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[The Incidental Tourist]

Don’t look now, but the Palms appears poised to recapture its early charm

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Is the Palms destined to tower over its cool competition once again?

How many casinos have actually been cool? Was the Flamingo cool when it opened in 1946, and did it cease to be cool or get more cool when Bugsy Siegel was gunned down the following year? The Sahara opened in 1952 and soon installed late-night jazz with Louis Prima and Sam Butera, which sounds pretty cool. Was the Sands cool, or did the Rat Pack make it that way, or was the Rat Pack less cool since it didn’t call itself the Rat Pack? Caesars Palace was cheesy until Evel Knievel, right? Wait, is Evel Knievel cheesy?

I love Las Vegas and its casinos, but I’m not sure how cool they are or ever have been. Since rock ’n’ roll happened, American coolness has generally been defined by youth culture, and Las Vegas casinos have only been interested in that demographic for maybe 25 years. It appears as though gambling isn’t cool until you reach a certain age that provides ample disposable income, but all the Rat Pack-ian things that go along with it—the drinking and carousing and whatnot—are super-cool. Presumably.

The Hard Rock Hotel opened in 1995, the same year the decidedly uncool Landmark was imploded. All music and irreverent style, the Hard Rock helped shift the Vegas narrative away from the Strip’s previous Disneyfication but didn’t exactly start a revolution. Theory: The only two Las Vegas casinos ever built with the objective of being cool are the Hard Rock and the Cosmopolitan (opened in 2010). Discuss among yourselves.

The only thing harder than creating a cool casino is making one cool again, but that might be happening at the Palms, the off-Strip property that opened in 2001. Station Casinos parent company Red Rock Resorts acquired the Palms last year and began redevelopment while simultaneously revamping its original property, Palace Station, another destination with a location ideal for both Strip tourists and locals looking for easy access.

Station hired notorious cool guys Jon Gray (as vice president and general manager of the Palms) and Jesse and Cy Waits (as “chief experience officers” working on several properties), and then last week, dropped a forecast of excitement during its third-quarter earnings call. The Tao Group, operators of popular clubs and restaurants at Venetian and the Cosmopolitan, will create a nightclub and a very big dayclub at the Palms, and add its Vandal restaurant, too. Clique Hospitality, which has lounges and restaurants on the Strip and in the ’burbs at Station properties, will create a new rooftop club, presumably in the Ghostbar space. More new restaurants are coming from familiar celebrity chef Bobby Flay and Vegas newbies Michael Symon (doing barbecue) and Marc Vetri (doing Italian). Hotel rooms and suites, the spa and the Pearl concert hall will all be refreshed, and the casino floor is mid-facelift.

Some of these pieces will be very cool, while others, like the new buffet, should bring back more daytime traffic. That dichotomy anchored the Palms’ past triumphs—it attracted celebrities and young people at night then snuck in a rock-solid neighborhood casino when the sun came up. It was only ever half-trying to be cool, but it worked. And unlike the perpetually cool Cosmopolitan, the Palms was a financial success right out of the gate, though it didn’t have to contend with the recession in its early years the way Cosmo did.

By this time next year, you’ll get to be the judge of whether or not the Palms’ coolness has returned. Theory: If we all go back to check it out, it doesn’t matter if we think it’s cool or not.

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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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