Rebranding of the Palms has turned Joe Magliarditi into a quick-change artist

Little Buddha
Photo: Steve Marcus

Little Buddha

An interior look of the Little Buddha restaurant located inside the Palms.

An interior look of the Little Buddha restaurant located inside the Palms.

A view of the bar at Little Buddha restaurant located inside the Palms.

A view of the bar at Little Buddha restaurant located inside the Palms.

Joe Magliarditi, the president of the Palms, stands in front of the temporary sports book area inside the Palms on Friday, March 30, 2012.

It’s easy to track the recent upgrades at the Palms and deduce that the hotel is aggressively courting the ladies. The latest evidence of the hotel embracing its feminine side is its partnership with The ONE Group, resulting in the pan-Asian restaurant Xishi, (pronounced “zai-she”), which is to replace Little Buddha when that restaurant closes in 60 days.

Xishi is named for the one of the “Four Great Beauties of Ancient China,” and it’s a name that should prompt a swift Google search of that cultural heritage. The restaurant will offer “traditional and contemporary Asian dishes in a modern vibe-driven space with a feminine twist,” according to a press release.

The ONE Group CEO Jonathan Segal is also moving forward with the sports-themed restaurant Heraea (replacing Garduno’s), which is at once energetic and elegant, the type of place women can enjoy a televised sporting event while dining on items more palatable than buffalo wings dunked in ranch dressing.

The two restaurants are common in their appeal to women, their overarching ownership group and their time of opening (December). But they represent a quality more important: They are emblematic of the hotel’s race-against-the-clock overhaul, an effort to install a full-scale rebranding of the resort that has for a decade been synonymous with the name Maloof.

That effort began last summer, when Joe Magliarditi was appointed president by TPG Capital and Leonard Green and Partners. The two lenders own a combined 98 percent of the Palms.

Those firms took control of hotel operations from the Maloof family in exchange for accepting $400 million in debt, leaving the Maloofs with a 2 percent share. George Maloof remains chairman of the board of the Palms, which includes two representatives of TPG and two of Leonard Green and Partners. In that management scheme, Magliarditi is the lead official in upgrades at the resort.

Planning for and construction of the extensive makeover seem to have been set on fast forward. Work has been completed, or will be completed by December, on a new sports book operated by Cantor Gaming, a renovation of all rooms and suites in the resort’s main hotel tower, a sports book kiosk near the entrance of Garduno’s (soon to be Heraea), a refurbished pool area, the two new restaurants spilling onto the casino floor, the addition of Earl of Sandwich near Brendan Theaters and the opening of Chocolat Bistro.

“Frankly, this is as aggressive a construction schedule as I’ve seen in my career,” Magiarditi, a 20-year-resort executive with stints at M Resort and the Hard Rock Hotel, said in a phone interview Friday afternoon. “If we pull it off, which I believe we will, it will be amazing.”

There has also been some disassembling. The Playboy Club, operated by the N9NE Group, shut down in June. Chiefly, the removal of the Playboy brand, the partnership with The ONE Group and plans to overhaul Rain nightclub (also a N9NE Group venue) have spurred speculation that the hotel is pushing the nightlife company operated by Maloof out of the property.

Not so, Magliarditi says.

“Our relationship with N9NE Group is good. George (Maloof) is the manager of those ventures, and obviously we work hand-in-hand on a lot of things,” Magliarditi said. “I know there has been a lot of chatter about The ONE Group coming in and what that means, but the reality of it is Garduno’s and Buddha have really nothing to do with the N9NE Group. The N9NE Group venues are important to us — N9NE Steakhouse is a staple, Ghostbar is a staple, and we’ve talked about plans of re-concepting and/or redesigning Rain, Playboy and Moon, but those are just more look and feel-type things, as we move forward.”

In the coming months the hotel will install new carpeting on the casino floor and open a porte cochere at the front entrance. Those changes should be in place around mid-January.

Tributes to the Palms’ former regime evident are on Flamingo Road. One is the Hugh Hefner Way street sign on the road leading into the resort’s west parking garage. Magliarditi says that will stay.

Another nod to the hotel’s history is more obvious: the marquee reading “A Maloof Family Resort,” on the sign facing Flamingo Road. The family name will be edited out as new resort signs are installed next year.

“What I will tell you about the marquee is that we are looking for a new, effective way to reach local traffic coming down Flamingo as well as our tourist traffic on the Strip,” Magliarditi said. “That just may mean you might not see a traditional marquee sign. You may see variations of multiple marquee signs. The technology will be updated, because I’m not sure how effective it is to have one big sign in front of a casino and the only chance you have to see it is if you drive up and down Flamingo Road.”

The removal of the Maloof name is a simple case of evolution, he said.

“That’s only because we’re trying to change the brand and brand image of the property,” Magliarditi said. “Listen, a lot of locals have a direct connection to the Maloof brand, and know that George is still around the building. But the fact is, we’re trying to get a much further outreach and trying to push the Palms brand. Obviously, that’s what we’re selling, right?”

Certainly, and the inventory is being re-stocked in time for the holidays.

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