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First Look: Virgin Hotels Las Vegas brings desert cool to Sin City

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A casual, whimsical desert vibe greets guests at the Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, which opened March 25.

It's not southern Nevada's Mojave Desert but more reminiscent of the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Palm Springs, Calif., replete with saguaro cactus, rich red and orange hues, smatterings of green shrubs and clever use of natural light.

The relaxed ethos is a far cry from the more intensely themed previous iteration of the property, the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino, which throbbed with raucous intensity for most of its run from 1995 to 2020.

Richard Branson's Virgin Hotels hospitality brand is behind the yearlong transformation, with a few nods to its British roots in creating cheeky stories as the journey through the desert continues throughout the property. A playful representation of a car half buried in sand sets the mischievous tone near the Canyon Tower elevators.

Part of the Curio Collection by Hilton, the 1,500 chambers (what Virgin Hotels calls its rooms) are contemporary and spacious, with light wood tones, distinctive geometric designs and rounded forms. A vanity with lights stands apart from the bathroom. A privacy door separates the entryway, closet and bathroom from the rest of the room. A pony wall behind the bed with electronic ports and outlets looks prepared to accommodate even future technology.

Virgin Hotels' rewards program, the Know, includes room upgrades and dining discounts. The Lucy app enables guests to bypass the front desk and provides keyless entry, temperature and light controls and the ability to make restaurant reservations.

Night + Market is a Thai fusion concept from chef Kris Yenbamroong, whose Los Angeles restaurants have been critically lauded.
Night + Market is a Thai fusion concept from chef Kris Yenbamroong, whose Los Angeles restaurants have been critically lauded. Photo Credit: Paul Szydelko

A full plate of restaurants

Among the all-star selection of restaurants is One Steakhouse from the renowned Morton family that also includes La Cave at Wynn, La Comida downtown and Crush at MGM Grand. A 3,000-piece chandelier in the lounge changes colors throughout the evening. Cantilevered windows create an atrium feel on the second floor. The steakhouse features tableside carving, surf and turf dishes grilled on Japanese charcoal and a 16- to 18-pound, whole-bone tomahawk rib-eye roast for parties of 10 to 12 (the $1,200 signature meal has six sides and must be ordered 72 hours in advance).

Night + Market is a vibrant setting for Thai fusion by Kris Yenbamroong, while Hakkasan Group's second location of Casa Calavera plates seven kinds of tacos, three made-to-order versions of guacamole and a selection of margaritas. Altars, skulls, colorful tiles and murals fill the indoor-outdoor location. Its Dia de los Muertos display on opening weekend honored the recently departed Larry King, Hank Aaron, Larry Flynt and Las Vegas legends Siegfried & Roy.

The Kitchen at Commons Club has replaced the Hard Rock's Mr. Lucky's as the 24-hour go-to. Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa's Nobu and the Ferraro family's Pizza Forte remain, and joining the diverse culinary mix soon are Todd English's Olives (formerly at Bellagio); Kassi Beach Club, with a coastal Italy theme; and Afters Ice Cream.

Virgin Hotels Las Vegas' Event Lawn sits atop what was once the Hard Rock's Rehab pool.
Virgin Hotels Las Vegas' Event Lawn sits atop what was once the Hard Rock's Rehab pool. Photo Credit: Paul Szydelko

A first on the Strip

The first Native American tribe to operate in the Las Vegas Strip corridor, Mohegan Gaming and Entertainment, runs the 60,000-square-foot casino, which, absent the Hard Rock's Center Bar, features a more open layout than previously existed. The gaming floor includes 650 machines and 50 tables. 

On opening weekend, stilt walkers, live statues, pop-up artists and musicians surprised gamblers.

Transparent plastic shields are placed between many of the machines, and social distancing reminders abound.

Mohegan's free Momentum. Rewards Club loyalty program allows members to acquire points for resort credits, free slot play and other benefits.

Coming soon are the relatively modest Betfred Sports Book, the Elia Dayclub and a reimagined five-acre pool area with winding pathways and patios. The infamous Rehab pool party area has been literally buried under a new Event Lawn, available for more staid weddings, meetings, concerts and other gatherings.

The indoor and outdoor meetings and convention areas include a new event space, the Manor, which opens to the pool area. The conveniently located Funny Library, pouring coffee by Laughing Man, the brand co-founded by actor Hugh Jackman, aims to bring latte-induced smiles to conventiongoers.

Las Vegas editor Paul Szydelko spoke with Richard "Boz" Bosworth of JC Hospitality after touring the new property, which debuted on March 25 after two delays.

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As pandemic restrictions continue to lift, the 4,500-guest capacity Theater (formerly the Joint), managed by AEG Presents, will spring to life with new seating and VIP areas. Also on the way are 24 Oxford (formerly Vinyl), a 700-capacity music venue for emerging artists named after the address of the first Virgin record store in London; and Money, Baby!, a restaurant, sports-viewing and sports-betting venue with interactive games and a patio overlooking the pool.

The Virgin Hotels Las Vegas also features a fitness center and spa for facials, waxing, couples massages and body treatments. The resort's British accent comes through in the spa's soundtrack, which includes the theme song for the "Austin Powers" film series (Quincy Jones' "Soul Bossa Nova") and the Rolling Stones' "Under My Thumb."

Another groovy callout to Austin Powers is the richly appointed Shag Room, with luxurious sofas, plush pillows, red drapes and cocktails from the Bar at Commons Club. 

Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, just east of the Las Vegas Strip, offers midtier pricing for the market. The brand's policy of no resort fees and complimentary self-parking and WiFi, as well as its newfound attention to outdoor event spaces, sets it apart. The "no-nickel-and-diming" approach includes "street-priced" minibars in rooms and no extra fees for guests with dogs. 

"There are positive signs pointing to another great Las Vegas comeback. No city does it better than Las Vegas," said Richard "Boz" Bosworth, CEO of JC Hospitality, owner of the Virgin Hotels Las Vegas. "In 1995, the Hard Rock Hotel was dubbed a Las Vegas resort for the next generation. Twenty-six years later, we believe that Virgin Hotels Las Vegas is the new Las Vegas resort for the next generation." 

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