Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

February 4, 2009

Encore Las Vegas - January 2009

Posted by Hunter

After spending a few more nights at Encore in the middle of January, I'm sharing some more of my thoughts after the jump.

Along with this, I am still working on editing some additional audio that was taken during various media tours - a substantial job given the varying quality of the source material.

Continue on for a little bit more about Encore.

Unless the building catches on fire, this will be my last Encore Las Vegas post for awhile.

As many readers know, I was in attendance for Encore Media Week - an expenses paid opportunity to check out all the resort has to offer. I had already sampled Encore on my own dime, along with countless experiences at Wynn Las Vegas - I'm well aware of the 'Wynn Tax', as diminished as it may be these days.

If I was going to sum it up, I'd say that for me, Encore is the only place I want to stay on The Strip if cost was not a concern. Of course, that last bit is hardly ever true but all things being equal, it's where I'd want to be. I'm actually very curious to see how things play out when the pool is in full swing - it could really be something to be seen.

In this post, I wanted to talk a little bit about a couple of restaurants (Botero, Switch and Society), the Encore Spa and a little bit of perspective, having now spent more time on the Encore side of the compound.


* Botero - I ate here twice in January and both experiences were excellent. It's a steakhouse with a bit extra - there are other interesting dishes of the non-beef variety. This is probably the fine-dining restaurant at Encore I could see myself visiting most often, mostly because it has a lot of dishes that a large party of diners could enjoy and it's pretty laid back. I don't usually have dinner with folks that want the more refined and upscale environments you find at Switch and Sinatra so Botero seems like the kind of place I'll end up again and again. Tried the New York and the Porterhouse, both were fantastic. The lentil soup I started with was also a winner. The desert menu is chock full of unique items like cupcakes but I have to admit, I'm not much of a desert guy so I can't really give a good analysis on the sweeter side of Botero.

* Switch - By now everyone knows about the restaurant and its changing environment - walls and ceiling adjust themselves every 20 minutes. As some others have stated, this might be a bit too frequent as most meals here are at least 90 minutes if not more. For this encounter my wife and I had the privilege of dining with Chuck S. Monster and Miss Monkay of A wide variety of cuisine was sampled - the shrimp cocktail was composed of unbelievably large specimens and the braised short ribs I settled on for my entree were prepared to perfection. I really enjoyed Switch but I see this as the type of restaurant I would visit infrequently. Not a reflection on the food but more the whole package. It's for special occasions and even then, I'd probably head back to Sinatra first, where the food literally blew me away. It is a little odd to be having dinner and be watched by the folks that gather to see the walls change. Amazingly, the idea for Switch came after the foundation had been poured, requiring a bunch of concrete to be cut to make way for the machinery.

* Society Cafe Encore - I ate here twice on the first trip and twice again in January - both time for breakfasts and lunches, never dinner. I really enjoyed the food in December but after comparing notes with others who found it uneven, I was curious to try it again. I still really like the food, especially the steak sliders I had the last day. The service though, seems a little uneven. For three of my meals, I had extraordinarily long delays in getting my bill and by that I mean 'did-this-person-leave-for-the-day?' kind of wait times. Society is the only place other than room service to get a complete breakfast at Encore and I do think it has a lot of interesting, tasty food but the restaurant's concept and menu came into being just weeks before the hotel opened and that may be showing a bit as they settle in.

The Spa

The Spa at Encore is one of the hotel's signature attractions. I had splurged and sent my wife to have a massage here in December but this time I got to try it for myself. The first thing you notice is the architecture and design by Todd Avery-Lenahan - it's one of the more gorgeous spaces in the hotel with large vaulted ceilings and a vaguely Moroccan vibe. Once you go inside, you're greeted with a comfortable lounge area that spills into lockers, then a grooming area, showers, sauna and steam rooms and a wet area with cold plunges and waterfall showers. This is by far the nicest spa in Las Vegas that I have seen - easily tops Bellagio, Wynn Las Vegas, Caesars Qua, Palazzo, The Venetian and the new spa at The Mirage.

I did have a bit of a service issue at first - there were literally no attendants anywhere in sight and I had to go back outside to flag someone down. That was an isolated incident though - my second time through, it was swarming with employees. One other thing I didn't like - they decided to vacuum in the middle of the day - not the most relaxing vibe for a spa. Still, it's a great room and one of the hotel's top amenities, though average Encore visitors will never see it.

The treatment rooms themselves are basically upgraded versions of the rooms you'll find at other resorts - very nice but not different enough to really swoon over... does that matter when you're face down on a massage table? Not really. The treatment itself was quite good - of course that varies based on your preference and therapist. I was told that they require all of their folks to have national certification.


This time around I had three nights at Encore so I really got an idea of what it's like to stay there. They kept us busy with behind-the-scenes tours and other media activities but I also spent a lot of time just walking around the resort. It's not all that big so I made the loop about a hundred times, just trying to feel the place out.

I was struck by several things, biggest of which was the light. During the day, Encore is literally flooded with light from the pool area, to the point of wanting to wear sunglasses at the tables closest to the window. Walking back over to Wynn Las Vegas, a casino that I've loved since it opened, almost felt dark and closed in - Encore has changed the way I think about casinos and their design. Beyond that, it's clear that a ton of effort went into the design. Of course, that's always the case with a Wynn property but at Encore it's concentrated across a smaller amount of space, intensifying it's brilliance - from the inverted acoustical domes in the Esplanade to the special glass - reducing glare in the low-rise and reducing noise in the high-rise - it's fun to see what the Wynn Design & Development team can do with laser focus.

Most readers have probably heard the 'Design Roundtable' audio that we posted a few weeks back. The other great design conversation I had was a chance encounter with architecture VP Deruyter Butler one evening in the Eastside Lounge while having a drink with Las Vegas podcaster Scott Whitney. I cornered Butler who graciously shared 20 minutes of his time with us to talk about the building as it lived and breathed around us. I wish I had a recorder because it was amazing to hear what he had to say about the process and what went into the hotel, from late design modifications to 'tricks' used to satisfy building codes, it's the kind of stuff that reminds me why I started this blog in the first place.

On opening night, some folks speculated that it would be a pain to have to walk over to Wynn Las Vegas for several things that aren't replicated at Encore. I still don't think this is a serious issue but there were a few times where I didn't feel like making the hike. Having something more like Sugar and Ice would be great - either expand the Lobby Cafe or replace the 'Swim' store (which seems totally unnecessary - put that upstairs in the Spa Shop). There needs to be something like that on the Encore side, preferably something that's open before 9am.

The service at Encore on both trips was over the top, out of this world. I've heard other people say this too so I don't think I'm alone here. I literally couldn't go ten feet without someone saying 'Hello' or 'Good Morning' - far more than anywhere else I've ever stayed in Las Vegas. After the December trip I assumed this was an opening night thing but it was in full force in January. Hopefully it survives the recent salary and hours reductions that the company has implemented to try to save jobs in the worsening economy.

I can't wait to stay at Encore again. Fortunately for everyone, due to the current state of the economy in Las Vegas, the rates are often quite reasonable. This won't last though - if you want to give the place a try, I suggest you do it now... Everyone deserves to be treated to a nice vacation and in my opinion, this is place to do it in Las Vegas.

Some of my Encore videos, if you haven't seen them:


Walk from Esplanade

Main Porte Cochere


Read archived comments (22 so far)
February 4, 2009 9:21 PM Posted by Doug

I'm excited about my March visit to Encore and from everything I've read here I'm sure the room and the service will be just what I want. And ,yes, the rates are 'dirt cheap' right now - which is a great opportunity for a gambler to rack up their player history to still get cheap rooms when the economy recovers.

I'm really looking forward to the daylight casino. I do all of my gambling during the morning and early afternoon hours. I started this habit years ago because I enjoy the more relaxed coffee crowd in the morning. And from what MikeE has reported, I'll probably be at those mini-baccarat tables on the main casino floor every morning. And from the reports I've read about the Eastside lounge I'll probably be camped out there during the evening.

As far restaurants go, I'm not much of a steak person - although Botero sounds good. And I'll just play my meal times by ear.

All in all, Encore sounds terrific. However, I must admit that I'm really looking forward to City Center. I have a feeling, as a gambler, that the casino there is going to blow everyone else off the map.

February 5, 2009 3:33 AM Posted by Brian Fey

I could go on for pages, but I'm out of town and on my phone, so I'll keep this short. Great write up. I haven't tried Botero, but like the look of it best. I think it will be my favorite also, just guessing. As soon as I spent a hour at Encore I was bitching about the fact they found room for 7 bars, yet no good quick service place. Shocked they put Swim in one of the single best locations the hotel has to offer. The casino is the best Vegas has to offer, as is the standard room. I too had the steak slidders for breakfast and they were amazing. I too also waited a long time for my bill. I still wonder if the pool will be large enough on a day that's 110. They seem to have fixed the elevator problem at Encore, wynn has too few. But I haven't spent enough time at Encore to know for sure yet.

February 5, 2009 7:49 AM Posted by Sean

I too will be hitting up Encore, for 4 nights in April, with my sisters. I suspect the pool will be in full swing by that time. I'm very curious to see the interaction between Botero, XS, the pool, floating bar, etc. I'm not quite sure what to expect, but Wynn describes it as a party from 12noon until 5am. Does anybody else have insights on this? Is it only on the weekend?

My sisters loved the DJ that played on the weekends at the Wynn sunset pool. I managed to convince them to book at Encore and then we could try both pools. They'll probably end up bitching about the walk to Wynn and perhaps the lack of cheap meal ideas, but I won't!

As you note, Hunter, it will be interesting to see if they make less frequent the changes at switch. It will decrease the gauking, and probably make dinner more enjoyable. I would think that 45 minute intervals would allow you to see all 3 setting in the course of a meal.

I'm not even sure what my expectations for Encore are. Undoubtedly they are high, but there's a part of me that is likely to be disappointed by it in response to having set those expectations too high. Despite staying at Encore, this is going to be a budget trip for me (at least compared to my last one when I got engaged) so I hope that doesn't lessen my experience. I will go to the spa, though.

February 5, 2009 8:51 AM Posted by Phil

Curious if the place was crowded this time around. I've seen a lot of pictures on Flickr, and to be honest the place looks dead. Now these people might have taken these shots very late at night on a weekday, but outside of the grand opening when the place was packed, the pictures I see give me the impression that its first quarter numbers will be disappointing.

February 5, 2009 10:09 AM Posted by C.C.

Great write-up, especially on the restaurants.

We also liked Botero and would go back in a second. The steak I had was very good but my husband's Dover sole stole the show. Some of the best we have ever had and beautifully presented in a copper saute pan. If it is on the menu and you like fish, we definitely recommend it.

Re: Switch -- I asked one of the young hostesses about how the servers went about "switching" uniforms and she was very candid in her reply -- "Oh, they don't do that anymore. It really didn't work so it didn't last long." Wonder what happened to all those vests and ties?

February 5, 2009 3:00 PM Posted by David McKee

Go to a second-hand store like Buffalo Exchange or Deseret Industries and I'll bet you find some of those Switch vests and ties on the racks.

February 5, 2009 4:07 PM Posted by hail2skins

Nice writeup Hunter......I'll have to wait until sometime in the summer to check out Encore. At Bellagio I always thought Palio was a great place to grab a pastry on the way to the pool from the guest elevators or go back to once you grabbed your chair in the pool area. Judging from the map, the Swim place looks like it would be a good place for this sort of shop.

February 5, 2009 7:49 PM Posted by mike_ch

I agree with Brian that a deli/ice cream would be ideal but I think Swim is just a little off target. The ideal location would have indoor/outdoor seating and access from the pool area, so that people in the pool can get up and head over to the snack bar (unless the pool has one that I didn't see? I obviously didn't get to experience much of it.)

February 5, 2009 9:24 PM Posted by Tom M.


Were you able to take any pictures during back of the house tours? And did you get to see the taxi driver waiting room? I would love to hear more about the back of house.

February 5, 2009 9:27 PM Posted by Hunter

No photos were allowed but I do have audio... Just working on getting it all edited - lots of work to do there.

February 5, 2009 10:51 PM Posted by steve_c

I think a lot of people do not even know that Encore is open yet, at least that was the general "feel" I got around The Strip.. When we were asked, and we said we were staying at Wynn's Encore, most bartenders asked "that's open already?" or "where is that at?"....

In all honesty, I took my main photo tour of Encore VERY late at night/early morning (I didn't even leave our room until 4:30 or so in the morning)..

I was only asked once to not take photos of the main casino area (when taking a photo looking West from the Eastside Bar towards the strip... see if you can spot the "purple blazer" who ended my "fun" lol!)

I do have to mention that after staying at Encore for 5 nights, it did become a pain in the ass to walk through the Encore esplanade into Wynn everytime we wanted to go on the strip.... so word of advice (even if you are walking)... just go through the strip Encore entry and head down south to the strip... we timed it, and it was roughly half the amount of time it would take us to exit Encore into Wynn etc..

I agree that Encore does need a food venue thats open before 9 am.... that walk over to Canter's deli (at TI) was a bit of a pain every AM.

".....but I tried to do handstands for youuuuuu......"

Ugh, and tear down those jumbo-trons in front of the Fashion Mall.... or at least don't play the same Ipod commercial over and over....

February 6, 2009 7:27 AM Posted by Hunter

I love Apple but that iPod commercial at FSM makes me want to gouge out my ears. They play it endlessly.

Good tip on hitting The Strip from Encore.

February 6, 2009 1:10 PM Posted by mike_ch

Those jumbotrons used to actually move around and do a number of shows. But then the motor broke or something. And so they just slid them all to the north end of the track and let them sit there.

It's the kind of thing I'd gripe about in a StripWalk column except describing their old movement is hard to explain, and it's clearly deliberate to have all four screens bunched up at that end running ads all day long.

February 6, 2009 2:31 PM Posted by parchedearth

Excellent article. I just spent 5 nights at Encore and have the following observations:
1. Rooms - I was surprised how much ambient room noise was - i.e. sounds from neighboring rooms, the hallway, and strip noise at night. The Palazzo and TheHotel have almost perfect noise isolation. The bedside control panel is simply awesome (it does requires some practice to use). A nice feature is that the TV turns on with zero volume. I also liked the night light in the bathroom.
2. Bars - First thing is that all the bars are in the hallways. I thought this was a little unsettling having a constant stream of people walking behind me. This was especially troubling for the high-limit bar (which I would normally use for seclusion) and the bar for Switch. I don't like the idea of a really nice restaurant having a hallway bar and having my waitress have to leave the restaurant to get my drinks. Wynn also doesn't comp drinks for playing video poker at the bars. That being said, the service at all the bars was generally excellent. The lobby bar was pretty good, but the line for coffee/croissants in the morning was ridiculous.
3. Restaurants – I think Botero will become a fan favorite. The food, location, and décor are perfect. Sinatra had great food, but the décor was just ok. Again, I won’t eat at Switch with the bar being in the hallway.
4. Spa – I agree the décor is great. The only issues were the coffee and juice were behind the counter so you had to ask for them. Also, it is difficult to shave at an automatic sink. You are constantly trying to trigger the water back on. The waterfall showers are fantastic and I really like the two separate cold plunges.
5. Pool – very impressed the pool bar was open in the winter.
6. Location –I think once Fontainebleau opens, Encore and Wynn will be right in the sweet part of the strip with Palazzo/Venetian/Mirage on the other side. I’ve actually found the Fashion Mall is quite useful at times.

February 6, 2009 2:38 PM Posted by Phil

Thanks Steve C for the followup. I'm surprised many still don't know its open.

In reply to mike_ch, it seems to me virtually everytime a casino designs something on a movable track a few years later once the track breaks they never fix it. The Rio used to have fish in the ceiling rotating around on a track, never fixed it, the Fashion show signs, never fixed them. The Caesars Palace moving walkways, 3 out of 7 days they didn't work. For you old schoolers, remember the Circus Circus track that had girls on ponys that traveled all around the big top, another broken track never to be fixed. My guess is that Rio "show in the sky" with the large parade floats on tracks will break soon and like the others will sit dormant.

February 6, 2009 5:28 PM Posted by Joe

I saw a recent youtube video of Bellagio's casino videotaped on the 5th,
Believe it or not, they were playing italian music inside of the casino! I just couldn't believe it!

February 6, 2009 5:32 PM Posted by Joe

Oh, here is the link: turn the volume up to hear.

February 6, 2009 7:00 PM Posted by socalduck

I returned from a three night stay at Encore the week of January 23. Here are a few of my impressions to add to the rest:

The room: I had a standard resort room on the 14th floor, with a view over the pool and XS, with the golf course in the distance. Furnishings, finishes and amenities are up to Wynn standards, but I do have a few small gripes, including the lack of separate closet light (like the rooms at WLV, it only operates in conjunction with the foyer lights), the inability to adjust the brightness of the recessed lighting in the sitting room, a razor sharp edge on the arm of the desk chair, and a balky TV remote. Despite these minor issues, the Encore resort room was designed to justify the $300+ rates originally intended for this room, and succeeded on every level.

Service: As someone mentioned before, the staff-to-guest ratio is noticeably higher at Encore, and everyone is extraordinarily friendly. Everywhere you turned, there was someone dusting, polishing, or vacuuming. Restaurants and bars were also well staffed, with the glaring exception of the Lobby bar, which seemed perpetually understaffed. In one instance, after a fifteen minute wait with no service, we bailed and headed over to the Eastside bar (which was virtually empty, but service was prompt).
Casino: I really liked the chambered effect, and the warm light emanating from the louvered columns that separate the various gaming “chambers.” Many of the gaming tables also had built in table lamps that added to the ambiance. Yes, the natural light plays an important role during the day, but after the sun goes down, compare Encore with WLV, and you will see what a phenomenal job they did designing the artificial lighting for Encore.

Spa: Wow. I mean really, wow. It makes the spa at WLV look like an afterthought. I particularly liked the dimly lit “relaxation room” where you can snooze peacefully before your treatment. The 50 minute Fusion massage was just right, and was a highlight of the trip.

Restaurants: We tried Switch our first night. Given the gimmicky nature of the room, we were really surprised with the quality of the food. Service was also top-notch. The “switch” itself is somewhat underwhelming, but at least it does not detract from an otherwise fine dining experience. However, as good as it was, my gut feeling is that this will be the first restaurant at Encore to get a major rework.
We tried Sinatra on our second night. The room is beautiful and service was superb. As for the food, the fagioli was the best I’ve ever tasted, but my Ossobuco was unexceptional. While I wouldn’t hesitate recommending Sinatra, I have to admit I was disappointed given the high accolades others have given this restaurant. Perhaps it was just an off night…
The following night was Botero, which was by far the best meal of the trip. It is much less formal than either Sinatra or Switch, with a lively crowd. Of our three dinners, this was by far the most fun, and every course was outstanding. If you could only go to one of these three, I would suggest Botero.

Despite the great meals, beautiful surroundings, and attentive service, the troubles of the wider world could not be entirely concealed within the Wynn bubble. While the casino was relatively busy, it soon became apparent that many of the guests were like myself: lower-tier Red Card members who jumped at the once-in-a-lifetime chance to enjoy a comped room in a new luxury hotel. The crowd at XS on Monday night turned out to be a group of cab drivers and their families, also comped. Throughout our stay, $10 blackjack and craps tables were plentiful, both at Wynn and Encore. We did see a fair number of Chinese in the high-limit areas, but since so much of the real action is now largely hidden from public view, it was hard to tell how much was being contributed to the bottom line. While the atmosphere was more upbeat than post-9/11, all of the other physical indicators (sparse crowds, empty tables, short lines at the airport, etc.) were eerily familiar to anyone that spent time in Vegas in September or October of 2001. However, if you want to help stimulate the southern Nevada economy, I cannot think of better location than Encore.

February 7, 2009 9:03 AM Posted by hail2skins

Mike_ch, the main bar within the pool complex at Bellagio has a small selection of sandwiches available at lunchtime, and I remember that on our one stay at Wynn I saw a sign indicating the availability of sandwiches there as well (although we didn't partake due to the windy weather shortening our pool time that day). I would have to think that something similar would be available at one of the pool area bars at Encore.

I just see Swim in a location similar somewhat to where Palio is at the Bellagio, close to an entrance to the pool area, and especially where someone can grab a quick pastry before heading out to the pool.

February 20, 2009 2:22 PM Posted by detroit1051

"Roger Thomas, executive vice president of Wynn Design and Development, was honored as a design icon at the World Market Center Las Vegas' Winter Market."

March 24, 2009 3:07 PM Posted by TC from Boston

Just a question for anyone who has been to Encore since the pools have been open.

What sort of division is there between the regular pool and "euro" pool. In the photos i've seen i haven't seen much of a division in terms of what other pools have. i.e. Wynn's is tucked in a corner and Ceasers (its been a few years) is sorrounded by shrubbery.

Just curious is anyone has seen it.

March 24, 2009 3:13 PM Posted by Hunter

No real division. There are signs stating that no cameras are allowed and that you're supposed to be 21.

You can walk freely between the two - there's some landscaping and a small path.