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May 6, 2015

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Revamped look has the Stratosphere standing taller these days


Steve Marcus

A view of the Stratosphere Tower Thursday, April 5, 2012.

Stratosphere Renovations

A view of a renovated room at the Stratosphere, April 5, 2012. Launch slideshow »

Stratosphere Nightlife

Air Bar, located on the 108th floor of the Stratosphere on Thursday, April 5, 2012. Launch slideshow »

For years, the Stratosphere towered over the Las Vegas Strip as a monument to the past, like shag carpet under a chandelier.

As casinos to the south spent billions to be the brightest, the Stratosphere’s best view in the city faded into the brown carpet of its rooms with an entrance that beckoned people away from the Strip and through a back door. But the past two years have seen a renaissance of rooms and explosion of gourmet food that have drawn visitors from middle America and across Europe looking to roll into Vegas on a tight budget.

The Stratosphere isn't the Bellagio or the Encore, but it’s not trying to be.

“We’re not necessarily going to be able to compete with the highest-end properties on the Strip, but we’re certainly looking to be at the top of the moderate price segment,” General Manager Paul Hobson said.

The $20 million in renovations that began two years ago at the 1996 resort still may remain hidden on the north end of the Strip, where the lights don’t shine as brightly. But the new amenities are impressing people who may be wandering in merely to look out over the valley from 1,149 feet.

A new entry now welcomes traffic off the Strip, onto polished marble floors under a soft kaleidoscope of ambient lights in hues of purples and pinks, leading to a long hotel desk peppered with art deco lamps. Restaurants and gift shops that once felt closed in now have open glass fronts, and the casino floor has opened up, all to reflect a more 21st century aesthetic.

“People used to come up here for the thrill rides and the view,” said Todd Ford, director of marketing. “But you can’t make your money off the kids coming for the rides. You’ve got to get players in the casino.”

The thrill rides still are a draw — one of the spots first lady Michelle Obama took daughters Malia and Sasha during their Vegas visit last week.

But when spinning roulette or rolling dice, bargain odds and bonus specials only provide so much excitement. People want a classy place to play.

A new poker room has drawn some players who used to frequent the now-closed Sahara, Ford said. A recent day and night found the casino humming with business, while others waited in line to see the Frankie Moreno show, which began last fall in the new showroom.

Rows of new booths were designed to give an old Vegas feel to a showroom, complementing Moreno’s jazzy, high-energy performance backed by a 10-piece orchestra. Moreno’s tuxedo vibe revs up the evening for the late-night rock ‘n’ roll vampires “Bite,” now in their eighth year.

The food and drink don’t suck, either.

The Stratosphere also revamped its menu at the Top of the World revolving restaurant and Level 107 Lounge.

“We wanted what people eat to match what they were seeing,” Hobson said.

Level 107 was redesigned from a place that used to be called the Romance Lounge, which sounded more like a place you’d find a guy with a ’70s mustache, gold chains and a shirt unbuttoned to the chest.

“You want to be a businessman telling his wife over the phone, ‘I’m going to have a drink in the Romance Lounge’? Click,” Executive Chef Rick Giffen said.

The folks who run the Stratosphere like to boast that Level 107 has “the best happy hour in town.”

But who doesn’t?

Top of the World Chef Claude Gaty said he’ll let the half-price appetizers back up that claim. Some of the most popular: a steak-sized grilled portobello mushroom, topping mozzarella and roasted red peppers; ahi tuna tatak, wrapped in Asian greens and wasabi vinaigrette; and a seafood sampler with sauces that burst with a blend of hot and citrus flavors. They’re $6.50 to $7.50 during happy hour and washed down with 2-for-1 stiff martinis.

Gaty is a French-trained chef who has been around the world and learned to make Banh Mi in Vietnam, years before the sandwiches became trendy. He makes his twist with duck, piled with pickled carrots and daikon radish, cucumber, cilantro, mint and lemon basil on French rolls.

“People are just now talking about Banh Mi, but I’ve been doing them for 30 years,” Gaty said.

The Stratosphere needed drinks to match the altitude.

Nine hundred feet above Vegas sits one of the few places you won’t find a Starbucks.

The neon green Air Bar has displaced espresso on the observation deck. The bar does 10 times the sales as the Starbucks, Giffen said.

“People come up here and they don’t want coffee,” he said.

For those who like to stay closer to the ground, a steakhouse will be opening by summer where the Back Alley Bar used to be. It doesn’t have a name yet, but Giffen said it will have a new twist on the Vegas steakhouse, combining Midwestern and Pacific Coast flavors.

“It’s comfort food with imagination,” Ford said.

The closing of the Sahara and lure of bright lights of the billion-dollar resorts to the south have made the north end of the Strip a little more lonely. Few people stroll the sidewalks and cars travel with barely a brake.

The Stratosphere depends little on foot traffic, however, with its needle visible from anywhere.

“It’s become such an iconic part of the skyline, it’s become a destination in itself,” Ford said. “That’s what’s always drawn people here. What we wanted to do is give them something besides the view.”

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  1. It is not the property so much as it is the location and the neighborhood it sits near. I like the Strat but if I am stuck in that place for any extended period of time then it gets old quick. Imagine for one minute the Strat sitting mid strip, this would be a totally different story.

  2. Two years ago we were bringing a group of 8 to Vegas for our 30th wedding anniversary. We contacted many places to find out about group parties, ONLY the Stratosphere bothered to respond and hook us up with a great deal at Level 107. We had a wonderful time and it was the highlight of our trip. Couldn't thank them enough!

  3. The biggest problem facing the stratosphere is its location. I've visited Las Vegas dozens of times and have never stepped foot in the place, sadly, on account that it is so far removed from the rest of the strip. I've walked to Circus Circus before but never made it further north (except when running the marathon or via the bus to Freemont street)

    I am glad, however, that they are taking a customer-first attitude and it would make me more inclined to check out the place in the future, especially if the word of mouth of positive experiences makes its way around cyberspace. I do agree with Pele that the area around the Strat can be sort of dicey, especially at night. Hopefully the north end of the strip will pick up and offer more wandering tourists a chance check out this iconic place.

  4. LV Blvd - Should be a Great Walking Zone from South Point to Downtown. After Decades, the Zoning is Still Not there to assure Safe Walking Conditions, Consistent Lighting or Even a Continuous Paved Sidewalk. The scope of our Politicians Incompetence in protecting the value of The Strip by proper zoning is incredible. Las Vegas so far has survived instead of itself - may The Luck Continue, however a Great Zoning Plan would be a good insurance policy.

  5. I am especially proud of my son's hard work during the initial stages of the revamping. Awesome job!

    Blessings and Peace,

  6. I've often wondered why they don't get rid of that garrish sign in front of Strat on LVB and instead use the legs of the pod to print STRAT in big bold neon so people can see it in all directions.

  7. I love the Strat! As a long time Vegas visitor it's great to see these fantastic resorts focusing on what matters most - the customers.

    The Stratosphere was a special part of my first few trips to Las Vegas, and it will always hold a special spot in my heart... Can't wait to see her again!

    Congratulations on the updates Strat, well done for the budget!

  8. In my younger days, I would vacation in Vegas at least twice a year, for 7 to 12 days each visit. My companion and I would always purchase a weekly Bus Pass and travel from the South Strip to Downtown (and vice versa) as often as we desired. This, of course, included stopping at the Stratosphere... which is a scheduled stop for the Strip Bus (Deuce). The environment and atmosphere for the North Strip has changed (I sincerely hope it recovers)but access to the Strat is yet quite easy.
    Three cheers for the renovated Stratosphere!