Refit El Cortez retains its vintage Vegas vibe

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Rooms at El Cortez are inspired by the Spanish Colonial Revival era.
Rooms at El Cortez are inspired by the Spanish Colonial Revival era. Photo Credit: Chris Wessling

Retaining its vintage vibe and celebrating 80 years in downtown Las Vegas, El Cortez Hotel & Casino recently completed an ambitious $25 million renovation to its rooms and gaming floor.

The goals of the renovation were to preserve the property's old-school charm and elevate the customer experience, general manager Adam Wiesberg said.

"We have this great history and authenticity that is so appealing and becomes more appealing every year, Wiesberg said. "Now bringing these new rooms and this new remodel, it's a great contrast and the best of both worlds."
The hotel's 200 premium tower rooms and suites were remodeled with a modern take on historical themes. The Spanish Colonial Revival era inspired a warm, contemporary design. Decorative elements include black-and-white floor tiles, traditional rugs, modern accent furniture and carved wood details.

"We do have to stay relevant and modern in technology and in design, especially in the hotel rooms, because people want that authentic, historic Las Vegas feel, but they also want to stay in an extremely comfortable room," Wiesberg said. "So we've done a great job of balancing that. Everything we do here is constantly paying homage to our roots, our history, the authenticity, the old-school Vegas vibe."

The improvements also included new ceilings and carpeting for the casino. A woven Axminster carpet by Brintons spans almost all 42,000 square feet of the main level. Its fiery leopard print and leaf design features bold reds, golds and greens.

El Cortez, which is also updating the lobby and building a high-limit room, is the longest continually running hotel-casino in Las Vegas. Eight years ago, it became the first and only casino listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"As more time goes by, one of the most common appeals of Las Vegas is the 'good old days.' You hear that all the time -- the 'good old days' were this, the 'good old days' were that. Well, if you really want the 'good old days,' we really do have it here on the floor," Wiesberg said.

Gaming pioneer and Las Vegas icon Jackie Gaughan bought the property in 1963, and new owner Kenny Epstein, who purchased it in 2008, has sought to preserve its personal services and vintage ethos.

One way in which El Cortez strives to preserve tradition is the presence of 111 coin-operated games in the casino, exceedingly rare with today's ticket-in, ticket-out technology. Sixteen are pull-handle slots, and the rest are video poker machines, most dating to the 1980s. The lure of hearing real coins drop into metal bins is real.

"We have people come from all over the world because we're one of the last places these games exist. We maintain them, and our mechanics have to know how to repair these old games. It's so important to our history," Wiesberg said.

"Even though it is very difficult to maintain them and significantly less profitable than other slot machines, we find that the people they bring in are just so hungry for that historic feel, that unique experience. Even during the worst possible times in the pandemic, we still had people coming in looking for those games," Wiesberg said.

The rare games are among the casino's 750 gaming machines, which were spaced out and placed in round groupings rather than traditional rows during the pandemic-forced closure last year.

"We've created a complete gaming floor that's really open and as safe as it can possibly be," Wiesberg said. "That was very important to our guests and to the community. It's been a big deal. People have really appreciated it."

It's an arrangement that will likely last beyond the pandemic, he says.

"When we spaced out our floor, as much work as it was, and as many games as we had to lose to make that space, we have found a great result in the way people feel. It's just better.  We like the space it gives everybody. Even post-pandemic, it's probably going to be important to people, at least for some time," Wiesberg said.

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