The announcement shocked, not only for its abruptness, but also for its seeming improbability: On January 5, employees of Alex restaurant at Wynn Las Vegas were told it would close in 10 days. One can fill in the blanks with any number of billboard-size reasons: times are tough, changes are under way across the resort, and—with a new resort on the Strip (the Cosmopolitan)—competition is fiercer than ever. This isn’t the first Strip restaurant to close amid the downturn, and it probably won’t be the last.
And yet, this isn’t just another closing, because even on a street loaded with star chef dining, Alex wasn’t just another restaurant. It began life as the crown jewel of the dining-focused Wynn resort. It’s arguably the most lavishly romantic and elegantly served restaurant on the Strip. It’s also helmed by Alex Stratta, a James Beard-award-winning chef who trained with Alain Ducasse and Daniel Boulud and legitimized Bellagio’s ambitious fine-dining program before moving with Steve Wynn to his new namesake. It represented, almost uniquely, not just an established star bringing his talent to town, but also one making his reputation exclusively in Las Vegas, with plenty of awards and accolades to show for it.
So what happened? “High-end French dining is not what people want these days,” was virtually the only explanation from Wynn Resorts PR. Considering that Wynn has long been considered a visionary when it comes to dining in Las Vegas (now a major business component, thanks to him), that’s a statement to be taken with some seriousness. But inside sources indicate the closing of Alex doesn’t signify a change in diners’ desires so much as a change in the willingness of a resort to subsidize a business that had not been highly profitable for some time—if ever. At least part of that failure must be blamed on marketing. Alex undoubtedly suffered from a perception—even within the Wynn organization—as “high-end French dining,” which it wasn’t, entirely. The restaurant was also tucked away in the property, without much promotional signage.
Ironically, when Steve Wynn demanded last year that all his restaurants provide vegetarian and vegan options, no chef took to the task with more enthusiasm than Stratta. I sampled Alex’s vegetarian and vegan offerings in September and enjoyed some of the best dishes I’ve had anywhere in Vegas, including a parmesan-spinach fritter, porcini salad, roasted eggplant with Basque peppers and Filipino calamansi.
- From the Weekly
- Sad news for foodies: Alex to close (1/6/10)
Of course, every Vegas resort makes decisions about how to reinvest in itself. Wynn recently placed big bets on Encore Beach Club and Surrender; signed Garth Brooks and Twyla Tharp’s Sinatra: Dance With Me; initiated a major room remodeling; and opened La Cave wine bar and Lakeside Grill. Meanwhile, Chef Richard Chen, who made Wing Lei one of the country’s only Michelin-starred Chinese restaurants, quietly departed, and former XS nightclub co-owner Victor Drai was rather loudly bought/ushered out. Now comes news that talented master baker Frederic Robert has left, too. A well-sourced rumor claims the next restaurant there will be—wait for it—a gourmet burger concept.
Taken as a whole, these moves send a clear message: The patron who would best appreciate Alex is no longer the target of Wynn/Encore. These days, it’s more about patrons of Stratta, Alex Stratta’s casual Italian spot, where he continues to serve as executive chef. Go visit. It’s good pizza.