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Best of Gary Trask

Gaming Guru

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Encore Boston Harbor opening a "dream come true" for locals

24 June 2019

For a born-and-bred Boston guy and longtime casino/gambling "enthusiast" like myself, watching the Encore Boston Harbor actually open its doors this weekend was a surreal experience.


Trust me, having a world-class resort casino that would rival anything on the Las Vegas Strip sitting a mere 22.8 miles from my front door (yes, I clocked it on the drive in) is something this classic cynical New Englander never thought would happen.

It was way back in 2011, after then-Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed the actually Expanded Gaming Act into law, that the idea that a full-blown casino resort could be heading our way was first floated. The closest options for something of that kind for us Massachusetts natives were always Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun in Connecticut, both a solid two-hour drive (without traffic) from Boston, or Twin River Casino in Rhode Island.

Since then, there's been plenty of controversy, multiple lawsuits and hefty fines. MGM Springfield opened last summer, an impressive boutique property with all the bells and whistles of a Las Vegas-style casino, but it's still a 90-minute drive down the Mass Pike in western Mass.

Fast forward to this past weekend, and considering all of the above, you can see why the grand opening at Encore Boston Harbor truly deserved the pomp and circumstance it received on Sunday. Sure, there are legit concerns about increased traffic and congestion and many locals being priced out due to exorbitant rates for everything from parking to guest rooms (starting at $650 a night) to restaurant menu items. But for at least one day, none of that seemed to matter to the tens of thousands of folks who arrived on Sunday to be greeted by a fireworks display and ribbon cutting.

The lavish property is actually not in Boston, nor is it on the Boston Harbor. The address is in Everett, a hardscrabble city of about 40,000 a couple miles north of Boston proper, along the Mystic River, the inspiration behind the Clint Eastwood movie nominated for an Academy Award in 2003. To me, Everett was always known as the home to a perennial state champion high school football team and Mike's Roast Beef, an inimitable late-night dining haven. It also served as a convenient route to cut through when heading into Boston from the north, in order to avoid traffic on the Tobin Bridge.

So, to actually witness a $2.6 billion, staggeringly beautiful structure with that iconic Wynn-branded, copper-bronze façade go from a rumor to a reality in, of all places, Everett is a mind-boggling experience, even more so after walking through the front door to be greeted by a 20-foot, 10-horse carousel made out of more than 80,000 flowers.

And I'm not alone.

"You're from here, so you get it, but for people not from the area, they have no idea how unbelievable it is for me to be standing inside this place right now," local restaurateur Nick Varano told me in his classic Boston accent on Friday afternoon, two days before the grand opening.

Not only did Varano grow up here, but he's also one of Boston's most renowned restaurant owners. The Varano Group operates a half dozen venues in the city, most of which are in the North End, the oldest residential district in Boston, which is less than three miles from Encore Boston Harbor and is lined with cafes, small grocery stores and Italian restaurants.

Varano has joined forces with fellow Italian restaurateur and longtime friend Frank DePasquale to create Fratelli, which means "brothers" in Italian, at Encore Boston Harbor. The Italian eatery is meant to bring the flavor of the North End to Encore with its special dishes, sauces and pizza, and I love that it's located in the actual "north end" of the building.

"I grew up here so I've driven past or walked past this parcel of land my entire life," Varano continued. "So to now have a casino resort here that's on the world stage . . . it's simply amazing. I think the best way to describe it is that it's an evolution."

Added DePasquale, "It’s really a dream come true. This building is going to change Boston. It's going to change the world here as we know it. It’s phenomenal."

And even though Fratelli is serving a specially created late night menu, Varano admitted he likely won't change his old habits on the drive home.

"I'll probably still be stopping at Mike's (Roast Beef) across the street for my super beef, three-way," he said with a big belly laugh. "It's just the view will be a little better from over there now."

On the south end of the resort, Ed Kane was singing a similar tune. Co-owner of Big Night Entertainment Group along with Randy Greenstein, Kane runs more than a dozen high-end restaurants and nightclubs in the area and has added two venues at Encore Boston Harbor to his deep roster: Mystique, a striking Asian-inspired restaurant with scenic views of Boston, and Memoir, a 600-person nightclub that spent over $2 million on a sound system and lighting and is already drawing big-name attractions such as Steve Aoki on Monday and Shaq AKA DJ Diesel on Thursday.

Kane, a Harvard grad, was raised in nearby Dorchester and worked at his father's bar, conveniently called Kane's, doing everything from washing dishes to bouncing to bartending.

"As a kid growing up here that never really wanted to be in the business, this is really a dream come true," Kane said. "I used to come to Everett all the time to play sports on all of the fields right around this property. Never would have imagined we'd see something of this stature here.

"It's a great tribute to be associated with the Wynn brand. They spared no expense. It's a $2.6 billion property with an amazing design. I never saw them flinch one time at how much they were going to spend. It's world-class all the way around, and I'm just honored to be a part of it."

Encore Boston Harbor casino floor

Encore Boston Harbor casino floor (photo by Encore Boston Harbor )

Maybe as the years go by, the jolt from seeing Encore Boston Harbor along the Boston skyline will subside. Perhaps it will become as synonymous with the city as the Citgo sign near Fenway Park or the Prudential and Zakim Bridge.

But for the immediate future, it's going to remain a surreal experience to visit or simply drive by.

"We were defined for many years as a gritty, industrial city that had tough guys who played football," said Everett Mayor Carlo DeMaria, a lifelong resident of Everett who was a major force behind Encore Boston Harbor's vision and development. "Well, we're still tough guys that play football. But we're no longer just a gritty city. We're a gritty city that's on the move.

"We wanted to create a vibrant entertainment district that's going to give back to the community, and that's exactly what we've done. It's a dream come true."
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor. He also manages new business ventures for Casino City.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT
Gary Trask
Gary serves as Casino City's managing editor and has more than 20 years experience as a writer and editor. He also manages new business ventures for Casino City.

A member of the inaugural Poker Hall of Fame Media Committee and a current member of the Women in Poker Hall of Fame voting panel, Gary enjoys playing poker and blackjack, but spends most of his time sitting in the comfy confines of the sportsbook when in Las Vegas.

The Boston native is also a former PR pro in the golf-casino-resort industry and a fanatical golfer, allowing his two favorite hobbies - gambling and golf - to collide quite naturally.

Contact Gary at gary@casinocity.com and follow him on Twitter at @CasinoCityGT.

Gary Trask Websites:

twitter.com/#!/casinocityGT