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A New Wrinkle for Las Vegas Dining

Caesars tries out the idea of restaurants without a plush hotel attached
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Sep 19, 2011 11:55am ET

A recent announcement from Caesars Entertainment implicitly acknowledges that lavish luxury hotels have saturated Las Vegas, but there is still plenty of room for more good restaurants.

The mega-company, which includes Caesars Palace, Paris Las Vegas, Planet Hollywood and Rio, outlined its plans to build an elaborate dining and retail venue on land it owns across the street from Caesars Palace. Its neighbors include the Venetian on the north, Paris to the south, and Caesars and the Mirage across the street. Now occupied by a honky-tonk mishmash of old-school casinos, cheap retail and several outdated hotels, including the Imperial Palace, Flamingo and Harrah's, the tract has always struck me as an eyesore.

The usual modus operandi in Las Vegas would be to implode those old venues and replace them with a plush resort containing a long list of lavish restaurants and retail shops. Now, as Vegas digests the enormous City Center project and the Cosmopolitan next door, Caesars intends to house a new collection of restaurants and retail shops in a separate building called Linq, which will connect the updated Flamingo with Harrah's and whatever the now-dilapidated Imperial Palace becomes.

Caesars' current hotels have assembled a potent lineup of restaurants. Guy Savoy, Bradley Ogden, Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill, Michel Richard's Central and Payard Pâtisserie are mainstays at Caesars. Jean Joho's Eiffel Tower and Mon Ami Gabi occupy prime spots in Paris LV. The Forum Shops (a mall attached to Caesars) offers Spago, Il Mulino, Joe's Seafood and the Palm. No specifics were announced for restaurants at Linq, as it's not expected to be finished before late 2013. My guess: It will resemble the Forum Shops lineup.

At luxury resorts, gambling no longer represents the majority of revenue in Las Vegas. Restaurants and retail have made the biggest inroads. In their insightful book, The World of Las Vegas Dining, published earlier this year, Vegas insiders Laury and John Bakie recall how most casinos treated food as a loss leader, to keep gamblers around. "Somewhere along the way there was a paradigm shift," they write in their introduction, "from the ‘feed them to keep them' mentality to ‘we can bring them in with really stellar cuisine and even make it profitable.' Restaurants became a draw in their own right." The book highlights more than 100 restaurants and chefs, famous and not so famous, who have made an impact there.

Linq will likely add to that list. Now, let's see who they get.

John Wilen
Texas —  September 20, 2011 7:22pm ET
Caesar's internal customer surveys revealed an inconvenient truth for Las Vegas and its casino-centric economy: Although older customers appreciate what Las Vegas does best, like football field-sized displays of slot machines, high-end restaurants and brand-name shopping, younger customers want something different. In short, they want something less stuffy and more low-key.

So Caesars' looked to established retail and entertainment districts around the country that were already popular with young people, like New York’s Meatpacking District and the Grove in Los Angeles. Generation X and Y customers, the company found, didn’t want to be cooped up in a fancy mall. Instead, they wanted to wander from one attraction to the next in a more natural and casual outdoor environment — a large-scale collection of outdoor-facing, nongambling attractions that’s common in other big cities but still doesn’t exist on the Strip.

The prototypical Linq customer, executives say, isn’t a graying slot player but rather, a 30-something, middle-class man or woman who wants to meet up with friends for cocktails or beers.

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