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Bellagio: Falling Back In Love

By MikeE on Monday, 21st April 2014 12:43pm
  » filed under Las Vegas  comments: 18


Wynn opened, and with an exception to a public attraction, did everything better.

Bellagio's rooms suddenly felt cramped, failed on a two-sink expectation, and featured exposed toilets not tucked away in a water closet. How quickly one becomes spoiled.

Then cue the great recession.

Just north, Wynn and Encore sat aloof and, in true Wynn style, completely removed their guests from not only their surroundings, but the reality of our nation's livelihood outside its doors. It was more than just Roger Thomas's whimsical spaces; Wynn had a clientele who were, seemingly at least, unscathed by the global financial crisis. No matter when you visited, at Wynn and Encore, it always felt like 2006.

Everyone travels to Las Vegas to live a persona just a bit more special, just a bit more lavish than their day-to-day lives. My disposable income was dedicated to that three or four times a year, 72 hours at a time, in which Wynncore turned my modest existence into palatial fantasy. From the moment I was met by a Wynn driver to the final tip I gave him upon departure, the crew at Encore Tower Suites ensured that I'd not want for anything during my stay. Upon arrival, some regulars are told, "Welcome back." Still others receive a handshake and an effusive greeting. When I would arrive, they'd leave their desks, give me a hug, and tell me, "Welcome home." The keep-your-hands-in-your-pockets, don't-make-eye-contact, third world country that had become The Strip was of no interest to me. I realized that I was no longer traveling to go to Las Vegas; I had practically given up on Las Vegas. I was traveling to go to Wynncore.

But over a number of years, so many little things changed that amounted to a sum far greater than their parts. It wasn't even the nightclubs so much as the DJ-as-celebrity movement that skewed the focus of these resorts. Yes, the nightclub crowd can be obnoxious, but they're angels compared to Electric Daisy Carnies. Then their social media dream team - a group who recognized the value of repeat customers and with utmost transparency, ensured perfection with each stay - was axed. The final embers of Wynn's past radiated in my favorite front-of-line employees, but it was only a matter of time until they left, too.

That plate of small, exotic fruits that was always delivered to my room and went untouched trip after trip? I never realized how much I missed that plate of small, exotic fruits that went untouched trip after trip until they stopped delivering it.

Then cue the opening of CityCenter.
Cue the opening of Cosmopolitan.
Cue the departure of Elaine Wynn.
And cue a financial recovery.

I was a nomad until the center strip started calling again. Most of us collectively agreed that Cosmopolitan was the coolest place to hang out so long as our heads touched the pillows of better hotels. I don't know what took me so long to realize that that better hotel is only a moving walkway north.

I recently went back to Bellagio. But this wasn't the same Bellagio of the last few years. That hotel was trying to define itself in the corporate hierarchy of MGM Resorts as crushing debt and the thought of mass layoffs at any moment prevented anything near a luxury experience. This Bellagio featured a noticeable increase in employees everywhere making for transparent service from a genuinely happy workforce. My fellow guests dressed in sport coats and evening gowns adding to the fantasy that had left the hotel long ago. My MLife Platinum pull kept the big resort just personal enough to keep an avid ETS'r appeased.

There were subtle reminders here and there that I was staying in a 16-year-old property, but the place ran so beautifully, so smoothly that it was almost as if, dare I say, Steve and Elaine owned the joint without any Macanese distractions. Bellagio's charm had returned.

I drank myself stupid at Hyde. I drank myself stupid at Mandarin Bar. I ate a season's worth of Szechuan buttons at Chandelier. And I ever-so-conveniently stumbled back to Bellagio and ponied up to Petrossian.

Oh, Petrossian!

Before mixology and an emphasis on classic cocktails was all the rage, the team at Petrossian had the craft down to a science. They're not young and hip and doing it to pay their UNLV bills. They've worked the industry before I was born and can each write a novel on what they've witnessed. They serve Hyde's walk of shamers, The Bank's walk of shamers, the casino's defeated walk of shamers, and what might be the most high-traffic hotel lobby in the world. A classic Vegas story occurs here every half hour. In one night, I met a sleight-of-hand artist who managed to leave the entire bar in awe. I met a number of "O" cast members, witnessed a hotel guest bitch-slap a security guard, and consoled the belly-up patron next to me as he cried over the challenges of the long distance relationship he was in. Suddenly, telling you about the relentless onslaught of prostitutes just seems superfluous.

It was that night that I realized Wynncore is just too highbrow to allow Vegas to be a little... Vegas.

I haven't given up on Wynn and Encore. It is, based purely on the standards of operation and facilities, the better resort. Perhaps I'll save it for a relaxing stay with a significant other. Or perhaps one day my gambling budget will reach six-figure stratospheres and I will again receive a taste of what used to be. What I had given up on, however, was the rest of Las Vegas. That is, until my most recent stay at Bellagio.

Tagged: bellagio   wynn   encore   cosmopolitan   petrossian   


Comments & Discussion:

I agree with you wholeheartedly on this, except for the statement about the economy recovering, it isn't, but I guess that is a matter of personal opinion.

Wynn was my first Vegas hotel, and I wish it were 2005/2006 again just so I could experience that amazement of walking through the door in a suit and tie and like you having people treat me the way a guest should be treated when they are spending at least $300+ a night for a room.

Like you I have gone back to the MGM Empire, although my choice of hotels are THEHotel and Mirage. Hoping for a Skyloft stay, finally later this year as well. Funny thing is I have never stayed in Bellagio just won and lost a lot of money there. Perhaps I should give the old girl a try sometime as I have seen some of your youtube vids and travel comments and you seem to travel in the style I prefer.

Sorry for the long comment, just glad to see other people feel the way I do.
Thanks for the good read.

Very nice write up Mike. I'll share some of my own experience with Bellagio prior to some additional thoughts on your article. During my first 8 years visiting Las Vegas, I never even stepped inside the Bellagio, finally after crossing off many things on my list, I visited for a Easter champagne Brunch with my wife, and then visited the conservatory. It was fun, but we didn't stick around long as we were players (and stayers) elsewhere. Plus I knew that Bellagio was really out of my range of play for a comped offer.

Over time I did finally give some play to MGM properties and they comped me some of their properties and then the recession hit, and being lucky enough to keep up my trips, I had a chance to stay at Bellagio a couple times and I loved it too.

I found a quality to the staff and property that I hadn't experienced anywhere outside of Caesars Palace and when I make the comparison, I'm mostly talking about staff and how their pride is reflected in their jobs. What I encountered was a pride in many of the staff, that they were part of the experience, and for those looking for it, they were happy to oblige. They get the city and the properties and they enjoy those that do as well.

It's hard for me to explain it any other way, this isn't to say that it's not all of the employees at these properties or that they don't exist in other properties on the strip, but I found them more plentiful at these two properties. The funny thing to me is that even with with MGM and HET taking over these properties, there still is that feeling and service, almost as if the employees or some of their management isolate themselves from the lunacy of some of these corporations. I hope it continues for many years.

Having said all that, on to Wynn, while I've only had brief visits there, that mentality is present, but I don't know if the properties lend themselves to the iconic nature of Bellagio and Wynn, and if Wynncore isn't on that level, then does the coporate lunacy effect the front end employees much more or is it just time that those properties need to adjust to that, and settle into an iconic identity that lets their employees shine regardless of the wims of the the bean counters, time will tell, although I suspect that WynnCore will do fine with it, it just needs a few more years to 'age'.

Wynn didnt do everything better. Review the following:

1.) Entertainment. Bellagio opened and "O" was praised by everyone. Its probably the most succesful show on the Vegas strip. Le Reve is a good show but not an excellent show.

2.) Dining at Wynn is on par with Bellagio. I dont think you can make a case that one is better than the other.

You know who else was immune to the recession? Goldman Sachs. The problem is, Goldman Sachs is loathsome.

You pretty much sum up why I never have been much interested in Wynn. I realize that there isn't much stopping almost anyone from walking into the place, but it's such a non-destination, with such little joy for lookie-loos (i.e. me), that it has never ranked highly on my places to spend time. "Bang" and "buck" feel directly equated there unlike any other resort except Mandarin Oriental. And at Mandarin, I can accept it because it's just a side dish to the Aria steak. An optional, non-essential element to your visit.

When the man whose name is on your pillow/napkin/slotcard turned into an imiation of Donald Trump, with all his blowhard baggage, that was kind of the last straw. My usual visits to Wynn probably only paid for an hour's labor for the person who pushes in the chair seconds after I've left a slot machine, but I'm intentionally not spending it there anymore.

I'll echo MinVegas' second paragraph and the sentiment of MikeE's love letter: There's just more to see and do at Bellagio. It's more interesting (in that very Vegas definition of interesting) yet still approachable by the masses who are looking for a slightly more highbrow experience.

My first stay there was during the recession (when Bellagio was handing out suite keys like porn slappers hand out phone numbers) but even my most recent stay there (last year, in a renovated "blue-themed" standard room) remained an excellent experience in an excellent property.

I'd support a slightly less sedate pool scene and a little more order to the flow of the lobby, but I otherwise adore Bellagio - past, present, and probably in the future.

I may finally have to break down and at least book a night there during #VIMFP this year. I've considered it more and more in recent years but the rates have always led me elsewhere.

Over the years, Petrossian has stood the test of time. Definitely one of my favorite bars anywhere.

After a long and generally happy stint at Wynncore, I also migrated back to center Strip about three years ago. I've actually had decent stays at Cosmo, but Aria has become my go-to resort the last two years. In fact, I will be back again this weekend. In addition to the location, I just feel like the atmosphere at Aria is a bit more relaxed than either Bellagio or Wynn, while still offering a high level of service. I've even come to admire Aria's modern architecture. However, nothing beats the iconic grandeur of Bellagio.

Good write up.
My first trip to Vegas was at the Aladdin where I paid extra for a "fountain view". Heck I was only going to be in Vegas once... might as well live it up! I was in awe of the fountains and the Bellagio was certainly out of my class but I thought that someday I'd like to stay there. A few lucky career breaks in the middle of the recession and I took a family member out and dropped the coin to stay at the Bellagio (heck, it's going to be the only time I can do a trip like this...) Followed by another trip with a different family member and then he became hooked and it's been love ever since with me going out a whopping 4 times this year.
I've stayed at the Cosmo twice (once getting a cheap upgrade to a wrap around suite... Really! yeah... that's NEVER happening again!) The balconies are fantastic and the rooms are nice but I agree with the OP - Stay at the Bellagio and drink at the Cosmo... then come back and drink at the Petrossian! I'll also be staying at the Wynn for the first time next month and Aria possibly this winter but my trip earlier this year and one in the summer will be at the B. Long live the queen.

We feel the same. our last few trips have been at Bellagio and we are staying there for #VT10.

Sorry, can't agree. Bellagio was my place for many years, then MGM let it wear down and Wynncore stepped it up. Now as Wynncore has fallen down a notch, Bellagio's refresh of rooms really doesn't agree with me. Aria has stepped up their game (love the corner suites) and Mandarin offers the ultimate room/hotel experience.

My wife and I don't regularly agree about anything in Vegas - shows, food, activities, or hotel - but the one thing we have agreed on since 1999 is that, no matter what, we always end up at Bellagio. We may stay someplace else because an offer is too good to refuse, but we always eat, gamble, relax, and wander at Bellagio. We have stayed at Wynncore a few times, and it was plenty nice, but it always felt like a copy. And when the douche contingent outnumbered the rest of us we stopped feeling any drive to visit. Just a few days ago I got an offer from Wynn, three free nights in a Tower Suite, but my wife and I agreed that if it was from Bellagio we would book in a second, but the pull of Wynn was no longer motivation to book, or visit, even for free.

What a very good in depth perspective Mike.
I alternate between Wynn TS and either Aria SS or Bellagio. Unlike MinVegas who seems to feel a bit out of place while walking around Wynn, I find the hordes of those who stream through Bellagio day, night and early AM to be a huge distraction and have a degradative effect on the higher end experience I come to Bellagio for. A circus if you will. People standing behind you at the DD blackjack like one is in a zoo.
The staff and suites are still very top notch, and I look forward to the re-dos of the suites. But, even noting all the Wynn changes, which I agree with Mike about, I still prefer the Tower Suite experience to the B and Aria Sky Suites.
Mlife does comp better at my mid black chip level and I do love Shadow Creek.

After many repeated stays at the Wynn we have also branched out the last few trips. One thing I definitely notice at Wynn is the retention of employees. Trip after trip I am greeted by the same staff in all parts of the hotel with top notch attitude and service.
What I began to tire of was the lack of activity after a certain hour. If you don't like huge nightclubs there is nothing exciting about being at the Wynn after 9pm.

Whenever I get comped/discounted rates at Bellagio comparable to Aria, I'll usually go with Bellagio beacuse I always feel like I'm in the center of the action when I'm there. I love the hustle 'n bustle of the public areas in the hotel, especially the conservatory. When I'm in Vegas, I like to be with other tourists/gamblers having a good time and interacting with them. The problem with Wynncore is it's isolated location which leaves it dead during the daytime.

I get a better vibe from Bellagio than in either Wynn properties. People there seem happier and yes, there is more energy there than at Wynn at night and in the day. It's like going to a museum as opposed to going to sporting event.

Good detailed review.
I never had quite the same love for Wynncore as Mike E relates and others of the VT hierarchy used to share. But I certainly think it is not that special now.
The original Wynn was beautiful and classy. But anyone who thinks Steve Wynn always hits the mark forgets that his original nightclub failed.Because the original Wynn attracted an adult and classy crowd. The new Wynncore is making lots of money via the club scene but class is long gone.
A recent stay at Encore found the casino on saturday night devoid of gamblers and much of the floor space occupied by the lines of 20-30 year olds waiting to get into the clubs. There was no way to escape the club vibe.
I have never found the dealers and pit bosses at Wynncore out to make gambling "fun".
I had departed Bellagio for Caesars. i have returned the last 2 years and found Bellagio to be quite good at the things I enjoy. I am a north of 50yo gambler. The bellagio offers as fair a blackjack game as you can find on the Strip and craps crews that interact with the gamblers. There is a good choice of slots and good treatment for slot players. When playing in the casino the younger folks at Hyde or the Bank are non-obtrusive and gamblers can easily coexist with the club crowd.
Yes there is a constant parade of "tourists" in and out of the conservatory - but Petrossian is an island in the storm from which one can enjoy the show. The casino itself has energy- enough people passing thru to create some buzz, but not so much that you feel like you are not in a gambling hall. The pool scene is classy. Yes it is sedate- but not every pool has to turn into a meat market for 20 year olds.
I am often left to wonder how many of the 25 yo club seeking populace is still living with their parents, covered on dad's health plan, and returning to a junior junior position come monday morning. It seems that while there is a place for catering to the reckless spending of self absorbed youth there should also be a paragraph in the business plan for creating s classy vegas experience for those who enjoy dressing up for the evening, relaxing at the pool or spa, dining in fine restaurants and partaking of a game of chance--Look at those old photos of the Rat Pack days-that is what made Vegas into Vegas.

excellent post.

actually think that the cosmo was the best thing that could have happened to the Bellagio, as it refocused everything more center strip. Believe the linq will keep this going somewhat. as much as I love clubs etc (minority here...I know), wynn has overemphasized them to the detriment of what made them so special in the first place. like most of vegas they moved a bit away from being gambling to service-centric, but they handled the transition badly.

as much flak as MGM gets it is finally finding its bearings in regards to Bellagio, after a few years of missteps. instead of trying to make it into something it is not (hello mirage), it is seemingly trusting that what they have is still (at its core) relevant. I hope they continue to hold the view for a long time.

Akala I like your point about Cosmo re-energizing Bellagio, I'd even throw Aria in there as well, while Mr. Murren wanted to believe Aria would now be the center of the strip, and he was wrong, I do think he was right in that it was moving slightly from Caesars to Bellagio as the center of the strip. I consider it a weighted scale.

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