Resolutely glamorous, Las Vegas is going upmarket in style, writes KAVITA DASWANI
ON A PREDICTABLY STEAMY August night, some 3,000 rich, famous and celebrated folks converged upon the SLS in Las Vegas, the city's newest hotel, for its lavish opening-night bash. Lenny Kravitz was there rubbing shoulders with Aaron Paul and Philippe Starck – the hotel's creative director – while songstress of the moment Iggy Azalea rocked the house with a surprise appearance alongside equally hot singer Rita Ora. There were extravagant fireworks and speciality cocktails and all manner of festivities befitting the unveiling of a hotel whose US$400 million makeover (on the site once occupied by the Sahara Hotel) has captivated the city for years.
The opening of the SLS was just another happening in a city that has recently been packed with them. The 40 million or so visitors who every year flock to this bedazzled city in the middle of the desert are never short of things to do, places to dine or shows to see, from hotels to trendy new bars, and from extravagant shops to must-see tourist attractions.
The high-octane debut of the SLS was somewhat forgotten a week later when the Delano – an impossibly chic, celeb-heavy South Beach hotel – opened its Las Vegas outpost, taking over the site of the former THEhotel at Mandalay Bay. With a design scheme predicated on modernistic luxury (sheer white drapes, wall-length tufted headboards, crisp linens, gilded accents) the Delano brings a rare intimacy and a boutique feel to the otherwise overwrought and overdone Vegas hotel scene.
Las Vegas is turning out to be a magnet for every celebrity chef, designer label and lifestyle brand under the sun: luxury retailers are vying with one another to have the most distinctive spaces in the city, alighting to establish increasingly glitzy flagship stores. Indeed, across every category, it's all about being the first, the biggest, the best - this is, after all, a city of excess and superlatives.
Shoppers who are accustomed to the likes of Rodeo Drive, Fifth Avenue and Avenue Montaigne get their retail therapy at Crystals, a vast retail destination that has only luxury stores – Bulgari, Jimmy Choo, Lanvin. Newest additions include Céline – the first in Las Vegas – Lalique and Sisley, which chose Crystals for its first US standalone location. To cater to the Asian contingent, Mandarin-speaking sales associates and concierges are on hand, and many of the boutiques and restaurants at Crystals take China UnionPay debit and credit cards.
Hotels are doing their bit to stay competitive and to cater to every end of the market. The MGM Grand recently launched its Stay Well rooms: a floor dedicated to healthier in-room habits. They were designed in conjunction with Deepak Chopra and the Cleveland Clinic, and include such unusual (for hotels) touches as a vitamin-C-infused shower head, purified air systems, hypoallergenic pillows and mattresses and aromatherapy diffusers. The minibars hold coconut water and almonds instead of Coke and Kit Kat. And a room-service menu designed specifically for Stay Well guests offers organic oatmeal, tofu sandwiches and hormone-free chicken breast.
A somewhat quieter Vegas experience was offered in May with the opening of The Cromwell, the only boutique hotel on The Strip: 188 rooms (compared with the 1,000-plus suites of other hotels in the vicinity). The Cromwell also houses the first restaurant anywhere in the world of TV chef Giada de Laurentiis, eponymously named Giada, and opened on its rooftop Drai's Beach Club Nightclub, an indoor/outdoor day and night party venue, one of the few of its kind in the city. Earlier this year, Las Vegans celebrated the inauguration of The High Roller, which, at almost 170 metres high, is billed as the largest observation wheel in the world (think of The London Eye, but with handmade Italian glass wrappe around the 28 slowly revolving spheres, and a cabin stocked with an open bar so cocktails can be enjoyed while towering over the city).
The High Roller is the focal point of The Linq, a sprawling $550-million complex across the street from Caesars Palace and part of the same group that owns that iconic hotel. The area is the size of three football fields, now crammed with more firsts, biggers and bests. Polaroid opened its only museum here, injecting a bit of culture into the city. Granted, everything on show – from Andy Warhol's celebrity portraits of Mick Jagger, Dolly Parton and Giorgio Armani to Marc Serota's “pictorial biographies” of Kenny Rogers and Paul McCartney – was shot using Polaroid, so there's no question that this is as much an exercise in branding as it's a cultural asset. But still, at least it's a museum.
If you're hungry after perusing the works of Warhol and Maurizio Galimberti, head over to Brooklyn Bowl, a massive entertainment venue that offers bowling (32 lanes); food (pork rinds, fried catfish, egg shooters); booze (Bloody Mary and Drunken Palmer); and live music in a concert venue that seats an audience of 3,500 (recent gigs have been put on by Steve Winwood and Wu-Tang Clan).
In the mood for something a bit more low-key? Make a beeline for BLVD Cocktail Company, also housed within The Linq, a sophisticated piano bar and cocktail lounge that feels a world away from the chaos and casinos that announce Vegas: there's a Steinway baby grand and a 30-metre-long marble bar top with doors leading out to a patio. But on a hot desert night, it's far better to relax indoors beneath chandeliers that look like floating bubbles – part of an inspired decor that has a delicious retro feel – enjoying ingenious cocktails that include the Lavender Slip (blueberry vodka, lemon juice and a dash of egg whites) and the Rolling Stone (Jack Daniel's, poppy-seed liqueur, ginger syrup and Angostura bitters), all to the accompaniment of live music. Dying for a late night sweet treat? The gourmet dessert sensation that is Sprinkles Cupcakes has a 24-hour ATMstyle vending machine at The Linq, where you can indulge your desire for a moist Red Velvet at 3am.
Inside Caesars Palace is another upscale new watering hole, Fizz, which may well be the only cocktail lounge-art gallery hybrid anywhere. The brainchild of David Furnish – partner of Elton John – Fizz offers pricey Dom Pérignon vintages by the flute, which can be enjoyed while perusing David LaChappelle photos culled from one of John and Furnish's many homes. Furnish says he was inspired to create Fizz, with 51 photos on display as a focal point, to reflect what Las Vegas is all about: colour, a celebration of life, vibrancy. The place is resolutely glamorous, hidden behind a bank of slot machines, an interior that's elegant enough – low lighting, comfy banquettes that lend themselves to intimate conversation – that the elegant dress code really should be honoured.
A word of caution about Fizz: its bubbly cocktails are frothy and delightful, but don't forget to look at the right side of the menu. The Fizz Deluxe fuses together Grand Marnier Quintessence, Richard Hennessy cognac, Fee Brothers lemon bitters, Monin rose syrup, egg whites, lemon juice, a splash of Dom Pérignon Rosé champagne and a fresh rose petal, all dusted with 24k gold flakes. As the price of this luxury libation is US$2,500, it's only to be imbibed if you've had an especially good day at the tables.