As a city that has set trends for entertainment, shopping, fine dining, hotel and spa design, Vegas hit a turning point last weekend with the opening of the Palazzo Las Vegas.
It turned boring, at least by Vegas standards.
The gargantuan property is the first new resort hotel and casino to open on the Strip since the Wynn opened in April 2005. It has more of everything that luxury travelers have come to expect from premium-priced hotels and less of the rule-bending allure that has made the desert city an international destination.
The contrast with its adjacent sister property, the Venetian, is all the more striking because the two casino resorts are linked by corridors, a central reservation system and shared facilities, such as the Venetian's Canyon Ranch SpaClub.
The new hotel doesn't look like an Italian palazzo, unless that castle happens to resemble a newly built shopping mall filled with topiary, fake shrubbery and, a nice touch, crystal chandeliers that sparkle like pavé diamond bracelets.
The all-suite, 3,066-room hotel is comfortable and feels surprisingly compact, despite its size. Inside the 650- to 1,400-square-foot suites, the atmosphere is quiet and sumptuous, thanks to the marble-clad bathroom, sunken living room with a sectional couch, curtained pillow-top beds and handsome wood furnishings.
Yet the design and the personality of the place don't advance the idea of luxury hotels, though its $199 to $499 rates make its rooms among the most expensive in the city, and those are just the introductory rates.
The Palazzo takes no lessons from the nimble, youthful boutique-hotel movement or from wittily themed Vegas hotels. Instead, the 50-story complex feels more like an inflated Four Seasons. To put it in fashion terms, it's a well-bred woman in a beige Armani pantsuit, while its Siamese-twin sister, the Venetian, is a siren in a Roberto Cavalli cocktail dress.
The décor is a mix of eras, all rendered in shades of brown and beige. Though a mirror theme runs throughout, it's no reflection of the Venetian. You'll find little of the humor and imagination that cause Vegas visitors to exchange the real world for an alternative reality, which is important if you're leading them to gamble, shop and eat like mad.
That said, many of the elements that might have added the necessary sizzle to this $1.9-billion steak weren't operating during the three-day grand opening celebration Jan. 17 to 19, a glitch that upset many of the top chefs who have restaurants still under construction here.
A second version of Wolfgang Puck's celebrated Cut won't open until the end of February, and permits willing, coming weeks may see debuts of Charlie Trotter's Restaurant Charlie, Jonathan Morr's Mainland and Emeril Lagasse's Table 10. Puck wasn't happy that the grand opening brought hundreds of VIPs and journalists to an incomplete resort.
"I think it's stupid," Puck said of the event's timing. He would have preferred a black-tie affair, where restaurateurs could have invited guests to their finished restaurants. Instead, in a stuffy Venetian ballroom, journalists and others juggled tiny plates and toothpicks to sample bits of the cuisine to come.
"You get a taste," Puck said, "but it's not the whole experience."
The same could be said of the grand-opening experience. From within the towers, guests could see the promise of a pool deck, now a series of pits surrounded by building materials.
The Canyon Ranch SpaClub is a 69,000-square-foot entity within the Venetian, complete with a climbing wall. Whenever the Palazzo part is finished, the combined spa will be 134,000 square feet of shared space, each with a separate check-in desk. A few of the 60 stores in the Shoppes at the Palazzo were open, including the first Barneys New York in Las Vegas. It could be months before the rest are ready.
Of the Palazzo's 14 restaurants, only four were operating, and like many elements of the resort, which started hosting guests on Dec. 20, things weren't running smoothly. A three-course meal took three hours at CarneVino, Mario Batali's Italian steakhouse, and liquor-license quirks forbade selling bottles of wine for consumption in the rooms.
Getting a dining reservation through the hotel's voice-mail system required selecting a cuisine from the voice mail's list, not calling the restaurant directly. If you can't determine the category, good luck. I got connected to the casino marketing department at the Venetian.
To be fair, hotels rarely present their best face until after several weeks of operation. That may be why the unused pipes filling my room's gigantic tub spewed brown sediment into my bath. At the elevator lobbies, gusts of sewer gas coming from who-knows-where caused guests to cover their noses.
The bedsheets were still scratchy-new and bits of Styrofoam packing materials stuck to the furniture. When my bag went from my hands to "luggage world" (their term), it took a pleading phone call and 75 minutes to get it back.
A place this large may need months, so I'll come back for another assessment -- with my track shoes.
It was nearly 130 steps from the lobby to the casino, and 150 more across the casino to the elevators, and 140 more to my room's door. Still, despite the dimensions, the compact layout of the resort's key features kept it navigable. Even in stiletto heels, you can reach Barneys or head downstairs to 40/40, the nightclub from entertainment mogul Jay-Z. (Don't miss the platinum and gold floor tiles that mimic an oversized Gucci chain.)
More mind boggling is the combined size of the Venetian/Palazzo resort and its adjacent Sands Expo and Convention Center.
I could have easily lived in my 650-square-foot room, existing on the 60-page room-service menu and playing with the cool techie toys. It had a multi-function fax machine, three flat-screen TVs, a laptop safe with electrical outlets inside, a DVD player and remote-control draperies that open to the view of Treasure Island across Las Vegas Boulevard.
But with all of these electronic marvels, the one you need most -- a clock -- wasn't to be found. Maybe this was the lesson of it all: Money and power can eliminate time and reduce the Vegas experience to just one season, the all-purpose indoor one.
With the addition of the Palazzo, you can dine and shop at many of the world's most desirable places, climb a mini mountain, ride a gondola along a canal, walk for blocks and lose your life savings, all without ever breathing outside air.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times