What’s new in Vegas? Dozens of places to eat and drink, like Eataly, spiffed up hotels such as Park MGM/NoMad and The Palms, plus residencies from Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and Cardi B.
Like a pop star, Las Vegas is continually reinventing itself.
Over the years, Sin City has morphed from being a haven for mobsters, cheesy lounge singers and Rat Pack rogues to a family friendly-ish playground of over-the-top, theme park-style hotels laced with a “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” mystique, to the world-class dining, boutique experience and entertainment epicenter it is today.
And nothing embodies Las Vegas’ latest revamp more than Lady Gaga, whose dual Park MGM residencies reflect the city’s current personality traits: next-level extravagance and snazzy sophistication.
Gaga’s “Enigma” and “Jazz & Piano” shows are running concurrently through November, and on alternating nights, she transforms from provocative dance-club queen into a polished chanteuse crooning the standards. That she spectacularly pulls this off (see: rave reviews) is all the more notable seeing that in 2019, she’s at peak career; these aren’t the last vestiges of a fading star. Similarly, Las Vegas’ reimagining as a vital cultural hotspot — which also happens to have gambling — has boosted its relevance.
“In Las Vegas, more money is generated from non-gaming amenities than gambling,” Jim Klas, founder of KlasRobinson financial analysis firm, told an audience attending the recent National Indian Gaming Association trade show in San Diego. So-called non-gaming amenities include restaurants, cocktail bars, hotel rooms, spas and concert venues, and all are driving a surge in revenue in Las Vegas.
Klas cited data from the Nevada Gaming Abstract showing the Vegas Strip pulled in a near-record $18.3 billion in revenue in 2018, up 15.9 percent from 2008. Breaking down those figures, however, revealed that gambling only accounted for a third of that boost — $6.2 billion — and casino proceeds only grew by 0.4 percent over the previous decade. Contrast that the double-digit growth in hotel revenue (25.4 percent), food (23.1 percent) and beverage (a whopping 64.8 percent), and it’s a safe to say the trend of offering non-gaming amenities will only increase.
In fact, in recent months, Eataly, the global cult Italian marketplace, launched at the Park MGM; The Cosmopolitan debuted a gourmet food hall, Block 16; The Palms revealed a half dozen celebrity-chef and booze-fueled venues and a bounty of new restaurants and bars have opened or were announced for the Strip and downtown Las Vegas, including four with San Diego roots.
Multiple hotels have undergone or plan expansion and redevelopment projects, including Park MGM/NoMad Las Vegas, The SLS, The Palms, Palace Station and downtown’s Plaza Hotel & Casino and the Downtown Grand Hotel & Casino.
And following in Lady Gaga’s gravity-defying heels are other musical residencies by such of-the-moment stars as Cardi B, Bruno Mars, J. Balvin, Bad Bunny, Marshmellow and Skrillex.
And if Las Vegas wasn’t dizzyingly dynamic enough, making a splash in 2020 are two projects that will elevate the city’s destination status even higher: the $1.8 billion, Super Bowl-ripe Las Vegas Stadium — future home of the Oakland Raiders, UNLV football and mega-events — and the Circa Resort and Casino, the first new casino resort to be built in downtown Las Vegas in 40 years. The 1.25 million-square-foot, towering behemoth will have 777 rooms, a two-story casino, a multi-tiered pool amphitheater and a nine-story, 1,201-spot “Garage Mahal.”
Keeping track of what’s new in Vegas is a tough job, but somebody has to do it. And that somebody is us. We recently spent a whirlwind long weekend there to gamble a bit, eat and drink a lot and, of course, go Gaga.
While there are too many transformations to mention, here’s what we’re most excited about and our top two picks for what defines Las Vegas most today.
Next level extravagance: Eataly
Why: For food lovers, no other opening this year comes to the hotly anticipated Eataly at the Park MGM. The culinary phenomenon that began in Torino, Italy, in 2007, has grown to more than 35 locations around the world, from New York to L.A. to Dubai and Seoul. Eataly Las Vegas represents the best of what’s to eat from one of the best eating countries on the planet.
What: Clocking in at 40,000 square feet, with every inch impeccably styled and immaculate, Eataly has two restaurants, a cafe, chef’s table, seven take-away counters, cooking demos, a wine shop, wine tasting bar, cocktail bar, coffee stand and — our personal favorite — a Nutella bar. Though always packed, an army of nearly 500 employees working in this sprawling temple of deliciousness means you’ll never have to wait too long to reach Italian food nirvana. Such as? How about 5,000-plus high-quality products that include meat, salumi, seafood, cheese (200 kinds!), homemade bread, fresh and dried pasta, pizza, produce, fritos (fried bites), pastry, gelato, cannoli, chocolate, coffee, wine, aperitivi, plus hundreds of grocery items, housewares and gifts. Not surprisingly, Eataly is the largest importer of Italian food in the U.S.
Perfect for Vegas, or San Diego, baby: Designed for customers more likely to order pizza than buy pizza dough, marinara and mozzarella to make at home, Eataly Las Vegas caters to an eat-it-now crowd. But because the city’s only an hour flight from here, San Diegans can always stock up on food and transport it home. However, there’s nothing quite like eating it there, particularly the freshly made pies and bowls of pasta at La Pizza & La Pasta. The more casual of Eataly’s two restaurants, LP & LP serves 10 variations of pastas. We tried six of them and all of them were perfectly al dente and Italy-authentic, none more so than the quadradi di ricotta, pasta squares stuffed with fresh ricotta and spinach, in a simple lemon butter walnut pesto. The eatery offers 10 crispy-crusted Neapolitan pizzas and a mozzarella bar with a burrata so creamy you’d swear it was unsweetened gelato. Manzo, Eataly’s more formal restaurant, specializes in optimal-quality beef (manzo) from seven U.S. states, Puglia, Italy and Tasmania, Australia, all prepared on a three-tiered wood-burning grill. By Las Vegas steakhouse standards, Manzo is relatively affordable, serving giant-sized cuts for $125 to $160 that could easily feed a table of four. And that blissful burrata is also on the menu.
Where: At the Park MGM (entrances on Las Vegas Boulevard and through the casino), 3770 S. Las Vegas Blvd., Las Vegas. (702) 730-7617. eataly.com/us_en/stores/las-vegas
Snazzy sophistication: Park MGM/NoMad Las Vegas
Why: In Las Vegas, when an old casino hotel is past its prime, it usually gets blown up into dust and a new glitzy property is built in its place. But the only thing MGM Resorts blew to smithereens when it opted to replace the underperfoming Monte Carlo was the casino resort’s dated image and property. Instead of TNT, MGM brought in New York luxury boutique hotel brand Sydell Group — which made its refined name with NoMad in New York and L.A., and London’s The Ned. The transformation was done from within, with the new Park MGM/NoMad Las Vegas collaboration redefining the concept of what a Vegas Strip casino resort could, and should, be.
What: The result is a fashionable destination with two hotel resorts sporting distinct entrances and identities but one seamless, unified feel. There’s a wealth of hip new amenities — including Eataly, L.A. Kogi BBQ king Roy Choi’s first Las Vegas restaurant, Best Friend, the stunning NoMad Restaurant and the 5,200-seat Park Theater where Lady Gaga and others are “residing” — that collectively have revitalized a so-so stretch of the mid-Strip into one of the hottest culinary and entertainment hubs in Las Vegas.
Park MGM has the bulk of the hotel rooms, with 2,700, while the hotel-within-a-hotel NoMad has 293, occupying floors 29 through 32 of the joint tower. Each has its own reception desk, casino, pool and food and beverage outlets. The decor at the Park is minimalist chic, with sleek surfaces and muted tones offset by pops of vibrant color (and minimal storage space). At the NoMad, it’s modern meets vintage, with oak wood floors, custom rugs from New York’s famed ABC Carpet & Home, chandeliers, steamer trunk serving as chest of drawers, and room categories like “atelier” and “salon” that sound straight out of Paris’ Avenue Montaigne.
“In Las Vegas, I think there was always a sense of being fun and over-the-top, but it wasn’t always real and it wasn’t always heartfelt,” said Andrew Zobler, founder and CEO of the Sydell Group. “The Park is human scale. It’s easy to navigate; it’s not like walking into a train station. There’s a good sense of scale. And now it’s the most interesting property in the MGM (chain).”
NoMad, he said, has a refined, intimate feel, like that of a wealthy person’s home in Europe. “Some of the (other) boutique hotels don’t feel like a full-on resort, they feel just like rooms.” An eclectic art collection carries through both of the hotels, said Zobler, whose grandmother was an art collector and after whom the Sydell Group is named. “The Park MGM rooms average 15 pieces of art, which is not common in Vegas,” he said.
Also not common in Las Vegas is the striking, literary surroundings of the NoMad Restaurant, with an eye-popping, two-story main dining room awash in dark woods and rich red hues. Talk about your snazzy transformation: it’s where the Monte Carlo’s old sports book used to be. Today, the walls are lined with about 25,000 books, nearly all procured from the collection of David Rockefeller, and many of them inscribed and rare first editions. Yes, guests are welcome to pull one off the shelf.
The only book you’ll probably need at the NoMad Restaurant is the menu. Rightfully famous for its roast chicken for two stuffed with foie gras, black truffle and brioche, the NoMad casino even has slot machines where hitting three little chickens will win you a big jackpot. Other standout dishes are the filet migon steak tartare, the 32-ounce, 80-day dry-aged ribeye (also for two), pan roasted branzino with fennel, Meyer lemon and yogurt and the cavatelli pasta with black truffle, sausage, ricotta and grada padano cheese.
Dining superstars Will Guidara and Daniel Humm (of New York’s Eleven Madison Park, which has three Michelin stars) head up the culinary program. And the service is as fine as it gets at a fine dining restaurant. Eater Las Vegas called NoMad Restaurant’s debut the biggest opening of the year.
Zobler was diffident about the buzz surrounding NoMad Las Vegas. “We aspire to be open and friendly and interesting,” he said. “We aspire to do cool things, but we don’t shout it from the rooftops.”
OK, so we will. This place is really cool.
Another reason to visit the Park MGM/NoMad: The hotels have next-door access to 20,000-seat T Mobile Arena, where the Las Vegas Golden Knights play and headliners like Ariana Grande (May 11), Jennifer Lopez (June 15) and Paul McCartney (June 28-29) perform. In July, L.A. chef Bricia Lopez, coined the “Oaxacan Princess” by the late L.A. Times food critic Jonathan Gold, will open Mama Rabbit, serving a limited Mexican menu but plenty of tequilas and mezcals. And Las Vegas’ first Crack Shack will soon be opening right out front on the Strip.
The Palms: The casino hotel has gone into indulgence overdrive, with a massive $690 million top-to-bottom renovation that is said to be the biggest in Las Vegas history. The Palms has added a slew of high-profile restaurants, luxury lounge Mr. Coco and celebrity-magnet “dayclub and nightclub” Kaos, which Travis Scott, J. Balvin, G-Easy and Cardi B christened with opening night performances on April 5. The Palms’ website celebrates these changes by pronouncing it as “Unstatus Quo” and showing the “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign being updated (OK, graffiti-ed) as “Welcome to NEW Vegas.”
It’s a certified swank-fest there. The new Scotch 80 Prime elevated steakhouse has a scotch inventory worth a reported $3 million. Around the property, trendy art includes pieces by Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat and — at the new, New York’s SoHo-inspired Greene St. Kitchen — an original work by the elusive street artist Banksy. Bobby Flay’s Shark is his first restaurant to debut in five years. Flay’s fellow Food Network “Iron Chef” Michael Symon opened Mabel’s BBQ; tucked inside is Symon’s intimate Sara’s supper club/speakeasy that’s been dubbed a “meateasy.” Philadelphia’s acclaimed Italian chef Marc Vetri opened the upscale Vetri (which houses artwork by Hirst and Warhol). Ultra-glamorous Mr. Coco serves premium cocktails, Champagne and grown-up “bar bites” like Osetra caviar. And because The Palms doesn’t do anything halfway, it’s adding a dim sum house in late summer — Hong Kong’s Michelin-starred Tim Ho Wan, of course.
Where: 4321 W. Flamingo Road, Las Vegas. (702) 942-7777. palms.com
- SLS, home to the amazing Bazaar Meat by chef Jose Andrés, is undergoing a $100 million remodel and has replaced Andrés’ Ku Noodle with Uno Más Street Tacos & Tequilas.
- The Cosmopolitan has added Red Plate, an upscale Cantonese restaurant, and Block 16 Urban Food Hall — which includes Portlander Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok Wing and an outpost of Nashville’s Hattie B’s Hot Chicken — as well as The Barbershop Cuts & Cocktails, a, yes, stylish barbershop and cocktail lounge.
- The Venetian/Palazzo now features Mott 32, a new restaurant that Eater Las Vegas says has “perhaps one of the most luxurious interiors of any restaurant” in the city. The elegant, 11,400-square-foot Cantonese eatery sports $190,000-worth of tricked-out wallpaper, giant chandeliers and a roulette table repurposed as a dining table. Also debuting at Palazzo will be David Chang’s Majordomo Meat & Fish, a sister restaurant to Chang’s blockbuster L.A. Chinese-Korean spot. Another L.A.-related outpost is The Factory Kitchen Italian trattoria at the Venetian. The Venetian has also launched The Cocktail Collection, a trio of elite nightlife venues, Rosina, Electra Cocktail Club and The Dorsey.
- Aria drew celebrities George Clooney and pals Randy Gerber and Cindy Crawford to the opening of Catch, an Asian seafood and steak restaurant that cost an estimated $6.7 million to build.
- Bellagio has landed Las Vegas culinary visionary Wolfgang Puck with the new iteration of his famed Spago. Puck revolutionized dining in Vegas as its first true celebrity chef, opening Spago at Caesars Palace in 1992. Bellagio also has the hottest spot for breakfast in the all-day eatery Sadelle’s, which features hand-smoked fish, especially the awe-inspiring smoked fish and bagel tower, pastry carts, caviar and eggs, triple-decker sandwiches and 2-pound lobsters.
- Caesars Palace has gotten a dose of reality — TV — with the opening of the campy-chic Vanderpump Cocktail Garden from Lisa Vanderpump, star of Bravo’s “Vanderpump Rules” and “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.” The flashy menu includes spiced salmon tartare cones (gold toned, natch), as well as caviar, a lobster and avocado naan flatbread and the signature Vanderpump rosé cake. The bar menu lists “Naughty Nightcaps” and “Double Down Darling” cocktails ranging from $20 to $225 (that one serves 10, darling). Back down to earth, the Forum Shops at Caesars will be welcoming a new True Food Kitchen, Water Grill and The Slanted Door, of San Francisco fame, later this year.
- Palace Station, the off-strip, under-the-radar hotel and casino, recently completed a $192 million modernization that gave the property an updated air and more contemporary amenities. A nine-screen luxury movie house, complete with food and drink service to your recliner seat, was added; the pool, casino and 575 rooms were revamped; and bBd’s (Beers Burgers and Desserts) opened. In March, an outpost of the popular San Diego taco shop ¡Salud! made its first out-of-state debut there.
- Plaza Hotel & Casino first hipsterized its rooftop pool with what it calls a vintage Vegas meets retro Palm Springs vibe. The Pool at the Plaza has a 70,000-square-foot pool and recreation deck, adjacent pool patio rooms, cabanas, a 12-person hot tub, a food truck, tennis and pickleball courts. Now, 112 rooms will be upgraded into Luxe Rooms, with the same aesthetic. With San Diego’s Sage Design Group leading the remodel, 16 of the upper-floor rooms will be converted into eight new suites, all featuring Amazon Echo Dots, warm wood tones and mixed metals with bright colors and graphics. In February, the Plaza brought on a noted executive chef, with extensive experience working with Michael Mina, to elevate the culinary program.
- Downtown Grand Hotel & Casino has started construction on a new hotel tower with 495 rooms, for a total of 1,124. The plans include an outdoor climbing wall, an urban park with a stage for live events and new food and beverage venues. The project is expected to be completed in 2020.
- Binion’s Gambling Hall, one of the most iconic names in Las Vegas, is building a new, albeit vintage style, 81-room hotel that’s taking reservations starting in August. And its Whiskey Licker Bar is being expanded with a sizable, elevated revolving bar.
2019 will go down as the year of the musical residency in Las Vegas, with not only the latest names like Lady Gaga, Cardi B and Bruno Mars setting up shop there. Vegas legends Celine Dion and Cher are continuing their residency reigns, being joined by such diverse acts as Aerosmith, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Lady Antebellum, Boyz II Men, Backstreet Boys and, most surprsingly, James Taylor and Van Morrison. Maybe it’s time to update the city’s catchphrase to “Whoever Plays in Vegas, Stays in Vegas.”