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Venice, Canals and All, Comes to the Desert

Thomas Matthews
Posted: March 29, 1999

In Las Vegas, the stakes just keep getting higher. Within the last six months, the city has seen the openings of the $1.6 billion Bellagio and $950 million Mandalay Bay casino-hotels. Now Venice is coming to the desert, with its canals, architectural icons and carnival sensibility carefully replicated in a $i.5 billion resort, casino and convention center called The Venetian.

Opening in mid-April, the Venetian takes the trend toward luxury in Las Vegas to an even higher level. The complex will offer 150 high-end specialty shops along a re-creation of the Grand Canal, a dozen prominent restaurants and a 63,000-square-foot spa run by Canyon Ranch. There will also be two large casinos plus a Madame Tussaud's waxworks museum. These attractions will serve two hotel towers, each with over 3,000 rooms, and an attached 1.7 million-square-foot convention center.

The Venetian's restaurant lineup promises to rival Bellagio (which includes top names such as Le Cirque 2000 of New York and Aqua of San Francisco) in its depth and quality, and also promises to remedy the curious lack of serious Italian restaurants in Las Vegas. Headliners include Valentino, a new version of Piero Selvaggio's restaurant in Los Angeles, which holds a Wine Spectator Grand Award for its wine list; Canaletto, from the group that created the Il Fornaio line of restaurants; and Zeffirino, specializing in Venetian cuisine.

Among the other stars is Emeril Lagasse, who will open a new version of his latest New Orleans venture, Delmonico Steakhouse. New York's Lutece will debut its first branch restaurant at the complex. Joachim Splichal, who holds a Grand Award for his Patina in Los Angeles, will open Pinot Brasserie. Stephen Pyles will bring his "New Texas Cuisine" from Dallas to a new Star Canyon. And Wolfgang Puck, who started the celebrity chef trend in Las Vegas with Spago in 1992, will create a branch of his San Francisco hit, Postrio.

"This is the moment of maturity for Las Vegas," proclaimed Piero Selvaggio, wearing a hard hat in the middle of the Venetian construction site in March. "Suddenly there are 15 or 20 major restaurants in one eight-block area. It can't be a mistake. Valentino will be the culmination of the work of years of pioneers, as Las Vegas finally goes from red sauce to authentic Italian cuisine."

The Venetian is scheduled to open in stages; Valentino, for example, may not open until mid-June, and the second hotel tower is still on the drawing board. But the 315-foot-high Campanile, an exact-scale replica of the bell tower that anchors St. Mark's Square in Venice, has already taken its place alongside the Eiffel Tower, the Sphinx and the New York City skyline on the neon-lit Strip.

"There's an egomaniacal aspect to all this development," admitted Robert Goldstein, senior vice president of The Venetian. "But it drives everyone to do bigger and better things. This is not Venice. But most people in the world are not going to be able to visit Venice. Our version of Venice is more accessible, less expensive and more fun."

For more on the Las Vegas dining scene:

  • September 30, 1998
    Las Vegas Proves Irresistible for Top Chefs

  • March 21, 1998
    Wolfgang Puck Unveils Second Chinois Venture

  • May 31, 1997
    Viva Las Vegas

  • November 18, 1996
    Jean-Louis Palladin Rides Into Las Vegas

    For more on some of the restaurants coming to The Venetian:

  • April 30, 1998
    Above and Beyond: Luthce

  • March 31, 1997
    The Top 10 Italian Restaurants: Valentino

  • October 15, 1996
    Other Notable San Francisco Restaurants: Postrio

  • March 31, 1995
    When Only The Best Will Do: Valentino and Patina

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