Two Way Hard Three | Las Vegas Casino & Design Blog

August 30, 2011

The Plaza (2.0 Beta 1)

Posted by Hunter

I stayed in an updated room at The Plaza this past week, just a few days before the official opening. This is my story.

If you want to see my pictures, they're here:

The new Plaza needs to decide what it wants to be.

Is it going after Strip-caliber customers like Golden Nugget? Is it shooting for retro like the El Cortez or Four Queens? Going for locals and speciality markets like Main Street Station or The Cal?

The renovated Plaza hotel in Downtown Las Vegas is officially re-opening on September 1st but it's been accepting guests for the past week or so. I was one of those people this past week and this is the story of my experience (for what it's worth, so was Chuckmonster from VegasTripping - his post is here).

My interest in The Plaza's renovation was sparked when they revealed they had purchased furniture originally slated for Fontainebleau. It's an interesting story of something good coming from a huge mistake. When I realized I'd have some overlap in town with their soft-open, it seemed like a good match. I booked.

I arrived on Sunday, August 28th, a few days before the official opening on the 1st.

It's hard not to notice that the building has been painted, though on closer inspection you'll discover that there are plenty of places that haven't had a new coat and still feature several decades of grime as a skin. Valet service was quick and simple - I was on my way to check-in moments later.

The new front-desk area is one of the highlights - it really does look nice. Everything is fresh, crisp and clean. After walking up to the desk, I got a preview of what might be the biggest problem with the property, if they actually aspire to moving up the food chain of downtown hotels.

The gentleman checking me in was clearly perplexed by the computer - looking at it with a tilted head and expression of complete confusion. Despite him muttering about things not making sense, his manager, who was standing next to him, didn't even look over and instead fiddled with his cell phone. It wasn't until the clerk called out that the manager explained whatever the various options on the screen meant. Ok, no problem - new computers I guess. Check-in took about 20 minutes after I had stepped up to the desk but now I was on my way to my room - 938 in the South Tower.

The South Tower is located all the way across the casino from the check-in desk, giving a great opportunity to take in all the floor renovations. If you've ever been in the old Plaza, it's like they firebombed and started over. The casino floor generally looks night and day from it's old appearance. Instead of a smokey, piss-esque smell, it's clean, fresh and nicely laid out. If you're just visiting the joint and all you see is the lobby and casino, you'll likely view this renovation as a home run - and from that perspective, it is. Other than the Nugget, it's one of the nicest floors on Fremont right now.

I made my way past the security guard and into the elevator lobby - the elevators themselves have new carpet but the other controls don't look to have been replaced. The buttons are very dirty and some of them don't light up, etc...

When I reached the ninth floor, I had the same problem that Chuck did - there's absolutely zero way-finding at all in the guest room corridors. You basically have to guess which way your room is and figure it out on your own. This is even true for the fifth floor where the pool is (will be). Good luck.

I opened the door to my room, 938, overlooking the bus depot and the distant Strip. My reaction?

The furniture is all new (and already scuffed!), though it doesn't seem to really fit the room. It's clear they had x furniture and y space and had to figure out how to make it work. Some oddities noticed off the bat: the bed had no skirt or comforter, making it look oddly bare, there's a big empty space between the desk and the window and the walls are mostly empty, save a large print of a vintage Plaza.

On closer inspection, I noticed that the in-room safe was locked open - turns out they didn't have the codes and couldn't unlock them until the safe company called back... which didn't happen in the 24 hours I was on property. Standard rooms don't have mini-bars, like most other Fremont hotels.

I unpacked my crap after taking some photos - I had some work I needed to upload and had planned to sign on to the WiFi and get it out of the way... Well, that wasn't happening. I couldn't get the WiFi to work (lots of error messages). A call to the desk and I discovered that it was known-non-functional and I was told it would be fixed on September 1st (official opening day). This turned out to be the mantra I got from the staff over and over when asking about stuff that didn't work. Will it all be fixed by 9/1? I have no idea. Some of it certainly could be but I have a feeling bits will persist into September and beyond. I asked jokingly what else didn't work and the person on the phone told me that the TVs only worked in about half the rooms.

As an experiment, I decided to post a note on Twitter to @plazalasvegas about the Internet problems in my room. It's now Tuesday and I'm still waiting to hear back. #socialmediafailure

The bathroom was small but functional, with all-new everything. Unfortunately there was no soap anywhere to be found. Whoops. How many Fremont hotels have room-service? The Plaza doesn't. A final note on the room: despite what the pamphlet says, in-room checkout didn't work either. September 1st.

In addition to the updated rooms and casino floor, there's a whole range of new restaurants and bars, such as Anthony Cool's 'Swingers Club' in the mix. Almost none of these were open - Hash House was in play-dates, McDonalds and the sushi joint had plastic wrap on 'em. Subway was rocking but I didn't need any foot-longs. There's also a new coffee joint in the lobby that also has a bunch of snacks, etc...

Restaurants like Oscar's (replacing Firefly upstairs) aren't open yet... actually, they still have the Firefly menu posted outside the joint. Odd.

Swingers Club, the piano bar/mini-golf place did open while I was there. I think I may have been one of the first customers - it was just me and a couple of bartenders. The place is sorta shaped like a big triangle with a bar in the middle. There are a lot of chairs, a piano and a few tiny strips of mini-golf around the edges. When this place was first described to me, I imagined golf being the major hook but it's actually a pretty minor part of the whole experience. This is basically a dueling piano bar. Glass windows open to the casino and the music is clearly heard at the table pits. I was pretty underwhelmed by this place - I'd actually be surprised if it lasts a year. I overheard a conversation with a manager who was telling a friend that they have no idea if the piano thing will work - they might do karaoke, etc...

As of Monday, the pool deck on the fifth floor was completely torn up but actively being worked on. I can't imagine it will be ready by Thursday but I guess it's possible.

I spent about four hours playing in the casino that evening, alternating between craps, roulette, 21 and Let It Ride. My impression is that The Plaza is getting a lot of break-in dealers - very slow to make payouts and constantly making mistakes. Actually, while sitting at the roulette table, the pit boss came over to berate the dealer, calling her 'stupid, stupid'. It was actually pretty awful to watch this guy tear into her and was a huge turn-off.

This goes to the heart of my concern about The Plaza being successful with their transformation. My impression of the staff was very uneven. Many employees seemed to not care much about guest satisfaction. They had old-Plaza attitudes in a new-Plaza uniform. There were definitely a few employees I came into contact with that were eager to help and seemed excited to be there but they were the exception. Mostly I saw people that scowled, looked down, didn't make eye contact, and didn't attempt to go the extra mile (or even the extra kilometer).

That's what I mean about The Plaza deciding what it wants to be - if they are gunning for a spot near the top of the Fremont stack, they need to up their service game significantly.

My room was $41 for a Sunday - a sweet deal in any city... Except that's the same thing the Nugget cost for that night. El Cortez was $32 and The Mirage was $76. The Plaza can compete on price and the fact they now have significantly less urine in their carpet but that's not going to be enough.

For my money, the places to beat on Fremont are the Golden Nugget for luxury/Strip-comfort and the El Cortez for kitsch/value/nostalgia. I actually had dinner at The Flame (El Co) that night and the service there was insanely good - not pretentious at all but super personal and incredibly friendly. My server sat down and looked at pictures of my dog. I'd go back to The Flame anytime (food was good too).

I hope The Plaza succeeds and I think it's great to see investment downtown. Still, without investing in employees that care, it doesn't matter if you have new carpet... So yeah, I have doubts. I'd love to try Oscar's but I doubt I'll return to The Swinger's Club.

Visit The Plaza - if you'd ever been inside before, you'll be impressed. Viva!


Read archived comments (9 so far)
August 31, 2011 8:08 AM Posted by JeffW

Man, I would like to see this work. Hopefully the problems get ironed out. I'd have to presume the culture is the hardest to change, and if it is not changed on Day One (or Day minus three), I can not be optimistic.

August 31, 2011 9:33 AM Posted by girlygirl

Your description of the elevator (dirty buttons) is just the kind of thing I was expecting. I stayed at the Plaza a few years before they closed and it was my worst hotel stay EVER! Non flushing toilets, standing water in the shower, cockroaches and a surly casino staff. I wonder how much has really changed just below the surface?
I want to give them a second chance, but aside from a cosmetic change, I don't anticipate much difference.

August 31, 2011 10:07 AM Posted by stevecovington

This looks a lot better than some of the current inventory down on the I haven't been to downtown in almost ten years (before I was even legal) but we may have to check this out next time we are there. In any case, I am glad to see this F'bleu stuff get used before it becomes irrelevant are worthless. It's still too bad that F'bleu will most likely never open, but it's kind of cool that a piece of it's short "history' will live on until the next major overhaul or eventual closure. I agree with the others and hope they get their kinks worked out. I'll never stay there, but it may give me a reason to head downtown for a few hours..

Does anyone have any photos of the public spaces before the makeover?

August 31, 2011 12:45 PM Posted by Terrie W

Did someone say cockroaches? I hope they have sprayed some serious pesticides in that place. Residual creatures from the old Plaza ain't going to cut it. I made a reservation for November. I'll have to keep my eye open in tripadvisor. Because the Diva doesn't do cockroaches.

August 31, 2011 2:15 PM Posted by Hunter

I had some issues but I didn't see any bugs or rodents, that's for sure.

August 31, 2011 4:58 PM Posted by parchedearth

Excellent photos as usual. I wander Vegas at all hours of the late evening thru early morning and almost never see it as empty as in your photos.

I wish the Plaza luck, but am afraid this could end up as a false start and they fail financially regardless. I don't recall them doing anything about their debt and this might only stem the bleeding for now. It is definitely worth a quick visit now.

September 1, 2011 3:48 AM Posted by Jeff in OKC

I don't think the Plaza owners (Tamares Group) have any debt issues. I have always read that it is a very low profile, deep pocketed, international investor. I think they bought Jackie Gaughan's empire as a real estate play, hoping to cash in on the run up in real estate prices a few years ago. Since that strategy turned into a long term investment, and just milking profit out of the existing facilities dried up, it appears the best choice is to spiff up the joint and get more business. I have read that if this is successful, they have plans to renovate the Las Vegas Club and, if that works, the Western (!!!).
I think Tamares DOES have a paying problem. Even though they have half the money in the world, they sometimes pay as a little and as slowly as possible. An example would be their not paying their Fremont Street Experience fees the last couple years. I still haven't read if that law suit has been settled.
I sure hope this is successful. We're staying there during VIMP, so I'd like to think I'm doing my part. It might have a few issues, but where can I stay on the Strip for the same money? Circus, or the Riv?

September 3, 2011 6:44 PM Posted by Ted Newkirk

I went Thursday night for "opening night" (which except for the media opening of Swingers Club was business as usual).

As I hit the I-15 northbound from West Sahara, one of the first things that caught my eye was seeing the side of the building with those "waterfall" lights all lit up again. Same with standing on the west end of Fremont Street. Nice to see it back again.

For the most part, the makeover was extremely impressive. Except for the fact that most of the layout was familiar (sports book, pit, bars, lobby, food court, restaurant areas all obviously still in the same place), the place looked brand new. And still had that "new casino" smell, which I'm sure will be gone with just a few weeks of smoke filling the air. (I'm sure that Dr. Dave will be thrilled to know that I christened the place with a fine cigar).

I think that The Plaza will continue to be fine just being The Plaza. I'm not sure they need to strive for a new identity. If your spouse of 25 years loses some weight and gets a makeover, they are still your spouse, not some new girlfriend. They just look a whole lot better.

That is my analogy for The Plaza. She's still the same hotel that I've started most of my downtown adventures at for nearly 20 years now. But she sure looks a hell of a lot nicer!

I obviously didn't stay at the place as my own comfy bed is four miles away from the joint. However, in 2012 we plan to do a number of "staycation" reports and I'll personally take The Plaza assignment. Be interesting to see if the serivce problems are ongoing (I.E. Cosmo) or just soft-opening glitches.

If I was in Swingers Club while it was empty, I might have come to your conclusions. However...

Seeing it going at full-tilt showed how it all came together. If you want to do the dueling pianos party thing, you can sit on that end. Want to party with friends and chit-chat, the other end is perfect. The 9 hole mini-golf course runs around the edge of most of the club and works as advertises, letting you play your way around and mingle with the entire joint.

We were situated next to one of the holes and had a lot of fun with the interaction. We told the guys how the green was breaking and jeered the bad shots. When groups of girls came around, it was a perfect flirting situation.

Given the popularity of piano bars up and down The Strip (and in numerous other tourism areas), the fact that the hotel will have about 1800 guests per night, and the music audible from the casino floor, and (owner) Anthony Cools' marketing ability, it should do fine.

September 4, 2011 9:30 AM Posted by Hunter

You're right that Cools has proven himself to be a great marketer. It may just come down to how well the place needs to do to survive. If it relies on a fully occupied hotel most nights, that may be a problem. We shall see!

Thanks for sharing.