The view from the floor-to-ceiling windows in our room at the new Wynn Encore provides a distressingly clear picture of what's going on in Las Vegas these days. To the south, there's a casino project that has ground to a halt, half built, its steel skeleton an outline of a multibillion-dollar dream gone hungry. Across the street, there's a Modernist chapel, a lonely vigil of virtue on the Strip people seek salvation elsewhere in this town. Look west toward the mountains and you can trace the Vegas real estate developers' dash toward the horizon with building projects. Now as far as you can drive, there are foreclosed homes and empty new developments offering come-ons to prospective buyers.
The Encore, which opened officially in January, stands like a luxurious monument of defiance to the recession. It is not; it cannot. Wynn Resorts boss Steve Wynn has cut room rates to as little as $169 a night the original projected rates were something on the order of $350 but he won't cut service. That act of defiance means the Encore is a pretty astonishing value for any visitors in the mood to treat themselves to a Las Vegas fling in these tough times. The $2 billion, 2,034-room project adjoins the Wynn the hotels are connected by a retail alley completing Steve Wynn's most recent move to reposition the Las Vegas mind-set. The man who brought you exploding volcanoes (the Mirage), pirate ships (Treasure Island) and over-the-top light shows, not to mention a zillion dollars' worth of fine art (the Bellagio) has now fully assembled his antidote to overstimulation, which began with the Wynn Las Vegas in 2005. Here is a different kind of sensibility dare we say classy? a resort with gaming, rather than a gaming resort. (See 10 things to do in Las Vegas.)
At ground level, the Encore, like its older sibling, is still all business, though Wynn had his decorator, Roger P. Thomas, nod to the Las Vegas of the past. The casino floor is dominated by a color that the company says used to be standard in casinos in the bad old good old days just call it whorehouse red. But it works here, with the brilliant red chandeliers, the whole effect muted a bit by judicious use of off-white fabric. The other delicate touches are cast, oddly enough, by natural light streaming in from either end of the casino floor. And not only through windows the main entrance to the Encore casino takes you through a lush, plant-and-tree-filled atrium over three stories tall. There's a certain amount of whimsy at play here too: for instance, the brightly colored butterflies inlaid into the mosaic floors. It makes the contemplation of losing at the tables almost pleasant.
Wynn being who he is, the Encore is not without artifice. It's still a showpiece. The Encore has five restaurants, including Switch, which features a contemporary surf-and-turf menu but whose selling point is that its walls automatically change out like set decorations to give the room an entirely different look every so often. Impressive, if pointless. There's a steak place called Botero that displays works by the Colombian artist and a more modest joint called Café Society. We dined at Wynn's signature restaurant, Sinatra, named for ole you-know-who, a Wynn pal. If you like Sinatra's music, the restaurant is a calm, beautiful setting in which to enjoy it. Better yet, the chef, Theo Schoenegger (yes, he's Italian), can make some music too, including a killer agnoletti topped with shaved truffle. Full disclosure: Schoenegger knew we were coming, but you can't hide bad food or bad execution. That proved to be more than true at the Encore's pan-Asian offering, Wazuzu, where mediocrity ruled, from the bland shumai to the uninteresting sushi to the disinterested service our waitress abandoned us midway through the meal for her break. She was following labor rules, we presume, but the handoff was less than smooth.