Encore: Let there be light
In Steve Wynn’s new Encore, the casino is no longer the heart of the resort
Tue, Dec 23, 2008 (5:30 p.m.)
Photo: Richard Brian
When Wynn Las Vegas opened three years ago, I was disappointed that developer Steve Wynn had chosen to retain (and redesign) the golf course behind the resort. I had hoped that Wynn might have provided a truly visionary touch—a mammoth green public space in the heart of Las Vegas, at the edge of some of the world’s most famous real estate. That single gesture, more than a Downtown performing-arts complex or the modern steel-and-glass at CityCenter, would have marked the maturity of Las Vegas as a real city.
Alas, no dice, and that may be why I found the original Wynn resort, for all its considerable refinement and glamour, to be a disappointment, just another lavish casino. I arrived at the opening of Steve Wynn’s follow-up project, Encore, which opened Monday, with a little less idealism but a greater willingness to judge a lavish casino by its own standard.
Described by Wynn Senior Vice President of Design Jerry Beale as “the younger, more flirty sister of Wynn,” the new 2,304-room, $2.3 billion hotel, situated just north of the existing resort, extends the sense of whimsy of its larger sister. Encore’s rich, red interior is indeed impressive, a triumph of exuberant design, most of it pouring out of the sketchbook of Wynn designer Roger Thomas. There is, quite literally, no surface of this building, no wall, no ceiling, no floor, no pillar that has not been touched with woodwork or mosaic tile or glass or Kyoto-pleated wall coverings, or design touches like a 27-foot crystal-and-glass dragon, or hand-applied Swarovski crystal butterflies. (Butterflies are the unofficial theme of Encore—they are everywhere.) Encore is a building that, on the inside, begs to be touched.
Somehow, the candy-appled excess, which, by all rights, should read as absolutely garish, does not. In the eye of the design maelstrom there beats taste and a sort of serenity. Because the building is so well-proportioned, because it doesn’t bowl you over with scale (every element here has a bigger analogue at Wynn or another casino), its intense designs come across as playful instead of gaudy, assured instead of desperate. Even the overly succulent licorice-red chandeliers that float over the casino are pretty; only the predictable rows of slot machines, it turns out, are plain.
The true heart of the resort is not the comfortable and compact casino but the plush pool and outdoor bar, which flow seamlessly into the plush XS nightclub. The view to the outside is emblematic of Encore’s greatest achievement—the way it brings light into the building at every turn, brightening up and defining the interior spaces better than any casino in town.
Only from the outside does Encore disappoint. The curving form of the original Wynn tower, with its smoky bronze glass, was the right mix of pizzazz and restraint; the second tower offered a chance to provide a counterpoint to the original—either a background building that deferred to Wynn or a building that pushed the design envelope further. Encore does neither. Instead, designers have fashioned it as a near clone of Wynn (the only noticeable difference: the buildings curve in opposite directions). This disappointingly robs the original building of its uniqueness and feels underwhelming on the Vegas skyline. Hopefully Wynn’s next project will save a few good design ideas for the exterior.