Is there a place in Vegas for good taste? Yes, according to Steve and Elaine Wynn, who tempered over-the-top-style with graceful design when they created the interior and exterior (opposite) of their new property.
With Wynn Las Vegas, his new fifty-story, $2.7 billion hotel, Steve Wynn has placed his biggest bet yet.
Guests staying in the hotel’s more private South Tower have their own entrance. Left, museum like vitrines at the Judith Leiber boutique encourage visitors to pursue the art of shopping. Opposite: Elaine of and Steve Wynn
Amenities at the Wynn include a pool complex that has easy access to a spa with forty-five treatment rooms. Right: A well-dressed display in the South Tower lobby.
AS A FREQUENT traveler to Las Vegas, I, along with many others, was on edge last spring as I waited to see what the fiercely competitive, then sixty-three-year-old Steve Wynn would unveil in his latest attempt to up the luxury ante in his Nevada hometown. Wynn had already built what he had proclaimed was the “best hotel in the world in any century”: the Bellagio, which opened in 1998 and, he said, sold for $2.9 billion just two years later as part of a $6.6 billion deal for Mirage Resorts. Before that Wynn had been pretty much single-handedly responsible for redefining Las Vegas glamour, shaping the desert landscape into his own version of Shangri-la by stocking it with one luxurious resort after another, each known for fine restaurants, multimillion-dollar art collections and “wow factors” ranging from spewing volcanoes to dancing fountains.
By the time Wynn Las Vegas opened in April 2005, the buzz about the $2.7 billion property was practically deafening. It helped that Wynn’s elegant wife, Elaine, had chosen to celebrate her birthday over the hotel’s opening weekend. The resulting four-day bash, capped by a Hugh Jackman concert, was attended by George H. W. Bush, Elizabeth Taylor and enough dignitaries to fluster Donald Trump-who was there, too, by the way.
Could any place carry the burden of so much expectation?
The answer was clear: you better believe it. Or, more appropriately, you bet.
The son of an “inveterate gambler,” Wynn began his ascent to casino legend as a number caller at his father’s bingo parlor in suburban Maryland. He was already married to Elaine in 1967 when the couple moved to Las Vegas and rented a house at the Desert Inn. Steve quickly made his mark in the resort business. He has had a number of well-documented ups and downs, but today you won’t hear a disparaging word about the man credited with bringing the city back from the brink of seediness. Everyone, it seems, wants a sprinkle of his stardust. After the opening of the Wynn was announced, more than 110,000 applicants submitted résumés for 10,000 jobs.
“I think people see Steve as conscientious and hardworking,” says Elaine. “He’s not in it for the money. He just likes the process. And I think people get that. It’s lovely that they’re grateful for the community that has resulted.” Coincidentally, the new Wynn sits on the site of the old Desert Inn, the couple’s earlier stomping grounds, some 217 acres at the north end of the Strip. One reason curiosity about the project reached such a fever pitch was that plans were kept shrouded in secrecy until opening day (one false rumor even claimed there would be an onsite ski area). But this time, instead of trying to awe, Wynn went for the ahhhhhs by building what he is fond of calling “the most understated overstated hotel in the world.” The bronze colored, crescent-shaped building stretches fifty stories into the sky. A giant wedge that’s elegant and sophisticated, it is no dark box in which day folds into night unnoticed. Unlike in any other casino on the Strip, natural light floods in to captivate and lift the spirit, almost all the restaurants have alfresco seating, and flowers and plants seem to drip from every nook. “If you feel wonderful here,” Wynn confides, “it’s because wherever you are, as much as possible, I’ve let you feel sunlight— dappled on the floor, through the leaves on the trees. We’ve eschewed any feelings of expanse. The atrium is cozy. This hotel doesn’t smack you in the nose with all its stuff.” Call it the Dalai Lama effect. Although the Tibetan leader played no role in designing Wynn Las Vegas, he has reportedly had a great influence on the developer since the two met at a fundraiser some years ago. Certainly a sense of calm permeates the resort. At the main entrance, instead of immediately encountering blackjack tables, guests are greeted with a conservatory. Colorful flowering topiary globes drop like mirrored disco balls from tall trees that brush the ceiling. Miraculously, check-in takes place just steps from the front door. There’s no quarter-mile schlep through the casino to reach the elevators to the guest rooms, just a short walk down a quiet hallway. The more private South Tower, which has a lovely, low-key reception area and its own entrance (with elevators to guest rooms just a few feet away), is completely removed from the casino.
Wynn’s architectural tastes have evolved, too. “I was done with three-winged rectilinear buildings,” he says, adding that the Mirage and the Bellagio had begun to appear clunky and squat to him. He is now into curves, which he believes convey excitement. “Curves indicate motion and movement not possible in a more static structure,” he says, A self-proclaimed “student of architecture and design,” Wynn wanted a place that was contemporary but also featured classical elements: balance, proportion and symmetry. His own sixty-foot-long signature scrawled across the very top of the new hotel is punctuated with a period at the end.
More un-Wynn-like is the 180-degree reversal of his former attitude, which once catered more to the audience on the Strip than to the guests inside. In the past he had a “do whatever it takes to get them in” mentality that is completely absent from the new resort. The epiphany occurred at home one night with Elaine. “The audience isn’t out on the sidewalk, Steve,” he remembers saying to himself. “The audience is the hotel guest.” No longer would he build erupting volcanoes and dancing fountains such as those fronting Treasure Island and the Bellagio, which are better seen by pedestrians on the sidewalk than by the hotel’s clientele. At the Wynn, he not only keeps the show Hinside but also insists on shielding his guests from the frenetic activity beyond the hotel. “I couldn’t take the chance that someone was going to build a big stainless-steel cloud of aluminum outside and put neon signs on it that would flash into one of our restaurants. I needed something that would stop anything from interfering with your experience here. I had to put you in a theater where there was no distraction… and make sure that what you saw and felt and heard wasn’t disruptive but transportive.” In typical Wynn style, he took care of the problem by erecting a 140-foot-tall mountain between the hotel and the Strip.
While the thousands of trees, waterfalls and plants adorning it definitely ooze tranquility, they also presented nightmarish difficulties for engineers. Huge imported trees together weighing as much as 400,000 pounds made the mountain as heavy as a ninety-eight-story building. Footers had to be spread underneath the foundation to keep the load from sinking Las Vegas Boulevard. “In terms of structural complexity,” Wynn says matter-of-factly, “my builder had to solve problems that were tougher than the pyramids of Egypt.”
Members of the seventy-person cast of Le Rêve, before (opposite) and during a performance. Named for Picasso’s Le Rêve (The Dream), on display in the hotel’s art gallery, the aquatic and aerial spectacular was designed by Franco Dragone, the creator of numerous Cirque du Soleil shows, and is performed in the round.
WYNN IN VEGAS…
MAKING A GUEST APPEARANCE
The Wynn’s standard rooms come in three color schemes— chocolate, “apricotta” (a bright orange) or cinnamon—and average a roomy 640 square feet; suites are done in chocolate cherry, carnelian-cream or crème brûlée color palettes and range in size from 937 to 3,224 square feet. All accommodations have replicas of fine paintings on the walls, and bathrooms large enough to host a dinner party in; some come with such special touches as private massage rooms. The thirty-six one- and two bedroom Fairway Villas, situated on the golf course, are the highest-end accommodations open to the public (those on the ground level have private swimming pools). Rates begin at $220 for a room and run to $1,700 for a two-bedroom Fairway Villa; in the South Tower, rooms begin at $400 and run to $1,800 for a two-bedroom suite. You’ll sometimes find lower prices by going online. 3131 Las Vegas Boulevard. For reservations for rooms as well as for the attractions listed below, call 888-320-7123 or visit wynnlasvegas.com.
PLAYING TO WYNN
The enormous pool complex, which features a huge dumbbell shaped main pool and a rectangular adults-only one, is located directly behind the hotel; an adjacent bar, complete with blackjack tables, eliminates the need to trek back to the main casino if you want to try your luck or take a break from sunbathing. The complex also includes a 35,000-square-foot spa with forty-five treatment rooms, a full hydrotherapy setup, a salon and a fitness center. (Reservations are required for spa treatments.) The Wynn Gallery, featuring European and American masterworks from the private collection of Steve and Elaine Wynn, is open from 10:00 A.M. to 11:00 P.M. Tickets are $6 (no reservations required). The Wynn Golf Course, designed by Steve Wynn and Tom Fazio, is the only course on the Strip attached to a hotel. “Greens fees are $500 (open only to guests; reservations for tee times are required). Tickets to all the Wynn shows go on sale three months in advance. Le Réve has two shows nightly from Saturday through Wednesday beginning at 7:30 and 10:30. Tickets are $110. The Broadway hit Avenue Q opened last September; there are two shows nightly, except on Wednesdays. Tickets are $99. Performances of Spamalot are planned, and Encore, an additional, all-suite, boutique hotel attached to the Wynn but with a separate entrance and its own restaurants and spa, is in the pipeline.
“One of the smartest things Steve Wynn did before making a final decision on which restaurants to feature in his hotel was to insist that every chef move to the city and head up his own kitchen. This rarely happened before. At the Wynn, the chefs moved in en masse with one exception (Daniel Boulud), and the result is twenty-two food and beverage outlets (including pastry shops and nightclubs) offering cuisine that ranks with the best in the country. Even the hotel’s twenty-four-hour café has impeccable food, and though its lines can be long, they feel manageable. The all-you-can-eat buffet ($19.95 for lunch; $31.95 for dinner) has everything from pizza to Indian food. Room service, a good bet for breakfast, comes piping hot and is presented on Bernardaud china. In addition to the top-tier restaurants listed below, Zoozacrackers, a self-serve New York-style deli, is a great place to take the kids for cheeseburgers, while Chocolat, with its handmade European chocolates, truffles and petits gåteaux, is wonderful for those with a sweet tooth. Reservations are strongly recommended for the fine-dining rooms; call the restaurants directly or the main restaurant-reservation line at 888-352–3463.
The most upscale restaurant at the Wynn, Alex is a good place to come after an exceptional day at the tables. Its finer points include special “reserve” caviars and a wine cellar with such treasures as a three-liter bottle of 1959 Lafitte Rothschild ($25,000). Chef Alessandro Stratta has brought his French cuisine from the Mirage to the Wynn, where he really flexes his talents. Try foie gras ravioli in truffle bouillon with duck-confit salad or roasted squab with eggplant. The room is gorgeous, with a dark cherrywood ceiling and walls and crystal chandeliers. Dinner can take three hours, so this isn’t the place for those eager to hit the casino. 702-770–3300.
Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare
Located in the esplanade, Bartolotta is an excellent spot to stop for lunch while shopping: the food is some of the best in the entire hotel. Chef Paul Bartolotta is lauded for his fish specialties, but his traditional Italian coastal cuisine also includes light-as-a-feather potato gnocchi and hand-rolled pasta. When it’s not too warm, there’s seating in the water garden and cabana areas outside. 702-770-3305.
Set in one of the busiest corners of the hotel, right next to Le Rêve’s theater, Corsa Cucina is the perfect aprèsshow dining room. Chef Stephen Kalt features Mediterranean cuisine: a poached lobster with tomato confit here, a lamb tagine there. Expect a big crowd and lots of noise from revelers getting ready for a big night at the casino tables. 702-770-2040.
The Country Club
Golfers swear by this classic American steak house, perfect for lunch or dinner after a day on the greens. The restaurant has a club like feel, with sweeping views of the links. Chef David Walzog is no stranger to steakhouses, and he knows that big portions of jumbo lump-crab cakes, Angus-sirloin burgers and char-grilled New York Strip steaks are just what hungry sportsmen want. 702-770-3315.
Daniel Boulud Brasserie
Boulud has sent his right-hand man, Philippe Rispoli, to head the kitchen here, with splendid results. Huge platters of shellfish, peppered tuna steaks and the Clockwise from above: The casino by night; the entrance of Alex, the most upscale of the Wynn’s restaurants; the burnished decor at Wing Lei, one of three Asian eateries; the esplanade ceiling outside Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare.