Las Vegas Reinvents Itself Yet Again for the Post Recession Boom

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The lobby @ Cosmopolitan Hotel
The lobby @ Cosmopolitan Hotel

Las Vegas has done it again. The desert metropolis has one-upped itself to forge a super-hip new paradigm with hotspots that are artier, sexier and more sophisticated than ever.

“We’ve been waiting for this,” says Francine McKanna of PRA Las Vegas. “We’ve evolved with this reinvention—the next step is avant garde.”

For evidence, check out the much-heralded $1.8 billion, 2,995-room Cosmopolitan Hotel. The Dali-esque ad, with a pantless bellman and scattering white kittens, is a YouTube hit.

Digital installations are ubiquitous. The lobby has eight hi-def video columns with beautiful continuous loops. Similar installations light up the elevators. Outside, displayed on the hotel’s 65-foot marquee, Yoko Ono’s Imagine Peace memorial in Iceland adds whimsy and worldly drama to the grand entrance.

Jaki Baskow of Baskow & Associates DMC, who began booking groups before December’s opening, says, “It’s a perfect mix of retro hipster and new multimedia. And I always want to take the lobby videos home with me!”

It’s not all video. Repurposed cigarette machines scattered through the hotel sell $5 pieces of art. The parking garage has graffiti murals by Kenny Scharf and Shepard Fairey. The 3-story Chandelier Bar was constructed with two million twinkling glass beads so you can experience life inside a chandelier.

“Cosmopolitan is flat out awe-inspiring,” says McKanna. “We’ve all been committed to changing the vibe of the city. With properties like this, we’ll be ahead of the curve when things come back.” Other jaw droppers include a 46,000-sf Sahra Spa & Hammam built with 420 tons of local sandstone, semi-private Casino Cabanas with bottle service, and Marquee Night Club & Day Club where Coldplay rocked New Year’s Eve.

Amid all the art, the drama and 100,000 sf of gaming, the hotel remains boutique-y.

“It feels small because of the vertical twin tower layout and excellent service,” says Alene Waxler with the Alan Waxler Group DMC. “Instead of one endless reception bar, the lobby offers eight charming stations. Each is near the elevators, so no schlepping bags past dozens of slot machines to reach your room.” We like the smart tech control panels, Japanese soaking tubs and majestic views—from the balconies. Yes, balconies.

Alene confides, “The best word is probably edgy, but my first group was most impressed by the gorgeous rooms and private terraces.”

For groups, the first four floors house 150,000 sf of meeting space, including seven ballrooms ranging up to 37,000 sf, with 46 breakouts. Some are linked to a glam pool above the Strip.

Try to have some fun while you’re here too.

“One morning, we showed a video of the group’s boss being ‘kidnapped,’” says Alene. “We broke everyone into teams and sent them looking for informants along the Strip. They got to know Las Vegas and each other in new ways, but they were all glad to return to the Cosmopolitan at day’s end.”

VDARA

Las Vegas always ranks high in entertainment and nightlife, but for groups seeking all of that and peace and quiet, the 1,495-suite Vdara Hotel & Spa is going to feel like home.

“There is a huge demographic of people seeking a no gambling, smoke-free atmosphere, and they’ve loved our concept from the start,” says Stephanie Windham, VP of Sales.

Upon entering the capacious lobby, you could be anywhere except the Strip. Breathe in the fragrant ambience—a green fig scent dispersed through public areas. But where’s the action? We can’t hear the slot machines!

“Guests get all the Vegas they want,” says Windham, reminding us that Vdara is part of the LEED Gold-certified CityCenter’s arty new eco-opolis. There’s gambling next door at ARIA Hotel & Casino, while steps away Crystals Mall is stocked with Stella McCartney and Tom Ford. But the limos are powered by compressed natural gas, and the 18,000-sf health center is the only Green Network spa on the strip.

“Vdara is Zen,” says Baskow. We agree. The chill ambience extends to the suites with their great views, generous amenities, and truly functional kitchenettes. Guests can buy supplies at Market Cafe for fresh meals to prepare insuite.

For business, the fantastic 10,000-sf conference space just off the lobby is full of Czech glass chandeliers.

“A 160-pax group can get an all-space hold here,” says Windham. “They love the big fish treatment, and we’re getting repeat business.”

BELLAGIO

It’s been over a decade since anyone said Vegas was culturally-challenged, and for that we can thank the 5-diamond Bellagio. Today, the 3,993-room hotel is practically a grand dame, boasting a conservatory that exceeds any horticulturist’s standards, museum-quality art, a lobby with Italian mosaic floors and spectacular glass art by Dale Chihuly.

The 200,000-sf conference space includes 50 luxe and flexible meeting/event spaces up to 45,500 sf. For guests lost in the grid, use the cool touch technology on giant iPad-like devices for breezy navigation.

And we’re all over this. Tarissa Tiberti, Director of the Gallery of Fine Art, explains that tours of her exhibitions are perennial group favorites, as are private events for up to 250. We popped into a show featuring pieces from Picasso to Cindy Sherman, where Tarissa told us about her new “Art & Wine Pairings.”

“Every other Wednesday, master sommelier Jason Smith and I pair wine with seven or eight different artworks,” she says. “Then we lead groups through the show, stopping before paintings to taste and discuss why we made the pairing.” In the current show, for example, they paired Vik Muniz’ Boy with a Pipe, After Pablo Picasso with a 2006 Australian shiraz.

With four master sommeliers on staff, the wine expertise at Bellagio is staggering (there are only four in New York City), so planners can and do arrange group tastings.

“I love to talk wine and now I’m learning about art,” says Smith. “The groups learn about both… so everybody learns!”

CRAFTSTEAK

MGM Grand Hotel & Casino is home to more than its fair share of famous cooks. Joel Robuchon, the only Vegas eatery with three Michelin stars, is tucked in with restaurants by Emeril Lagasse and the original celebrity chef, Wolfgang Puck.

“We have the very best collection of restaurants in Las Vegas,” says Brian Keenan, VP of Sales.

Difficult to disagree. Amid this bounty, when Brian insisted we try the 24-hour braised short ribs at Craftsteak, we did not balk. Tom Colicchio’s $5 million renovation created an elegantly understated 320-seat space—twice that of his NYC flagship. The side dishes are so fantastic (mushrooms, onions, out-of-sight broccoli rabe), that one regular in our group goes vegan here.

VENETIAN + THE PALAZZO

You’re hobnobbing with 100 of the world’s hottest celebrities at your opening reception. After flirting shamelessly with George Clooney, you strike a pose with Madonna and size up Shaq.

We’re doing all this during a cocktail function for 1,000 at Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, one of the creative venues at The Venetian Resort, Hotel & Casino and The Palazzo Las Vegas. Planners covet this tandem for large MICE events due to the 7,093 suites, over 30 dining options, 225,000 sf of casino space, and a colossal 2.25 million sf of meeting/function space.

Now these megaresorts have ramped up sales efforts to woo smaller groups who may fear being lost in the shuffle.

“We’ve developed a team of six executive meeting managers dedicated to groups of 10 to 75,” says Rodney Morrow, Assistant Director of Sales. “Aside from our larger functions areas, we also have Palazzo Hospitality Parlors that are great for more intimate gatherings. There’s so much flexibility and such quick reaction with these smaller gatherings.” Handling 88 for receptions, the larger 1,630-sf parlors are decked out with 468-sf terraces, dining rooms and full-size bars.

The Venetian and The Palazzo have also revamped their banquet menus, reflecting the fresh talents of Executive Banquet Chef Scott Donley. During a planner sampling, the culinary whiz presented seared ahi tenderloin, seared scallops with black truffle, beef short ribs beignet and pumpkin mousse.

“Of course, we can create anything a meeting planner wants,” says Donley.

STRATOSPHERE

The 2,400-room Stratosphere Casino, Hotel & Tower offers the tallest observation site west of the Mississippi, and it just finished a $20 million “reimagining.” There’s a new lobby and 909 new “Stratosphere Select” rooms touted as the Strip’s best value.

Meetings benefit from the skyscraping drama, private entrances and generous natural light. The 3rd and 24th floors offer reception space for up to 1,000; the 103rd floor offers amazing views in seven rooms from 400-9,000 sf. The indoor/outdoor Observation Decks on the 108/109th floors (7,300/6,700 sf) accommodate 1,000-pax receptions. And every 80 minutes, the 340-seat “Top of the World” restaurant revolves full circle.

Thrill alert: The folks here leverage their skyscraping status with a roller coaster 921 feet up in the air. The new hair-raiser is SkyJump Las Vegas. This “controlled” free fall from the 108th floor is the world’s highest “decelerator descent.” Apparently, 20,000+ people so far have thought this was a fun idea.

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