Raised Bar

It’s the largest privately-funded real estate development in the history of this country. It is, no surprise, in Las Vegas. It’s now open. Most of it. But oddly enough, we don’t seem to be hearing a whole lot about it.

I’m talking, of course, about the gleaming new CityCenter (for reasons of marketing hipness, I guess, there’s no space between the two words). An eight billion-with-a-B project consisting of six impressive new structures, designed by some of the world’s great architects. Since 2005, there’s been a giant mess of gnarly, traffic-clogging construction there on Las Vegas Boulevard between the Bellagio and the Monte Carlo. Now, it’s finished. Mostly. And that gaping hole in the skyline of The Strip is finally filled in.

I hauled off during El Nino week and drove down to take a look and spend the night at Aria, one of the two hotel/casinos that is open (the other being the Mandarin Oriental). The rate for a Tuesday night seemed reasonable ($149), considering that Aria is The Hot New Joint in Vegas. Bottom line—it’s a buyer’s market out there in this wobbly economy, and deals abound.

So. What do we have here? Well, for starters, I’d say it’s dazzling, superb, awesome, brilliant, stunning, delightful, and yes, totally world class. Go ahead and put me down as impressed.

I don’t have space to get all slathery with the details, but Aria and the CityCenter are basically extraordinary. The perfect next step for a city that did NOT need to build another faux something, like a faux New Orleans or faux Middle Earth. Gorgeous without being garish, fabulous without being schlocky. The gambling area is not only quasi-tasteful, it’s actually somewhat understated. I mean, are you kidding? The water feature in the valet area, the first thing you see as you pull up to the end of the nicely designed circular cul-de-sac, knocked my socks off. The spa is not just wondrous, but enchanting. The room I stayed in, the standard “deluxe,” was excellent. Modern, sleek, chic and cool. I loved it and thought it was a great value for the price. (But goddammit, Aria is just like every other Vegas hotel in that it charges $15 a day to hook up to the wireless in your room. This internet gouge, standard in LV, drives me cuckoo).

Is this the new development that will save Nevada? Be serious. This state is so hosed right now that only one new project would be able to generate the room taxes needed to put us in the black—a mega-Hilton at Area 51, with daily alien corpse tours included. But Aria is a must-see the next time you’re in Sin City, just to have a drink, if nothing else. With the CityCenter, it would appear that the bar in Vegas has definitely been raised. How hard will places like Treasure Island and Luxor have to hustle in response?