One of the historically hippest hotels in Las Vegas is about to kick off a whole new era of cool.
The Palms Casino Resort, a 1,365-room property on Flamingo Road west of the Las Vegas Strip, soon will debut more than $690 million worth of additions and renovations, including new accommodations, restaurants, bars and nightlife, as well as a multimillion-dollar collection of art.
Those millions of dolllars in improvements are designed to make the hotel a hit once again, to recapture the glory days of the early 2000s when reality television shows filmed upstairs, celebrities were as common as blackjacks on the casino floor and every visit to Vegas included a stop at the Palms.
In short, when the new resort brings in performers such as Cardi B, Alicia Keys and Travis Scott to kick off its grand opening weekend on April 4-7, the new owners hope to party like it's 2001.
Those owners, brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, purchased the property for $312.5 million from TPG Capital and Leonard Green & Partners in May 2016 and started renovations the following year. By the time the spa opens later this year, the ultimate price tag is expected to exceed $1 billion — a number many consider to be the most expensive refresh in Vegas history.
"It's a big bet, but a calculated one," says Jon Gray, who started at the Palms as assistant front desk manager in 2005 and now serves as general manager for the entire resort. "With everything this property has going for it, I wouldn't be surprised if the new Palms was even cooler than it was before."
From the very beginning, when George Maloof and his family built the resort and opened it in 2001, one of the biggest draws at Palms was its large-format rooms. The Fantasy Tower opened with over-the-top options including a suite with two bowling lanes, another with half a basketball court and multi-story villas with hot tubs cantilevered over the side of the tower.
Popularity spiked in 2002, when one of the suites also served as the backdrop for the twelfth season of MTV's breakout reality show, "The Real World."
Recent renovations have taken many of these one-of-a-kind accommodations to new levels. The suite with the bowling alley — the Kingpin Suite — now features a berth-style four-person bunk bed and original artwork that evokes the 1996 film, "Kingpin." The suite with the basketball court — the Hardwood Suite — has three Murphy beds that emerge from a wall in the gym, a locker room and a loft-style game room. These suites are $15,000 and $20,000 per night, respectively.
The boldest suite of them all: It's the two-story, 9,000-square-foot Empathy Suite, designed by British artist Damien Hirst in collaboration with Bentel & Bentel. This spectacular space includes two bedrooms, a private massage room, a fitness area, ample living space, heaps of original artwork and one of those cantilevered tubs. The price tag to stay there: $200,000 per weekend.
Even standard hotel rooms have been spruced up as part of the renovation, with new decor from Avenue Interior Design, floor-to-ceiling windows, walk-in showers, original contemporary artwork and 65-inch flat-screen televisions.
Eating it up
Another aspect of Palms 2.0: A slew of top-quality restaurants from award-winning chefs such as Marc Vetri, Michael Symon and Bobby Flay.
Symon's place, Mabel's BBQ, is the most accessible of the bunch, with half-pound plates of smoked meat for less than $20 a pop. One popular sandwich option is the chopped brisket burrito, which wraps up brisket, onions, salsa verde, Fritos and cheddar sauce in a flour tortilla. More adventuresome eaters gravitate toward crispy pig tails and ears.
The restaurant also has a private supper club named Sara's that operates like a speakeasy. Because the menu there features meat-heavy French-American cuisine, Symon has dubbed it a "meateasy."
Vetri Cucina, on the 56th floor of the Ivory Tower, is in intimate 80-seat space with floor-to-ceiling views of the Strip. The menu comprises handcrafted pastas and rustic Italian cuisine such as sweet onion crepes with white truffle fonduta, and Swiss chard gnocchi with brown butter and shaved ricotta. The appetizer of foie gras with pastrami seasoning redefines decadence. For dessert, pistachio flan with milk chocolate gelato is gooey and delicious.
The restaurant represents the first time in 20 years that owner Vetri has replicated the concept of his eponymous Philadelphia eatery. For him, the opportunity simply was too good to pass up.
"Most Vegas restaurants are huge productions; mine is small, intimate, and exactly how I like to do it back home," he says. "Add to that the fact that we're on the 56th floor of a resort that is jumping every night, and it's a pretty exciting time."
Other new dining options include Scotch 80 Prime, a steakhouse with a dedicated whisky program led by Scotch Master Cody Fredrickson; Send Noodles, a Pan-Asian ramen bar; A.Y.C.E., a buffet organized by flavor and technique instead of cuisine; and Greene St. Kitchen, which features shareable plates. Shark, a seafood restaurant from Flay, and Tim Ho Wan, a local outpost of the famous Hong Kong dim sum house with the same name, are expected to open later this year.
No resort in modern-day Vegas is complete without a standout party scene, and Kaos, the new dayclub/nightclub at Palms, is unique for a variety of reasons.
For starters, the two-level, 73,000-square-foot dayclub has plenty of places to swim and splash — two main pools (including one with a giant sculpture from Hirst) and 16 private cabana pools. There's also a seasonal dome that allows the pools to be open year-round, and a retractable glass wall that separates the dayclub from the rest of the venue.
The nightclub, which measures about 29,000 square feet, blends an old-school theater with video screens and other modern technology to create an experience that changes with each song. Part of this technology is a rotating 360-degree DJ booth—Marshmello and Skrillex are two of the DJs who have signed deals to perform over the next few years.
The technology extends beyond the club and up the side of the Ivory Tower in the form of an LED wall, which will stream live shots of the dayclub and nightclub to the outside world, allowing outsiders to get a sense of what they're missing.
Inside the resort, tucked away near the elevator banks in the Fantasy Tower, another night-time destination has a completely different vibe.
This spot, Mr. Coco, is a luxury cocktail lounge from renowned mixologist Francesco Lafranconi, and pairs exquisite hand-crafted cocktails with live music from a Steinway baby grand piano. Mr. Coco also offers a special Aperitivo Hour that highlights a variety of world-wide aperitifs with more than 30 vermouths and fortified wines.
Finally, no look at the new Palms would be complete without focusing at least briefly on the property's art collection, which is remarkable for its size, value and diversity.
At last check, the resort displayed pieces from renowned artists such as Hirst, Andy Warhol, Todd James, Jason Revok and Dustin Yellin, to name a few. There's a Banksy in Greene St. Kitchen and works from Jean-Michel Basquiat in a private dining room at Scotch 80 Prime.
A multimedia piece from Keegan Gibbs and Olivia Steele welcomes guests at the check-in desk with the slogan, "Wish You Were Here!" Some of those same guests walk right past a giant Takashi Murakami acrylic painting on the way to the Fantasy Tower elevators.
Many of these pieces come from the Fertittas' personal collection. Others, such as a cartoonish mural from DabsMyla in a secret staircase connecting Vetri Cucina to a private lounge and a street-art banner from Felipe Pantone near the entrance to The Pearl theater, were commissioned for the resort.
Another piece done especially for Palms: "Till Death Do Us Part" by Guatemalan-American artist Joshua Vides. This cartoonish chapel is an Instagram-worthy, 800-square-foot black-and-white altar at which lovebirds actually can wed.
Perhaps the most iconic art pieces at Palms are the most visible. British artist Benedict Radcliffe's neon-orange wire-frame Lamborghini Twin Turbo Countach is "parked" in the main valet, while Hirst's "The Unknown (Explored, Explained, Exploded)," a triptych that comprises a 13-foot-long tiger shark divided into three parts and suspended in formaldehyde, looms ominously atop the bar in the center of the casino.
This latter sculpture is the first thing visitors see after walking in the front door. In many ways it's a metaphor for the new Palms itself — bold, intriguing, captivating and most definitely cool.