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The Plaza

[The Strip Sense]

Renovation rundown: Reviewing the Plaza’s $35 million overhaul

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Welcome to fabulous renovation-land.
Photo: Sam Morris

It is difficult to recall a hotel-casino redevelopment in modern Las Vegas history that has received as much hype as the $35 million job taking place at 1 South Main Street.

In a stroke of public relations mastery, the Plaza has managed to grab headline after headline as it attempts to build a hip new identity for a formerly spectacularly decrepit property. Not even last year’s Tropicana overhaul drew such interest, largely because those changes took place while everyone was mesmerized by the Cosmo debut. There’s nothing like that competing with the Plaza for attention right now. We’ve had a steady drizzle of Plaza announcements, but what does this all add up to? Will everything work? Let’s break it down.

Oscar Goodman Steak
Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman will be opening a steakhouse inside the dome of the revamped Plaza Hotel and Casino. The downtown hotel-casino is currently undergoing a $35 million renovation and will reopen later this month.

Former Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman will be opening a steakhouse inside the dome of the revamped Plaza Hotel and Casino. The downtown hotel-casino is currently undergoing a $35 million renovation and will reopen later this month.

Okay, it’s really just called Oscar’s, but the decision to “license” the ex-Hizzoner’s name for a steakhouse under the iconic glass dome has widely been applauded. Trouble is, it’s a gimmick, and gimmicks don’t often work in fine dining. (See: Switch at Encore.) The news that Carolyn’s husband will work regularly in a glass-walled office near the restaurant’s bar—furnished with his legendary mayoral throne—should increase the prospect that his admirers will see him there often, but it’s still a steakhouse, and steakhouses are usually expensive. Oscar’s would be better served as a Mob-themed Italian place because Italian can be both cheap and tasty. LIKELY FAIL.

Rooms by Fontainebleau

Everyone loves that the lowly Plaza swooped in to buy its pretty furnishings from the defunct F’bleau. The vacant blue behemoth standing (forever?) idle at the Strip’s north end is an enduring symbol of the hubris that gripped the city and the humiliation of its downfall. For an underdog to enjoy the spoils as a reward for having been cautious and thrifty, then, is a delight. What’s more, they’ve deployed the trove well, creating sleek rooms and spiffy public spaces. Golden Nugget finally has competition. POETIC-JUSTICE WIN.

Insurgo Theater Movement
Company director John Beane and his Insurgo Theater Movement are headed to Fremont Street.

Company director John Beane and his Insurgo Theater Movement are headed to Fremont Street.

The Plaza has partnered with Insurgo, a local theater company, but while the partnership is innovative, it comes with some baggage. Following a negative review last year by openly gay Review-Journal theater critic Anthony Del Valle, Insurgo owner John Beane posted a Facebook comment on Del Valle’s page using the words “faggoty” and “womanly.” Plaza publicist Amy Maier sent me a statement indicating the resort “welcomes everyone” and that they “don’t condone [Beane’s] comments.” Del Valle says that, until this week, he hadn’t heard from Beane following the Facebook post. Beane declined to comment for this story. The theater director at one point banned Del Valle from reviewing Insurgo productions, but has since reversed his position, and according to a story in last week’s R-J, Del Valle will be reviewing Insurgo’s upcoming production of Waiting for Godot. ARTISTIC WIN, MORAL FAIL.

Anthony Cools color & putt-putt

David Saxe gets loads of attention as “the” independent Vegas entrepreneur, but Cools tries far more creative and risky ideas. The Paris illusionist’s latest deal, in which he’ll open a Plaza hair salon where guys get trims from scantily clad sexpots and a casino-area nightclub featuring mini-golf, shows he’s still thinking new thoughts. Here’s hoping, though, the mini-golf lines aren’t so long that it becomes un-fun. CREATIVITY WIN.

Sushi, tacos and rosemary spears

The new restaurant lineup really denotes an effort to appeal to locals, even though Firefly and Omelet House didn’t work out. Island Sushi and Grill is a play for both Las Vegans who rave about the place and the Hawaiian tourists who flock to Downtown, and Zaba’s is a well-liked local Mexican chain that could use this exposure to go national. Those are fine, but Hash House A Go-Go, with its gigantic portions, two other casino locales and a rosemary tree on every plate, is just a failure of imagination. LOCALS WIN, MOSTLY.

Bottom line

There’s a great reservoir of support for the Plaza. People want a good-news economy story, and so do I. Even the things I have doubts about are interesting. As with all such projects, though, we’ll just have to wait and see.

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Steve Friess

Steve Friess is a freelance journalist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His work has appeared in the New York Times, ...

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