Twitter to @plazalasvegas about the Internet problems in my room. It's now Tuesday and I'm still waiting to hear back. #socialmediafailure
The bathroom was small but functional, with all-new everything. Unfortunately there was no soap anywhere to be found. Whoops. How many Fremont hotels have room-service? The Plaza doesn't. A final note on the room: despite what the pamphlet says, in-room checkout didn't work either. September 1st.
In addition to the updated rooms and casino floor, there's a whole range of new restaurants and bars, such as Anthony Cool's 'Swingers Club' in the mix. Almost none of these were open - Hash House was in play-dates, McDonalds and the sushi joint had plastic wrap on 'em. Subway was rocking but I didn't need any foot-longs. There's also a new coffee joint in the lobby that also has a bunch of snacks, etc...
Restaurants like Oscar's (replacing Firefly upstairs) aren't open yet... actually, they still have the Firefly menu posted outside the joint. Odd.
Swingers Club, the piano bar/mini-golf place did open while I was there. I think I may have been one of the first customers - it was just me and a couple of bartenders. The place is sorta shaped like a big triangle with a bar in the middle. There are a lot of chairs, a piano and a few tiny strips of mini-golf around the edges. When this place was first described to me, I imagined golf being the major hook but it's actually a pretty minor part of the whole experience. This is basically a dueling piano bar. Glass windows open to the casino and the music is clearly heard at the table pits. I was pretty underwhelmed by this place - I'd actually be surprised if it lasts a year. I overheard a conversation with a manager who was telling a friend that they have no idea if the piano thing will work - they might do karaoke, etc...
As of Monday, the pool deck on the fifth floor was completely torn up but actively being worked on. I can't imagine it will be ready by Thursday but I guess it's possible.
I spent about four hours playing in the casino that evening, alternating between craps, roulette, 21 and Let It Ride. My impression is that The Plaza is getting a lot of break-in dealers - very slow to make payouts and constantly making mistakes. Actually, while sitting at the roulette table, the pit boss came over to berate the dealer, calling her 'stupid, stupid'. It was actually pretty awful to watch this guy tear into her and was a huge turn-off.
This goes to the heart of my concern about The Plaza being successful with their transformation. My impression of the staff was very uneven. Many employees seemed to not care much about guest satisfaction. They had old-Plaza attitudes in a new-Plaza uniform. There were definitely a few employees I came into contact with that were eager to help and seemed excited to be there but they were the exception. Mostly I saw people that scowled, looked down, didn't make eye contact, and didn't attempt to go the extra mile (or even the extra kilometer).
That's what I mean about The Plaza deciding what it wants to be - if they are gunning for a spot near the top of the Fremont stack, they need to up their service game significantly.
My room was $41 for a Sunday - a sweet deal in any city... Except that's the same thing the Nugget cost for that night. El Cortez was $32 and The Mirage was $76. The Plaza can compete on price and the fact they now have significantly less urine in their carpet but that's not going to be enough.
For my money, the places to beat on Fremont are the Golden Nugget for luxury/Strip-comfort and the El Cortez for kitsch/value/nostalgia. I actually had dinner at The Flame (El Co) that night and the service there was insanely good - not pretentious at all but super personal and incredibly friendly. My server sat down and looked at pictures of my dog. I'd go back to The Flame anytime (food was good too).
I hope The Plaza succeeds and I think it's great to see investment downtown. Still, without investing in employees that care, it doesn't matter if you have new carpet... So yeah, I have doubts. I'd love to try Oscar's but I doubt I'll return to The Swinger's Club.
Visit The Plaza - if you'd ever been inside before, you'll be impressed. Viva!