Christine VanDeVelde opts for glamour over gambling.
In the 1960's, when my parents visited Las Vegas, my father packed his tuxedo and my mother took evening gowns covered in gold paillettes or black sequins. It was the Rat Pack era, showgirls and Shecky Greene, the McGuire Sisters and Don Rickles. The hotels had names like the Sands and Stardust.
By the time I was old enough to visit Las Vegas, it had transformed itself into a destination for tourists dressed in tank tops and track suits. Elbowing my way through all that humanity in smoke-filled casinos wasn't my idea of a good time. Neither was I persuaded to visit during the brief family-friendly, theme park period of the nineties.
But the latest incarnation of Las Vegas is a lock -- which, if you're unfamiliar with the gaming tables, is the term for a guaranteed winner. In the last fifteen years, the former "Sin City" has become an across the board world-class destination for dining, shopping and shows. But it wasn't Cirque de Soleil, Cher, Chanel or the outpost of Barney's New York opening on the Strip that finally convinced me to board a plane for Nevada. It was the Tower Suites at the Wynn Las Vegas.
The Tower Suites operate as a boutique hotel within the Wynn Las Vegas, the 215-acre, $2.7 billion resort that anchors the north end of Las Vegas Boulevard. The Suites' luxe rooms and first-class service earned the Mobil Travel Guides' highest five-star rating, the first and only hotel in Las Vegas to merit that honor. Developer Steve Wynn and his hotel deserve it.
A 140-foot high mountain forms a natural barrier between the hotel and the crowds and concrete of the Strip. Inside the property, the grounds are lavishly landscaped with lagoons and gardens, and on the other side of that mountain, waterfalls cascade from 100 feet into a 3-acre lake surrounded by 1500 trees, including Aleppo pines as tall as 5-story buildings. The Strip's only golf course anchors the back of the resort -- an 18-hole Tom Fazio-designed championship par-70.
Tucked away from the main entrance to the 50-story hotel tower, the Tower Suites have a separate, private entrance, surrounded by cypress pines and flanked by topiary. No trip past the slots and through the casino for guests of the Suites. In two visits, check-in was quick and easy and our special requests were quickly accommodated. The décor is baroque but restrained and everywhere there are flowers and foliage -- orchids, Yves Piaget roses, teddy-bear sunflowers, parrot tulips, and anthurium -- all flown in daily from Holland.
The rooms are truly spacious -- close to 700 square feet -- with floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall windows, contemporary art, and flat-screen, HD televisions. The bathrooms feature soaking tubs, LCD televisions and vanities with seating. You won't want to leave. But wait, it gets better.
There are two VIP pools exclusively for the use of Tower Suites guests, accessible from the private lobby. The spa is first-class -- they all say that, but this one really is and I'm pretty picky when it comes to spa services. I recommend both the Sake Body Treatment and the signature Good Luck Ritual. The Salon, too, was superb. And everywhere, the staff was pleasant and helpful, happy to be there. While I was having my hair done late Saturday afternoon, I may have discovered one clue as to why everything at the Wynn is so well-run. Two seats down, the developer's wife, Elaine Wynn, was having her hair styled, too. When the owners are on the premises, things tend to be shipshape. But, as well, her employees were delighted to see her.
I walked by the 11,000 square foot casino several times to get to the Chanel boutique and to look at the yellow diamonds in the windows at Graff, but I didn't pay much attention to the baccarat or blackjack. My husband says the poker room deals a good game. But I wasn't there to gamble. I was there to shop and the shopping is spectacular. The Wynn itself has 75,000 square feet of retail, including Manolo Blahnik, Louis Vuitton, Oscar de la Renta, Cartier, Jo Malone and Christian Dior. There is also Brioni and a Ferrari Maserati dealership to give your husband some shopping to do.
When you exit the Wynn, though, you can go left or you can go right, but you can't go wrong if you're going shopping. Go right and you'll cross over the Strip to the Fashion Show -- with 250 stores, 7 anchor retailers and almost 2 million square feet (Las Vegas is obsessed with numbers, in case you haven't noticed). This is where you'll find Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue but also J. Crew's newest retail venture Madewell, and a minimart where you can buy aspirin, magazines and souvenirs like miniature Las Vegas signs.
If you go left as you exit the Wynn, you'll find the walkway that takes you to the Palazzo. An 80,000 square foot Barney's New York anchors the shopping for the Strip's newest casino resort and it's a great outpost with its usual, perfectly curated collection of clothing and accessories from Etro and Kiton to Lanvin and Marni, as well as some very cutting edge designers and the CO-OP collections.
Just outside Barney's doors are boutiques for Chloe, Tory Burch, Christian Louboutin, Diane Von Furstenberg, Lambertson Truex, Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, and even a vintage store -- Annie Creamcheese. Also, you can stop by Bauman Rare Books to see a first edition of To Kill A Mockingbird or Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. The Shoppes at the Palazzo are airy and well-designed with wide, carpeted corridors so the experience there is, like the one at the Wynn Esplanade, very enjoyable.
I can't say the same for the Forum Shops at Caesar's Palace. The climate-controlled mall with its Roman streets, "moving" statues and faux sky ceiling which morphs from day to night may be the most lucrative retail space in the country, but I found the enclosed space claustrophobic and more reminiscent of Disneyland's Pirates of the Caribbean than Rome's Via Condotti -- even though it has a Jimmy Choo boutique and Dolce and Gabbana. A recent expansion is airier and boasts Scoop, Giuseppe Zanotti and James Perse, as well as a pretty spectacular circulator escalator -- for the life of me, I can't figure out how it works.
Aside from the parade of options and the shopping-as-entertainment aspect of Las Vegas retail, two things make shopping there a lot of fun. First, the merchandise can be different from what you see in San Francisco and New York -- even at the major retailers and chains like Coach and Burberry. As well, there is often a lot more inventory at boutiques like James Perse and Hermes. Second, these stores are open almost 24/7! You walk out of Cirque de Soleil at 11 p.m.on a Saturday and you can wander into Christian Louboutin to try on stilettos or appraise the diamond studs at Harry Winston. How fun is that?
Personally, I'd rather shop than eat, but apparently dining in Las Vegas has surpassed gambling as the number one tourist draw. Every bold-faced name in fine food has staked out a restaurant space on the Strip -- Mario Batali, Bradley Ogden, Joe Bastianich, Joel Robuchon, Wolfgang Puck, Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud. You can also dine at Lutece, Nobu and LeCirque, as well as branches of Spago, Michael Mina, and The Palm.
We tried Tom Colicchio's Craftsteak one evening -- he's one of the judges for Top Chef -- and twice visited Joe's Stone Crab for lunch. Both restaurants were better than average -- good service, good food. Back at the Wynn, we had dinner one night at Tableau, the restaurant in the Tower Suites. It was lovely, quiet and elegant -- an ideal setting for our first visit with friends from the East whom we hadn't seen in a while.
But we also dined at the SW Steakhouse, which takes its name from the initials of resort owner Steve Wynn. The SW is our kind of food and it didn't disappoint -- great, prime-aged steaks were perfectly prepared, as were our Caesar salads and sides of broccolini, asparagus and Brussels sprouts served family-style. On a subsequent visit, we grabbed dinner before a show at The Buffet at the Wynn, an experience best described as Bobby Flay's Throwdown meets Downtown Disney, where, among outsized fruit and flower topiaries, sixteen live-action cooking stations are beautifully executed with large white porcelain platters -- not your typical stainless steam tables. There are salads, soups, fresh fruit, a seafood bar piled with shrimp and crab legs, carving stations for turkey and prime rib, salmon with miso sauce and halibut with fresh tomatoes, sushi, ceviche, and chicken soup, as well as an entire separate room for desserts, including a make-your-own sundae bar, candied apples, turtle cake, six kinds of gelato, and key lime tarts. I didn't dare peek in to experience the Buffet at breakfast.
Believe it or not, we also fit in a show each night we were in town. We saw two of the breathtaking Cirque de Soleil installations -- both O and Ka, as well as magicians Penn and Teller, and the Blue Man Group, which is part performance art, part spectacle, and completely entertaining.
But I have to tell you, I was happy to return to the Tower Suites at the end of the evening. It's so calm and peaceful that it's not an ordeal to go out and brave the crowds at the shows or shop 'til you drop, because you can come back to your room, take a deep breath, and relax. So I'm a convert -- I can't wait to go back. I want to see Cirque de Soleil's Love, eat at Okada, the Japanese restaurant at the Wynn, and I didn't have time to shop at Alexander McQueen. And I've got an excuse -- in December, Steve Wynn's Encore opens on the Wynn property -- with 2,000 new suites, five new restaurants, and, of course, more retail.