Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Venetian

Understatement has no place at the Venetian Resort. An extravagant barrel-vaulted passage connects the hotel lobby to the casino. Click photo to enlarge.

3355 Las Vegas Blvd South
Las Vegas, NV 89109

The ten year old Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, with 4,049 rooms (all of them suites at a minimum of 700 sq. ft.) is the largest AAA Five-Diamond rated Resort in the Americas. This Venice-themed luxury property is located on the east side of the Las Vegas Strip on the site of the old Sands Hotel, between venerable Harrah's and the The Palazzo (opened January, 2008). Combined with the adjacent Sands Expo Convention Center and The Palazzo Hotel and Casino Resort, The Venetian is part of the largest hotel and resort complex in the world – totaling 8,108 hotel rooms and suites.

Among the room features are marble foyers, step-down living rooms, dining tables and chairs, remote control Roman shades and curtains with “Touch Control” technology, wireless dual-line telephones, in-room wi-fi, minibars, bathroom with dressing tables (see photo below), dual sinks, whirlpool tubs and separate glassed-in showers and toilets in a separate room.

For guest’s entertainment and comfort, each suite has three TVs: a 17" LCD in the bath, a 32" in the living room, and a 42" plasma in the bedroom area, which boasts Sealy pillow-top mattresses, 100% Egyptian cotton Anichini bed linens with 100% white goose down duvets, along with angora wool throws from New Zealand.

The Venetian has an extensive indoor retail mall called the Grand Canal Shoppes, which houses stores and 17 restaurants situated along artificial canals and a mock-up of St. Mark’s Square in Venice, where costumed singers perform Italian opera arias several times each day. In addition to the lake in front of the casino, the indoor canals are used to provide gondola rides. The hotel also hosts the Las Vegas Madame Tussauds wax museum.

Reproduced at full size are Venice’s Campanile and Rialto Bridge at the entry to the resort complex. A production of Phantom of the Opera is housed in a theater that is itself a replica of the Paris Opera House (Palais Garnier), the setting of the Andre Lloyd Webber musical.

Entrepreneur Sheldon Adelson spent $1.5 billion to complete the first phase alone, which included a fine art museum branch of the Guggenheim museum, called the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum. The first exhibit of paintings was called Masterpieces and Master Collectors: Impressionist and Early Modern Paintings.

The "understated" check-in lobby:

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Encore Las Vegas

Encore Las Vegas is a new $2 billion, 50-floor, 2,034-room casino resort on the Las Vegas Strip that opened December 22, 2008. It is connected to its sister resort, Wynn Las Vegas, by the Esplanade shopping arcade. Both are owned by Wynn Resorts Limited, headed by noted casino developer Steve Wynn. Both properties are sited on land that was the location of the 1950s era Desert Inn. At 653 feet (100 feet taller the DC's Washington Monument), the Encore is the tallest on the main Strip, and its location is directly opposite the Fashion Show Mall. The building itself is an enormous curved bronze-glass structure highlighted by creamy white horizontal stripes.

The Encore property is one of the most expensive on the Las Vegas Strip. Standard rooms, averaging 700 sq. feet, are priced from a bargain $300 per night, only because the Las Vegas market is so depressed; Internet specials at slightly more than half that price were already on offer less than a month after the resort's Dec. 2008 opening. But the deal I snagged was obtained through Travelocity by bundling this hotel with airfare. For about $160 more than airfare alone, I got a "standard" room at the encore plus a $100 MasterCard dining credit (which was automatically applied to the lunch tab ($125 for 3) at the Society Café restaurant. That means the room itself cost only $60. Unbelieveable!

This property will not be to everyone's taste. The decor has a foreign, over-the-top vibe, like something one would expect in Dubai. No opportunity to add fringe or a tassel was missed. There is A LOT OF RED, and BUTTERFLY MOTIFS are everywhere. If you are not partial to red and butterflies, you'll want to run away screaming. Understated, it ain't. But the real problem for me is that the eye has no place to rest. Every element of the decor screams for attention.

The lobby resembles an indoor park, awash in natural daylight with full-height trees, lush plantings and floral clusters.

The (red) wall behind the reception counter sports (red) flower sculptures. The (butterfly) patterned carpeting is -- you guessed it -- red.

Moving along to the elevator landings on each floor, we're introduced to broad expanses of black, with red accents and floral/butterfly motifs woven into the carpet. The walls are covered in faux alligator skin black wallpaper. Sort of a "welcome to my sex dungeon" vibe, in case you're not already in the mood. But don't just take my word for it:

The elevator lobby on the 19th floor. (click to enlarge)

Bathrooms are huge and handsomely understated, clad in travertine and embellished with Matisse prints. A flat screen TV is well within sight of the tub, and there is a separate glassed-in shower (see floor plan below).

When was the last time you thought the best thing about a Vegas resort was the room? To my thinking, the encore suite provides a wonderful respite from all those mosaics, tassels and fringe, overwrought chandeliers, and ALL THOSE BUTTERFLIES and ALL THAT RED. Once you're in one of these handsome, understated rooms, you won't want to leave, and that's no good for the hotel! My suite #2930 was exactly like these photos.

Amazing fine touches are on tap: the draperies open and close by electric motors. Cool. Housekeeping turn-down service places slippers atop a mat next to the bed. Nifty. The drawers can't slam shut, because they are fitted with self closures that ease the drawer shut, sort of like the trunk on your grandfather's Cadillac. Über cool. The flat screen TV swivels so that it can be seen from either the living room or the bedroom. How awesome is that? The table lamps are on "smart dimmers." After one time, you'll wonder how you ever lived without that feature at home. The bed is so comfortable you'll want to weep. And if only there were a way to pack up the entire bathroom and drag it home. You wish.
And no tacky paper DO NOT DISTURB strips to hang on the door knob. Instead, there is an electronic switch that delivers the message to the housekeeping staff. Yeah, baby!

Encore features five restaurants, seven bars and an exclusive nightclub, XS, developed by legendary Victor Drai. Sinatra, one of the restaurants, is a 150-seat dinner-only steakhouse that features Frank Sinatra memorabilia, including Oscar and Grammy award statuettes on loan from the Sinatra estate. Switch is a French-influenced restaurant that features walls, ceiling and lights that rise, fall and change color every 20 to 30 minutes.

Botero Steak is a dinner-only steakhouse themed after the work of Columbian artist Fernando Botera and incorporates three of his artworks and two of his sculptures. Wazuzu offers Asian-inspired cuisine in a (red) room anchored by an enormous dragon wall sculpture constructed of thousands of Swarovski crystals. No lie:

The Society Café is the Encore's over-the-top take on a coffee shop, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner followed by a limited late night menu. The decoration, by Roger Thomas, mixes huge fuchsia tufted leather banquettes with black crocodile chairs atop a floor crafted of black, white and lime-green linked-chain mosaics. Did I mention the lime-green and fuchsia threadwork rugs? The large scale black and white stripe taffeta swag draperies? Trimmed with hunter green borders? Let's throw in a few lime-green Chinese lantern chandeliers while we're at it. See for yourself:

Because studies reveal that gamblers prefer low ceilinged, intimate spaces for gaming purposes, the casino has been divided into four distinct areas separated by draperies and columns.

There is a separate lobby and reception station for the Tower Suites:

The Porte-Cochere sports an abstract Matisse-inspired painted ceiling. Not sure exactly what they were aiming for with the incongruous chandelier. Weird: