In the months leading up to the Cosmopolitan's opening this week, the 2,995-room resort has pegged its marketing blitz on one simple message: it is different. Its billboards, print ads and buzz-inducing TV spot have all sought to further the idea that the $3.9 billion property was not built off the tried-and-true Vegas formula but from its own checklist of Vegas standards and more unusual stand-ins. Sure, there are slot machines, restaurants by celebrity chefs and an über club, but the details are what matter here—details designed to draw what CEO John Unwin calls "the curious class" and to make the resort feel out of the box, even though it's smack in the middle of the Strip. But all this talk of difference leads to a basic question: How? In the next pages, we answer that question ... and raise a few more.
Does anybody remember lounges? You know, those relaxed, unticketed musical spaces once at the heart of every Las Vegas casino? The folks behind the Cosmopolitan certainly seem to. The Strip's newest property has three separate venues on its casino floor that are deeply indebted to the Vegas lounge ideal.
"We're taking artists you would normally have to pay $10, $20, $30 to see nationwide and we're saying, 'This is what we feel like a Cosmopolitan customer deserves for free,'" says Rehan Choudhry, Cosmo's entertainment director. "Not a VIP. Every customer walking in the door. If you're coming in and you want great music, you'll have the opportunity to hear it without any barriers."
If you're thinking "lounge" in the Rat Pack sense of the word, think again. Judging from the acts booked for the three venues through February, the Cosmopolitan appears intent on redefining the word for a new generation of Vegas visitors. "I've noticed there's a vast misconception out there about what the lounge act really was," Choudhry says. "It's not associated with a particular type of music. It was an opportunity for rising artists to showcase their talents in front of large audiences and travel through town on a more frequent basis.
"To me, one of the things that stands out at the Cosmopolitan is its indie spirit. And I'll tell you, we've created a Cosmopolitan iPod—a phenomenal setlist of acts that are really gonna blow people away over the next year."
Partnering with Austin, Texas-based concert promoter C3 Presents—best known for producing major U.S. music festivals Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits—the Cosmopolitan has lined up an eclectic early calendar, from British soul singer Jamie Lidell to LA indie pop trio Best Coast to Swedish electronic-rock outfit Teddybears. The live bands will play Book & Stage, a sports-viewing-area by day/music room by night (capacity: about 200) with an elevated stage set behind a V-shaped bar. DJs and electronic acts will be split between Bond, a rectangular bar with views of the Strip, and the Chandelier, the casino's three-level centerpiece bar woven into a massive crystal chandelier.
To start, most acts are being booked for three-to-five-night "mini-residencies," with some playing two sets per night. Choudhry says performances at all three spots will be ticketless, coverless and require no drink minimums. "The beauty of the program is, I can look a fan of one of our acts in the eye and say, 'Trust me, you're gonna see something completely different here, a completely different performance.'"
Choudhry calls sound systems in all three venues "over-the-top phenomenal ... quality systems you might not expect, given that they're on the casino-floor." That poses two obvious questions: Is Cosmo worried about sound bleed, and how loud will it actually be in there?
"We've been really cognizant about any potential bleed issues between venues, and through all our sound tests we really haven't had a problem," Choudhry says. "And though I can tell you even though we're not holding back, it's not gonna be earsplitting. If you wanna play blackjack and enjoy some great music, park yourself in front of Book & Stage. But there are so many intimate areas of the casino, you can game, eat, drink and socialize quietly, too."
Along with its casino-floor entertainment, the Cosmopolitan, which staged a set from The Killers' Brandon Flowers at its Boulevard Pool for Wednesday's opening-night gala and has Jay-Z and Coldplay pairing up for an invite-only New Year's Eve show inside a ballroom, plans to bring in additional big names over the next year, according to Choudhry. They'll play mostly at the pool, some in multi-night runs. "And then, every concert we produce we're putting on our 65-foot digital marquee," Choudhry reminds, "and projecting the sound out onto the street. The idea is, if we've got a phenomenal concert, there's no reason the 300,000 people on Las Vegas Boulevard shouldn't be a part of that experience." —Spencer Patterson
CityCenter's $40 million art collection took high art on the Strip out of galleries and planted it directly in the path of tourists, creating a new level of art participation for Las Vegas visitors. Cosmopolitan is taking it even further.
The Deutsche Bank-owned hotel opens with an artist-in-residence program, aerosol works on the walls of its parking garage, a digital art collection displayed on eight large columns in its lobby, a partnership with New York's Art Production Fund and Art-O-Mat vending machines that sell $5 works created by artists around the globe.
This kind of high-end and low-end engagement is unprecedented in a Strip casino. It's clever and—particularly in terms of digital art—very progressive. But the casino insists that it's not trying to "force" art on its visitors, and chances are that many Cosmopolitan guests won't realize that what they're looking at is art. The digital works in the lobby could be seen as just another inventive attraction without making the direct association to high art.
"We wanted to find work that enhances the environment, and gives the guest something beautiful to consume without being too heavy-handed or heady," says Chris Burns, director of digital content and entertainment curation. "We wanted to build a program that will appeal to both the novice observer and the most savvy collector, so it was important to find work that can be accessed at any level."
Those who are accustomed to digital art, however, might stop in specifically to see the lobby works, some of which were created by Sam Taylor-Wood, Jennifer Steinkamp, T.J. Wilcox, Yoko Ono, Jeremy Blake and Marco Brambilla.
Burns says that more than 40 existing works will be on loan to the Cosmopolitan when it opens. Eight digital works were created specifically for the resort. Four existing works were adapted for the lobby columns.
Las Vegas has a few digital artists making headway in the art world, but none has yet to participate in the Cosmopolitan program. Burns says the long-term goal is building "one of the most robust collections of digital art in the world" and, through installations in the lobby, making Cosmopolitan a creative home for artists. What truly sets it apart from past efforts along the Strip is this focus on current, contemporary art of the day. Its partnership with New York's Art Production Fund has already brought in artists Shinique Smith, Kenny Scharf, RETNA and Shepard Fairey to create aerosol murals in the parking garage.
Cosmopolitan's P3Studio artist-in residence program, beginning this month with Fab 5 Freddy, will allow for guests to enter the studio and visit with the artists, selected for one-month residencies.
Why? "We hope to break down the real and perceived barriers between the art/artist and the observer," Burns says. Unprecedented. —Kristen Peterson
The Hotel and Casino
CityCenter is to newness as Encore is to class, as Palazzo is to opulence, as Cosmopolitan is to ... what?
Energy. Sharp corners, dynamic displays, live music—one way or another, Cosmopolitan is going to get your body moving and your neurons firing. But what's the property's endgame here? Where does all that energy lead?
To the casino. It's like Encore's, only bedazzled. But unlike the Encore gaming floor, the slots are pleasantly lowbrow, and the high-limit area is welcoming. I'll probably drop $1,000 there before 2011.
Cosmopolitan also wants its gamblers buying cocktails. Oh, they'll still serve free drinks to players, but there's a bar by every entrance, and no generic casino bars here! Each place has its own personality, and each place treats cocktails with a level of respect that, in Vegas, is usually reserved for $50,000 credit lines.
Like the casino, Cosmopolitan's rooms are dynamic and fun, but not necessarily relaxing. The "Studio" rooms have kitchenettes with dishwashers, but not stoves. Read: Don't eat; drink. The small suites have Jacuzzi bathtubs, but they're square and tall, for soaking, not intimacy. Ditto for the curved purple couches. It all sends a steady message, get out of your room and gamble, already.
The rooms do have balconies, though, to slow the pace down. Pour yourself a Sloe Gin Fizz, take a load off, and watch the sun set, the waters dance and the neon rise.
So, watch out, Aria. Cosmopolitan's going for your jugular. It won't get the old money, but it might just have LA and New York's new money locked up before Valentine's Day. —Rick Lax
"This club is going to be different." In nightlife, we hear the same rote promise every time a new venue opens.
But then we had the chance to tour Tao Group's new Marquee nightclub. Maybe it's seeing the 40-foot LED video wall behind the DJ booth in the semicircular main room. Or hearing the massive 32,000-watt sound system while lighting created by mastermind Stephen Lieberman goes crazy (the same guy responsible for the stages at Ultra in Miami and Electric Daisy Carnival in LA), but something does feel different here. Marquee plans to focus on electronic dance music, or EDM, and encourage a festival vibe. At this point, it looks as if management has found all the right ingredients.
But wait, there's more.
A hydraulic bridge will lower over the crowd for performances and custom visuals are being created for the DJs, including Erick Morillo on New Year's Eve and Kaskade on January 1. Tao Group co-owner and operator Jason Strauss, himself a fan of EDM, has also brought in Sol Shafer (previously of Angel Management Group and N9NE Group) to handle scoring some of the best talent around. And to heighten the experience even more, Geneviève Cleary, formerly behind the show at Perfecto, is on board as the artistic director. Expect a variety of different elaborate performances and themes from Cleary and crew, depending on the night.
Sounds like a party. It also doesn't hurt to mention the 100 VIP booths inside and another 100 outside at the dayclub (plus outdoor gaming and snazzy Cosmopolitan bungalows where you can stay the night pool-side). But make sure you pry yourself away from the main room to explore the rest of Marquee. If the music in the main room isn't your style, the more intimate Boom Box Room will offer an alternate format (i.e., if there's a house headliner in the main room, you can get a dose of hip-hop/top 40/mash-up tunes in the Boom Box Room or vice versa).
And then there's the semi-secret Library. Walking behind that massive video wall up one level, you'll find a living room lounge-y vibe with walls of antique novels provided by the world-famous Strand Bookstore, a billiards table and a focus on craft cocktails as opposed to bottle service.
We could describe in detail all the gorgeous and intricate decorative features of the 60,000-square-foot club, but we'll leave those for you to "ooh" and "ahh" over on your own. —Deanna Rilling
For those who still don't believe Vegas lives among the top dining destinations in the world, consider that in every other city, there might be one or two restaurant openings each year that generate enough heat to engulf the foodie community. Here, the hottest opening of the year equals nine restaurants. And they all opened on the same day. The Cosmopolitan may be the last Strip megaresort for the foreseeable future, but what a recent ride—CityCenter in 2009, Encore to cap 2008 and Palazzo to open that year. Throw in Wynn Las Vegas (2005) and you've got five incredible properties committed to dishing up the most amazing food in the world. Welcome to New Vegas, where people come to eat, and maybe gamble, shop and drink a bit.
Still, Cosmopolitan has somehow managed to differentiate itself. Edgy marketing helps, but the hype is particularly strong in that aforementioned foodie community (which includes pretty much everybody). Seriously, people are drooling.
Scott Conant, one of the more famous chefs in the Cosmopolitan stable, can feel the buzz. Having thoroughly conquered New York City, the star of Food Network's 24 Hour Restaurant Battle makes his Vegas debut with the fifth version of his Italian restaurant Scarpetta, as well as the new wine bar concept dubbed D.O.C.G.
"It's been a very exciting experience, getting ready for Vegas," Conant says. "Maybe the best part has been spending time with [other Cosmopolitan] chefs and restaurateurs, picking each other's brains. It feels like a fluid concept. I think the customer experience will be a great one here."
We'll be the judge of that, starting as soon as possible. But bringing proven and new-to-Vegas talent like Conant, José Andrés and David Myers is what truly sets Cosmopolitan apart. With CityCenter, we got some great new chefs and some same-old, same-old Strip spots. Everything is new at Cosmopolitan. In fact, the only familiar face in the kitchen is at the burger joint Holstein's, and even there, Chef Anthony Meidenbauer (LBS Burger at Red Rock Resort) will be going all out, dry-aging the beef for the burgers and making his own sausage and charcuterie.
Like Conant, the beloved Andrés brings us something old, his acclaimed Spanish tapas restaurant Jaleo, and something new, China Poblano. Ever heard of a Chinese Mexican restaurant? Lobster mango tacos on the same menu as Hong Kong-style wonton soup? You have now. Myers, a favorite in LA, brings us Comme Ça, a classic French bistro.
When Aria opened the first full-on Thai restaurant on the Strip, crickets. But everybody's excited about the first Greek restaurant on the Strip, Estiatorios Milos, probably because chef Costas Spiliadis is known for keeping it real ... authentic. Rounding things out are a couple more Big Apple favorites, hip steakhouse STK and eclectic sushi bar and grill Blue Ribbon.
Conant says he won't stray far from the Scarpetta formula and that sticking to what works means staying unique. "What we do is offer those modern components without sacrificing full flavor and approachability, and that balance kind of sets us apart." Maybe that's the Cosmopolitan's recipe for Vegas: something new, something cool, something for everybody. —Brock Radke