Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

January 14, 2010

Strip Walk - January 2010 - CityCenter Mega Edition

Posted by Hunter

Our own mike_ch is back with a 'mega' Strip Walk, including his first time at CityCenter.

As regular readers know, Mike is never short of opinions - you'll get his full take on the new MGM Mirage development as well as a boatload of photos.

This is a good one - you don't want to miss it. Enjoy.

Complete gallery:

Mandalay Bay

I start off in the convention entrance at the far south of Mandalay Bay, and immediately notice that a "text for offers" banner has been placed over THEhotel's model room display near the food course. Trying to look around/behind it didn't help, so the question remains: why don't they want anyone looking inside? Do they just want to use the model room for something else (storage, perhaps) or are rooms at THEhotel getting a renovation? Time's about due for one, but I just don't expect MGM Mirage to be able to swing the cash to bring THEhotel in line with rooms at Aria. If they're lucky they'll be brought up to standards with Vdara.

As I walked to the casino, I noticed that the buildings along the dining row facing the pool complex seemed to have particularly fresh paint. Still, on the other side of the window frame was a reminder that small problems persist.

I remembered a few months ago saying that Lupo had largely disposed of it's villa look and gone for dark woods, and so I tried to capture it. You can see pretty well in there even with all the darkness.

Mandalay's casino was being worked on the last time I was there, but upon walking around I didn't see anything different where barricades and maintenance teams had been. There's a watch store over near the entrance, but I can't remember how long that's been around because, honestly, all sorts of stores have been using that location in the past eight years.

The Eveningcall Bar that was being built where there was previously some showroom marquees has opened, and the yogurt shop that was formerly The Reading Room has opened as well.

While I've been gone, activity has been stirring in the old, hidden Forty Deuce location. The plan is to open up something called The Rose, but the plan has stumbled here and there due to a number of reasons that include some old drama from Prive's licensing issues spilling over here. But for most of the time (including nearly all the hours I'll be awake), the area is just a very dark area with a door hidden in the wallpaper.

In the mall, I notice that some stores are gone, while others I've never seen before, like a store that sells only flip flops. Huh?


On the other end of things, Hussong's Cantina looks pretty close to done. There's a curtain over the entrance, but peeking behind reveals a mostly finished place illuminated mostly by the obligatory neon beer logos. This place looks like it's 70% bar, 30% restaurant. As a belly-up bar it will have competition immediately nearby at the Fat Tuesday's that opened up several years ago.

The Elements Atrium goods store at the edge of the pyramid is now LX Fight Shop, aka another place for TapOut shirts. The section in the back with the refrigeration units is still selling soft drinks and stuff, so I don't think they're too committed to this idea.

The eco-friendly effort from CityCenter is spilling over here with LEDs replacing conventional bulbs all over, giving many things a bluer tint. You'll find them on these guys near the entrance, around the crown molding details near the lobby, and a few other places where I passed on photos. This carries on all the way through to the oft-ignored tower registration, so they're pretty serious about it.

I talked last time about MGM "adding cash registers" by putting shops, carts, bars, and other ways to deposit your income at spaces that previously existed for decoration or simply didn't have anything for sale. We have two of those here: a sunglasses store just past the registration desk by the inclinators, and a store selling, uh, bags.

All this additional retail space comes with a drawback: the original retail space is practically gutted. Aside from the Believe store, the old Galleria between the pyramid and the towers is a total ghost town. One-locked cages that used to be used to store souvenirs for passing by are sitting bare and open and even the discount cart that used to fill up about a third of the space is gone. As you can see in the last picture, the large lights there aren't working and even the themed doo-dads that sat on these pedestals are gone.


The path into Excalibur from the hallways connecting into Luxor is now a lot more crowded than it used to be. In addition to carts selling gizmos and the massage machines, the Guess Your Weight setup that used to live across the buffet was moved into this hall and that space is now, yep, expanded trinket retail.

They finally have put a wall around Sir Galahad's, though just the entrance. Also upstairs, the Marshall Rousso is gone. That was basically about as sophisticated and classy as Excalibur shopping ever got, and now it's another non-specific Vegas goodies store quite similar to ones you see downtown.

Outside, I was glad to see some new paint. The turrets and roofs of Excalibur's land bridge, especially down by the street intersection where almost nobody ever goes, had been getting extremely faded in recent years. So, it was about time to see freshly painted turrets (no more black zigzag pattern either) over there and on the NYNY bridge .


If it's after New Years, then they drained the water feature again. Please have it full by February? Please?

Monte Carlo

At the edge of the road, a timeshare building stands abandoned. See? Good things still happen.

Monte Carlo still had their Christmas stuff up when these pictures were taken. Tis the season to raid Bellagio's warehouse for holiday touches.

My camera refused to get a decent picture of d.Vino, no matter how hard I tried. So take this steady, zoomed in photo of Dragon Noodle's dining room instead.

The Street of Dreams mall is now up and kickin', though there's still a shop here and there that is walled up. Marshall Rousso moved here from Excalibur, I guess. It's still called the Street of Dreams, even if it's not particularly well themed anymore. Some people with sharp memories may recall that The Pub's Keg Room was once a cigar bar. There's also Harley-Davison, The Art of Music (also at Mirage), The Cupcakery, and Sugar Factory will be bringing their cheesy jeweled lollypop sticks from Mirage soon.

Go a bit further down and it begins to look like a subway station before you reach the fork in the road to Aria or the tram station.


No, no; hold that thought...


There's been a growing chorus on the Internet over the past month that Bellagio just isn't what it was supposed to be anymore. I always have a hard time making a good judgement for a few reasons. One, I'm always a visitor and never a guest, if you get what I mean, so a lot of my impressions about the resorts these days are formed on the ground floor since I've rarely had a room key in the past five years. Secondly, I'm a total mark for that appearance of an Old World Europe Stately Function that Bellagio puts forward, and so minor problems are swept away under the feeling that I'm in some sort of Parliament building.

Well, nobody is ever going to feel like they're making a grand and elegant entrance descending from the tram platform. You do get half a view of a pool, but also a full view and then some of many of the lower rooms in spa tower. They've probably shut these floors down for now, who knows about the future. Many of the rooms which now have a Jockey Club-like view of the station and passing tourists are end of hall "panorama" rooms, whose value probably just went down significantly. MGM's West Wing proves that there's some people who don't care about a view at the right price, so maybe these will be on sale at some point.

So, the first thing I see upon arriving in familiar territory is a napkin being used tojam open an employee door in the back of Sensei. Classy.

Christmas was literally finished with here, and the concept art was placed on stands up front, as is the tradition when the Conservatory is swapping styles. Chinese New Year again.

Gift shop find: Women's Butterfly sweater. When you think of casinos and butterflies, you automatically think of Bellagio, right?

Last time I was here, the Finding New Cash Registers initiative had walled up a pay phone room around the corner from the registration desk and was planning to open an eyeglasses store there instead. And so, they did. But here's the problem with this idea: look at the store, and how featureless it's design is. The wall just simply turns into a black square with some illuminated letters and windows. Not any consideration was given at all to the Old Europe design that Bellagio had been well known for in the past decade.

Compare that to the old Tesorini store that has been around since I've been coming to Vegas. It has appropriate design features like the awnings, the marble along the bottom of the wall, a paint scheme that matches the rest of the room, the archway inside, and so on.

I used to make comments that MGM's design team simply lacks someone with enough vision to pull off anything but this same look in every environment, but CityCenter proved me wrong. I no longer think this is the problem. I think the problem is that they just don't care.

Speaking of old Bellagio design, if you've never been too interested in the cuisine at Jasmine, the Fountains Brunch is still running strong but will end on February 14th to make room for a dim sum brunch. I went in to ask some questions and gawk at the room, and when I asked what food was available the hostess invited me to walk into the dining room and browse. The fountains brunch is a nice little setup with one of those classy blocks of ice that has had "Fountains Brunch" embossed into it and lots of fancy meats that blow away anything you see in a proper buffet. The desserts are located on a table in a one-table dining room that can be closed off from the main dining room, and upon sticking my head in to look the smell of chocolate was so strong that it nearly smashed my face in.

As for the facility itself, Jasmine is a charming room for all it's painted walls, which carry off even down to the washroom. The furniture might benefit from some TLC, at the breakneck pace I had to move at I noticed that the lamps could use some minute adjustment and the curtains appeared somewhat faded after so many summers. I doubt any renovation team will want to stop there, though, and that's too bad.

The marble in the room connecting the bridges to Caesars and Ballys is getting more and more dinged up.

In conclusion, I can see that the growing criticism has a legitimate point, and I hope they can turn things around in the year ahead. Bellagio seems to be once again sailing along on the momentum of it's own name and that only lasts so long before it quits and left to pass for enough time it will eventually transforms into negative equity.

The Mirage

BB King's has been open for a while, though there's not much to see from the outside. Expect the StripMunch to make it's way over there eventually.

I decided on a whim to walk back into the pool area of Mirage, and I have no idea if this storefront is new, but I did see that Coconut's Ice Cream is gone and will return as a chain store very soon.

The old arcade is now a cardio room. I leaned in the door where you can't see much, but it looks very Modern Generic Moderne in there.

Treasure Island

What be this on yonder directional sign? We'll get to that in a moment.

The walkway to Mystere is changing. The old TI Kids/Purse Store location is to be the new location for Francesco's. There's a gap in the doors, so take a peek. It looks more deli than dining room, but they've just gotten started and there's still ladders and table saws hanging around, so give them some more time.

This next bit makes me cringe a little since it seems pretty downmarket: Ruffin complained in an interview months ago that the Watch Store wasn't making any money and he was going to replace it. Thing is, he replaced a store selling real Rolexes with a store selling fake diamonds. Some marketing person somewhere had the unfortunate idea to name it Bling. You heard me: Bling.

In a hurry to make room to sell more fake diamonds, the gift shop immediately next door is having a clearance sale on real diamonds.

Now, back to those black spots on the directional sign...

What they've carefully blacked out on all the signs is any reference to the spa, which was given a makeover (pardon the pun.) The spa was formerly known as 'wet' and now is marketed simply as 'O', given that visitors might have difficulty grasping "Oleksandra Spa & Salon".

In case you didn't know, Phil Ruffin is married to a Ukranian beauty contestant, and according to the TI website, the spa is "designed by Oleksandra Nikolayenko-Ruffin."

This was the Ruffin team's first substantial renovation to the facility since Khotan turned out to be Social House with Bling (uh, I mean Jade) everywhere. I was curious to see how substantial the rebranding effort was here. Good start when I see they've made new elevator buttons and directional signage. Head around the corner and here we are.

I never saw the old TI spa, so I really don't know how much changed. And since I didn't really have any business there except to see how much changed, uhhh... Well, some searching turned up this photo of the lobby on another web site, and here's my photo of how it looks now .

Back downstairs, The Steakhouse is now Phil's Italian Steakhouse.
This makes me smile, since back before the Frontier closed the only times I ever went into the place was to announce that Phil had named another steakhouse or pizza joint after himself. The steakhouse seems to be filling in a role previously held by Francesco's but no longer since it became a simple pizzeria. As a result, the room is now often opened for lunch though isn't serving steaks until 4:30 or so.

Oh, almost forgot about this.

So yeah, there's some apocalyptic destruction out front, and it's for Gilley's, and it's using the Francesco/Mist space as expected. It stretches all the way to the Siren show.


There was a commercial on the marquee about a place called Smokin' Hot Aces and it opened on New Years and though this sign was placed next to the Palazzo entrance in about the same space where the entrance to the old Vivid club used to be. There wasn't any signs of a club or lounge just inside the front door, maps were no help, and I'm not crawling the MEGACENTER(tm) to look for a place that probably wouldn't be open in the middle of the afternoon.

Palazzo's conservatrium had holiday decorations too, y'know. Sure, the trees are a little Charlie Brown lookin' and Polar Bears made of flowers were done better for the past three years at Bellagio, but a good attempt anyway.


For months, people have complained about Pizza Place, but I hadn't gotten around to it until now. It's basically a deli with pizzas now, though gelato is still served.

The Country Club is hosting a "Don't You Dare Call It A Fountains" Brunch on Sundays. Live jazz is promised though by the time I got there it was almost shut-down time.

Some artwork in the meeting area was being replaced, hence this curtain.

Finally, here's the Beach Club site.


It works a lot easier to break this stuff down into components.


A while ago, a marketing email went out advertising hotel rooms at Aria for $109. In what seems like it had to be an error, New Years Eve was included in the list. So we booked it and waited for that "sorry for our error" email, but it never came. Eventually, December 31st rolled around and we showed up for the first time at CityCenter, long-hauled to the registration desk, and by this point odds were still at 20% that we'd hear, "Oh, I'm sorry..."

Instead they printed out a receipt and we're off. So, thanks to some marketing IT dude who must have ruined his career, I got a better look than usual at Aria. For what you think of when you think of NYE, the place wasn't really all that packed for many hours. In fact, walking to Bellagio caused crowds to get much worse.

I do like the look of the hotel, but I'll need to visit the casino again on a regular day to figure out if I like it or not. For most of the day and night it was filled with noise. Not so much people screaming and talking, but very loud slot machines all playing their sound effects and reverberating around in my skull.

At one point, I did something I've never done before and stepped outside due to overwhelming gambling sounds. The weather was nice, there's stuff to lean on, and the Lumia watershow is varied enough to hold your attention for a good long time. It's better in the day, however. The lights are actually powerful enough to illuminate the water even in the sunlight, where as at night it can be almost overwhelming as lights from the fountain can be seen illuminating the roof at Monte Carlo and some unfortunate rooms at Aria itself.

Do be careful on the slot machines. Max Bet and Spin Reel have swapped places on a good many machines, causing this column's sole gambling to story to involve betting 3X the intended bet without knowing it until it was over. Fortunately, on the second spin a big result was hit.

There's a few floor plan issues that will probably never be resolved. The walk between registration and the elevators is a pain, but the walk from self-park to registration is far worse, requiring that guests haul their luggage across the entire casino floor. Putting registration where there's presently a sports book or even where there's presently a coffee bar would have built a better mousetrap, but then you wouldn't have that grand view in the lobby.

From a design standpoint, I feel like a lot of things at Aria are a response/evolution of things at Bellagio. Restaurants have their own districts again, though they don't circle around the casino now. I spot I've always loved is that little skylight villa garden behind the registration desk, though it's purely for decoration (nobody goes back there except decorators) it's pretty well detailed. It looks nice, but you'll never be able to experience it. At Aria, the scene behind the registration desk is the pocket park, which is usually active and busy with people AND you can go over there and be a piece of the registration scenery if you so desire.


The room itself has had a lot of technology that has been talked to death, though I'll throw in my unique two cents and suggest you use the bedside panel to turn off the water closet lights while somebody is in there. That's always fun.

Whoever invented the tub inside the shower concept at Aria deserves a promotion or something. It is possibly the greatest new idea on property for two reasons. First, it's something that would be VERY difficult for Steve Wynn or Sheldon Adelson to recreate in their own hotels. Putting an additional channel on the TV system that shows you the current flight status at McCarran is easy and I suspect that very quickly you're going to see that adopted everywhere. And I'm sure that Wynn the person has directed his IT people to investigate the Control4 room automation system, to be included in the almost-due renovations of Wynn the hotel. But the shower is a different story.

Why is the shower so great? First of all, you can pre-shower while the tub fills. Or if you wish, turn the showerhead so the tub fills faster. When the tub is ready, you can dive in and splash around put the watermark well over where it should be and cause water to come spilling out over the sides, and none of this matters because "the side" is the shower floor, so you can be as sloppy as you want to be. I tried even having the shower spraying on the tub while in the tub, which feels a bit like being rained on, which can be refreshing to some people or an annoyance to others.

Is the shower as grand as the degree-precise automatic rain room shower at the SkyLofts? Probably not, but it's as close as you're likely to get for under $300 a night, and for now it's only at Aria.

The Control4 system could use a little instruction pamphlet or something. With all the lights, presets, plus manual controls like the Goodnight button by the beds, there's quite a bit to grasp even for a technophile. For instance, I consider myself to be a pretty big tech user but I have no idea why the remote has a Room Off button that not only turns off the TV but also all the lights and closes the curtains. Do you really want to enter to a pitch black room?

A table lamp under the TV in the desk area had no bulb in it, which is an easily forgiven "new hotel" flaw, but more troubling was that the USB ports (which actually say iPod on them) had trouble charging a Blackberry 9000 and iPhone 3G at once. The Blackberry had no problem, but the iPhone was constantly switching between charging and idle mode and making it's chirping sounds. Upon removing the Blackberry, the iPhone charged normally, so there just doesn't seem to be enough juice in this thing to support two phones at once. If you do want to charge multiple USB devices at once, and have an AC adapter charger like the iPhone's, you may want to consider charging one device over USB and the others over the couple of AC plugs provided right next to it.

I could be getting into more, but I'd tread familiar ground. I do like the "sawtooth" design of the building, though it means looking out your window to the left or right can sometimes give you a view of the person in the next room looking right back at you (hopefully everyone keeps their clothes on.) We were in the shorter north tower, and the hallway corner's window view next to the elevator bank made a great viewpoint from which to sit and watch fireworks shoot off MGM Grand and the roof of the southern tower.

Normally, sitting in a hotel hallway isn't my idea of a great time, and the view was a little obstructed by the white steel panels placed along the building, but it was great fun to sit and watch fireworks blow from the roof of the building I'm sitting inside and the roar of the crowd below. Particularly noisy was the the loud roaring sound when those sparkling fountains erupted on the roof, akin to an air conditioner set to MAX even 30 floors(!!) down the tower.

The bed was very comfortable, though I didn't sleep much because I was writing a long email for half the night.

Though it was only one night, I did enjoy this hotel.


I have to give some razzies to my two reliable options in food: the buffet and cafe. The buffet is alright in that campus cafeteria kind of way, and the views of the pool might pay off in summer, but the food has more artistic value than practicality might demand. We were there for a $35(!) "Holiday Brunch," but good luck finding a roll. You could find English Muffins and "Continental Rolls" or something like that, but the traditional kind of rolls you expect to open and butter and eat were missing.

Next to the carving was some hard biscuits, and next to that was the chunky biscuit gravy for some biscuits. But people were mostly confused. A British gentleman at the next table showed up next to me pointing at it, labelled "Country Gravy" and saying "This doesn't look very much like gravy does it? It seems more like porridge." I would have told him that regular gravy is on the other end of the carving station, except this was just as new to me as it was to him and I wouldn't find that either until the end of our visit.

Basically, the Aria buffet felt less like a conveyor line and more like a bunch of people cutting in and out of each other in a line because of what was offered and where it was all placed. Service was very slow until we casually mentioned it to the waitress and then she started deliberately showing up very frequently to top off glasses. My first fork didn't look clean and needed replacement.

Obviously, I'm too hooked to buffets to say that I'll never try it again, but I would have to put this one below the the Wynn/Bellagio/P-Ho top standard until I can try it on another time. It reminded me of how far Paris has fallen recently.

The other place we tried was Cafe Vettro. Much has been made about the arching airport-like entrance glass, the water walls floating in the air, and the green sculptures hanging around the dining area. When you go and are standing in line, I'd like to draw your attention instead to the building that appears made of rock on the right hand side/north end of the dining room. The rocks are all smooth river rocks that can't be found anywhere near the Strip, and had to have been hauled en masse from somewhere else at a pretty penny.

Now, as for the Cafe food itself, meh. The menu is trying too hard to be sophisticated, and leaves the diner with less to choose from than other "don't call it a coffee shop" experiences like Society Cafe and Tableau. I complained up a storm about this on Twitter, but the only choices for cheese on the burger was bleu and cheddar. If you want American, too bad. If you want Jack, good luck. If you wanted Swiss, no dice. As odd as some of these cheeses might be to put on a burger, the fact is that this is one of the basic, fundamental kitchens for one of the most hotsy-totsy places in town, so they SHOULD have these varieties carried in their kitchen stock. But they don't, or they refuse to offer it on a burger even when asked.

That the menu even mentions bleu then cheddar speaks of someone who initially wanted everyone to eat Bleu Cheeseburgers but thanks to lobbying from higher offices had to relent and include cheddar for those unsophisticated idiot tourists who don't understand couture cuisine. And if you're wondering why I'm railing so hard on Bleu Cheeseburgers, consider how the cheese is made: it basically is left to mold. The kind of people who will order cheeseburgers at this place are the kind of people who would shy away from that kind of thing, assuming they know what it is.

Giving up on that (as much as I like the taste of cheddar, I dislike all the grease and opt for american), I instead fell back on the fish & chips. They were tasty, and weren't soggy in grease, so that went well. Service was simply okay (though others have reported much worse experiences.)

Next to us, some guys in suits who were clearly here to ring in the new year with a fat bill at some lounge or club, ran into the same restrictive shackles of the chef that I did. "What, no chicken sandwich?" The waiter suggested a chicken salad in response. You are simply not welcome to personalize your food here.

One small note of interest on the Vettro menu: this is the first time I've ever seen poutine, a popular item in Canada, show up on a Vegas menu.

I do not think I will return to this cafe again, given that there's so many better options right around it. Why would go here when you're a tram ride from Cafe Bellagio? A reasonable walk to Planet Dailies? If you really wanted to dress up your food, take a casual stroll to Union or man up your wallet and walk a bit further to MOzen. I can't give any personal experience about Silk Road, but I'd give even that a try sight-unseen before doing this again.

The JP bakery at the base of the elevators is pretty nice and serves up some good treats for breakfast. I like this location much more than the Bellagio one.

Room service exists, and is much more compatible to middle-class American tastes than the attempt at foo-foo dining going on at Cafe Vettro. Unfortunately, food can cost $6-$8 more than Vettro, so you're better off not using it.


I didn't walk through here on New Years, but on a comeback visit for the column. I arrived through Bellagio and was a bit surprised to see that the bridge from Bellagio, which also means the bridge from the CityCenter Tram, was going to close at 10PM or something like that. It was on a sign sitting on the bridge. Really? Then how do they expect people to get there at night?

This place seems nice, though perhaps a bit small. Silk Road seems to be having difficulty attracting customers according to others, and it was dead empty in there when I went by. I walked into the spa and it was comfortably cozy though basically everything was closed and only a receptionist was there. But at least I wasn't getting the hairy eyeball I had seen elsewhere in the day.


I walked through here once. A lady that I overheard summed it up perfectly: "So much empty space!" The worst part of it is how the level just below the tram curves around a wall and then turns into a dead end. Coming back, I saw more people heading for the dead end and started telling everyone to just turn around because there's nothing there. Then after going down a couple escalators and walking around, I reach the bridge level on the other side of that angled wall. There's no need to have that wall there except to funnel people downstairs to walk along the shops almost nobody can afford. This place is, basically, ridiculous. Their No Booze policy is a godsend for reasons I'll explain later.

Mandarin Oriental

I did almost nothing here except drop by the bakery on the way back from a run to CVS. Looked nice. Sorry I don't have more.

Pocket Park

Well, you know I had to visit this almost immediately, right? Some trees, a lake, the Moore sculpture, and a couple benches for those times when you want to be Jim Murren. Although I'd highly suggest that somebody install a trash/ashtray in the Pocket Park. A lot of people are lighting up here because they can't get their nicotine fix in Crystals and the benches offer a place to sit without having gambling pushed into your face, and people are throwing their butts on the ground since there's no clear place to use them.

Maintenance Watch

The biggest threat to the whole ecosystem here is how well the maintenance team takes care of things. Checking out on New Year's Day, an elevator (between the casino floor and the tram/garage level) had a big dent in the ceiling like someone had really beaten and pulled on it. A few days later, the boarding under the chairs of a tram car had visible dents of people's heels kicking against it, and the entrance to the parking garage had ugly stickers slapped on it.

A certain amount of wear and tear is inevitable, as heartbreaking as it may be to watch something that so much blood, sweat, and money was poured into be rudely manhandled by the visiting public. But Vegas hotels basically get the hell beat out of them, and if maintenance wants to place to still look new by summer, they have a lot of ground to cover.


I went into Aria/CityCenter expecting "MGM Grand on Steroids" and was pleasantly surprised. There's plenty of new hotel issues to be worked out all across the property, many of which involve information or a lack of it (for instance, a traffic navigation sign facing the Strip outside Crystals is obscured by a tree) but I still had a good time.

One thing I want to mention is that the first time I saw the place when I arrived was on the self-park garage's top floor. If you have the moment to be up there, it's a nice view and a good welcome to someone like myself who has been watching this property rise out of the ground since I moved here. As I've been taking pictures of this site for now a fourth year, standing on the garage gave me something I hadn't experienced until I arrived: depth. You see, standing there you have a great angle of Aria in front of you, Mandarin behind you, and Veer leaning over the street. It's wonderful to finally see this project in all degrees after having seen it from the same angle so repeatedly that it begins to feel like a two-dimensional portrait.

CityCenter almost really is like a world unto itself, and our view of Vdara and the Harmon traffic circuit helped block out visions of Vegas past (those on the other side of the tower, who see the itty bitty Polo Towers sitting like a centrepiece between Veer and Mandarin, won't have it so lucky.) When standing around waiting for the tram at Monte Carlo, I looked around and noticed that from where I was standing, the only signs of Vegas beyond CityCenter that I could see was some of the Monte Carlo south of me, and half the Eiffel Tower hiding behind Veer. The rest of the view was filled with modern steel and glass.

But it's not just artificial. Time will tell how well it fares, but for the moment all the tacky signs of Las Vegas are somewhat rebuffed. A large part of it probably has to do with people associating the property with the Crystals station on the tram, and Crystals barring alcoholic beverages. But at least for the moment, it really does feel like there's this invisible forcefield around CityCenter, where stuff like giant margaritas, Ed Hardy shirts, and escort cards are repelled and unable to penetrate the bubble. There's no constant advertising in your face, and what advertising there is typically isn't using the visual of a naked woman concealed in shadow or an obstructing object.

It is un-Vegas. And as someone who always feels an ounce of shame returning "home" after visiting other cities who take urban planning and design a little more seriously than we do, seeing the boxy carnival skyline and promises of carnal pleasures fulfilled, let me just say that it's about time.

Twelve years ago, Bellagio promised a future where resorts would shift from dressed up gambling halls to lifestyle hubs where gambling was just one component and attempts to draw money from the visitor would be, if not reduced, made more subtle with the addition of public displays that didn't have a cash register in front of them.

Since then, resorts took another turn and have become more and more concerned with manufactured exclusivity, and hiding their charm and atmosphere from anyone who hasn't paid up for an admission or a drink or a meal. Phrases like "if you're visiting from another hotel then you won't get it" started being spoken more and more. Spun as "looking inward instead of outward," this phase of Vegas once again re-established that you're only as good as your budget and the allure of a hotel was proportional to how much of it's appeal you could afford.

CityCenter is excluded instead of exclusive: Aria isn't exactly an easy reach from Tropicana or Flamingo avenues, and guests in any hotels other than the three gateway hotels (Bellagio, Monte Carlo, and Planet Hollywood) will have a bit of a trip to get there. The real "move aside, poor person" stuff seems to be placed up front at the sidewalk's edge, giving the wealthy the benefit of access to the rest of Las Vegas while taking all others into a sort of quiet getaway of it's own.

It took a long time, but the project followed through on the potential of what Bellagio offered a lot of years ago. It's surprising that The Artist Formerly Known as MGM Grand Inc took more than a decade to build it's next hotel, and perhaps the city would be better off if they had started earlier instead of buying more properties, but here we are.

They succeeded in building something that isn't flawless but for this city is quite special, but it remains to be seen if they can afford to make it last.


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January 14, 2010 9:26 PM Posted by Goon29

Hmm, seems like CityCenter may be helping de-crappify Monte Carlo somewhat?

January 15, 2010 3:57 AM Posted by Grammar Nazi

It's = contraction of "it is".

Its = possessive form of the pronoun "it".

January 15, 2010 7:49 AM Posted by atdleft

Wow! I didn't know Mike was back in Vegas. Welcome home, and please tell us how you really feel about CityCenter. :-p

January 15, 2010 8:56 AM Posted by atdleft

OK, and I don't want to sound too mean... But I really only go to buffets these days when my dad or another visitor to town demands one. IMHO quality is more impressive than quantity, and I don't think I'll ever be trying that buffet when there are far better restaurants in CityCenter.

Still, it's inexcusable for them to charge that much for admission then skimp on the food selections and hand you dirty silverware. They just choked on the basics. I'd expect lousy service from the buffet at Sam's Town, but something, ANYTHING, in CityCenter really needs to step it up.

January 15, 2010 9:16 AM Posted by mike_ch

Dear "Grammar Nazi,"

I appreciate the information, though I wrote all of this in a GMail window across three days and it's a load of words so I'll have to ask forgiveness. Some of my previous columns have left sentences hanging in the air (no ending) because I took a break and came back to the email and could not remember where I left off.

atdleft: It's either buffet or coffee shop with me. Either is higher quality than McDonalds. On most days I sit in my house all day long and eat bachelor chow out of a freezer. I take public transpo everywhere because I don't have (nor want, honestly) a car. And that's still "barely getting by." So to me, a $20 buffet like Aria or Bellagio or P-Ho, that's a treat. I usually just have a couple dollar menu items on the way home.

Keep in mind I'm almost never on the Strip after sundown. It's all daytime for me, and it's not like there's a heckuva lot of stuff open for lunch anymore. The "StripMunch" stuff of last year was because I was trying to explore other options that were also open and because the construction scene was (still is) so dull that I had nothing to write.

In conclusion, if it's not open for lunch, it's not really an option for me.

However, we should have been smart enough to eat lunch at home before going to CityCenter and paying an arm and a leg for a substandard buffet. That one I'll give you.

January 15, 2010 10:09 AM Posted by Phil

Thanks for the incredible honest update. It seems a little bad outweighing good, but I'm glad to see at least some renovation is taking place on existing hotels.

I enjoyed your summary of City Center being more real than artificial. I completely understand where you're going with that anaylsis. I'm coming into town to my Summerlin home in a few weeks and look forward to seeing it.

While I still remain a fan of a well themed resort, I'm not a fan of the carnival atmosphere and often low class crowd Vegas now seems to draw and if City Center forms a bubble as you mentioned to keep that out, I'm all for it. Surely everyone is welcome at all income levels and having a good time on a vacation is to be expected, but the $19.99/night crowd this town now draws has an element to it that has zero respect, the stickers plastered on City Center's walls, the people kicking and punching the trim on the City Center tram is just ridiculous. Its no wonder everyone loves places like the Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental, its to get away from the madness and to get service that once in this town was one of it's staples, regardless what price you're paying for a cheeseburger.

January 15, 2010 10:35 AM Posted by detroit1051

Great report, Mike, and I really like the photos being woven into the narrative.
Good thing I have the weekend to digest this report. By the time I got to the end, I forgot some of my questions from the beginning.

I believe Paradiso, an upscale (read expensive) women's store has been at The Mirage for years. I'm sorry to hear about Coconut's Ice Cream.

Aria's walk from registration to the elvators made me think of Bellagio. Except for the few times I was deigned worthy enough to use the Suite elevators, it was a long hike through the casino to the main hotel elevators. So, it's not just an MGM issue; Steve Wynn did the same at Bellagio. I assume Aria has VIP check-in with private elevators at the ready. At least Bellagio had very convenient access from self-parking to registration.

We've talked about MGM Mirage cutting back on capital expenditures. It sounds from your report that Bellagio will suffer if too much maintenance is delayed.
I'll be back over the weekend with more questions.

January 15, 2010 11:53 AM Posted by mike_ch

Detroit: Thanks. Aria's walk to the elevators isn't too bad. You basically walk the distance of a bar, the entrance to the coffee shop, and a bathroom. It isn't anywhere near as long a hike as Mirage or Bellagio or even Wynn, closer to Treasure Island or Paris. It's just that people have become fans of concepts like THEhotel and Tower Suites, and there just wasn't an easy way to replicate that for everyone in a hotel this big.

Phil: I haven't really noticed any changes in "the crowd" except a lot more families. Every time I walk the Strip I notice way more children. Just on my two trips to Bellagio for this Strip Walk, I saw strollers coming in from Vdara, strollers going through the stores (notice my Tesorini shot has a stroller coming out of it), etc. In past visits last fall I saw parents walking children past the CityCosmo construction corridor that was littered with porno cards, and little boys whose heads are so fixed to the ground that it almost looks like they need a chiropractor.

What I do know is that a lot (not all) of the young people are gone, probably because they either spent more than they saved or because they're unemployed. In their place are the families that Vegas stopped catering to long ago, wandering through the halls of places not intended for them.

If I had to guess, more than anything else this is because family units have more stable incomes, since more often both parents work and their future security isn't tied to one source. People are losing their jobs all over the place, but families as a group have to lose more jobs than childless singles before they're out in the wilderness.

January 15, 2010 1:32 PM Posted by atdleft


"Its no wonder everyone loves places like the Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental, its to get away from the madness and to get service that once in this town was one of it's staples, regardless what price you're paying for a cheeseburger."

It's also why so many locals stay away from The Strip, or at least the ones in my neck of the woods that prefer playing the slots and grabbing a few drinks at GVR and The M. It seems no matter what good thing I tell them about what's happening on The Strip, they just say they can't handle the tourists and go back to GVR.


I understand. It's not like I'm made out of money, either. Still, it's not totally hopeless... And I do think there are better options out there than generic coffee shops & buffets that won't cost you too much while delivering more bang for your buck. I know you weren't too happy with Society at Encore last time you stopped there, but try one of the pasta dishes or go early enough for breakfast to check out the interesting things they have there. I'm also a HUGE fan of First at The Palazzo, with their Sunday brunch deals probably providing the best value on The Strip.

And if you don't mind going a little off-Strip, try Simon at Palms Place. It isn't too expensive, but the food is high-quality and the menu isn't too boring while still remaining approachable (think American comfort food with a post-modern twist and a touch of Asian fusion).

January 15, 2010 3:49 PM Posted by mike_ch

atdleft: When money allows, I'll try some better places again. I almost tried out Table10 for this write-up but decided to just move along

I know the casino restaurants can be pretty good above coffee shop level. Last night I was in Salvatore's in Suncoast and ate for less than the cost of the Olive Garden just a couple blocks away from the house, in a nicer looking room with live piano jazz. And my dish actually tasted more like real food than the OG equivalent (which I actually had, erm, bad reactions to last time I tried it.)

January 16, 2010 4:42 AM Posted by detroit1051

Mandalay Bay: I must have missed this entire story about Bambu Bar which opened last summer, then closed.

January 16, 2010 6:51 AM Posted by Brian Fey

Harrah's Las Vegas 2,530
Rio 2,520
Caesars Palace 3,290
Paris Las Vegas 2,920
Bally's Las Vegas 2,810
Flamingo 3,460
Imperial Palace 2,640
Bill's 200
Planet Hollywood Resort 2,496
Total 22,866

Bellagio 3,933
MGM Grand 6,264
Mandalay Bay 4,752
The Mirage 3,044
Luxor 4,405
Excalibur 3,981
New York-New York 2,025
Monte Carlo 3,002
Circus Circus 3,762
Aria and CityCenter 5,943
Total 41,111

I'd never really done the math before, but this is out of today's LV Sun, and I didn't realize that MGM was almost twice the size of Harrah's in LV. I would have guessed MGM was bigger, but not basically double.

January 16, 2010 10:53 AM Posted by Mike P.


Could you tell if the overnight closing of the passageway between Vdara and Bellagio is a permanent thing? Did you happen to inquire why they did it?

January 16, 2010 11:56 AM Posted by mike_ch

Brian: Those numbers are a bit funny. They're including Signature with MGM Grand and Vdara with Aria. This has all sorts of fun effects on the Largest Hotels In The World figure, which normally looks like this but since Sheldon, MGM, Wynn and others started insisting that expansion towers "count" it can also look like this. Which I think is cheating. Either way, look at how much MGM stuff is loaded up top.

That's why I keep hoping Murren will part with a hotel. They have close to 12,000 rooms that are outdated between the MGM Grand rooms that aren't Mansion/Signature/Skylofts, the entire Luxor pyramid and most of the towers (minus a scant 40 rooms in one of the Luxor towers they finished before money forced halt work), and the regular rooms at Bellagio (all the suites have been kept up over time, but standard rooms haven't.)

And ideally they could find some way to accomplish this without CityCenter losing it's sharpness. Seems unlikely to me. Congrats to Murren for keeping the band together but I think it's a pretty bittersweet victory to have held onto 10,000 rooms that are outdated by Caesars standards. Though Harrahs keeps a high price on those oooold Paris rooms, so what do I know.

Mike P: Didn't ask. Will ask if I see it again. My purpose at Vdara was actually to visit the spa and see if I wanted to get something done there in the future.

January 16, 2010 4:01 PM Posted by Kenny

I think that the only way the Bellagio could return to its former glory is if Wynn buys the place back. Mike is right, MGM just doesn't care about the design and look of the property. Only Steve knows what to do because he knows the place more than anyone else. He built it!! And besides, it would be a step forward for WYNN resorts to own the Bellagio.

January 17, 2010 12:25 AM Posted by mike_ch

Kenny: That "Wynn Buys Bellagio" theory has to be seen in a new light now that CityCenter is open.

The property has been severely shortened and the hotel now being relied upon for other projects. It seems to me that CityCenter is using Bellagio's talent in a number of ways (not the least of which is the horticultural department) and it's employee garage butts into CityCenter property (the garage shares space with Vdara valet parking.) the VdAria plot of CC was originally Bellagio's employee surface lot.

While Phil Ruffin has no problems paying MGM for use of a tram and a parking garage, it would really take a lot of stars to align for Steve to agree to whatever strings are attached. Given how difficult it is to get to Aria from the street and how most the Tram's ridership is moving between Bellagio and somewhere else, I'd imagine Steve would demand that CityCenter pay Bellagio to use the tram and not the other way around. Though really, I have no idea how the original Bellagio/MC tram circa 1999 was structured.

All of this is why, by the way, I don't think MGM can ask the high number that Brian Fey thinks they're going to demand for it. Wynn probably won't settle for giving CityCenter access to half the employee garage, the conservatory's greenhouse, etc. And paying MGM to send his traffic to Aria on a tram? That's completely counter-productive.

Even if he works all of this stuff out and doesn't have any boardroom haggling with Elaine, under Wynn's company Bellagio would probably still sort of be that awkward stepchild. But at least Steve wouldn't settle for painting around cracks in the concrete.

I think in terms of what Bellagio is actually worth now, even the likes of Boyd or maybe Ruffin could make a serious offer. If they can't now, they can if MGM is successful in moving their high limit players to Aria (jury's still out.) .Boyd seems especially likely since Murren could put that 50% of Borgata on the table to sweeten the deal and make them accept all the strings attached in the legal clauses.

A company like Boyd would treat the place like it's their real flagship and not a backburner property, which is probably what it needs most and won't get from Steve Wynn.

January 17, 2010 5:46 AM Posted by detroit1051

Mike, I think MGM and Wynn could work out the logistics of shared functions, horticulture, etc. My question is would MGM be perceived as a failure if it had to sell Bellagio. I do agree Steve could restore Bellagio to its former glory even though it is now considered an "old" property.
If MGM operates Aria properly and Wynn operated Bellagio, it would add tremendous synergy to both CityCenter and Bellagio. I'd love to see it happen, but I doubt it will.
Aria has been open only a month, so we need to give it more time to judge its success, but the room rates aren't where they should be for a flagship property:

January 17, 2010 6:31 AM Posted by Jeff in OKC

There is zero chance Bellagio will be sold off. There is absouletly no gain to MGM by selling the most highly regarded property in Las Vegas, and within the gaming community, the world! I think the center of the MGM universe is Between Treasure Island and Tropicana, on the West side of LVB, and any future sales will reinforce this. Even to the point of selling something to absorb Cosmopolitan when the time and price are right

January 17, 2010 9:51 PM Posted by Doug

I agree there is zero chance of Bellagio being sold. In fact if there was a betting line on it I would 'unload' against it being sold.

I could see Cosmopolitan being bought by MGM at some point in the future.

Still no report from MikeE on the gaming conditions at Aria...hmm...

January 18, 2010 12:31 AM Posted by Mike E

Sorry Doug, I got a little bombarded after my trip and forgot about updating you.

Conditions were typical MGM Mirage. The blackjack tables I played were $10 and $15 minimums on the weeknight with six decks, dealer hits on soft 17. I didn't see a single 6:5 table, but I didn't see every table in the house either.

I did stumble across a $25 single zero roulette table which they said they were experimenting with. Sounded like it won't last. Craps was standard 3x4x5x.

Anything specific you'd like to know?

January 18, 2010 5:13 AM Posted by PokerLaz

Fantastic post Mike. I really enjoyed it and it brought back some great memories...

I just hope my boss doesn't realise what I've been doing for the last 20 minutes!

January 18, 2010 12:31 PM Posted by Matt K

re: the gaming conditions - I can report on the poker room, having played there now three times.

The comp system seems to be the same as Bellagio: $1/hour. High hand and/or bad beat bonuses are nowhere in sight, which was what I expected. The fact that there is no enclosed hi-limit room, and that the cheapest game in the room: 3-6 limit holdem is cheaper than the Bellagio's 4-8 strongly implies that there is no MGM intention to take the poker crown away from Bellagio. I don't see the big game transitioning to Aria anytime soon. Whether or not the Aria poker room will be a success depends I think on the competence of their tournament team. Venetian's room (for example) was a ghost town until they started running attractive deep stack tournaments.

As for the competition, I had two different experiences. During CES and on the opening weekend I had nice soft tables full of inexperienced conventioneers. But on a random Tuesday recently I was placed on one of the toughest tables I've ever been on, full of leathery old locals.
So my advice would be to play there on weekends or on peak convention dates.

January 18, 2010 7:20 PM Posted by Doug

Thanks MikeE, I heard about the $25 European wheel on the main floor. It sounds similar to what the MGM and Mirage have on their main floors - although I know from experience the MGM wheel often goes to $100 at night and on weekends.

Blackjack doesn't mean much to me except as a barometer for the casino - I never play it anymore. But conservative blackjack rules usually means the casino isn't looking for real gamblers.

These days I mostly play mini/midi baccarat and maybe some craps if I'm in the mood. And I was curious about the games and limits in 'The Deuce' (if there are games there) and what Bac was available on the main casino floor.

January 18, 2010 8:08 PM Posted by atdleft

OK, I'm back.


"There is zero chance Bellagio will be sold off. "

Well, I'll say there's a slim chance... But not exactly zero. As long as MGM still has all this debt to pay and CityCenter is securing its footing on The Strip, there's always a chance they may unload more properties. And while I do suspect they're more likely to let go of properties like Excalibur & NYNY that they stopped caring about long ago, there's a tiny (but still possible) chance they may let go of a property like Bellagio that's costing them too much to try to maintain.

Still, I don't think it's too likely. And as long as CityCenter succeeds and MGM Mirage continues to rebound from last year's chaos, they may not have to let go of any more casinos... And may one day have enough money to take over Cosmopolitan and integrate it into CityCenter.

Mike Ch-

Keep up the great work. It's been an interesting conversation here, to say the least. :-D

January 18, 2010 9:34 PM Posted by Mike E

Doug, the Deuce was $100 minimum each time I saw and they only had blackjack tables there.

Mini tables were all $25 out on the main floor. In high limit, midi was between $100-$500. The lone big table way in the back was $300.

January 19, 2010 7:32 AM Posted by detroit1051

Atdleft wrote, "there's a tiny (but still possible) chance they may let go of a property like Bellagio that's costing them too much to try to maintain."
I agree. I'm sure MGM will watch Aria's performance very closely for at least six months and then make a decision on Bellagio. The two properties are polar opposites in decor and ambience.
MGM is already trying to reduce capital expenditures. I can't guess the cost of renovating the rooms, getting rid of the heavy armoires and old TV's in almost 4,000 rooms.
Chuckmonster brought me back to reality when I commented on how much I enjoyed Petrossian. He replied it is "worn and torn". That made me realize I had the same thought when I was last there three years ago. How much more has it deteriorated? Steve Wynn bought the best furnishings for Petrossian, and I can't imagine what it would cost to restore it to its original elegance. I do recall on my last visit noticing how dirty the stone railings around Petrossian had become from the oil in hundreds of thousands of people's hands over the years and how low I sank into one of the worn out sofa cushions. Mike_ch commented on Jasmine's chairs and draperies showing their age. Multiply this expense by all the other public spaces needing attention plus exterior stucco repairs, and MGM may decide they can't afford two flagship casino resorts.
MGM did renovate the Baccarat Bar a few years back, and it lost its elegance. Unfortutanately, this photo didn't turn out well, but it shows how MGM erased all traces of Steve Wynn in Baccarat Bar:

This is the year I've got to come back to Vegas and stop living in the past!

January 19, 2010 10:56 AM Posted by Jeff in OKC

MGM will not sell the most famous Casino in the World. Which is in the heart of their 2 mile long stretch of properties. There is no scenario where MGM selling Bellagio isn't seen as complete and total failure, and incompetence on their part. Phil Ruffin doesn't say he wants to buy Mandalay. Niether does the Penthouse dude, or Peter Carlino with Penn, or any other big talker who wants to be on the Strip. All the men in the 1980's wanted Bo Derek, but that didn't mean John Derek was going to give her up.
Geez, I wonder how much of my business suffers from my spending time in the middle of the work day to write about this stuff. YOU guys are the Devil! I need to go take some more blood pressure medication now. I'll be back in a few minutes, after it kicks in.

January 19, 2010 12:09 PM Posted by detroit1051

Jeff, I wish you'd let us know what you really think. LOL.
Hunter or others may know hotel renovation costs better than I, but I searched the internet to see how much, per room, it would cost to totally update Bellagio. I only found one article on the renovation and re-opening of an old hotel in Palm Springs, Hotel Zoso. Costs were $125,000 per room. Using that, renovation of Bellagio would cost $500 Million. I'm assuming Zoso's costs averaged in the cost of common areas which would likely be much greater in a casino hotel. How could MGM recoup that expense when they can't raise room rates in this market?
Here's the story I found:

January 19, 2010 2:19 PM Posted by Andy

Doesn't make a lot more sense for MGM/Mirage to sell the Mirage? Bellagio is physically connected to CityCenter, and it's been their flagship property for many years now. The Mirage is separated from the rest of their properties by the long stretch that is Caesars. Ruffin already owns TI, and it seems like a no-brainer to sell the rest of its sister property to him. They share the tram and the parking garage, etc.

I love Bellagio, and it hurts to see it getting so worn-down, but I have a lot of trouble imaginging a scenario in which it would make sense for MGM to sell it when they could probably get upwards of $1.2 billion for the Mirage.

January 19, 2010 4:01 PM Posted by parchedearth

Just spent 4 nights at Aria and had a few things to add:
1. Many major on-demand movies are not available in Aria presumably because Control4 doesn't yet have contracts with many of the major studios.
2. Now that Aria is open, Vdara is a ghost-town. I walked through it several times at mid-day and spent an hour at the bar. I never saw more than a couple non-employees. I saw three people at Silk Road, not a single person at the bar, and they don't even have a cab line. And yes, the walkway to Bellagio is closed from 10pm to 7am (use the Tram as an alternate route).
3. Aria has a very low percentage of quarter slots compared to everywhere else. There are many new off-brand slot machines, presumably to limit the licensing fees (i.e. no Wheel of Fortune, Megabucks, Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.. - although they do have a few Sex in the City)
4. The Aria spa is nice but utilitarian - no bells and whistles. I rate it as only the 5th or 6th best in town.
5. Sirio, Julian Serrano, and JG Steakhouse are pretty good. I am undecided on American Fish (I didn't really care for my dish, but I'm not a big fish guy). Union is terrible (as expected from all Light food joints).
6. The sportsbook is way too small and they would have been better off without one. The Skybox bar is really loud and always busy. Skybox To Go was a great idea.
7. The Tram is useless unless you want to bypass Aria and go directly between Bellagio and MC; otherwise it is easier to walk.
8. The convention space looks great and I believe will be the key to making Aria work.

January 19, 2010 10:31 PM Posted by Doug

detroit1051 needs to stop living in the past (HA!) - me too!

I think the renovation of Bellagio will be slow and steady instead of an 'all at once monster project' - there's no need. Bellagio has a loyal following and some of the highest rollers in the world as regular guests. People just love the place no matter what.

I've heard some other negative comments about the Aria sports book. That's too bad - a sports book is a 'hangout' for gamblers and a great place to just relax. From the pictures I've seen it looks a little like a New York City OTB with a few chairs and a fresh coat of paint.

January 20, 2010 6:12 PM Posted by mike_ch

You're off to a bad start, Jeff. :) Phil Ruffin told Forbes that he actually was interested in either Mandalay or Bellagio.

January 20, 2010 6:33 PM Posted by mike_ch

Detroit: I'd say your numbers are pretty close to the truth. It'd probably cost about $1b to bring Bellagio up to standard with Aria in the rooms while making the ground floor look new again. The question that's been mulled over for the past year is whether they'll spend the money to do that or just set their sights lower. Probably the latter, since they've also got the same aging issues going on at MGM Grand which, despite it's age etc, they'd probably be more reluctant to sell.

My guess is that in the somewhat distant future Bellagio will get about $700m in upgrades, but it's going to be replacing the european decadence with MGM's arguably played-out form of contemporary hipness. Look at how Shintaro became Yellowtail if you want to see what I mean.

Andy: "I have a lot of trouble imaginging a scenario in which it would make sense for MGM to sell it when they could probably get upwards of $1.2 billion for the Mirage."

Because they'll have to spend about half that much on Bellagio to make the amenities match Palazzo. And you can forget about Aria and whatever WynnLV looks like when it's nearly-due renovation occurs.

I guess the question is what does MGM want Bellagio to be, and my guess is that internally they view their chief competitor as WynnLV. They probably admit internally that no hotel of their size will top Mandarin for service, although that creates more problems for Wynn than it does Bellagio, especially since Wynn is trying to capture top play with his one property (Encore is basically just a Tower2 with a casino expansion,) and MGM has all sorts of places all over the road to do that with.

Of course, if you listen to Wynn himself, he thinks the country is on a crash-course to some kind of Randian dystopia and so he's taking his money to the freedom-loving deregulated wilderness of China. So there's always a chance he might delay that WLV renovation that I keep talking about, and if that happens than Bellagio's braintrust will decide to put off any major investments that much longer.

What's unfortunate isn't that they're skating along on their reputation at this point, it's that they clearly know it and are exploiting it (witness their rooms are at higher rates than Aria right now.)

January 20, 2010 7:06 PM Posted by John

Walked around today.

I haven't seen it anywhere else, but Taste Of Wynn has moved down the hallway into the Encore esplanade, and the Nite Life Shop (Store?) has moved where Taste used to be.

Hermes inside Bellagio has closed now that the Hermes inside CityCenter has opened up.

Other stuff that I can't remember right now.

Seems it's CityCenter Media Week.

January 20, 2010 9:00 PM Posted by Jeff in OKC

I don't think it will cost anywhere near $125,000 per room. I think a redo would be fabulous at $25,000 per. One reason I think that is an experience I had at the Hilton 2 years ago. We stayed in the newly redone rooms, which were beautiful, and the hot water for the bath was almost non-existant. It was explained to us by maintenance that we needed to run the water on full hot for 5 minutes, or so, and the hot would function properly. This was because the 1970ish design did not have a return line for the hot water line, which would recirculate the hot water (in a sanitary fashion) quickly and keep it hotter for less cost and use much less water,as well. My point being that Bellagio has very recent mechanical systems, and those upgrades are what drives the remodel costs into the stratosphere. I'm guesing the bathtubs and tile in the bathrooms are good for another 10 years, if MGM decides to let them go that long.
Having written all that; I don't think there is a big group demanding Bellagio be remodeled, other than the members of Two Way Hard Three. I will admit that we are the smartest students of Las Vegas Casinos, "Bar None", but I don't think the little people will catch up to our concerns for at least 5 years.

January 20, 2010 9:16 PM Posted by Kenny

Here are a list of some thing that the Bellagio NEEDS to do IF it wants to be the top resort again.

1. Renovate their guest rooms and combine 2 guest rooms (it would become bigger than the Venetian's)
2. Fix all wear and tear around the property (like the Via Bellagio carpet, floor damage, rooms etc.
3. No more LIGHT group operations (Yellowtail, Fix Caramel)
4. Take out EVERY piece of contemporary furnishing
5. Get some new quality restaurants
6. Bring the Picassos and Monets back to the Gallery of Fine Art cause right now, it really sucks
7. Get Hermes back in the Via Bellagio (or some other rare, expensive shop)

January 20, 2010 10:18 PM Posted by John

It sounds to me like someone wants the past back.

January 20, 2010 10:19 PM Posted by mike_ch

Jeff: I'd agree with you on the bottom floor. MGM's casino renovation in 06 was of pretty good quality and most people gambling downstairs don't really notice that the place is slowly getting worn.

In the rooms, it's a different story.

Kenny: I don't think they need to do all that.

Short term, it would be good for them to spend what they can on some of the rooms and make some kind of a deluxe regular room. They can charge more for them in the immediate future and then eventually move that design to all of the rooms.

What would be best is if they used only the rooms with the full fountain view for this, since they already charge more for those (and since they don't cost more to maintain than any other room,)

#2 is a given. #3&4 are unnecessary, they just need to actually care (the eyeglasses store only bothers me because it's in the conservatory area, where the "image" of the hotel is at it's strongest). #5 is inviting stuff like the 1,000th Puck restaurant which they really don't need. #6 is kinda subjective, and #7 will probably happen as tenants at Crystals reach the end of their heavily discounted rents and recognizes that there's more people any given hour wandering through Via Bellagio to the casino than there are people going through Crystals to Aria.

January 21, 2010 12:40 PM Posted by Jeff in OKC

What I have forgotten to say earlier is that I think this strip walk is a first rate presentation. Thank you, Mike. I'm guessing it would take about 10 hours to put this together and that is a lot of time to do something purely for the enjoyment of others.

January 21, 2010 6:38 PM Posted by detroit1051

Aria sure is slow in enhancing its website to include more casino details, restaurant menus, etc.
There is a new "Slots" category on the Casino page which doesn't have a lot of information, but one bullet point caught my attention. What does this mean:
"Available in Spin (high limit area), QuickPay allows players to service their own jackpots electronically (including W2G forms) without employee interruption when on a QuickPay session. "
I assume the player pre-registers all IRS info with the casino, and the slot/VP machine records it all for later printing of the W2G's. This would free up the employees I've seen at Bellagio and MGM Grand in the past dedicated to one high roller. He/she basically kept a log of all $1,200 and up wins and then reset the machine without slowing down the player.
The site also has a link to an interactive gaming guide.

January 26, 2010 4:10 PM Posted by billyinlasvegas

I hate to be the one that says this but don't expect any remodel at Bellagio. They live off of high rollers, and they stay in Villas and Suites. So you'll always get more "bang for your buck" by remodeling suites.
I have good news for mike_ch they're changing the management at the cafe and buffet at Aria so I guess enough people have complained.

January 27, 2010 2:13 AM Posted by motoman

Doug, re: Aria's gaming. Like Bellagio (and to a lesser extent, Wynn|Encore) there was a single higher-stakes blackjack pit with the "dealer stands on 17" rule. On opening night there was one table with lower limits where I played, hoping to earn some offers but perhaps the limit was as low as $15 because I got nada and MGM requires $25 bets to get rated. Limits at those tables can be in the $100's.

Were you shocked to see Casino War at Encore? Wow.