So this is how it ends, huh? Here we go, heading once again into yet another December casino-resort opening on the Strip. This time it’s the $3.9 billion Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, scheduled to start taking bets a year after the $8.5 billion CityCenter complex did so, two years on from the revelation of Encore Las Vegas and three years since Palazzo Las Vegas debuted.
It may seem like old hat, a tradition of sorts. Indeed, I’ve enjoyed these annual opportunities to gather up with my friends from Vegas-obsessed cyberspace and take our newest toys for a few spins, to pore over every detail and choice, to comment on food, décor, service, marketing plan and overall sensibility. I’ve loved taking the temperature of Sheldon Adelson, Steve Wynn, Jim Murren and now John Unwin when these men are at both their most anxious and most boastful, documenting for posterity their lofty expectations and then comparing that to the reality that comes to pass thereafter.
And yet, of course, this one is different. This is the last of it, the final hurrah wrung out of the Great Las Vegas Building Boom, which, in perfect Vegas style, lasted 21 years. When historians look back, they will see the Mirage in November 1989, all of the rest and then the Cosmopolitan, the final baby to come to term after an economic plague sterilized the city and callously slayed even fetuses desperately close to birth, most notably the Fontainebleau.
The national press, myself included, will spend plenty of time in the next few weeks pondering the wisdom of the Cosmopolitan’s daring to even open. Detroit isn’t opening new car factories these days, but equally devastated Vegas goes all out with yet another gigantic resort? How can this be? I honestly don’t know, and it will be challenging to explain other than to say that it had gestated just enough when the plague hit, so its arrival couldn’t be stopped.
That said, I toured the Cosmopolitan last week, and I’m here to say that it may turn out to be a miracle baby. A year ago, I pitied anyone involved with it, coming along in the shadows of and squeezed between the behemoth of CityCenter and the enduring legend of Bellagio. A casino-resort owned by an investment house, Deutsche Bank, was going to have even a vague clue how to compete with the consolidated, much-vaunted genius of the MGM Resorts brain trust? The Cosmo’s exterior architecture looks like an upright Brillo pad, for God’s sake.
And yet CityCenter has stumbled in spectacular ways, and the Cosmopolitan may end up giving it a second chance. The new place’s décor is sleek, sultry and modern, of course, but it also has the Manhattanesque feel that the whole of CityCenter was alleged to embody but provides in only small, hard-to-find spurts. Cosmo is compact, easy to walk, fed by sidewalks and elevated pedestrian crossings that make getting in and out a breeze. With the exception of maybe the Flamingo and Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall, the Cosmo offers the shortest distance from the sidewalk to a slot machine on the Strip. It’s almost Fremont Street-like, but in a good way.
Unlike standoffish Aria, the Cosmo revels in its proximity to its neighbors. The Cosmo is so vertical, so narrow, so close to other structures—very cosmopolitan attributes, right?—that guests on higher floors can look down from their balconies to see the roofless top of the empty Harmon, CityCenter’s tragic hotel that may end up imploded before it even opens.
Can you tell I’m excited? And you should be, too. Savor this period of discovery, Vegas lovers. Nothing on this scale will happen again around these parts for probably another decade or more. We are about to enter a very long, fallow era during which the debut of a new restaurant, nightclub, show or Ferris wheel qualifies as the highlight of a year.
So this is how it ends, huh? Well, okay, then. Not a bad finale at all.