“This is a city glued by a single idea, that people from all over the world aspire to come and get a rich and deeper emotional experience. … So when it came time to design the hotel, we had to go back to the very basics about what Las Vegas is all about. What makes people want to come here?" -From Las Vegas Review-Journal, April 2005.
Steve Wynn spoke those words at the Nevada Gaming Commission hearing for his eponymous $2.7 billion Strip hotel casino that opened that year. It’s safe to say no one knows what makes people want to come here better than Wynn, who revolutionized Las Vegas by creating the Mirage in 1989 and recalibrating the Strip’s sense of luxury with Bellagio in 1998.
When the curved bronze tower of Wynn Las Vegas first greeted the world, his legacy was already secure. But to top previous efforts the resort had to be grand, and it was. It had a new production show, Le Rêve. It had the expected, like fantastic restaurants and a nightclub and a gorgeous casino, but it also brought the unexpected: the Lake of Dreams, Spamalot, a Ferrari dealership. It was—still is—an amazing place, a vibrant display of designer Roger Thomas’ lavish imaginings, and another masterpiece in the master’s body of work.
Things are different now. Change always has been a constant on the Strip, and the punishing recession has forced casino operators to adapt in ways no one would have predicted. Wynn and Encore are still among the most successful resorts on the Boulevard after undergoing a recent transformation, which may have seemed subtle initially but is now pretty hard not to notice. It’s the elephant in the plush, red room, and people are talking about it.
It’s nightlife. Wynn is the place to party now. It started when Encore opened in December 2008, adding XS nightclub to the already thriving Tryst at Wynn. Encore has since added Surrender nightclub and Encore Beach Club to the casino’s southwest corner, fronting the Strip.
“In 2006 when Wynn Macau opened, there was a Tryst in the hotel,” explains Chuckmonster, founder of influential and informed website VegasTripping.com. “He closed it within six months because he didn’t like the characters it attracted. So he went from not wanting to have nightclubs to giving a large portion of his (Las Vegas) empire over to nightclub guys to control. And the effect that’s had—I talk to tourists all day, that’s what I do, and I’m a tourist—is the atmosphere in Encore specifically has become unsavory to non-nightclub people.”
As awesome as the Wynn nightlife experience must be, it’s not for everyone. These clubs are incredibly popular and profitable, but they don’t always mesh with visitors who come to Wynn resorts for something else—dining, for example. Only Bellagio generated more game-changing excitement on the Strip’s culinary landscape than Wynn’s 2005 opening. More intriguing options arrived with Encore three years later, and the twin resorts’ websites displayed photos of the chefs, superstars like Daniel Boulud, Alex Stratta and Paul Bartolotta. Today, those photos are gone, and so are many of the original chefs. The restaurant lineup is still stellar, but what’s missing is identity, the feeling that dining at one of these hotels is the best experience you can have in Las Vegas. Of course, pictures and names of chefs didn’t build that reputation.
It was word of mouth. Today, reputations are built online, far more than they were just seven years ago. People tweet and post about what they love and hate, and when it comes to Wynn, most of the real and virtual chatter is all about the party. Wynn’s website has been streamlined into a sleek and sleepy package, but click on “Wynn Social” and you’re instantly overwhelmed by bright colors, flashy videos, jam-packed calendars with massive parties and famous DJs and even Q&A interviews with “the men behind the nightlife.”
“This is very smart business. You can’t discount this,” Chuckmonster says. “They have essentially taken the one thing that MGM Resorts had in spades that was destroying everybody else, and relegated the competition to second or third tier status. Sure, Marquee is out there, maybe Hyde, but Wynn has taken nightclub business away from MGM.” It’s clear that beginning with XS in 2008, Wynn Resorts has decided to use nightclubs to bring as much business into the building as possible, and financially, it was a terrific move. “I don’t see it going away,” Chuck continues. “This is the showroom now. Those DJs may do one thing but they’re at the top of what they do. They’re entertainers pulling in a room of people. You know, sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll is going to be around forever, whether it’s rock ’n’ roll or not. Whether they’ll slice off more of the property for this stuff, we’ll see.”
No one can question these venues’ ability to harness the raging popularity of electronic dance music, but what is the opportunity cost of all this Afrojackery? The media release announcing the New Year’s Eve arrival of Andrea’s—the “vibe dining” concept combining restaurant with nightclub where Encore’s Switch steakhouse once resided—mentioned DJ Steve Angello as “musical chef,” but it’s unclear who will be cooking any actual food. It’ll be fun, that’s for sure. But will it be Wynn enough?
“I’ve always felt about Wynn properties that in terms of service and direction, they’ve always given you what you always wanted before you knew you needed it,” Chuck says. “Even if it was something small like the best cup of coffee you ever had. Right after Wynn opened they served the best coffee in the casino, so filled with earthy, husky flavor that people still talk about it. At some point they stopped serving that and went to something else, but it’s an example of giving people something they didn’t think they wanted, a taste, a flavor, a feeling, an unexpected experience, like the first time you walk into the spa at Encore or see the fountain show at Bellagio.”
Perhaps today’s special moments are popping off like so many champagne corks when Calvin Harris is running the show at Surrender. Maybe it’s not about the unexpected anymore.