Sin City's biggest vice: gluttony
Install yourself on a love seat amid the crystal draperies at Chandelier, the three-level bar at Cosmopolitan Resort and Spa, and it's easy...
LAS VEGAS — Install yourself on a love seat amid the crystal draperies at Chandelier, the three-level bar at Cosmopolitan Resort and Spa, and it's easy to see why gambling is losing its foothold as the big earner in this city.
Sure, there are slots and gaming tables in the room, and some folks are playing. But many are sitting on sofas and stools in the bar or riding the escalators up to eat Greek food at Estiatorio Milos (fried eggplant is sublime), nosh on a head-spinning array of tapas at Jaleo or sample Italian plates at Scott Conant's D.O.C.G. wine bar (try the fluffy arancini).
All emphasize beautifully presented small plates with big flavor. Even the hotel's buffet feels upscale, with food offered on individual plates rather than in vats — a much more appetizing presentation.
At the Cosmopolitan, the place with the "Just the right amount of wrong" marketing campaign, the largest revenue producer in 2011 was its food and beverage operation, which earned more than twice as much as its casino.
Elsewhere on the Strip, MGM Resorts, which owns more than half the Las Vegas Strip, says it gets more than 70 percent of its revenue from restaurants, spas, shows, clubs and hotel rooms — not gambling.
Fear not; gambling isn't leaving Las Vegas. But Nevada Gaming Control Board's figures from 256 statewide casinos that grossed $1 million show that in fiscal 2011, even though gambling revenue was up 2.6 percent statewide, it accounted for just 46.2 percent of revenue, the lowest percentage ever. Food revenue was up 6.9 percent, beverage climbed 9.8 percent and the room rake increased 10.3 percent.
These days, the biggest sin in Sin City would seem to be gluttony, coupled with thirst.
So, it makes sense that hotels on the Strip are focusing their efforts on glitzy bars like Chandelier and high-end restaurants, many of them clones of successful restaurants elsewhere. For example, Caesar's Palace this spring opened an Old Homestead Steakhouse. Attaching the word "old" to anything is typically risky, but not when you're talking about an old New York restaurant that just happens to be many people's favorite. Sure enough, the melt-in-your-mouth steak and signature stacked lattice of garlic bread are identical to those in the Big Apple.
The banquettes are just as cozy as New York's, too, although the vibe's pure Vegas, with a swarm of humanity flowing by in one of Caesar's many hallways.
Steakhouses are big in Vegas. All eating is big in Vegas, of course. Along with the high-end restaurants come expensive wine lists, and they account for a big rake, too. Most Vegas restaurants seem to loathe the idea of offering affordable wines. Example: Michael Mina, arguably one of the nation's best chefs, has four restaurants in Las Vegas. One, Nobhill Tavern at the MGM Grand, has midpriced food (because it is, after all, supposed to be a tavern), but the cheapest bottle of wine is $50.
In many cases, cocktails are cheaper than wine, and the lounges do big business. The aforementioned Chandelier and Cosmopolitan's other bars are hot spots for imbibing and people-watching, and it doesn't hurt that chief mixologist Mariena Mercer comes up with creative new drinks spiked with flavors like Chinese five spice. Foodies who have long enjoyed trying new dishes are now letting their cocktail palates wander out of their comfort zone as well.
Bouncing back from a big hit in the recession, Vegas is filling more hotel rooms, though rates are still a relative bargain for the city, at least on weekdays.
Information in this article, originally published July 14, 2012, was corrected on July 17, 2012. A previous version of this story had an incorrect spelling of a mixologist's name. She is Mariena Mercer, not Marina Mercer.