The Las Vegas Strip is a cheeseburger right now. Familiar. Satisfying. Easy. Just what everybody wants.
It’s 2013, and it’s been years since we had this much to look forward to—new resorts, restaurants, retail plazas and more with actual opening dates marked on the calendar. On the food front, it’s all about burgers: new ones on the way from celeb chefs Mario Batali, Guy Fieri, Bobby Flay and Daniel Boulud, plus famous burger joints from both coasts, such as Shake Shack and Umami Burger. Most of the coming restaurant development skews casual, which lines up nicely with the planned pedestrian thoroughfares offering new places to shop, hang out, ride rides and have fun. The Linq will have all that stuff, and there will be a park near New York-New York with more laid-back, easygoing activities, all set up next to a new $350 million, 20,000-seat arena.
The Strip still entertains like no other, but the big boom onstage right now (as covered recently in the Weekly) is in comedy, a lean art form that requires little more than a mic, a spotlight and some jokes. Most of the casinos that will arrive in the next few years are not massively expensive construction projects but wise renovations, stylish makeovers of old resorts that ran their course.
This is the way the Strip looks and feels today, everything aimed at pleasing as many of us as possible. Consolidated casino companies are taking advantage of strengths and ignoring the rest. They’re focusing on new cheeseburgery experiences that appeal to the largest demographic, and they’re bolstering the one sure bet of the past five years: nightclubs. Bottle service and big-name DJs move bodies through buildings, and that’s not going to stop any time soon.
Overall, the Strip strategy is a smart, savvy approach, and it’s working. But it sure is different.
We didn’t get to see what Las Vegas was supposed to be in 2013. After the Palazzo and Encore arrived, CityCenter and Cosmopolitan were supposed to be followed by Echelon and Fontainebleau. The recession robbed Las Vegas Boulevard of completing that next evolution.
The best example of what might have been is CityCenter, and more specifically, its hub masterpiece, Aria. There are those who have criticized this mass of tall, spectacular structures, comparing the complex to museums or airports, but they miss the point. Notice how CityCenter’s design can be cold and warm, sleek and artful, like a science-fiction setting and a luxurious refuge. Like an actual, interesting city, it demands you spend some time exploring, discovering your favorite nooks, thinking about what you like and don’t. That’s not an experience you can find all over the Strip, nor one you expect at a casino.
Whether it’s considered a success or a struggle, CityCenter is undeniably innovative and unique, and it shares in the great Las Vegas tradition of assuming unimaginable risk. When the complex opened in December 2009, UNLV Center for Gaming Research Director David Schwartz wrote about how the biggest project in the Strip’s history was opening in the city’s worst-ever economic climate. No wonder it’s been criticized, he noted; the history of skepticism heaped upon Strip expansion goes back to the beginnings of Las Vegas itself. But big gambles yield the biggest wins, and the craziest attempts to renew the Vegas experience have often resulted in iconic glory. Caesars Palace, Mirage, Bellagio ... what’s next? Malaysia’s Genting Group could recalibrate the Strip with Resorts World in 2016. And there could be more on the horizon. Someone is probably plotting something wild. Someone always is.
Las Vegas has emerged from this most recent cocoon, and it’s getting cozy with the way things are. That’s good, but the Strip won’t be back at full strength until someone takes another giant risk and produces an experience that amazes and exhilarates rather than making us feel like we’re reclining in an easy chair. With a cheeseburger.