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Monte Carlo

A not-quite-so-transformative experience

Why the Monte Carlos’s stab at the top end with Hotel 32 comes off more as one giant copycat

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Despite the obvious effort that went into it, Hotel 32 at Monte Carlo has a “been there, done that” feel.
Photo: Steve Friess

If you can believe this, I was supposed to forget when I stepped off the elevator that I was still at the Monte Carlo.

No, really. That’s what they told me. Instead, I was supposed to imagine that I had entered the hallowed realm of Hotel 32, an exclusive boutique resort that belongs more to the high-end elegance of its neighbors at soon-to-open CityCenter than to the mid-level schlock of the rest of the building.

Perhaps this was what MGM Mirage CEO Jim Murren meant when, in April 2007, he stated that the Monte Carlo was to be the “gateway” to the unprecedented $8.5 billion complex beginning to sprout to its north.

Except that back when he said that he wasn’t the CEO, and had no idea that nine months later a freak fire would engulf the 32nd floor and force him to actually put a little money into this perpetually overlooked workhorse of a Strip property.

So I’m not sure I buy that this was all part of a plan. And now, as the Monte Carlo is getting its long-overdue close-up, the results are, uh, a pale imitation of something MGM Mirage has already done elsewhere and a lot better. It’s all the same, only a little different and not different enough to be unique or interesting. You know, like what a Project Runway-less Bravo did with The Fashion Show.

Hotel 32 at Monte Carlo

For MGM Mirage, the Project Runway in this equation was Skylofts at MGM Grand, opened in 2005 as an utter reconception of the top couple of floors of the green giant. It was a stunningly inventive decision, creating special entrances and concierge services for a transformative experience that did, in fact, feel like a universe unto itself. In the Texas of Strip resorts, they carved out a little SoHo, a set of funky, upscale bi-level suites with ultramodern furnishings and adorned with the very latest in technology, from the coffee maker to the stereo system. When you’re in a Skyloft, it is, in fact, possible to forget that most of the 5,000 rooms below you are standard-issue boxes of no particular charm.

When they did that, they executed a novel idea and brought in great designers to divine it. There was no crisis that necessitated the investment; it was an against-the-grain gamble that brought wonderful creativity to bear. It also came as major changes were occurring to the rest of the property with the opening of Cirque du Soleil’s brilliant KÀ and impossible-to-get Joel Robuchon’s universally beloved pair of restaurants.

So let’s go through the list here regarding Skylofts versus Hotel 32.

Both provide limo service from the airport, special attention when you check in, a 24-hour attendant on the floor and a large variety of different pillow styles from which to choose. When you get off the elevators at Skylofts, you’re greeted by a vestibule with a large central post made inventively of cork. When you get off the elevators at Hotel 32, you’re greeted by a vestibule with a large central post made mundanely of sheets of shiny white acrylic.

The day I visited was the media open house, and as I was taking my tour, one fellow journalist emerged from a bathroom to gush, “Hey, Steve, you gotta check this out. They have TVs built into the mirrors!” The first place I’d ever seen that? Oh, right. In the Skylofts. Four years ago.

The accommodations at Hotel 32 are nice enough, 50 rooms and a few penthouses adorned with lots of sleek reds, whites and blacks. In that respect, though, they also reminded me in décor conception of another MGM property, this time THEHotel at Mandalay Bay. Wasn’t there anything original about this place?

Yes, I was told! Hotel 32 has an exclusive iPod Touch application! They even have red iPod Touches that are loaned to guests! On it, they can ask a concierge a question, get show and restaurant information, order up room service and more!

This seemed pretty cool until I kept asking more questions. I was a little surprised, given all the trouble so many programmers have had getting Apple to approve new iPhone and iPod Touch applications, that Apple had done so exclusively for a one-floor Vegas hotel and nobody in the tech media had written about it.

That’s when I discovered that, no, it’s not actually a real application. Rather, it’s a website that is made to look exactly like an app. That’s clever, and the stuff that it can do is pretty cool, but it only works if you have free wireless Internet. Hotel 32 provides that on that floor, but any guest who takes the iPod to, say, the pool or dinner will find it nonresponsive. Oops. Couldn’t they spring for actual iPhones that have data plans so they didn’t have to confront such an embarrassment? Maybe block users from overseas and incoming calls?

They could have done so much more. Why, for instance, isn’t there a place to dine in Hotel 32? This is something that almost nobody does on the Strip—put restaurants atop their buildings—and I don’t understand it. Why, for instance, isn’t there some major chef serving dinner in the Bellagio’s cupola? On the Strip, there are just four high-up resort restaurants—Mix, Foundation Room, Eiffel Tower and Top of the World—and here Monte Carlo had the chance to use its fortuitous location and height to give diners a bird’s-eye view of CityCenter. They could’ve gutted the whole thing, turned it all into a top-level casino with restaurants, something really novel and exciting. Instead, they did … this?

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Up on the roof: Inside Hotel 32 (08/20/09)
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Hotel 32

Perhaps the most baffling part of Hotel 32, though, is the price. It costs $250 for the simple rooms? Really? In this economy? On nights when I can stay at Bellagio for $149? Okay, so I only get one pillow style and I have to cab it from McCarran, but at least I get a total, diverse resort experience. Hell, I can book at Aria for $179 the night after it opens!

I can hear the objections to these comparisons, that Hotel 32 wasn’t supposed to be Skylofts. Then why pattern it that way? What exactly, then, was it supposed to be? Because these rooms and this level of service are nice, but Hotel 32 will always have one important problem. It’s still inside the Monte Carlo. And no number of pillow choices will make anyone forget that.

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