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Wynn scores big again with unveiling of Encore

9 February 2009

By Gary Trask

LAS VEGAS – From the outside they mirror each other with their striking, bronze towers that rise high into the Las Vegas skyline. Step inside Wynn Las Vegas and the newly opened, Encore Las Vegas, however, and it's quite clear that the two casino-resorts are far from identical twins.

"Some like to call Encore the younger sister of the two," says Encore's Chief Operating Officer Rob Oseland. "And that stems from the fact that it's definitely more refined; more hip, if you will."

But while the two properties differ in style and substance, they complement each other quite well. So well, in fact, that you get the feeling it was all part of the master plan, which, of course, it was.

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While the two buildings mirror each other from the outside, Wynn Las Vegas and sister casino-resort Encore Las Vegas provide a different kind of experience. (photo by Gary Trask/Casino City)

Nine years ago, when Steve Wynn bought the 200-acre piece of land that was formerly home to the Desert Inn, he had a clear vision in mind. In 2005, he opened the lavish Wynn Las Vegas, complete with a newly renovated 120-acre golf course dubbed The Wynn Golf Club. But a 20-acre piece of the property was set aside for future development, which would turn out to be the home of the $2.3-billion Encore just three years later.

"That's why Encore seems like a natural partner to Wynn, and not an afterthought," explains Oseland, who was with Wynn for the openings of Mirage, Treasure Island and Bellagio. "We wanted to make sure that at Encore we duplicated the things we did well at Wynn and accentuate the things we wanted to do better."

While a stroll through Wynn Las Vegas certainly isn't a strain on the eyes, the detailed emphasis on the design concept at Encore is palpable. The walk from the Wynn casino tower to Encore is both succinct and seamless. But you'll know when you've made the transition from Wynn to Encore by the sudden emergence of vibrant butterflies. The mosaic butterflies are everywhere – embedded in the marble walkways, on the winding red carpet throughout the resort and even in light fixtures. They signify beauty, good luck and transformation, according to the high-profile design team responsible for Encore that was assembled by Wynn.

"I love the process of metamorphosis," says Roger Thomas, Encore's executive vice president of design. "The butterfly represents the idea that we can all change into higher, better things."

There is much, much more to the design concept at Encore than simply butterflies, however. Thomas literally traveled the world to procure the elements that now adorn Encore; from the Venetian glass mosaic floors and hand-blown chandeliers to mother of pearl inlayed wasabi marble from Asia. The pocket doors outside the high-limit baccarat lounge are surrounded by a pair of glittering peacocks embroidered in silk and metallic gold. The Host Lounge was modeled after the Temple of Dendur, a Nubian temple built in Egypt around 15 B.C. The Lobby Bar and Café features a sculpted interpretation of the goddess Daphne.

"When I'm asked how long it took to design Encore, my answer is 57 years because it took every experience I've ever had in my 57 years on this planet," Thomas says.

Todd-Avery Lenahan, principal of ABA Design who designed the luxurious spa at Encore as well as the guest rooms, agreed.

"It takes days and days to see all the nuances revealed here and that is done purposely," Lenahan says. "[Encore] really is art in the truest essence of the word."

While Encore – which opened Dec. 22 after an accelerated 42-month building process – boasts more than 2,000 suites and 4.7 million square feet overall, it still has a "boutique" feel to it. There is a certain intimacy to the resort as you maneuver through the corridors and see natural light shining in from outside. And that invigorating fragrance you smell is real, thanks to thousands of fresh flowers throughout the property.

Wynn developers attempted to create similar cozy settings at both Wynn Las Vegas and Wynn Macau, but nothing to this extent. One noticeable difference is that distances between public areas are shorter than what you would expect from a resort-casino, whether you are going from the casino to one of the five restaurants, or from the pool to the elevator towers that take you to your room.

"Customers don't like to waste their time walking from one place to the next," Oseland says. "That's why the walking times at Encore are 15 to 30 percent less than what you'll find at most casino-resorts."

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One of the many spots inside Encore where you'll find a vibrant display of butterflies is in the Atrium. (photo by Russell MacMasters)

As Oseland alluded to, Encore supports Wynn rather than trying to duplicate it. Whatever Encore lacks – a poker room, buffet restaurant or sportsbook – can be found a short walk away at Wynn. But Encore also provides its patrons some unique characteristics that you won't find at Wynn, or anywhere else on the Strip for that matter.

"Encore was built with the idea in mind that we want it to be the preeminent resort in Las Vegas, yet still be affordable for the average guest," Oseland says with confidence.

Proving that he was looking to make good on Oseland's statement, Wynn offered Resort Rooms at Encore for just $149 per night through the end of January. Here's what those guests who took advantage of the bargain price found after checking in:

Accomodations
The rooms at Encore are so good that guests will be half-tempted to never leave them. Encore room designer Lenahan says that "a lot of resort rooms these days forsake comfort for style."

That is not the case at Encore.

"We wanted a classic elegance, but with a modern touch,' Lenahan says.

The 1,767 Resort Rooms that make up 2,034 of the rooms at Encore do just that. With a division between the bedroom and sitting room, the 700-square-foot rooms accommodate guests in an open-plan suite with views of Las Vegas via expansive floor-to-ceiling windows. Each suite features a 42-inch flat-screen television – the largest of its kind in any standard guest room in the U.S. – that sits on a swivel so you can see the screen from anywhere in the room. As an added touch, one of the TV channels in the room provides the waiting list for the poker room at Wynn.

The bathrooms also feature a TV, while the sitting area offers an L-shaped, black and white sofa that stretches across the window overlooking the Strip and a mini-business center complete with a fax machine and iPod docking station.

Other accommodations offered at Encore include 141 Tower Suites that offer their own private reception area and elevator tower, as well as 47 Parlor Suites, 47 Salon Suites, 15 two-bedroom apartments, 16 three-bedroom duplex apartments and one single three-bedroom penthouse apartment.

Gaming
Like its sister casino, and unlike most casinos everywhere else, real sunlight can be found in Encore's casino.

Oseland recalls that there were a lot of "naysayers" when Wynn Las Vegas had the gall to actually introduce sunlight in some portions of its casino.

"We added natural light to the casino at Wynn and a lot of people in the industry thought it was a big risk," he remembers. "But as it turned out, our guests loved it."

With that in mind, Encore's casino floor is surrounded by glass and natural light.

"It gives the hotel wonderful energy and a feeling of happiness," Wynn explains. "It's a total departure from everything we've ever done in Las Vegas."

All of that sunlight streams in on gaming floor that defines intimacy. Instead of seemingly never-ending rows of table games, Encore's casino is divided by strategically placed columned pavilions, canopies and drapery that partition the gaming area into what feel like private chambers. There are never more than six to eight tables in one area. Even the gaming tables were designed so that the dealer is closer to the guests, creating even more intimacy.

The Sky Casino that sits up on the 63rd floor of Encore is reserved for high-rollers who prefer a more private area to gamble and they can do so while admiring vistas of the Strip through the floor-to-ceiling windows. There are five exclusive gaming areas in the Sky Casino, including two with private dining rooms.

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The dance floor at Encore's nightclub XS spills out towards the pool. (photo by Barbara Kraft)

For those who feel like gambling in a truly informal environment, the Island Gaming area by the pool features a specialty pit for outdoor gaming with a bar, sitting area and five gaming tables surrounded by the pool.

Dining and Nightlife
Each of the five restaurants at Encore follows the script of the entire resort. They are stylish, elegant and small enough to provide an intimate setting.

Three of the restaurants fall under the "contemporary dining" title: Bolero Steak, which offers modern cuisine with a modish lounge that extends outside near the pool; Society, where Chef Kim Canteenwalla's promise is to make "even three square meals hip;" and Wazuzu, featuring the pan-Asian cooking of Chef Jet Tila.

The two "fine dining" options are truly original. Chef Marc Poidevin's Switch refers to dinner as theatre. Every 20 minutes the dining room changes its appearance with moving walls, a disappearing ceiling, and a "switch" in both lighting and music.

The most-talked about eatery at Encore, however, is the Italian bistro Sinatra's -- the only restaurant in the world to be named after Ol' Blue Eyes himself. The restaurant was originally going to be named Theo (pronounced Tae-O), after Chef Theo Schoenegger, former executive chef of the highly acclaimed Patina in Los Angeles. But six weeks before Encore's grand opening in December, Wynn revisited an idea he had often thought about – a Frank Sinatra-themed restaurant. Sinatra and Wynn were long-time friends from their days in Atlantic City and when the family gave Wynn the OK for a restaurant, he called in Schoenegger and explained the move to name it after the legendary singer.

"I was surprised at first, for sure," Schoenegger says. "But once they explained everything, it made a lot of sense. Hey, if your name is going to be replaced by someone, it may as well be Frank Sinatra. It's worked out great."

Two ceiling-to-floor paintings of Sinatra decorate the dining room walls and his music is heard throughout the restaurant. Outside the main entrance of the restaurant you can see hand-written letters from fellow Rat Pack associate Sammy Davis Jr. to Sinatra, Sinatra's Oscar for From Here to Eternity, his Emmy for Frank Sinatra: A Man and His Music, and his Grammy for Strangers in the Night.

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The walk to the treatment room at the Spa at Encore is a visual treat. (photo by Russell MacMasters)

There are also five lounges at Encore to sip a drink and the 40,000-square-foot XS nightclub surrounds the outdoor pool in an atrium setting. There are 95 indoor VIP tables and 30 VIP cabanas in XS. And once you walk into XS it's impossible to miss the 10-foot rotating chandelier that hangs over the circular dance floor, not to mention the concave gold leaf female torsos that adorn the main bar. Yes, XS is appropriately named, for sure.

Spa, Shopping and Entertainment
Take one step into the full-service Spa at Encore and you quickly understand what Oseland meant when he said, "We never felt that we really nailed the spa experience quite right at Wynn Las Vegas. We tried to make up for that at Encore."

The sound of a 61,000-square-foot spa may sound brazen, but the scene is complete comfort and luxury. Bronze mirrors, a Venetian glass chandelier and a glass-enclosed courtyard welcome spa visitors.

When taken inside there are 37 treatment rooms, including 14 naturally lit garden suites and four oversized couples's suites. Both the men's and women's facilities are sizable and offer water fall showers, steam rooms, saunas, cold plunges and a sitting area with a TV. In addition, the spa offers a salon, fitness room and juice bar.

The Esplanade at Encore serves not only as the crossing path between Wynn and Encore, but also boasts 11 new boutique shopping venues in 27,000 square feet of retail space, that include Chanel, Rock & Republic, In Step and Rolex.

Danny Gans, the man of many voices who has won Las Vegas' Best All Around Entertainer Award 11 times, is the headliner at the Encore Theater, which is located off the Esplanade and seats 1,500.

Gary Trask
Gary is an expert on all things gambling. The Boston native has worked as a writer and editor for more than 15 years, including a few at Casino City and was a member of the Poker Hall of Fame's Media Committee.

No Limit Hold'em tournaments are a favorite of Gary's, but he also enjoys a night of dealer's choice with a variety of games like Seven-Card No Peek, Guts or Five-Card Draw with a qualifier. In addition to playing cards, another of Gary's interests is golf, a game that allows his two favorite hobbies to collide quite naturally.

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