Clint Holmes, seen here at the Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz, is idolized by local entertainers.
We were a new rat pack of Vegas entertainers—until our peers became too famous for the hang.
by Clint Holmes, as told to John Katsilometes
Stretch limo service is the norm for VIP guests at Vegas casino resorts.
As the strip's top resorts tried to one-up each other, it was a great decade to be a VIP.
by Aaron Rasmussen
As Vegas has always been a city of extremes, and the way it treats its VIPs is no exception. But over the last 10 years, the city’s establishments have found even bigger and better ways to pamper the crème de la crème. For VIPs, that means the white-glove treatment starts on their way into town. If a high roller isn’t flying in on a casino’s jet, it’s now in vogue to hop on a private charter. “Las Vegas has reliably been a top 10 destination for XOJET,” says Stephen Lambright, XOJET’s senior VP of marketing and business development. Ten years ago, a casino’s limo picked up preferred guests; today, Wynn has upgraded to Rolls-Royce.
Once they arrive at the exclusive properties, big gamblers and celebrities are afforded separate entrances away from the hoi polloi. Their over-the-top mega-lodgings usually can’t be rented by anyone for any amount of money. One example: a sprawling suite at Cosmopolitan with a waterfall that cascades from the ceiling. A fur hammock hangs in front of a bank of floor-to-ceiling windows, and there’s a theater room equipped with a giant screen (UFC viewing parties are hot right now). Another plush Cosmo suite has giant prisms suspended from the ceiling that cast brilliant rainbows around the room, but only when the light hits them just right during one month of the year. The suite is so exclusive, it’s been available to paying guests only once, when Twitter execs rented it for $20,000.
But one of the biggest additions to the scene—hidden even from the majority of a hotel’s staff—is private VIP casinos near the nicest suites. Encore has five of these secluded salons on the uppermost floors. There, a high roller has access to his own table games, dealer, cocktail waitress, and bodyguard, so he can comfortably and privately wager millions. Meanwhile, as at all the Strip’s top resorts, VIP butlers are on hand 24/7 in case that particular whale has a craving for a favorite food or needs a sparkler with which to propose. Not available in Vegas? No problem. The casinos will fly a private jet anywhere in the world to secure anything desired. Less romantic are the errands VIPs need doing. “We once had a request to smog a Ferrari that was registered in California,” says Keith Salwoski, executive director of PR at Venetian and Palazzo. “So we drove it over the state line, smogged it, and drove it back.” Special treatment for nightlife aficionados has also been increased. “My team and I meet weekly to discuss better ways to take care of VIPs,” says Norman Ly, Light Group’s VP of customer development. He recalls a time when clubs like The Bank had one bouncer “you didn’t want to get into it with” at the entrance. Now several staffers man special entrances to welcome A-listers. Inside, hulking bodyguards keep watch over tables to keep away unwanted visitors and clear a path when their charges need to use the restroom.
Clubs are hot, but food is what really feeds the VIP realm. Ten years ago, the local fine-dining scene was struggling to get started. Now highcaliber options abound, and the proliferation of multiple restaurants owned by a single company means kitchens can better cater to VIP diners’ whims. “A guest once came into Fix and asked for 15 ounces of beluga caviar,” says Brian Massie, corporate executive chef for the Light Group. He didn’t have any on hand, but “I got it to him within five minutes,” he says, “because I have a caviar restaurant at Mandalay Bay.”
Now that preferential treatment has reached such extremes, notables are feeling so spoiled and just plain pampered that they’re putting down roots by buying second, third, or even fourth homes here. After all, who wouldn’t want to be a big fish in a little—but very fabulous—pond?
Former mayor Oscar Goodman’s memoir, Being Oscar, is out May 21st.
Making it Happen
"Betting man" Oscar Goodman, mayor for 12 years until passing baton to his wife in 2011, reflects on a decade of innovation, renovation, and all things worthy of celebration.
As told to John Katsilometes
I have said this before, and have concluded in Las Vegas, that great cities have to have three things: great culture, great medicine, and a major league sports team. Over the past decade we have achieved two of those goals on one 61-acre parcel. We haven’t accomplished the third goal yet, but I’m a betting man. It’s not a question of if; it’s a question of when and where.
I hate the word “iconic,” but there’s no other way to describe it: The unique structure designed by Frank Gehry for the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health has become a tourist attraction in and of itself. There, one man’s misfortune becomes another man’s fortune. After Larry Ruvo’s father, Lou, passed away, Larry was the devoted son who, with the help of his associates, was able to create this building and establish the center. Whenever you drive by there, you see people standing on the corner with their cameras out taking pictures of the outside. But on the inside, of course, the research taking place there is extraordinary. The research on Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases is, no pun intended, mind-boggling.
There were certain people who became critical to that success—a couple of city managers in Doug Selby and Betsy Fretwell, who have worked very closely with Dan Van Epp, who was the president of the Howard Hughes Corporation, to make this happen. It was with their assistance that the City of Las Vegas acquired the 61 acres that we now call Symphony Park. A vision was created by these people and with others, like Myron Martin and Don Snyder, executives with the new Smith Center, and Larry Ruvo. The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation contributed the basic funding for what would turn out to be a world-class performing arts center, The Smith Center for the Performing Arts.
The third goal, of course, inspired our efforts to become a major league sports city. We’ve had hiccups along the way, and the economy certainly hasn’t helped us, but I know the mayor is working on a daily basis to accomplish that goal, because she knew that was one of my dreams, too. One of the reasons she ran for mayor was to make sure that what we had set out to do, we got done.
We’ve been able to change the NBA’s attitude toward our open sports books, which is a big deal in acquiring a franchise. We have, within the 61 acres at Symphony Park, land set aside for The Cordish Company to develop the project. There are continuing and continuous discussions with them, and with people who are associated with the ownership of various franchises, as to that being the place. Everything comes down to dollars.
One thing from this past decade that I am especially proud of, because I had to fight for it, is the Mob Museum. People wanted to lynch me for proposing it. They wanted to string me up and tar and feather me. I know I said 800,000 and then 600,000 were the visitor estimates for the first year, because that’s how many I was told there would be. But to have 200-some thousand people visit a museum in the first year is extraordinary.
I can’t think of any project that has generated as much publicity and excitement in terms of development happening in a particular location as the relocation of Zappos to the old City Hall building. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh and his people saw that there was the opportunity for creativity and success in an otherwise decrepit Downtown Las Vegas. This has coincided with all of the activity in the Fremont East Entertainment District, and a lot of great renovation happening at hotels on Fremont Street and in the district, like the D, Golden Nugget, Plaza (where my restaurant, Oscar’s, is located), El Cortez, even Gold Spike. Millions of dollars have been invested.
Now, this is not a pat on my back, but sometimes I shake my head in bewilderment that I’ve been out of office for only a year and a half and it’s as though people have forgotten that all of this happened—they think Zappos sort of came down in a parachute. But it all took a lot of work and a lot of vision. What the people got when they bought the Goodmans is tenacity. Once we have an idea and we think it’s the right thing for the city, we really don’t worry about our critics.
Well-deserved: Jason Strauss relaxes at Marquee, his newest Strip hot spot.
Jacket, Brunello Cucinelli (price on request). Crystals, CityCenter, 702-527-7766; brunellocucinelli.com
Grooming: Megan Mulligan Wunder, Platinum Entourage
Nightlife With Nerve
TAO Group partner Jason Strauss reflects on the gamble he took 10 years ago to pioneer what is now a record moneymaking, envelope-pushing nightlife spectacle like no other in the world.
by Jon Warech
As Vegas magazine celebrates 10 years of covering our town's top nightlife, gaming, fine dining, parties, local leaders, and celebrities, Las Vegas icons reflect on some of the city's most memorable aspects.