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Sin City's hip-and-sexy heyday

Special to the Los Angeles Times

Think you've been to Vegas? Think again.

The city's skyline is changing as rapidly as the players at a craps table as this tourist mecca undergoes its most massive face lift and expansion yet.

Las Vegas: A chart accompanying an article on new Las Vegas attractions in the Dec. 30 Travel section misspelled the first name of a magician preparing a show for Cirque du Soleil. The correct spelling is Criss Angel, not Chris Angel. The chart and article also misspelled the name of the Fontainebleau hotel as Fountainbleu or Fountainbleau.—

Las Vegas: An article in Sunday's Travel section about Las Vegas attractions included a reference to the construction of a Mondrian Oriental. The correct name of the hotel is Mandarin Oriental. —

In the next four years, Las Vegas will be transformed by an estimated $40 billion in resort development that will translate into more than a dozen new attractions in just the next few months.

The sizzle is in the new nightclubs that center on celebrity-driven night life and the pricey gourmet restaurants -- French chef Joël Robuchon at the MGM Grand was recently awarded a coveted three-star rating from the Michelin guide -- all opening at a rate that's almost too fast to keep up with.

The names say it all. Hot spots that have already opened or will soon open include: CatHouse, CUT, RUB BBQ, Blush, the Bank, Strip House and the bar eyecandy.

"There is a sumptuousness and richness to all the new décor," said Erika Pope, a spokeswoman with the Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority. "A kind of sexy playfulness."

"Vegas is an adult Disneyland," said Billy Cross, the Australian club owner behind CatHouse, an intimate bordello-themed nightclub that features women in lingerie -- sitting behind glass walls, primping at dressing tables. Other walls will include peepholes where patrons can peek at vintage erotic films.

"There is a lot of red involved," Cross said. "We're tapping into the openness of celebrating sexiness in a way that is empowering for all participants."

Some of the more prominent nightclub and restaurant openings include:

* Strip House: A sultry new steakhouse that opened in November at the new Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino.

* CatHouse: A 19th century French bordello-style lounge that features performers modeling CatHouse lingerie on elevated platforms. It was set to open this weekend, with a launch hosted by actress-trendsetter Mischa Barton, at the Luxor as part of a $300-million makeover.

* Trader Vic's Restaurant: Just opened at the Miracle Mile Shops at Planet Hollywood and features an outdoor patio overlooking the Strip.

* 40/40 Club: Owned by Jay-Z, this upscale sports bar and lounge is set to open at the Palazzo. Watch for Avril Lavigne on New Year's at new lounge Privé Las Vegas at Planet Hollywood.

* RUB BBQ: This 9,000-square-foot restaurant at the Rio All-Suites Hotel is the second and only venue outside the New York City original.

* The Bank: The new nightclub with a glass-encased dance floor is to open on New Year's Eve, at the site of the old Light nightclub at Bellagio.

* Wasted Space: A decadent rock club conceptualized by action sports star Carey Hart is designed to serve the "anti-club goer" and is to open next year.

* Eyecandy Sound Lounge & Bar: This new nightclub inside Mandalay Bay that opened in the fall combines so-called touch tables, high-tech spots where you can create visuals and messages, and a dance floor with touch-activated floor tiles that alter images and other graphics.

The flourish of development demonstrates a new level of maturity and confidence for the city, said David Schwartz, director of the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

"Instead of making Las Vegas visitors believe they were in Paris, New York or Venice, now there is a new confidence, less reliance on themes," he said. "Now, you can just be in Vegas."

This "hip and sexy fray" is the fourth building boom Vegas has experienced in recent years, and it is the most prolific growth period in the city's history, said Anthony Curtis, president of LasVegas, a trade publication.

"Vegas is currently experiencing its greatest building and opening boom of all time," Curtis said. "It just has all come together at once."

Las Vegas' first wave of modern development consisted of the opening of the Mirage in 1989, closely followed by Excalibur and the Rio. The second wave was in 1994, with the unveiling of the MGM Grand, the Luxor and Treasure Island, which all opened within weeks of one another.

And in 1999, the third wave brought Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Venetian and Paris.

What's in the fourth wave?

Check out the Palazzo, a towering $1.8-billion resort next to the Venetian that features 3,000 all-suite rooms and a Barneys New York that is rushing to open. An opening was slated for late this month, but delays in permits and inspections may push that to mid-January. Other key projects include Donald Trump's gold-glass condominium towers, which are expected to debut early next year, and Steve Wynn's new $2.2-billion project, the Encore, a 2,000-plus-room casino-hotel that opens early next year next to the Wynn Las Vegas.

Other major projects include:

* A $1-billion expansion at Caesars.

* Echelon Place, a $4-billion project that includes a 5,300-room hotel casino, meeting and convention space expected to open in early 2010.

* A $7.8-billion development from MGM Mirage called CityCenter, a mixed-use project that includes more than 2,000 residential units, retail space and a resort with the city's first Mondrian Oriental expected to open in 2009.

* The $2.4-billion Fountainbleau Las Vegas with 4,000 rooms expected to open in 2009.

Most of the new projects cater to a higher-end, adult crowd and developers have "realized it's OK to make money in food and dining," Curtis said. "Cheapo Vegas is being pushed to the perimeter."

That has some concerned. "The age of the Las Vegas budget deal is going away," Schwartz said.

Just this month, the New Frontier casino-hotel -- Vegas' first themed casino, with a cowboy motif -- was imploded to make way for development.

Whatever their budget, Vegas visitors are likely to be surprised by the desert city that greets them.

"If you haven't been to Vegas in a month, there will be something new," Schwartz said. "If you haven't been in six months, there will be a lot new, and if you haven't been to Vegas in a year, it's like you haven't been here at all."

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