And now for an Encore

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.

5 thoughts on “And now for an Encore”

  1. There may be moments in life worth celebrating, but hell if I’ll be celebrating them with a throng of drunken, sex-crazed morons with too much money in XS (extra small?). Even in Wynn’s place, this is still debauchery, not aesthetic fulfillment.

  2. To each his own…but it’s nice to know that if people want to seek utility by debauching themselves, they can do so in style. I’m usually blah on nightclubs, but this one looked special. At this stage in my life there’s about a .0001% chance that I’d actually want to “party” there, but I’m glad that other people can.

    In another note, I’m going to have to add a butterfly or to to my background. You’ll see when I post a carpet pic.

    And I have a philosophical question: what does Schopenhauer believe about the idea of change?

  3. Aside from his consideration of the Kantian explorations into ‘change’ and time/space/causality (which is pretty boring), he has a very Buddhist vision of the world.

    Change belongs to the representation; permanence belongs to the will:

    “Time is a contrivance in our brain for giving the utterly futile existence of things and ourselves a semblance of reality by means of continuance and duration.
    How foolish it is to regret and deplore the fact that in the past we let slip the opportunity for some pleasure or good fortune! For what more would we have now? Just the shrivelled-up mummy of a memory. …
    Our existence and that of all animals is not something standing fast and remaining firm… on the contrary it is a mere existentia fluxa which continues only through constant fluctuation and change and is comparable to a whirlpool. It is true that the form of the body has a precarious existence for a while, but only on the condition that matter constantly changes, the old being evacuated and the new assimilated.” (P&P)

    “Eternal becoming, endless flux, belong to the revelation of the essential nature of the will [that is, the representation]. … The same thing is also seen in human endeavors and desires that buoy us up with the vain hope that their fulfillment is always the final goal of willing. But as soon as they are attained, they no longer look the same, and so are soon forgotten, become antiquated, and are really (although not admittedly) always laid aside as vanished illusions. It is fortunate enough when something to desire and to strive for still remains, so that the game may be kept up of the constant transition from desire to satisfaction, and from that to a fresh desire. The rapid course of this is called happiness; the slow course sorrow. So that this game may not come to a standstill, it shows itself as a fearful, life-destroying boredom, a lifeless longing without definite object, a deadening langour.” (WWR)

    That has strong implications for problem gambling behaviours! But note:

    “The earth rolls on from day to night; the individual dies; but the sun itself burns without intermission, an eternal noon. Life is certain to the will-to-live; the form of life is the endless present; it matters not how individuals, the phenomena of the Idea, arise and pass away in time, like fleeting dreams. Therefore suicide already appears to us to be a vain and therefore foolish action….” (WWR)

    (Pretty surprising for people who think Schopenhauer makes people suicidal.)

    One of my favorite quotes on this subject (which I think I used in a paper once) is this one which sums up the previous quotes (but offers none of the elaboration necessary to understand it):

    “If, by finding its center of gravity again, a pendulum finally comes to rest, and thus its apparent individual life has ceased, no one will suppose that gravitation is annihilated.” (WWR)

    That is, again, what I said at the beginning: Change belongs to the representation; permanence belongs to the will.

    Perhaps most topical is Schopenhauer’s consideration of art and works of genius (i.e., Wynn’s casinos): he sees art as a communication of the unchanging “eternal Ideas apprehended through pure contemplation, the essential and abiding element in all the phenomena of the world.” An artist or a genius can see through the veil of the Maya and try to express this universal, unchanging ‘truth’ through his work, which is why it can, for the observer, briefly transport us beyond ourselves–it is allowing us a small window into the Will (if you are familiar with Plato’s forms, Schop’s idea is similar to this, but there is a little more to it).

    Perhaps this is why Wynn’s places strike us as a little strange, albeit in a somewhat spiritually uplifting manner: because, and I do not feel grandiloquent in saying this, he truly is a genius. His designs speak to us on a different level from, say, a Harrah’s Reno. This is a ‘no duh’ kind of thing I suppose–but I don’t think it is a hint of ‘casinos of the future’ either. He strikes at something primal, yet not base, in us. (Even in the nightclub?)

    I can’t wait for the carpet snaps you dutifully obtained! And I think we’re getting old already when we make admissions such as yours about nightclubs…. And if you end up using any Schop in a paper, please check with me first to make sure you don’t misconstrue nuttin’.

    As Obama says, “That’s not change, that’s more of the same!”

  4. XS — very small INDEED — funny, Wynn didn’t even get the double entendre, as usual his XL ego blinds him to the obvious!!!

  5. I think that Schopenhauer would have made an interesting casino host.

    With the per-capita share of silicon in Vegas being what it is, I’m sure the pool area will be anything but “extra-small.”

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