After much anticipation, I got to see the inside of Encore. My expectations were high. As I said in the RJ, Steve Wynn’s been opening casinos for a while now, and he does it better than anyone in the business. I tried not to read the pre-opening press too closely because I’m in no hurry to see the future–I’d rather experience it as it happens.
I was enormously lucky this morning, since the group I was in (which included fellow Vegas Gang members Hunter, Chuck, and David) was conducted around the property by Roger Thomas, the hotel’s Executive Vice President of Design. He designed himself or had a hand in the realization of just about everything we saw, and had fascinating anecdotes about how he acquired many of the pieces on display throughout the property. It was a real treat.
I’m amazed at how well everything came together. When I ran past the place during the marathon (which was about 2 weeks ago but feels like 2 months), I thought that there was no way the hotel would be ready to open on the 22nd–and that was just the porte cochere. When I got there at quarter of 11 this morning, there was still work going on, but the place is absolutely ready. There’s something to be said for a hard opening: much more dramatic impact and excitement than doing it in dribs and drabs.
And that’s what it all comes down to: visual theater. It’s hard not to get jaded about casinos when you live in Las Vegas, and even tougher when you’ve worked in one. Encore really impressed me in a way that few hotels or casinos have. To explain the genius of the place, let me tell you about Mr. A and Mr. B. Mr. A has been coming to Las Vegas for thirty years and has gone from Caesars Palace to Mirage to Bellagio, with stays at Bally’s, MGM Grand, and Paris mixed in. He loves Vegas and everything about Vegas, especially the gambling. Mr. B came to Vegas once, in 1999, and hated everything about the city. He doesn’t gamble. I really think that both Mr. A and Mr. B would be equally wowed by Encore for completely different reasons.
Encore is the ultimate Vegas and the anti-Vegas, both at the same time. The colors are rich without being gaudy. The interiors deliver luxury without pretension. I didn’t get the feeling that it was trying to impress: instead, it felt like some folks with an unlimited bank account and excellent taste got together and decided to build. I can see how it’s the logical product of Wynn’s three decades plus in the casino business, but also a departure.
I won’t bore you with the petty details: the chambered casino, the unique finishes in each restaurant, and the square footage of the guest rooms. That’s been better told elsewhere. I’ll just relate some of my impressions of what I saw.
At first, I didn’t think that I was going to be very impressed with the restaurants. After all, they’re just places for people to eat, right? How creative can you get with that? Sinatra, for example: when I heard the idea of a Sinatra-themed Italian restaurant, I thought, ugh. I pictured Piero’s with Rat Pack photos and gold records on the walls. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The restaurant is actually a gem, a fantastically-designed space with brilliant details, and a few tasteful photos of Frank Sinatra that don’t look out of place at all. It’s really the opposite of everything I’d imagined it would be.
Switch, too, was a real shock. When I heard the concept of a restaurant whose walls changed, I cynically thought that they must not have much optimism for the menu if they have to use gimmicks like that. Seeing the concept in action, though, it all makes sense. Roger Thomas says that Steve Wynn’s idea was “dinner theater without the actors.” He absolutely achieved it: the switch effect is flawless, and the musical cues give it a true sense of drama. I can see now how it will complement, not distract from, your meal.
More cynicism exploded: you would think that opening a nightclub called “XS” in the midst of an economic slowdown is the height of hubris. Do we really need another gilded night spot? Walking through the space, I can say “yes.” It feels like a celebration of movement, of life, particularly the gold leaf body forms in the foyer, another detail that must be seen to be appreciated. It’s not hubris, it’s optimism, a bold statement that there still are moments in life worth celebrating.
Set against “the downturn,” the entire resort takes the shape of a manifesto, a declaration that there’s only one way ahead, and that’s to move forward. Granted, none of this was planned: Encore was conceived when it looked like smooth sailing ahead. Today, it has a relevance far beyond any other casino. It’s a profound cultural statement.
We’re not going to gamble or pamper our way out of our current societal predicament, but Encore is a bellwether nonetheless because it is forward-looking. There are elements from the past and from various parts of the world, but nothing sentimental or nostalgic. Sinatra, for example, looks like a room that the singer would be comfortable in, but like nothing that he would have seen during his life. It’s not about presenting Rat Pack nostalgia–it’s creating a space around the symbolic core of Sinatra’s music.
In short, next time you’re in Las Vegas, plan to spend some time in Encore. It will be something to remember.