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Can you ship a pet tiger? Inside the world of the Vegas concierge

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Holder of the gold keys: Gwenn Holland brings her Clefs d’Or status to Caesars Palace. It indicates the best and longest-tenured in the concierge business.
Nick Coletsos
David McKee

In modern America we don’t have the butler, we have the concierge. Servant to all, he or she is the slightly mysterious presence lurking to one side of the hotel check-in desk, ready to attend to your every need. As long as that need is ethical, moral and kind—three crucial watchwords of the conciergerie—your suited assistant will do the utmost to make it happen.

Strangely, the profession didn’t even exist in Las Vegas until 1978. Then-casino president Burton Cohen is credited with introducing it at the Desert Inn, having just returned from Europe impressed by the concept there. (Previously, concierge-like duties were split among secretaries, casino hosts and the like.)

“It was very personalized,” former Desert Inn head concierge Jacqueline Hallstead recalls of those early days. The D.I. started concierge service with one sit-down desk and two staffers, who worked overlapping shifts.

“In those days, the majority of guests had not heard the term concierge in the United States before. They’d never heard the word,” says Hallstead, who worked at the D.I. until its demise. “The most difficult part was educating the personnel. I had to prove myself to the front desk, the bell desk, the sales department, the casino, the showroom. I had to make them see what an asset I could be to them, that I could complement their services, as well … I had to win all these different hotels and their executives and underlings over, so that when I needed something, they would help. And that was a real task. I worked my tail off.”

Back then the Desert Inn was the only casino to employ a concierge. Now it’s impossible to think of a Las Vegas hotel without one.

'Whatever the guest needs': Concierge Brendan Bogan aims to please at the Mandarin Oriental.

'Whatever the guest needs': Concierge Brendan Bogan aims to please at the Mandarin Oriental.

Parlez-vous 'concierge'?

“What we do is embellish the guests’ stay,” says Gwenn Holland, an ebullient blonde who’s been in the hospitality industry for 25 years and now works at Caesars Palace. “It’s pretty much an all-encompassing umbrella,” one that entails not only what guests need but what they might not know they need.

“In layman’s terms,” says Mandarin Oriental’s soft-spoken Brendan Bogan, “whatever the guest needs, the concierge is there for them.”

And what if that need crosses the moral or ethical line? What if that request is for something illicit?

“In the last week, I’ve been asked to find a lady of the night,” Holland says. “I am completely able to say that it’s a feasibility in this state, however, not in the city limits. And I said Pahrump is known to have that kind of establishment and that — suffice to say — answered his question and he happily went along his way.”

“We never say no to a guest,” adds Joe Moracco, a barrel-chested Mandarin concierge. “We always offer alternative solutions. If we can’t get them a ticket or they can’t get into a popular restaurant, we offer three different things they can possibly do.” As for the off-color requests, “What I would do is say, ‘I apologize, but we do not offer that service.’ We do apologize. And they know.”

Well-fostered, a client-concierge relationship can translate into long-term business. Moracco has guests he’s known from past jobs at the Venetian, Palazzo and Bellagio, who now come to Mandarin Oriental for his sevices.

“About 10 years ago, I didn’t even know what a concierge was,” Moracco confesses. But he discovered upon closer inspection, “they always enjoyed what they did and had a good attitude.”

The local concierge fraternity even has its own trade organization, the Southern Nevada Hotel Concierge Association (SNHCA). Its mission is not just to “promote the welfare of our hotels” and work with local charities like Shade Tree, but to mentor newbie concierges and help veterans earn the industry’s most-coveted status: Les Clefs d’Or.

Best of the best

The elite of the concierge world are part of Les Clefs d’Or (the Gold Keys), a fraternity of the best and longest-tenured in the business. Holland, Moracco and Bogan all belong—the latter being a freshly minted member—and Mandarin Oriental is the only Vegas hotel to have an all-Clefs d’Or staff.

The only national association of its kind in the Americas, Les Clefs d’Or counts 550 members in the U.S. alone. You have to be upstanding, of legal age and have spent three years as a lobby-level concierge in order to qualify for membership. You also need to be active within the concierge community in your area and work with your hotel’s entire clientele, not just its VIP elite, for instance.

A less-formalized requirement is discretion. “There is a code of silence, so to speak, because we know things about a guest that they have to entrust us with,” Holland says. “So we hold certain things loyal.”

The big ask

You can spot Clefs d’Or members, silent or otherwise, by the crossed-keys pin on their lapels, and they’re free to speak about some of their more outlandish escapades. Bogan was once asked by the daughter of visiting royalty to help find her birthday present: a three-seat Sea-Doo.

“That was an interesting day. It took quite a few calls,” Bogan remembers, but he tracked down a marina on Lake Mead that carried the precious cargo. “The next day, she and her family got in their car and went out to the marina and purchased it. And she came up and gave me the biggest hug. ‘You bought it? How are we going to ship it to you? How long is that going to take?’” Bogan asked her. Replied the little aristocrat, unfazed, “Oh, about a month and a half.”

Service worth following: Mandarin Oriental concierge Joe Moracco has worked at many Strip casinos, and guests from past jobs continue to work with him.

Every concierge has a story.

“For me, I had somebody ask me to find a pilot that would do a skywriting marriage proposal over Las Vegas,” Holland remembers. “It ended up being a pilot out of Jean, because they have a couple of companies that do extreme flying. He knew somebody who knew somebody who would do it. ... It was a little bit windy, so before they finished the end — her name — the puffs started blurring out, but you could tell absolutely what [it] was.”

Bogan’s heard tales of concierges asked to help ship a car to Australia or to bring a new pet tiger home. (You really can buy anything in Vegas, it seems.) And Moracco has his own recent war story. “Last week we had a request from a guest wanting to buy a tuxedo and have one of the stores bring 10 tuxedos to his room. We got it done. It’s not a common request. Sometimes it’s hard, because the guests don’t understand how much we really do and know,” Moracco says. “The guest thinks, ‘I’m going to go to dinner here and a show here on Friday night,’ but logistically it won’t work. We, knowing what we do, [say], ‘What about this night with this show?’ and create that experience for them.”

Holland says Vegas guests “absolutely” have different expectations because of the town’s anything-goes reputation. “They also behave differently, because there’s a certain anonymity when they call us on the telephone. They’ll be much bolder and more expressive than if they were calm, in the house, maybe with the family overhearing them.”

Even in person, Bogan stresses the importance of both patience and listening. “People speak with their voices but also with body language. You’ve got to pick up on those things.”

What it takes

Unlike many aspects of Vegas, being a concierge isn’t quite a ’round-the-clock commitment. Moracco estimates he’s at his desk from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. “After that, there’s not a lot of availability to do anything until the next morning.” Restaurants are no longer seating people, clubs are harder to get into, call centers have been shut down for the night. Some properties — most recently Paris and Bally’s — have outsourced their concierge service altogether.

Moracco likes Mandarin Oriental for its boutique size (392 rooms) and the personal guest-concierge relationships that such intimacy forges—not to mention that both he and Bogan can enjoy the tight-knit camaraderie fostered by having a concierge staff of only seven. Holland revels in the pace and size of Caesars’ operation. She likens the concierge department to Cash Cab, with individual team members leaning out of their cubicles to holler, “Do you know … ?”

The hardest part of the job, says Moracco, are “out-of-the-blue,” last-minute requests, such as impulse weddings where two people want to tie the knot ... in an hour. That doesn’t leave much time for research.

Still, all three say they’ve found a job for life, although Holland allows that she might create her own hospitality-oriented business at some point, adding that she’d like to be on the board for the SNHCA someday.

Both Moracco and Bogan are content where they are. “This is the best job in the world … It doesn’t feel like work,” offers the former.

“I want to retire here,” Bogan adds. “I love the people; I love what I do. It’s so gratifying when a guest comes up and says, ‘You made my trip worthwhile.’”

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