Sunday, February 8, 2009

$2.3 billion hotel casino a real winner

LAS VEGAS : Two much of a good thing can be marvelous. Especially when that twosome includes the Encore hotel/casino resort.Encore is millionaire casino mogul Steve Wynn's new baby on the block, a $2.3 billion, 50-story, 2,000-room resort/casino -- a glistening brown and gold mirror-image of the Wynn Las Vegas, its sister property next door. Wynn has done what no other casino owner in town has been able to: Open a new property during one of the biggest recessions in recent history.

Las vegas deals: Our guide to stretching your dollars Blog: Travel with Lori Rackl More in Travel. But step into Encore and you'd never know any of that is in play outside its gilded tower. From the stunning marble from Greece to the opulent Murano glass chandeliers and a near forest of live plants and flowers, Encore's slogan should be, "Forget your troubles, come on get happy."

Encore is an explosion of elegant reds, creams, golds, deep ebony and mahogany -- and natural light. Floor-to-ceiling windows abut two sides of the casino (one side is an entire glass wall) and most of the restaurants. Daylight in a casino? You bet. In fact, natural light plays a major design element throughout the property.

Encore plays out like a boutique hotel, with a relatively small but nicely compartmentalized casino, restaurants that are easy to find, a registration desk located just off the elevator banks, and a ground-level esplanade that seamlessly leads into Wynn Las Vegas. The intimate pool oozes French Riviera.

Credit Roger Thomas, executive vice president of Wynn Design and Development, with conceiving the look and feel of the place -- and for incorporating whimsical butterflies into everything from paintings to sculpture, mosaics and wallpaper.

"Butterflies are not only beautiful, but they are powerful. And in many cultures, butterflies are also very good luck," Thomas said.

"I also wanted [to create] spaces that were romantic, dramatic -- spaces that evoked mystery, a bit of humor, cinematic touches if you will."

Cinematic is one way to describe the drama of the casino, with its bold, red Rubino glass and 24-carat gold-infused chandeliers hanging above the gaming areas.

The rooms

The 700-foot standard suites play out in a timeless color scheme of polished ebony and white sycamore cabinetry with buttery, cream wool carpeting underfoot. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide views of the Strip and the lavish downtown gardens. A large pass-through with a 42-inch flat-screen TV (it spins around as needed) separates the sleeping nook from the sitting area with its combo couch/settee. One small gaffe was the lack of sizable counter space around the double-bowl vanity of the spacious bathroom.


Encore has five "destination restaurants," each helmed by award-winning chefs who are in the kitchen every night (a prerequisite for all of Wynn's culinary roster). The tony eateries are extremely high-end. A dinner for two can easily reach $300.

Consider: Botero, contemporary takes on everything from steaks to seafood; Switch, with its French-inspired seafood and steaks and ever-changing decor; Sinatra, an Italian steakhouse named for the singer; Society, a gorgeous upscale cafe, and Wazuzu, a showcase for Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Thai and Singapore cuisine, not to mention a lighted, 27-foot-long Swarovski crystal dragon.

The 61,000-square-foot Encore Spa and Salon is perhaps the most gorgeous, lavish and splendidly appointed on the Strip. In the elegant pre-treatment rooms, guests can relax with a soothing cup of tea or step into a sauna or tranquility pool.

The grand hallway to the 51 treatment rooms is almost otherworldly. Massive golden lanterns light your path while a giant golden Buddha oversees your journey.

Shopping and more

The shopping promenade is small, in keeping with the intimate nature of the property. Names include Channel, Rolex, Hermes and Rock & Republic. Encore boasts seven bar/lounges, two of my favorite being the impressively stocked Switch Bar and the very sexy Eastside Lounge. Drinks are on the pricey side at both, so keep an eye on your tab to avoid sticker shock at the end of your revelry. For nightlife, there's XS, an immensely upscale nightclub that rivals anything you'll find in Vegas or New York.

"Excite the most sophisticated traveler and you excite everyone," Thomas said during our tour of Encore. "That has been Steve Wynn's philosophy when it comes to all that you see and experience in any of his properties."

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