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TI Prepares to Open Gilley's: There Goes the Neighborhood (Again)

By JohnH on Monday, 5th April 2010 12:12pm
  » filed under Las Vegas  comments: 8


TI Gilleys Mechanical Bull Riding

Hi, I'm Phil Ruffin and this is my casino; the second I've subjected Gilley's to.

As former Kansas gas station tycoon and New Frontier owner Phil Ruffin says in a recent Las Vegas Sun article, "A year ago, almost to the day, we took over the Fronti…the Treasure Island." And boy oh boy have things at Steve Wynn's metaphorical Oldsmobile changed in that year.

First off, there's the loss of Francesco's, a once fine and dependable Italian restaurant that I'm proud to say I dined at during my formative years, and the creation of its bastard counter-seating and bar stool child, Francesco's Pizzeria. Don't forgot to take notice of the standard issue snack bar menu while you're enjoying a hot slice after your half-off showing of Mystere.

There's also the replacement of the Watch Shoppe, purveyors of fine Rolexes since 2008, with Bling Co., purveyors of craptastic cubic zirconia trinkets. That's fun...

However, the biggest change of course Ruffin has made during his time at TI's helm is undoubtedly the reintroduction of Gilley's into the Las Vegas market. I've known this has been coming for about six months now, but I still cringe to think that, like latent herpes that's not quite so latent any more, that mechanical bull is once again going to rear its ugly, red neck-ridden head on the Strip. I really thought that the New Frontier's demolition and a strict regimen of Valtrex were going to take care of that thing. I was wrong.

So let me get this straight. In addition to the chodes clogging up the casino while waiting to use their "line passes" to get into Christian Audigier: The Nightclub, I now have to deal with red necks, sawdust floors, country music, neon signs reading "World Famous Bikini Bull Riding," and if this photo is to be believed, the serving of inferior Pepsi products at TI? Mind you, not all of these are awful developments - alright, the Pepsi thing really stings - but taken in conjunction, they are a volatile combination. I think it's going to be quite a while before I step foot in Treasure Island.

And, for me, that's really a shame. This is the first property I stayed at when I came to Las Vegas. At the age of six, I was dazzled and mesmerized by the pirates, the arcade, and the made-for-TV movie, Treasure Island: The Adventure Begins, playing endlessly on the hotel room television. MGM performed the coup de grace on most of those elements with the Palms-ization of the place, but the reemergence of Gilley's is just like pouring Margarita salt in that already gaping wound.

Yet, through that pain, I can see the genius behind Ruffin's madness. By setting his sights on the "everyman," as the Sun refers to "him," Ruffin has achieved the Apple-ian task of creating his own market segment. He's created an up-market grind joint; a place that has all the down-market "charm" of the New Frontier or Binion's in the casino, but all of the up-market comfort of Paris, Mirage, and Planet Hollywood in the resort section. It's ingenious.

Finally, if you had any interest in the changes Ruffin's made at TI and read the Sun article we sourced above, you'll notice that above all of those changes and the attempted repositioning of TI, there's one other characteristic about Ruffin's management of the place that distinguishes him from almost every other operator in the city: He walks the floor daily and knows most of his front-line employees by name. In a time when Jim Murren doesn't even know when Encore opened and Steve Wynn is spending more time in Macau or on an anti-Obama bully pulpit on Fox News, it's nice to hear that there's at least one guy walking the casino floor, engaging his customers and employees, and running a casino in the vein of Benny Binion or Jackie Gaughan. Yeah, I know that Bobby Baldwin, Bill McBeath, and Jackie's son Michael do much the same thing, but for sentimental reasons, we're just going to pause on the fact that there's still one guy running his place like they did in the good ole' days. Slot machines clinging, sawdust on the floors, and a bikini-clad bimbo riding a mechanical bull. Wait... that never happened in the good ole' days.



Comments & Discussion:

Hmmm never went into Gilley's when NF was open but stayed at TI right before Ruffin bought the place. I found out that I liked the place and the addition of Gilley's isnt likely to change that. I do think it is cool that Ruffin knows who works for him and more owners should follow in his lead.

Heading to TI in June, I think I can walk past Gilley's and stick to beers rather than Pepsi... Your last 2 paragraphs left me encouraged, actually.

Treasure Island was the place I stayed at during my first ever trip to Las Vegas in the late 1990s. I returned there in Summer 2006, then kept going back for several trips in a row. I liked the place. Always had a nice time there. The "de-theming" didn't bug me too much, and I really like what MGM Mirage did with rooms just before Ruffin bought it.

I'll be back in Vegas in May, staying at Encore. I'll pop in to check it out. I was actually in Vegas the day MGM Mirage sold it. And stopped in briefly 6 months after that (nothing had really changed at that point). Will be interesting to see.

I still really wonder what will become of the night club space whenever the current contract runs dry on the Ed Hardy dude.

Phil seems like the kind of owner/operator you want to have. I wish him all the best and hope TI does well.

I never went into Gilley's when it was at the Frontier, but I do intend to check it out at TI. I agree with your assessment, he's created his own segment, that is until the rooms wear down and we get to see whether he does much with remodeling him. I guess I do appreciate Ruffin bringing a bit of kitschyness back to the strip. I don't believe the nightclub is long for that spot though, once the lease is up I have to believe it's gone.

Can a Long John Silver's be far behind? Despite New Frontier pitfalls, I was delighted to hear him taking control of TI, and this article only reinforces it. Vegas is supposed to be fun, not a bunch of generic upscale fuckery.

I just don't get it. I don't.

"By setting his sights on the "everyman," as the Sun refers to "him," Ruffin has achieved the Apple-ian task of creating his own market segment. He's created an up-market grind joint; a place that has all the down-market "charm" of the New Frontier or Binion's in the casino, but all of the up-market comfort of Paris, Mirage, and Planet Hollywood in the resort section. It's ingenious."

Or a recipe for disaster. We've yet to see. The quality of the food & beverage offerings has clearly dropped... But the prices haven't, and I think this may pose to be a problem for TI as it keeps moving in this direction. Why pay $50 for a mediocre dinner at TI when one can find better food for the same (or less!) at Mirage or Venelazzo? Maybe I'm being too much of a "negative nellie" here, but I just can't see how enough people will be attracted to the "downscaling of amenities & upscaling of prices" to make TI's numbers work. At the very least, Phil Ruffin risks turning TI into the "dormitory" (sleep there, but play elsewhere) that Luxor was before MGM Mirage started redoing it in 2007.

I only have one comment for this:

I wanna ride the bull, in a pirate bikini.

And I want to sell tickets to that event.

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