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Jan232009

Encore Las Vegas

On first impression, Encore Las Vegas, hotel developer Steve Wynn’s new $2.3-billion dollar extension to his $2.7 billion namesake hotel, feels like a paradox of our times.

After all, the country is in a recession, reports have stated that Vegas tourism has dropped significantly over the last year, and people on the whole are being more tightfisted with their spending money.

Yet here is a hotel (it opened officially to the public on December 22, 2008) that -- at least on the surface -- seems unbothered by the current economic climate in America. In fact, in touring the hotel, you may wonder if Wynn himself chose to open the hotel at this time as a means to offer Americans a chance to forget their financial woes -- at least temporarily, that is.

On the outside, Encore looks very much like its sister property, the Wynn: Although not as tall or wide as that establishment, it boasts a similar-looking exterior composed entirely of copper-colored glass. Inside, those thematic similarities continue, especially in the place’s emphasis on curved walls, lengthy esplanades and elegant chandeliers.

But where the Wynn’s décor takes a modern approach to art nouveau, Encore’s design takes many cues from Eastern cultures, primarily China and Thailand. Stepping through the place, you stroll under intricately carved ceiling and chandeliers containing hundreds of pieces of sparkling colored glass. You walk over floors covered with plush carpets and mosaics of dragonflies and butterflies. You pass Siamese statues, modern art paintings and found art, which pack the corridors, corners and enclave of the place. Even the staff (dealers included) come dressed in Chinese-inspired uniforms.

It’s a setting that feels miles away from the northern end of the Strip, whose empty construction zones and unfinished high rises sit just a few blocks away from the property.

Sense of Intimacy

While Encore certainly looks enormous on the outside, inside it carries a sense of intimacy that most other Vegas mega-hotels seem to lack.

This is best seen in the hotel’s casino. It’s smaller than most of the gambling floors in town (it houses approximately 65 tables and 860 slots) and has been designed with high ceilings, square spaces, straight lines and natural light (let in through windows and skylights) -- a far cry from the typical Strip casino, which usually features a maze-like design, low ceilings, dim lighting and loud noises.

As a result, walking through the casino to get to the hotel’s other hotspots becomes easier and feels less stressful than expected, which in turn lets you admire the design and artwork around you all the more.

That same mindset can be found on the individual room floors, which consist of short, curving hallways lined with modern artwork instead of sprawling, seemingly endless corridors of doors, as found in many other Strip behemoths. No room here is more than a few minutes by foot from the elevator.

The Rooms

While the rest of the hotel imparts strong Eastern flavors, the rooms themselves are decidedly modern American in design, with plenty of dramatic blacks and whites, as well as several mirrors to intimate a greater sense of space. The Encore houses 2034 rooms in all (the Wynn has 2716). The smallest suites offer approximately 700 square feet of living space, and the larger “Tower Suites” reach 5,800 square feet (for a three-bedroom apartment) in area.

Most standard rooms are split into three sections, each about equal in size: The bathroom, the sleeping area, and the living room.

Inside the bathroom, set at the front of the suite, you’ll find a glass-enclosed steam shower, sunken one-person tub, two-station marble vanity with stretch mirror overhead, a proper toilet closet and a 14-inch flat-screen TV set into the wall (so you can watch while you’re in the tub). All the fixtures are chrome and made by Kohler, and the marble tile on the floor has radiating heat coming through it to make sure your feet don’t get cold after you step out from the shower.

The back two-thirds of the suite (the sleeping area and living room) are separated by a half wall, which itself is topped by a 42-inch flat screen television that swivels 180 degrees so you can watch TV either in bed or on the couch in the back of the room. Each room gets a pillow top mattress and feather-soft linens, all of which are tailor made for the hotel (and available for sale in the Home Store boutique in the hotel’s 11-store shopping esplanade) and the room’s workstation/desk area contains everything from a fax machine to a complete set of wires for internet hook-up.

If that weren’t enough, the room’s lights and curtains are controlled by touch-button panels located by the door and bed, respectively. Those same panels signal housekeeping when to make up the room or when to leave you alone -- no need to hang a sign on the door.

The Spa

Ask any employee of the hotel what you should see at the Encore and they’ll all tell you without delay to visit the Spa. The instant you arrive, you understand why.

The spa here features more than 50,000 square feet of space, with an enormous gleaming white, cavernous central atrium that looks and feels more like the interior of a posh Eastern palace than the interior of a hotel. Standing here, you’ll find yourself surrounded by sprawling ceiling-high arches, intricate tile work reminiscent of those found in the Taj Mahal and countless Eastern mosaics and statues.

Inside are nearly four dozen treatment rooms, each connected via a series of golden passageways lined with urns, lanterns, statues and tapestries, where you can enjoy various forms of massage and wellness treatments, which range from traditional procedures like hot stone massages to more exotic rituals, such as the “shirodhara stillness enhancement.” Also on hand is a full-service salon and a fitness center.

Dining

Encore hosts five on-property restaurants, each of which wears the name of its executive chef like a badge of honor. (Wynn is the only hotel baron in Vegas to demand that his star chefs work on premises for part of the year.)

What’s unique about the hotel’s collection of eateries is that while they evoke the same spirit of elegance imparted by the rest of the hotel they also manage to work in several playful touches.

Sinatra is a high-end Italian eatery that pays homage to Old Blue Eyes via displays of memorabilia and a soundtrack of hits -- a unique mix of modern elegance and Vegas kitsch, if you will. Botero is a poolside steakhouse that fits its dining tables among an assortment of plump-bodied paintings, mosaics and sculptures by the famed artist. Wazuzu is a contemporary Asian eatery featuring elegant Eastern décor like gold-covered pears and a 27-foot crystal dragon, which sprawls across its back wall. At Society Café, the hotel’s only casual eatery (its décor seems inspired by “New Yorker” cartoons from the 1920s and ‘30s), servers greet guests with the cute line, “Welcome to Society” -- as if life outside its walls (or the hotel’s) doesn’t exist.

And finally there’s Switch, a French bistro whose décor literally changes every 20 minutes. Here, coinciding with the playing of some atmospheric music, whole walls slide into the floor beneath them, shelves of standalone art and other ornaments appear and disappear, and portions of the ceiling open up and swallow (or spit out) chandeliers.

It sounds corny, yes, almost Disney-like on the surface, and in a way it is, but at the same time the restaurant manages to exhibit some elegance in its execution. Park yourself on the esplanade outside the restaurant -- if you don’t want to go inside for dinner -- and watch the transformation take place for yourself.

Like the rest of the hotel, it’s another bit of Vegas magic that’s been created to help you forget the troubles happening to the rest of the country -- at least temporarily, that is.

For more information:

For more information or to book reservations visit http://www.encorelasvegas.com

Dress code:

While you can tour the Encore in any form of dress, the hotel enforces dress codes for its restaurants, including the casual café Society. Please call the hotel’s dining line for specifics: 888-352-DINE.

Travel deals:

Because of the city’s recent drop in tourism, several online travel companies, such as Travelocity and Hotwire, are offering great deals to Las Vegas, many of which include airfare and dining coupons in their packages.

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