Every time a major casino opens or reopens its doors in Las Vegas it is a big deal. As leisure and business travel rebounds from the COVID pandemic, Vegas is once again heating up as one of the favorite destinations of many vacation travelers, the convention business is coming back, and the newest hot ticket, Las Vegas sports tourism, is through the roof. Vegas quickly emerged as the top pick in the nation for NHL and NFL fans to see their favorite home teams on the road as a two-for-the-price-of-one sports and fun vacation, and in addition, there has been a recent series of blockbuster announcements including a new annual Formula One (F1) race, the Super Bowl, and many other “Bucket List” events.
Las Vegas visitors always seem to want to embrace the latest and greatest, and there is a lot going on. The last wave of big things included Resorts World, the first new build mega casino (3500 rooms) to open on the Strip in a decade (read my piece about it here), and the 777-room Circa, the first new build casino in “Old” Downtown Vegas in four decades (read more here).
What’s next? Well, the latest salvo in the ongoing “What’s New in Vegas?” saga is the rebirth of a golden oldie, the new Palms Casino Resort, opening this month. The Palms was developed by George Maloof, then owner of the NBA Sacramento Kings, and it opened to great fanfare as a celebrity favorite with a deep Los Angeles and California connection, attracting A-List pro-athletes and Hollywood stars. Even among the continuous excess and over the top creativity of La Vegas it pioneered several unique signature wrinkles, including elaborate fantasy theme suites, such as one with a basketball court and full professional locker room (the Hardcourt Suite), one with two bowling alleys and other one-of-a-kind amenities such as a private whiskey room (the Kingpin). The Palms was also a pioneer and early success story the Vegas nightclub scene, and among other innovations, brought the Playboy brand back to Vegas after decades of absence and was the first casino resort in the city to add a recording studio, fitting its celebrity image. One of the most iconic features was the 55th floor Ghost Bar, a large cocktail lounge cum night club famous for its open-air portion with glass floor looking straight down – way down.
Like every other casino resort in town, the Palms closed for the COVID-19 pandemic, back in early 2020, but unlike competitors, it never reopened – despite a top to bottom $600-plus million renovation just prior to the pandemic. After Maloof there were a series of subsequent owners, the last of which just sold it to this new and most unique owner yet, the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians.
Now The Palms is making history as the first Native American owned casino in Sin City, something that seems almost impossible to believe, considering the number of tribal casinos across the nation. In fact, the tribe is experienced and already owns and operates the Yaamava’ Resort & Casino at San Manuel, one of Southern California’s premier casino resorts. Yaamava’ has recently been significantly expanded and added a new full-service resort with 432 guest rooms with 127 suites.
They seem to be on a roll, and The Palms is bigger, with 766 rooms in two towers, numerous bars and restaurants, lots of gaming, a sports book, spa and 2,500-seat theater. The pool is a big highlight, a multi-level, sprawling 73,000-square-foot complex with two luxurious main pools and 39 cabanas, most with their own private pools.
On April 27, The Palms opens as an essentially new, completely renovated resort with great old bones – and some updated amenities.
These include several notable returning eateries that were relatively new before COVID. The collection features one of my favorite restaurants in Las Vegas, Mabel’s BBQ by Chef Michael Symon. A meat specialist, Symon is one of the nation’s top celebrity chefs and his original Mabel’s in Cleveland is one of the best upscale yet authentic barbecue spots in the world. Las Vegas has long been a culinary giant, but has always been surprisingly lacking in this extremely popular cuisine. Few casino resorts in town have a real BBQ spot, and few of those are standouts, so Mabel’s is clearly the best (I also love the niche BBQ Mexicana at Mandalay Bay). It’s great that Symon and his smokehouse are returning, and so is Scotch 80, an exceptional steakhouse. This is a category Vegas has no shortage of, with lots of great options. But even in this red meat lovers’ city, Scotch 80 Prime is one of the best and as its name suggests, also has an amazing whiskey selection, with tasting flights and pairing options. I loved my last dinner at Scotch 80 Prime, and I am glad it is coming back.
The Palms also opened the first Las Vegas outpost of legendary Hong Kong-based dim sum chain Tim Ho Wan, most famously “the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant.” I got to eat here before the pandemic, and I have been to other locations around the globe, and it was excellent, all the usual favorites but also some special “only in Vegas” dishes. The other big comeback story here is Ghostbar, perhaps the resort’s best-known venue.
Also returning are the over-the-top lodging options, including three luxury Sky Villas and the nine theme suites. The Sky Villas are the most opulent lodging, including a 9,000 square foot
two-level, two-bedroom unit, the Empathy suite, with its own private pool, terrace and floor to ceiling two-story windows for stunning Vegas views. The “regular” two-story villa sleeps eight and has its own restaurant-style 18-seat bar, along with Vegas touches like round beds, its own pool, steam shower and jetted tubs, gaming area, massage room, fitness center and private butler. Even the smallest one-story sky Villa has a pool, sauna, massage room, fitness room, butler and sleeps up to four in a cozy 5.000 square feet. All Sky Villa stays include VIP airport transfers and private poolside cabana.
The theme suites are all different sizes, aimed from couples to groups. For instance, the Cinema Suite has one king bedroom, but theater style seating around the giant screen for eight in recliners, with surround sound and unlimited movies, plus a pool table and six seat bar, along with steam shower. The Hardwood suite, the one with the basketball court, has a king plus three more beds, and the Real World Suite – where the 2002 season of the hit MTV show of the same name was filmed – has six beds, full kitchen, pool table and bar. Most of the theme suites also include airport transfers and private cabanas.
But the most interesting lodging twist here may be Palms Place, a separate residential tower next door that is technically a luxury non-gaming hotel with its own pool complex and such, but practically it is just a quieter extension of the Palms with larger rooms, rented nightly just like the casino hotel, but all suites or suites or one and two-bedroom apartments, some with fireplaces and whirlpool tubs. This will once again be one of the city’s best kept secrets and best values for well above average quality lodging.