Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

It's been awhile but our faithful readers will remember that the last time we met we covered Caesars Palace, Harrah's, The Flamingo and the Imperial Palace.

Sorry for the delay loyal readers. Since we last me the blog has been redesigned and another blog author, detroit1051, has been added to help fill your need for Vegas dirt. In this installment we take a look at The Mirage, Treasure Island, The Venetian and Wynn Las Vegas - three of which were built by Steve Wynn.

Disclaimer: I own some stock in both Wynn Resorts and Las Vegas Sands (but not MGM MIRAGE)... I think that you'll find my reviews 'fair and balanced' but in the spirit of full disclosure...

STRIPPING continues after the jump...

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The Mirage

Welcome to the fabulous Mirage! Opened on November 22, 1989, The Mirage was the first major project on the Strip in many years and it is what catapulted Steve Wynn to national prominence. It's 3,044 rooms and suites are in a tri-wing hi-rise tower above the casino and showrooms - a design that Wynn adapted from famed Los Angeles architect Martin Stern and used again at TI and Bellagio.

Built at a cost of $630 million, the resort shattered all expected revenue goals and set new standards for the Strip. The Mirage played a truly pivotal role in the development modern Las Vegas as we know it today.

This is a very important time for The Mirage. It continues to be very profitable but in some respects is showing its age. MGM MIRAGE continues to undertake individual projects to refresh areas of the resort including restaurants, public spaces and entertainment. The danger here is replacing Wynn crafted details with MGM MIRAGE corporate blandness. The score so far is mixed.

Since the end of the popular Siegfried and Roy show in 2003, the main showroom has been shuttered and the only on-property entertainment has been provided by impressionist Danny Gans. That will change next year when Cirque de Soleil unveil a new production based around music from The Beatles.

What's Good

Casino and Public Spaces - The thing I hear again and again about The Mirage is that it 'just feels good' - and it does. From the large aquarium in the lobby to the giant atrium to the dark woods in the casino, it feels fun. Some public spaces are starting to show their age. In fact, the 'high roller' area was recently completely revamped in a style somewhat reminiscent of the Borgata in Atlantic City. While further property upgrades are welcome, MGM MIRAGE will have to be careful not destroy the 'magic of The Mirage'.

Pool - A large tropical affair, one of the best in Las Vegas. A complete renovation in 2003 modernized the landscaping a bit. This is a great place to hang out and chill out. Not much else to really say except that if you're looking for a hotel with a great pool, The Mirage will not disappoint.

Service - The Wynn mantra for years has been 'Service. Service. Service.' Generally MGM MIRAGE is keeping the bar high here. The staff are still very friendly and seem to almost enjoy going out of their way to give guests a better experience.

What's Bad

Standard Room Size - When Wynn was building The Mirage, standard Las Vegas hotel rooms were not the 700 sq. foot palaces they are today. In addition, he opted for a larger bedroom and entry which means an even more cramped space for the bathroom. The result is standard guest rooms that can feel a bit cramped. They are well decorated and recently redone (2000). The suites are a different story - quite large and spacious.

We're Not Sure

Changes - There are more changes in store for The Mirage. These include a new nightclub before the end of the year, new restaurants, and a gradual upgrade of the casino decor. While some are welcome and maybe overdue, in the case of MGM MIRAGE it is normal for long time patrons to be a bit wary - we'll talk about Treasure Island below... Some of the first major changes to come online are the revamped high roller area and I think this came out fairly well. The decor is a bit too California hip but the Dale Chihuly sculptures are very nice.

Nightclub - Does The Mirage need a nightclub? This customer says no. The only really nice thing about the club at Bellagio (Light) is that since the main entrance is indoors, the casino really fills up with clubbers on the weekend. This makes for some interesting people watching and enhances the vibe quite a bit. Based on the current design for 'Jet Vegas at The Mirage', the major entrance will be outside the property near the North valet. Big mistake. Also, do not forget that nightclubs are not a slam dunk. Wynn has struggled with La Bete despite the amazing venue that he created at Wynn Las Vegas (outdoor waterfalls, etc...). I would prefer a high end ultra-lounge at The Mirage vs. a full fledged dancing extravaganza. There is only room for one Body English (Hard Rock) with Rain (Palms) and Light (Bellagio) playing close seconds... Word is that Luxor's Ra will close down - the nightclub bubble is bursting and the market is saturated.

Cirque - No matter what this show is or how good it is, Cirque doesn't need another show in Las Vegas. Can we have some other entertainment please? Look at what is happening with Le Reve - it is cast as an also-ran to 'O'. Siegfried and Roy were one of a kind and The Mirage plans to replace them with something that is become very run of the mill. Entertainment variety will keep ticket prices high... That said, it will probably sell well, even if it dilutes the choice in the marketplace.

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Treasure Island (at The Mirage)

Treasure Island is now being marketed as 'TI'... And guess what - I miss Treasure Island! This is the place I stayed when I came on my 21st birthday. I remember eating at the 'Black Spot Grille' and checking out ornately carved wooden pirates. This stuff is all gone. I'll talk more about changes below but suffice to say I see this as the biggest example of where MGM MIRAGE has taken something interesting and made it bland and generic.

The resort formerly known as Treasure Island opened October 26, 1993 and coincided with the implosion of the Dunes Hotel, demolished to make way for Bellagio. The 2,885 guest rooms are surprisingly nice for a hotel that was firmly aimed at the mid-range market.

As Las Vegas began to turn away from the family market, MGM MIRAGE re-branded Treasure Island as 'ti' in marketing materials and began to go after a younger audience.

What's Good

Rooms - Massive renovations in 1999 replaced the somewhat tacky room decor with more conservative and tasteful colors. For years TI was a great option as a less expensive alternative to The Mirage. Lately, rates have gone up and the price advantage is mostly gone, but sometimes a bargain can be found at TI.

Mystere - The first Cirque show to come to the Strip, some argue it is still the best. More focused on the performers than the staging (unlike 'O'), Mystere is still a wonder to behold. Over the years as Cirque has expanded, Mystere tickets have become less expensive and more available. If you're looking to get a great Cirque experience for a lower cost, this is your best bet.

Breeze Bar - An example of an MGM MIRAGE change that works. Replacing the 'Gold Bar', the Breeze Bar was a relatively upscale addition to TI's mid-range interior design. Dark woods accentuate the whole area, and check out the cool ceiling. The resort experimented with lounge singers but that idea died fairly quickly. Still, a nice place to sit down and chill out with a great view of the casino.

What's Bad

Change - Treasure Island is a very different place than it was in 2000. Restaurants like the Black Spot Grill and Madame Chang's are gone while others like The Plank have been renamed (The Steakhouse). Any interior design elements that had the pirate theme are gone. The ultimate result is that where TI's interior used to have all sorts of interesting detail, it has been replaced with bland wall and ceiling coverings. If this is a sign as to what is to come at The Mirage, it is a sad future.

Pirate Show - The biggest part of TI's transformation was the death of the Pirates and the rise of the 'Sirens of TI'. The idea was to throw in a bunch of scantily clad women and turn the show into a sexy Broadway version of the original pirate show. The result? A new show that has been almost universally panned by anyone who has seen both. The new show includes bad rapping, terrible music and the worst dialog imaginable. It has been tweaked further since it was first introduced, cutting the running time. Still, this change was ill advised.

Pool - TI's pool is a joke, small and boring - where TI's middle-class roots show the most prominently. Unfortunately, this isn't something that is easily fixed via renovation since the entire pool area is just too small. The resort will most likely always be plagued by a second class pool deck.

We're Not Sure

Tangerine - When Tangerine opened I thought some of the innovations were interesting: burlesque dancers and an outdoor environment. That's since been copied extensively and that edge has been lost. My major gripe is how poorly the exterior bar integrates with the rest of the village in the artificial bay. This could have been done better.

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The Venetian

We've lampooned the Venetian before, in our article What's Wrong With the Venetian. Since we're already on the record about what we like and dislike about the Venetian, we'll be brief here and highlight some new info.

What's Good

Venezia Tower - The concierge floor in the new Venezia Tower is a winner. The rooms are nicer, the service better and the overall quality bar is set higher.

What's Bad

I think we've covered this in the previous article.

We're Not Sure

Phantom of the Opera and Blue Man Group - both opening at The Venetian, they are seriously trying to step up the entertainment game at the resort. Phantom will be cut shorter than the Broadway version and from what I've heard, the Blue Man show is the same as what was at Luxor. Could be a good thing.

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Wynn Las Vegas

Wynn Las Vegas opened April 28, 2005. We've covered the hotel extensively, both pre and post it going live.

I'll try to offer a few new thoughts here but if you're interested in Wynn, I suggest you read some of our past articles on the subject.

Wynn Resorts on

Wynn Las Vegas is a 2,716 room resort on the Las Vegas Strip and Sands Avenue. It marks the return of Steve Wynn to the Las Vegas gaming market and it made quite a splash when it opened.

The early reviews were mixed but most that visit the property today seem pleased. The Cirque-like production show, Le Reve, met with criticism as well and that has been retooled somewhat since its opening.

What's Good

Casino Floor - To me, the floor and public spaces at Wynn Las Vegas are a great combination of those at The Mirage and Bellagio. I see echoes of both in the interior design with a mix of light and dark colors and intimate spaces. I think Wynn's public spaces are stunning and one of the high points of the resort.

South Tower Suites - The hotel-within-a-hotel concept works very well here. It does feel very separate with its own check-in area and elevator lobby. If you can swing the extra bucks, this will make the Wynn experience much more personal. I recommend it.

Restaurants - Easily some of the best restaurants in Las Vegas. Do not miss Bartolotta, SW Steakhouse or Wing Lei, though all restaurants are top notch. Most offer fantastic views of the mountain, waterfalls and lake.

What's Bad

Glitches - While most of the opening day problems have been resolved, glitches continue at Wynn Las Vegas, mostly driven by the large number of technology systems that had to be integrated to build the resort. In many cases these products had never been used in a hotel of this size and the growing pains continue.

Parking - Many have complained about the parking garage, both it being too small and its relatively stark look. This continues to be an issue and will get worse as the new Broadway show 'Avenue Q' opens in September.

We're Not Sure

Nightlife Scene - The main nightclub at Wynn is basically a failed concept at this point. 'La Bete' has not created the kind of environment that they were looking for and thus it is being completely retooled. Does Wynn even need a club? What about another interesting restaurant in that space?

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Read archived comments (20 so far)
July 28, 2005 4:33 PM Posted by socalduck

Hunter, your comments on the TI were on the money. The original pirate theme was fun and thoughtfully executed. The casino now is bland and uninteresting. I've also encountered more than my share of poorly trained dealers at this particular property, which further detracts from the experience.

Likewise, the original pirate show was campy but fun, and served as a nice complement to the property. The "sirens" show is just moronic.

I think the whole point of the "TI" re-branding was to move away from the image of being a family-friendly hotel and make it more appealing to the club-hoppers from LA and OC. However, the place is still overrun with kids, leading me to believe MGM has not achieved their objective.

July 29, 2005 3:18 AM Posted by Mike C

Do you factor price into these things? It seems like sometimes you do, sometimes you don't. I notice you mention the rise in room rates at TI, but in previous Stripping articles you rip on mid-level resorts that don't have their bar set at being the Bellagio.

Plus, Wynn may give you every dollar's worth, but good heavens do you ever pay a lot of dollars. It's a nice thing that staring is free.

July 29, 2005 9:11 AM Posted by Hunter

I factor price in where I think it is a factor, for example a hotel that is pricing itself above or below where it's facilities, amenities and marketing suggest it should be priced.

No one (should) expect Wynn to be cheap, but TI can be a value based on the product offering and that's why I put that in there.

Not sure what you are referring to specifically, but perhaps Mandalay Bay? MB is positioned as a high end resort and it simply isn't. That's why it (continues) to get flack from me. Hope that's clear.

July 29, 2005 10:36 AM Posted by Tom

The hotel I stayed in when I first visited Las Vegas was Treasure Island about 3 months after it opened. I really enjoyed the pirate theme of the place. The rooms where overdone but I expect that in LV. I have stayed there a second time but that was before the changes. As I followed the changes to the name and the pirate show it was clear to me that they were trying to move away from that theme to a more "adult" oriented resort. I look forward to seeing the changes myself next time I visit but I will always remember fondly the old Treasure Island.

July 30, 2005 12:32 AM Posted by Susan

While Bellagio is my very favorite LV hotel (from back when it used to be vaguely affordable), I've stayed at Treasure Island almost as many times and I think it has often been great value for the money. To me, the rooms are about as nice as Mirage (where I stayed once, on my very first visit to Las Vegas) for considerably less money. I liked the kitschy pirate decor better, too, but TI still rates with me for its value, proximity to Mirage, Venetian and Fashion Show Mall, and the fact that it isn't so huge that it takes forever to get from valet to your room.

July 30, 2005 6:49 AM Posted by detroit1051

I agree with the comments on Treasure Island's pirate theme. It was fun. I especially liked the chandeliers with bones dangling from them. The rooms are nice and seem a little larger to me than Mirage's very small rooms and bathrooms. The official name, when Steve Wynn built it was "Treasure Island at The Mirage." Treasure Island (I can't call it TI for some reason) has become just another generic hotel/casino. Too bad.

July 30, 2005 11:10 AM Posted by Mike P.


Since you don't have much positive to say about the Venetian I'll suggest a couple things to like:

- The Grand Canal Shops have the best trompe l'oeil ceilings, and the best free entertainment of any strip shopping mall.

- The Canyon Ranch spa used to be better than the spa at Bellagio. With the opening of the Spa tower at Bellagio I think it's now better than Canyon Ranch, but the spa is still a real plus for the property.

- Even without a buffet they have a decent selection of restaurants at a wider range of price points than either Bellagio or especially Wynn.

As for their higher end rooms, now that business travel has recovered fully those have gotten priced out of our range. We checked Prima suite prices for a course my wife is taking at the Venetian in October and they were hundreds of $$ more per night than the equivalent sized suite at Wynn. Booking the Wynn and taking a 5 minute hike in the morning was an easy decision for us.

Mike P.

July 30, 2005 5:52 PM Posted by Hunter

I agree that Canyon Ranch is a great spa. I've used it many times and it is a great spot... Plus it is open to the public, so you can go if you're not a guest.

The other thing that's great about The Venetian is Delmonico Steakhouse - fantastic restaurant... But that's covered in the original article.

Beyond that, I've found the dining at The Venetian generally fairly boring.

July 31, 2005 2:38 AM Posted by A

Does any one have pictures of the old Treasure Island's inside?

July 31, 2005 3:50 AM Posted by Andrew

This is all overly,utterly pathetic.You guys only talk about the same casinos,proving that you really don't know more than a tourist about Vegas: Mirage,TI,Bellagio,Wynn,Venetian and that's it.If Las Vegas was only this,I would have stop coming from Italy twice a year for 7 years in a row with months long stayings.
Las Vegas Casinos are in downtown,off Strip and Henderson too.How come you guys never talk about places like Lake Las Vegas,Green Valley Ranch,The Silverton and his beautiful Pro Bass Shop?Palms,Hard Rock,Reseve/Fiesta Henderson?Station's properties?
Really,nothing new it's been said here all the time.

July 31, 2005 3:05 PM Posted by Mike E

Andrew, that's why it's called "stripping". It's a clever pun (as in stripping down strip casinos). Nevertheless, the very first installment of stripping specifically mentions that they will go off strip and downtown once the strip is complete.

Well done, Hunter. Each installment continues to be better than the last.

August 1, 2005 12:56 AM Posted by Mike C

Andrew, I understand your frustration but they're getting there. I think the reason that stuff isn't covered as much is because this is mostly about the business of casino ownership, and there really isn't much business news to cover outside of Station Casinos beyond the strip.

If Stripping goes to off-strip, I look forward to it's review of Rampart/JW Mariott in Summerlin. I went there for the first time the other week and it really looks like what would happen if Steve Wynn were to try his hand at a local's casino. His style is emulated all ovre the place, and I think there's even a bit of an homage to Bellagio with the bar-less desk (I've read in one of the numerous Vegas books that was an intentional design by Wynn, which got quickly changed when MGM came in and put the current gold bars up on the desk.)

August 1, 2005 3:08 AM Posted by Dr. B

Real constructive criticism there, Andrew... I suggest paying attention to the theme of the articles. If that's asking too much of you, try contributing something on your own, instead of submitting your 'overly, utterly pathetic' criticisms.

I'm with Mike E. - I enjoy the "Stripping" series, and look forward to reading them. I hope to see other series, focusing on different areas of Las Vegas, in the future. Keep up the good work, Hunter, and welcome to your official authorhood, Detroit1051...

August 2, 2005 1:16 AM Posted by Mike E

Hunter, you may want to check out this article on the future of La Bete. It suggests that the entire area at the base of the staircase just outside the club is going to turn into a lounge with gaming tables, etc. Sounds like a cool idea, but wishful thinking--that's a pretty small space for such a tall order.

August 2, 2005 6:31 AM Posted by Doug

I also enjoy the stripping series - keep up the good work.

The Mirage has openly stated they want to increase their room rates and they're doing some good things to try to make that happen: The new high-limit area and the new baccarat pit are now open and the new high-limit slot area opens in October. Also, I think the new nightclub will make money - the younger crowd wants a place to go after the shows and I'm sure Jet Vegas will have an inside passage way to the casino.

Yes, the small standard rooms at the Mirage are a problem, but many visitors don't seem to mind that much. Plus, the Mirage has something going for it in that "it feels like Las Vegas". I know this 'feel' is hard to define, but it might be the combination of headliners (Jay Leno, etc.) and an overall design that looks like it belongs in the desert. i.e., A few years ago I was staying at Bellagio and at one point I looked out the window of my room and thought, "What am I doing in an Italian resort? I'm in Las Vegas for crying out loud".

I have high-hopes for the Mirage.

August 2, 2005 8:34 AM Posted by Hunter

I hope that you're right.

August 7, 2005 8:43 PM Posted by Nate

Hey Hunter, I heard that the Venetian recently remodeled their pool deck and added a new restaurant called "Riva." Do you know if it looks any better? When I stayed at the Venetian, I thought the pool deck was very confusing and too big. I liked the Venezia's pool deck though. Just wondered if you had any news for me. Thanks!

August 7, 2005 9:48 PM Posted by Hunter

Riva is a casual Wolfgang Puck restaurant. While open for dinner, the place is not a high-end joint, per se. Casual attire, etc... It overlooks the pool deck.

The pool area has been re-landscaped by Lifescapes, the company that did Wynn, Bellagio and The Mirage. While it is still fairly devoid of character, it is better than it was originally. Most of the pools are the same.

August 16, 2005 12:26 AM Posted by Todd McMahon

What a joy it was to find out that there are others who are as turned-off by TI as I am and prefer Treasure Island the way it was.

Before the changes I'd spent an afternoon taking numerous exterior photos for my own enjoyment. I think I took some 5 or 6 rolls! I was enchanted by all the attention to detail, detail, detail.

That visit I also stayed as a guest, and it became my favorite of the hotels/casinos. As with the exterior, the interior was rich with detail, textures and color.

I had avoided the original pirate show for years, assuming it would be awful. But one evening, mistakenly caught in the crowd,I took in the show. It was great fun, and I was won over!

I want nothing to do with the changes, "ti" or Sirens. I have my photos & memories to remember the great Treasure Island by.

November 5, 2005 12:04 AM Posted by David

Go see "o" Mystere or La Reve. I would not waste my money on Zumanity but Mystere is certainly worth the price see