The Incidental Tourist

[The Incidental Tourist]

As SLS evolves, an intimate, boutique-ish vibe becomes evident

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Awolnation performs during the grand opening of the Foundry on Friday, Feb. 5, 2016, at SLS Las Vegas.
Photo: Michael Kirschbaum

It’s a Saturday night on the Strip, but is this the Strip? It feels different. Cool and real. Local hip-hop/jazz quintet The Lique is performing inside the Sayers Club, one of the most intimate music rooms in the city. Is this the Strip? And check out who’s coming to the bigger concert hall just a few steps away, the Foundry: Australian electronic project What So Not; Kanye West protégé, rapper, singer and actor Kid Cudi; eclectic singer and producer Santigold. These things are happening next door to the deliciously cheap 800 Degrees pizzeria and the expensively fantastic Bazaar Meat by world-beating chef José Andrés, who was just here a few weeks ago, unveiling the Foundry with a cooking demo with fellow culinary celeb Curtis Stone. Where are we again?

This is the same SLS Las Vegas resort that Sam Nazarian and friends opened in the third quarter of 2014, but it’s not the same. It’s a casino and 1,600-room hotel owned and operated by Las Vegas Resort Holdings LLC, which is basically Stockbridge Capital Partners, the San Francisco-based conglomerate that bought out Nazarian’s 10 percent of the resort late last year. The SLS has struggled to attract a consistent audience from day one, mostly because of its isolated location at the north end of the Strip, but if you catch SLS on a good night it feels different. Cool and real. Certainly unlike any other spot on the Strip.

Most of what makes up this vibe was here from the beginning, but considerable changes have been made at SLS, and more are on the way. The conversion of Life nightclub, a space that already felt theatrical and adjustable in its original form, into the multipurpose Foundry was a natural. The only SLS restaurant that didn’t immediately catch on, the Griddle, was converted into the more approachable Northside Café, an around-the-clock eatery that always seems packed. The Code players club was installed to incorporate a locals-style gaming experience, and fancy (and spendy) LA retailer Fred Segal is all gone, replaced in some spaces by functionality, such as a swanky concierge lounge. Overall, today’s SLS experience feels boutique-y, a tightly packed enclave of entertainment through gaming, food and music.

Bigger developments are on the way. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide will open its first W Hotel on the Strip when it takes over the 289-room Lux Tower at SLS. The conversion should be complete this fall, and the partnership will also place SLS in Starwood’s Tribute Portfolio, which comes with a fairly massive preferred-guest loyalty program and access to Starwood’s global distribution systems. The W tower will have its own “living room” lobby, the Away Spa, and Wet, an exclusive outdoor pool and bar.

That pool will sit atop a new three-story building SLS plans to build to create more convention space. Because of its proximity to the Convention Center and its monorail station, SLS is slowly growing a reputation as a fresh alternative for business travelers, and the W Hotel tower will provide a big boost. Wet will almost certainly bring an additional outdoor day/nightlife component to the resort, which already has the underrated indoor/outdoor club Foxtail.

SLS still has a long way to ago. It’s trying to be a bit of a locals’ casino, and it has the right leader for that job in former Station Casinos and MGM Resorts executive Scott Kreeger. It’s trying to dip into the hipness associated with Downtown Las Vegas revitalization and the Cosmopolitan resort, which seems so far away on the south-central portion of the Strip. And it’s trying to establish its own Vegas identity, a tough task for a resort without neighbors with which it could be compared. But if you’ve spent any time at SLS, you’ve probably discovered something worthwhile, something that has stopped you from writing the place off. And if you’ve caught it on a good night, you’re probably looking forward to another one.

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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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