As We See It

[The Incidental Tourist]

How new is new? First impressions of the Cromwell

A view of the casino floor at the Cromwell, formerly Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall & Saloon, during a soft opening Monday, April 21, 2014. The casino is undergoing a $185 million renovation project that includes remodeling of guest rooms, casino floor and common areas, the addition of a new second floor restaurant, and construction of the 65,000 square foot rooftop pool and dayclub/nightclub.

I’m on the fence when it comes to this year’s Strip. We’ve got construction and development again, which is fabulous, and the big gaming companies are creating innovative (for Vegas) projects that are making something where there was nothing.

But what about these “new” casinos? The SLS is coming on Labor Day, promising to be nothing like the old Sahara it’s replacing. And the Gansevo—I mean, the Cromwell will be fully operational by Memorial Day Weekend, and no one will confuse it with Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall. Right?

The Cromwell, operated by Caesars Entertainment on the plum northeast corner of Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard, is already open; its refurbished casino sprang to life suddenly on April 21. The highest-profile pieces of the property’s puzzle are still coming soon—Victor Drai’s massive rooftop beach club and nightclub (plus the return of Drai’s basement afterhours spot) and Food Network superstar Giada De Laurentiis’ first-ever restaurant. If you’re wandering into the casino between now and then, your personal ooh-and-ah factor will depend on your familiarity with the property.

This building opened in 1979 as the Barbary Coast. Boyd Gaming took over when it acquired Coast Casinos in 2005, then swapped it to Caesars two years later for some land where Boyd’s Echelon Place was supposed to rise. Caesars (then Harrah’s Entertainment) didn’t renovate the property but did rename it Bill’s Gamblin’ Hall (for Bill Harrah).

It closed last year for this grand refreshening, and it’s pretty fresh. Everything is deeply red, with lots of gold accents—red upholstered leather columns, red fringed chandeliers. The old-school lounge in the casino’s front corner has been pushed back and transformed into the swanktastic Interlude, where the signature Champagne cocktail, the Vegas Newborn, has gin, honey syrup and orange flower water. This bar has potential.

Cromwell Opens Casino Floor

The Cromwell’s casino feels more spacious than its predecessor’s, probably because Caesars hollowed out the steakhouse, coffee shop and back-of-house spaces to make more room for Interlude; the hip gift shop Curios; an airy, golden lobby space that’ll become a bar called Bound; and a private gaming salon dubbed Abbey.

It’s all very pretty, embellished and ornate, but I can’t shake how Barbary Coast it still feels. It’s nice and new, but how new? Is it possible to create a crisp, different Vegas experience without starting from scratch?

In Strip terms, the Cromwell is tiny. Its casino clocks in around 40,000 square feet, topped by 188 rooms and suites. Its website brags that it’s “the Strip’s first luxury standalone boutique hotel.” I guess hotels-within-hotels don’t count, and though the Cosmopolitan feels boutique-y, its thousands of rooms push it into the big-boy category. The Cromwell’s vintage-meets-modern theme reads a little Cosmo-ish, perhaps an attempt to cash in on that old Vegas vibe everybody claims to adore while bringing fancy new amenities into the mix. Judging by the many players and partiers who visited on its first night—packed on a Monday, no less—it seems entirely possible that this “new” casino will be able to attract guests who would have never stopped by Barbary or Bill’s.

If it is new, the Cromwell is the first Strip casino opening in more than three years ... unless the Quad counts. Imperial Palace never really closed, it just gradually transformed into its renovated version, now festooned with Guy Fieri’s Vegas Kitchen & Bar and all kinds of walkable Linqery. And if a new casino is going to open, doesn’t it have to have a real opening party? Maybe not. Maybe those days are over, or maybe the Cromwell’s coming out is still to come.

Whether it feels new to you or not, it’s hard to be cynical about the Cromwell when you’re exiting I-15 and heading toward the Strip on Flamingo. You can’t miss the cream-colored building with gold and purple accents, and you really can’t miss the palm trees jutting skyward on the roof. Imagine what that roof will look like once Drai’s fires up, pure Vegas energy. It’s hard to argue with that.

Tags: Opinion
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Brock Radke has been writing about Las Vegas for more than 15 years. He currently covers entertainment, music, nightlife, food ...

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