A stone's throw from Las Vegas' downtown-Strip nexus, the Artisan Hotel has always existed in the cognitive space between the kitsch of the former and the spectacle of the latter.
One of the few properties in the city for which the word boutique is apropos, the 64-room hotel on West Sahara Avenue has always been an island unto itself, accessible via an off-Strip side street that leads to an unassuming, white, valet-parking-only building shrouded by vegetation.
You enter through one of the funkiest lobbies in the city. Swathed in dark, earthy hues, it's equal parts museum (reproductions of works by da Vinci, Monet and Picasso), ritzy runway, hangout spot and hoarders' paradise (paintings, statues, chairs, candles, a water feature).
Farther in, the small, intimate bar contrasts with the large, noisy meat markets in Strip properties. The lounge is cozy, a perfect place for conversation.
The Artisan's owner, the Siegel Group, has rolled out a number of changes since buying the property out of foreclosure in January, such as introducing a new cocktail menu; snagging the property's original chef, Franco Spinelli; reviving the raucous Artisan Afterhours party; incorporating a pool party; and spending several hundred thousand dollars on cosmetic improvements, much-needed maintenance and some TLC.
So far, it seems to be working. On a recent Friday evening, a group of politically active African-Americans met in the lounge to discuss upcoming local primaries and national elections.
The restaurant counts downtown-area lawyers and Strip casino employees among faithful diners. Michael Crandall, company spokesman and director of business affairs, said locals are flocking back, eager to give the place another chance. And the after-hours parties on Friday and Saturday nights draw hundreds, often running strong until 8 a.m.
Blessed with a cult following that earned it cameos on Cinemax's "Sin City Diaries" and A&E's "Criss Angel: Mindfreak," the Artisan's image as the city's best nongaming boutique property took several hits under previous ownership. In 2001, the da Silva family bought the former Travelodge property, pumping a mini-fortune into upgrades and renovations.
Their fortunes crumbled under the weight of health-code violations. Business tanked, forcing the bankruptcy filing.
Enter Stephen Siegel, a California businessman who's made a mint from rehabbing timeworn, weekly rentals and motels and recently began turning down-on-their-luck Las Vegas properties into boutique hotels (the Gold Spike, the Resort on Mountain Charleston and the St. Tropez Hotel, to name a few).
Crandall said buying the Artisan was a can't-miss opportunity.
"We loved the Artisan," he said. "We patronized it for years. But it'd been badly mismanaged. We know how to get in there and make changes.
"We fixed the [heating and air-conditioning] system and a lot of the kitchen and bar equipment," he said. "We upgraded the lobby, carpet, tile and the common areas. We changed bedding, painted walls, added new light fixtures and new pool furniture. We want our guests to have a clean, fun, safe experience."
The changes have broadened the Artisan's appeal, Crandall said, pointing to the steady return of longtime supporters and growing supply of new customers. Interest and inquiries from tourists and conventioneers is also high, thanks to more focused marketing that highlights VIP treatment at boutique-hotel prices ($79 to $99 during the week, $129 to $149 on the weekends). Internet buzz is also building about the after-hours parties, he said.
During the renovation phase, the hotel ran at or near capacity for all available rooms. The weekends were a sellout. And Crandall said he expects business to continue picking up in the coming months as management ponders additional amenities such as a wedding chapel or limited gaming.
"We have a large following, everyone from hotel employees and the weekend club crowd to upper-management types and blackjack dealers," Crandall said. "You can stay with us and still take a cab and be anywhere on the Strip in minutes. It's like having the best of both worlds."