Admit it: At least a few of your friends think Las Vegas is cheesy. The faux Egyptian pyramid, the miniature Eiffel Tower, the indoor gondoliers at the oversized Venetian palazzo . . . you can understand why they swear they’ll never visit Vegas.
But the city just went upscale in a big way with the December opening of the massive CityCenter, which is a joint project between the MGM/Mirage folks and Dubai World. After a cash-flow hiccup this fall from the Dubai folks that threatened completion of CityCenter, all is well. (And you can pick up a condo at a discount.)
Think a modern mid-town Manhattan on The Strip. Not the artificial skyline of the New York, New York Hotel & Casino, but genuine, praiseworthy architecture by the likes of Daniel Libeskind; he designed the three-level, 500,000-square-foot shopping plaza called Crystals.David Rockwell, hot interior designer of luxury hotels and restaurants, did the open areas of the shopping areas. Cesar Pelli designed the sleek ARIA hotel that has more than 4,000 guestrooms, though you’d never know it thanks to clever interior design. And Norman Foster designed the Harmon condos.
Check into the ARIA Resort & Casino as I did last week during the Consumer Electronics Show. Suspended over and behind the long reception desk is a silver representation of the Colorado River by Maya Lin, famous for designing the Vietnam War Memorial in D.C. There’s a Henry Moore sculpture visible in a serene courtyard outside. Claes Oldenburg and Cloosje van Bruggen and Robert Rauschenberg are also represented in CityCenter’s public art.
The lobby of the ARIA is bright and airy thanks to a glass ceiling, and when you step into the casino, the lighting is subdued and the air breathable; an aggressive HVAC system sucks cigarette and cigar smoke out of the atmosphere more successfully than most casinos I’ve ever visited—and I’ve visited a few.
There’s also a sleek Mandarin Oriental in CityCenter with a bar that offers smashing views of The Strip at night. Take a lunch in the MOzen Bistro, where you’ll find sushi so fresh, you’ll swear Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market must be around the corner.
There are 14 restaurants at the ARIA alone—Wolfgang Puck, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Michael Mina and Serio Maccioni have planted their flags there. I was a guest for dinner at Sage, helmed by chef Shawn McLean, and at the eponymously restaurant Julian Serrano. Both were stunning, though I’d stick with the spectacular small dishes at chef Serrano’s place unless you favor tame paella. Service at the ARIA’s restaurants—in fact, the entire hotel—was first-rate, a happy surprise given the size of the hotel and its newness.
Mention should also be made of the spa at the ARIA. All earth-toned and stone, it’s worth the $30-a-day charge to use it and the exercise room that overlooks the lushly landscaped pool area. I can imagine returning for a weekend of relaxation, which is not a phrase often associated with Las Vegas.
But CityCenter is a big step up in sophistication for Vegas, and the polished complex is a destination in itself. Take your skeptical friends, and watch how fast they become fans.