HOTEL REVIEW: THE PLAZA

If someone told me that my first hotel review on Palm Trees & Neon would be of The Plaza in downtown Las Vegas, I’d have thought they were nuts. My favorite hotels include Aria, The Cosmopolitan, Delano, and Caesars. I used to do public relations for luxury hotels. I like nice hotels, really nice hotels. Some may even call me a hotel snob. But alas, we had a Groupon that was about to expire for Banger Brewery (review forthcoming) and a Hotel Tonight promo code for a free night at The Plaza, so we decided to give it a spin rather than pay for an Uber or Lyft. After all, it was only one night.

So first things first. When you stay at a hotel like The Plaza, or pretty much any of the downtown hotels, you have to adjust your expectations. These are older hotels, they cater to a different clientele, and they are exponentially cheaper than the top Strip hotels so you can’t go in expecting the Bellagio at The Plaza rates – which can be as low as around $20 a night in the slow season.

That being said, I went in with really low expectations and was pleasantly surprised.

Since 2010, The Plaza has been working steadily to update and renovate various aspects of the property. Most recently, they added a 50,000 sq ft pool deck expansion – which I did not see because I was only there briefly, and it was cold. The biggest coup for the hotel, which for years endured a reputation as something of a bargain basement type hotel, came in 2011 when it purchased brand new furniture – enough for all 1,037 rooms, as well as fixtures, at auction for pennies on the dollar from the failed Fountainbleu project on the Strip. Because Fountainbleu had been designed to compete against the top Strip resorts, that meant that the furnishings were an enormous step up from The Plaza’s former room stylings.

When we checked in there was absolutely zero line, however, I have seen the line at the check-in get very, very long, so I would definitely try to avoid peak check-in times. We were able to check-in early, but it was off-season. The lobby has been re-done and is clean and shiny, however, the scent that they pump through the ventilation system [as most Strip resorts do] is definitely not my favorite.

Our room was extremely spacious, clean, and overlooked the famous Fremont Street. The view would have been a lot better had they not erected the zip line tower smack in the middle of Fremont, but what can ya do, it’s not the hotel’s fault. Our room had one king bed, and then it had a little sitting area with a settee by the window. The bathroom had a closet bar/rack, a wall safe – which also came from Fountainbleu, and a vessel sink – which I’m just going to go out on a limb and assume was also from the failed Strip resort. The toilet and bathtub were separated by a door – which is not so in many hotels these days, so never take it for granted.

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plaza-deskAmazing hotels stand out for one reason: the details. Details in service, details in amenities, details in design. The Plaza is not quite there on the details. There’s a charming black and white picture of the historic hotel in the room which I loved because it is one of the oldest properties in town – not a hard feat, but still. But many times, the details weren’t there. The bed was a little hard, and the plaza-bathroompillows were a little lumpy; it took FOREVER for the water to get hot in the shower, seriously, I could probably have gone down and had a drink at the bar and come back up before it got hot; and there were no convenient outlets. I get that the hotel was built in 1971 but adding outlets is a VERY easy thing for most maintenance teams to do. There weren’t any outlets by the bed, and the only one by the desk was only accessible when I literally climbed over the desk to plug my phone charger into the wall. It’s almost 2017, virtually no one travels without at least a cell phone that requires charging. Anyways, those are my issues with the room.

 

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This was not even the biggest breakfast entree…

Back downstairs, The Plaza has a lot going on in terms of dining and entertainment. Las Vegas institution, Hash House A Go Go [technically it started in San Diego, but they’ve taken over Vegas with multiple locations], has an outpost just off the lobby and is the place to go if you’re REALLY hungry, and I mean REALLY REALLY hungry. They are famous, or maybe infamous?, for their larger-than-life, over the top creations. Hash House’s enormous, creative food sculptures will fill you up for days. If you’re looking for something late night, Pop Up Pizza is located just off the casino floor and serves up a solid thin crust, New York style pizza perfect for absorbing some of that alcohol you’ve no doubt ingested – did I mention there’s also a cute beer garden on the other side of the lobby – complete with cornhole sets.

 

 

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The beer garden

But every good Vegas hotel offers entertainment and The Plaza has recruited some of Vegas’ finest, longstanding acts. The Scintas hold court in the showroom and present a classic Vegas-style show with some comedy, some singing, and a dose of patriotism. The Scintas are a family act that has been performing in Vegas for a long, long time but they slightly adapt their show each night depending on the audience – the mark of true entertainers. After each show they head up to Oscar’s Steakhouse and meet guests and take pictures – they are extremely gracious with their time.

 

In the “lounge,” which is really just a corner off of the casino, you will find Wonder Boogie, bringing disco back every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday night. They are a fantastic cover band that has been performing in Vegas for years as well and they mix things up with audience participation and games – they even taught me the hustle once. I’m not typically what you would call a “willing participant” in things like this, but they really make it fun.

I’ve seen both, The Scintas and Wonder Boogie, more times than I can count – and ALWAYS have a great time with them.

All in all, The Plaza has really worked on transforming itself into a solid little property that packs a lot of bang for your buck. It’s far from perfect, but it will definitely show you a good time.

The Plaza – 1 Main Street Las Vegas – plazalv.com 

 

FIRST LOOK: LUCKY DRAGON OPENS EARLY

dragon-1Lucky Dragon, the Strip’s first property tailored specifically for the ever-growing Asian market, quietly opened it’s doors last Saturday- two weeks ahead of it’s Dec. 3 scheduled grand opening. The casino, which is coupled with a boutique hotel, is the first to be built from the ground up in Las Vegas since The Cosmopolitan opened six years ago.

Small, yet mighty, the circular casino offers an authentic Asian, primarily Chinese, experience in everything from the gaming  [no poker room, few blackjack tables, lots of baccarat] to the cuisine which takes its cues from the street food found in Taipei and Beijing. The 27,500 sq ft casino is anchored by a stunning 2.5 story, 1.25 ton glass dragon sculpture which floats above the center bar.

The 9-story boutique hotel [where rooms are currently going for $499/night but are expected to fall after the Dec. 3 grand opening] is accessible via a sky bridge from the casino as well as directly from the outside. The ground level features a tea garden with the city’s only tea sommelier to guide guests in their choices.

 

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No fourth floor.

What you won’t find at Lucky dragon is a fourth floor as the number four is seen as unlucky; conversely, you will find the number eight hidden throughout – such as the eight-sided center bar, as the number eight is proposed to bring good fortune.

 

Gorgeous as it is, Lucky Dragon certainly doesn’t feel like a typical Strip property. The intimate casino feels more like a locals casino, and that’s probably on purpose. Despite the fact that mere days before scheduled December opening, Las Vegas’ McCarran Airport will begin receiving direct flights from Beijing thanks to Hainan Airlines, Lucky Dragon’s target customers are more likely to drive in from Southern California or the Las Vegas Valley than they are to fly in from Asia. Indeed, their target customers are the more than 200,000 Asians already in Las Vegas, as well as those in other immigrant communities in Southern California, Northern California, as well as Vancouver.

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dragon-4Lucky Dragon will still “officially” open it’s doors on Dec. 3 with an extravagant series of Asian demonstrations, including a firecracker show, which according to Asian custom is a way of driving away evil spirits, as well as a traditional lion and dragon dance to bring good luck and good fortune to all. In addition, the world’s largest Kung Fu tea service will run throughout the hotel during the day.

Lucky Dragon is located just off the north end of the Strip at 300 W. Sahara Avenue.