LAS VEGAS: They promised us the Eighth Wonder
of the World. Literally.
Steve Wynn himself, the hotel visionary who reinvented the
Las Vegas Strip in the 1980s and 1990s, claimed his newest gambling
parlor would be more impressive than the Egyptian pyramids --
and not the ersatz one down the street, either. His Web site,
without a trace of irony or evident humor, said the rooms took
longer to complete than Michelangelo spent painting the Sistine
And even if he hadn't so bloviated, he spent $2.7 billion
on it without even a business
cash advance. That's a price tag so staggering -- $1 billion
more than the budget for whatever goes on the former World Trade
Center site-that it comes attached to a risky promise: Wynn
Las Vegas, the most expensive casino ever and the world's second-most
expensive hotel, will deliver a mind-blowing, eye-popping, holy-crap
With all that out there, then, it's no surprise the first
guests expected to be utterly transformed simply by walking
in the door. It's also no shock that, when the $100 million
production show "Le Reve" and the swanky $25-cover-charge nightclub
La Bete both floundered and required ongoing overhauling, critics
My expectations were more modest. Two months after that grand
opening, my partner and I shoved our way through the awkward
maze of ornate flora, dragging our suitcase on the colorfully
tiled mosaic floors to the lobby to check in, looking only for
a comfortable, elegant and well-run hotel. Oh, and something
different and better than all that existed in Vegas before it.
That may not seem fair, but there's no way to judge a new Vegas
resort on its own merits; it always must be placed in context
of its competition.
Thus, here's the bottom line: Wynn, who left the casino business
in 2000 when his Mirage Resorts Inc. was bought out, has created
in his big comeback a nice but overpriced
and highly pretentious property that discourages ordinary people
from visiting. Worse, though, it fails to shift the epicenter
of this tourist mecca in a way it would seem $2.7 billion would.
The grand concept here is to take the model of a Vegas megaresort,
which Wynn launched with the Mirage in 1989, and turn it outside
in. Instead of beckoning visitors by giving away free streetside
spectacles like Treasure Island's pirate show or the Bellagio's
glorious dancing waters, Wynn erected a 140-foot mountain along
his corner of the Strip to both shelter his guests from the
crass brightness of Vegas and whet curiosity for passersby about
what lurks within. On the hotel side of that mountain are waterfalls
and koi-filled ponds as well as the "Lake of Dreams," a wall
in front of a lake upon which a video, music and light show
occurs every half hour after dark.
But even once you're in, those goodies are largely reserved
for hotel and restaurant guests, not the average pedestrian-a
departure that's hard to cheer. Vegas has always been a notoriously
democratic city where all are welcome at even the most luxurious
landmarks regardless of whether they're staying at the Mandalay
Bay or the Motel 6. It's tough to imagine why tourists not staying
or eating at Wynn would bother coming through more than once,
a marked difference from the way inveterate Vegas-goers repeatedly
pop in at the Bellagio or the Venetian.
Everything about the place is undeniably pretty but not as
unique or special as its owners insist. That "Lake of Dreams"
spectacle, for instance, is surprisingly similar to the Fremont
Street Experience light show in downtown Vegas, except Wynn's
is smaller and less interesting. The casino is certainly tastefully
done in muted reds and oranges, but it merely evokes Wynn's
Bellagio-right down, curiously, to identical fonts on the signage.
The standard rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows are pleasant
but of an average size at 630 square feet, their only innovation
being the flat-screen TV that can pivot in different directions
to be seen from either the couch or bed.
Furthermore, Wynn Las Vegas gives new meaning to the word
"eponymous," slapping that familiar signature not only on the
building itself but the watch shop, the steakhouse and the Ferrari-Maserati
dealership. It's also on the bed linens which, the "Decor To
Go" brochure in the room informs, are for sale along with the
room's couch, bathroom scales and Warhol reproductions.
Even his baritone is everywhere, oozing from slot machines
bearing his likeness. He voices the audio guide for his art
gallery, a personal collection that includes several lovely
and priceless pieces but which fails to offer any context. What,
for instance, are Monet and Warhol doing in the same exhibit?
An art history student could probably conjure up a thesis, but
Wynn is content simply with the fact that he, as the owner of
their works, is the only link required.
Nor is the shopping unique. Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Dior and
Cartier are all elsewhere on The Strip, and some of the one-of-a-kind
stores at Wynn are actually off-putting. Anyone who dares to
enter Graff, the highest of high-end jewelers, can expect a
greeting so glacial they'll feel the need to prove they can
afford even the paper upon which the receipts are printed before
they can gawk. "Sex and the City" fans might find it interesting
to wander into the only Manolo Blahnik shop in the U.S. outside
Manhattan -- until they realize the fictional Carrie Bradshaw
would have had to cut her birth control pills in half to afford
what, at these prices, must have been a tragic shopping compulsion.
From a high-tech standpoint, too, Wynn Las Vegas is a bit
too proud of itself. On the one hand, it was a brilliant move
to make the electronic room key double as a player's card, automatically
enrolling guests in the hotel's version of a frequent-flier
program and using the same piece of plastic in an intuitive
way that begs the question of why nobody had thought of that
before. And it's pretty cool how they put computer chips inside
the gambling chips to detect counterfeits.
Yet, despite all that, it's almost impossible to get decent
or consistent cell-phone reception anywhere on the property
except, perhaps, with your face pressed against your room's
window. And, just as perplexing, there's no wireless Internet
in the rooms for use with a guest's laptop. How is it possible
that the Holiday Inn we stayed at in Grayslake, Ill., has been
retrofitted for Wi-Fi but the world's newest, most expensive,
most modern casino doesn't have it?
Other surprising logistical problems abound. In that quest
for "intimacy," Wynn Las Vegas has such narrow walkways that
when the "Lake of Dreams" show comes on, the crowd that gathers
for the skimpy partial view from inside the hotel causes an
impassable pedestrian traffic jam. And rumors that the property
isn't fully staffed must be true, considering that housekeeping
was just getting to turndown service on our floor at 10 p.m.
What's more, a friend who had to leave after our delightful
dinner at Daniel Boulud Brasserie found herself facing a 45-minute
wait for her car at valet because there were more than 60 cars
ahead of her. (A $20 "tip" seemed to move her up the line considerably.)
Where this property does earn the right to its arrogance is
in its fleet of restaurants, which are, on the whole, the best
collection at any Vegas resort. In a town now sadly overrun
by absentee celebrity chefs, Wynn wisely required all but one-Boulud-to
work full-time on his property in the kitchens built especially
for them. Thus, guests who try out Alessandro Stratta's French
gourmet room, Alex, or Paul Bartolotta's Italian seafood eatery,
Bartolotta Ristorante Di Mare, may not know these James Beard
winners from the Food Network, but they'll feel like they've
discovered something all their own.
In exchange for that exclusivity, these chefs received amazing
settings to serve their cuisine, from the uber-elegant sunken
dining room with its "Hello, Dolly"-esque staircase at Alex
to the shelter of the hotel's mountain at Bartolotta. Even the
Buffet at Wynn is a triumph, more festive and colorfully detailed
than any other all-you-can-eat inVegas and offering such amenities
as personally tossed salads, fresh seafood and exotic fruits.
That said, when you strip all that away, what you have is
another beautiful-but not unique or spectacular-Vegas resort.
Wynn aimed for elegance and he got elegance, no doubt about
it. And this isn't to say that Wynn will fail; anyone around
Vegas long enough knows he never fails. But he also built a
property that, in its inward focus, leaves behind some of the
pizzazz that makes Vegas so great.
Las Vegas journalist Steve Friess is a former Chicagoan
who is a frequent -- and opinionated -- contributor on Vegas.