Opening night at Aria: It was a really, really big show

Guests enter the Aria hotel-casino for the first time Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009.
Photo: Leila Navidi

CityCenter grand opening

The most-recited line of the night was, “It’s hard to get my head around this place.”

Not to mention your feet.

Aria opened tonight at CityCenter. It’s so grandiose, it practically prompts lightheadedness with its scope and size. Four thousand -- and four! -- rooms stretching to the night sky and 150,000 feet of casino space are not truly appreciated until you hoof it into the heart of the hotel. This resort is tall, sophisticated, dark, masculine, wooden, reflective and cool.

If you’ll like all that, and a good few-mile walk, you will love Aria.

It’s just that it might take a few visits to develop such an infatuation.

“I walked in, and I didn’t know which way to turn,” said Mark Martell, a 27-year-old Air Force serviceman who visited the casino shortly after it opened to the public around 11:30 p.m. following what was purported to be a grand fireworks show (I was pinned in City Bar at the time). “It’s nice, so far. It’s just going to take a while to walk around.”

His wife, 25-year-old Lindsey, who also is in the Air Force and thus not accustomed to such a ground assault, said, “I’m still figuring out which way to look.”

Chaz Lafferty, who coaches middle school girls’ basketball -- which is evident on his jacket, which reads “Coach Chaz” -- had never been to Las Vegas before tonight.

Welcome to the dinner show, Chaz.

“We’re staying at Mandalay Bay, which is beautiful,” said Lafferty, who is from South Jersey and has always visited the hotel-casinos in nearby Atlantic City. “But this place is incredible. I’m going to find some blackjack tables.”

Might want to hail a cab.

Xavier Reyes, who owns and operates a clothing retail outlet, is visiting with his parents, who are visiting from Israel. After taking a spin through the Elements gift shop and sundries store, he said he was skeptical about how Aria and the entire urban chic (you know it when you see it) CityCenter project would fit on the Strip.

“I was at the Encore opening last year, and I liked it better,” he said. “This is too Miami-ish, a little overwhelming for Las Vegas. It would work in New York or Miami, but it might be too much for Vegas.”

Reyes splits his time between Miami and New York, so he knows a lot about Miami and New York. And clothes, too.

One who knows Las Vegas really well is Vegas native Mark Brandenburg, co-owner of the city’s oldest hotel-casino, Golden Gate, who was impressed by the pure ambition of his surroundings.

“I remember in the 1950s and ’60s, everything in Las Vegas was a box,” he said. “This has a different sort of feel, a sophisticated feel. You feel energized, and I think the city will be energized, because this is how you grow. You don’t grow by standing still.”

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