Monday, Sept. 8, 2014 | 11 p.m.
When SLS Las Vegas opened in August, officials made sure to maintain a scant, almost subliminal reminder of what the hotel used to be.
They had some fun with this project, obviously. You see a Sahara sign imprinted on the carpet as you walk into the hotel from the Paradise Road valet. The Conga Room entertainment venue is now the events center known as the Conga Ballroom.
And, in what has bloomed into a slice of Las Vegas lore, the “S”-shaped door handles from the old Sahara have been polished and are hanging as a chandelier outside The Sayers Club.
Otherwise, it is quite apparent that SLS is far removed from the Sahara. The hotel’s exterior is a contemporary, muted white with dark trimming and a brilliant LED screen serving as the marquee facing the Strip.
Inside, the hotel is chic, filled with a clientele who seems to have been flown in from Hollywood and outfitted by the seven Fred Segal shops rimming the hotel’s perimeter. Discarded are the cartoonish, Warner Bros.-styled camels and the famed Moroccan desert theme.
As SLS opened, another resort discarding its former self was prepping to open farther south on the Strip. Delano Las Vegas was ridding itself of its identity as The Hotel at Mandalay Bay and reopening as an independent entity in a partnership between MGM Resorts International and Morgans Hotel Group, which operates the similarly luxurious Delano South Beach.
The objective at Delano Las Vegas, too, is to be entirely unique from its former title. But it’s not as simple to achieve as it was at SLS. There is this niggling matter of a resort partnership with all of the other MGM Resorts properties, especially Mandalay Bay.
It is not possible or even wise to cut yourself free from a relationship that can add value and variety to a guest’s experience. And there is this issue of the building design. The lettering across the top of the tower reads Delano, but the building itself gleams golden, same as The Hotel and neighboring Mandalay Bay.
So the work at Delano has been an inside job. Mix and the Bathhouse spa remain, but otherwise the offerings at Delano Las Vegas are wholly new. The hotel shares an identity with Delano South Beach and is using the Franklin D. Roosevelt-inspired theme throughout with the Franklin lounge and such effects as ice buckets designed as FDR’s fedora boxes.
But Delano Las Vegas is one resort that is built to look like Las Vegas, and not the Strip or downtown neon effect, but the terrain of the Mojave Desert, which is a foreign land to many tourists who dive into our city’s resorts.
“As far as the inspiration from Delano South Beach, you see that, but what I’m really proud of is that we did make it ‘Las Vegas,’ and we didn’t just replicate something from afar,” Delano Las Vegas General Manager Matthew Chilton said during a tour of the property last week. “We put it in motion right off the bat that people are going to see this environment, from the imprint of the Colorado River (as the carpet design) to boulders from Jean.”
That does separate the property, in a vibe context, from the interior of Mandalay Bay, which can best be described as “tropical-esque” and, still, a towering experience. Chilton uses such words as “calmer” and “quieter,” apt in both instances, to describe the scene at Delano.
It’s not so quiet to the east, where scope and energy envelop visitors to Mandalay Bay in the form of the live music pouring from Mizuya Lounge to the enormous sports book and the vast casino floor. Mandalay Bay is a full-blown Las Vegas experience.
Delano, comparatively, is where you go to unwind. The Hotel was that, too, and it was doing fine business while running at 92-percent room capacity each year since it opened in 2006. But The Hotel, though pretty and serviceable, was a safe enclave. MGM Resorts was going for something more inventive with Delano.
“Everybody has enjoyed The Hotel, but The Hotel, in many cases, was a tower of Mandalay Bay,” says someone who is quite educated about Mandalay Bay, the hotel’s president and COO, Chuck Bowling. “What we really want to do at Delano is create its own spirit, its own energy.
“It’s a place where the employees, almost 1,000 of them, can call home and work in a place that lives independently and is not just a tower or flow-through of Mandalay Bay.”
Delano Las Vegas is built as a place for the savvy traveler. Someone who can enjoy the entire Mandalay Bay complex and escape to a place where gaming and smoking are absent, and the scene, visually and aurally, is muted. Even the scents at Delano — green tea lemongrass by day, black tea fig by night — puts one in a kind of spiritual mood.
“We have to make a statement in Las Vegas, and it is with our attention to comfort and our iconic regional design,” Chilton said. “It’s a casual luxury with its own story and voice.”
Bowling says that design has often trumped comfort in the recent boom of luxury, boutique-style resorts. The design team at Delano has sought to remember that design and comfort can coincide.
“Some of the things that people have seen, as lifestyle hotels have cropped up in the last year or so, is how hip and trendy they can be. But that didn’t always mean they were comfortable and connected,” Bowling said. “Here, we didn’t want to alienate any customer. We appeal to many markets in this complex. We have a strong convention base, and those travelers can stay close to the convention center and come into the Delano and, for a while, call it home.”
And about that boulder out front: It has a name, “In Between Places,” as it has been split and polished as a giant installation by artist Heller. It weighs 126,000 (the total heft of both halves) and was obtained through design company Las Vegas Rock, which extracts natural materials from its 920-acre Rainbow Quarry near Goodsprings.
Today, you can find this giant boulder — an ode to our habitat — at the Delano, reinvented as an oasis in the middle of the desert.