Fifteen years ago, Steve Wynn’s Bellagio ushered in a new era in Vegas opulence
It may be a familiar Las Vegas sight now, but when the Bellagio opened 15 years ago this month, the hotel’s vast eight-acre lake, with its fountains choreographed to a light show and songs like “Luck Be a Lady” and “Viva Las Vegas,” was a visual extravaganza that no one could have imagined—except, that is, Bellagio’s creator, Steve Wynn. Inside, on grounds formerly occupied by The Dunes, other wonders awaited a crowd eager to see what was then the most expensive resort ever built. As people flooded into the lobby for the grand-opening party, they were dazzled by a ceiling containing 2,000 hand-blown glass flowers by artist Dale Chihuly, acres of casino floor, the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, and the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art and its untold priceless masterworks. The party, reportedly costing $88 million, began with a 40-minute welcome from Wynn, followed by performances from Cirque du Soleil’s production of O and cabaret and recording artist Michael Feinstein. In many ways, the Lake Como–inspired Bellagio set the bar by which resorts would be judged in the ensuing years of Vegas one-upmanship. And Bellagio’s photogenic qualities have allowed it to be seen by many more people than those who have slept in its more than 4,000 beds: It has played starring roles in the films Ocean’s Thirteen, Rush Hour 2, Lucky You, What Happens in Vegas, and The Hangover, and it was, of course, cinematically robbed by George Clooney and friends in the remake of Ocean’s Eleven. Happy birthday to a Strip icon.