Rocky Mountain Weekender: the rebirth of cool

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“We want to transform this place back to the glory days, to what it once was,” Garry Abbs, director of guest service operations for the Tropicana in fabulous Las Vegas.

Abbs is giving me the grand tour of the Tropicana Las Vegas – currently very much a work in progress. I’d gotten in the night before in time for dinner at the resident Italian eatery, Bacio, and a Paul Rodriguez show, but I hadn’t really understood the scope of the renovation until the tour. After a long period of decline, things are looking up at the old “Tiffany of the Strip.”

New ownership, under the guidance of former MGM Mirage executive Alex Yemenidjian, is doubling down on the 1957 property, one of the oldest remaining casinos on the Strip. After buying the casino out of bankruptcy last year, the group is plunking $165 million into every imaginable nook and cranny. The rooms are getting a chic update, the theater is getting a stadium-style makeover, and even the dated stained glass over the tables is coming down. Abbs says the project is moving along at lightning speed, shepherded by old pros, and the rebirth of the resort should be largely complete by the end of the year.

Abbs takes me down a shimmering hall with views of the pool area, explaining how the space recently underwent a “cheesy to classy” transformation. The forest of greenery will be replaced with sand and luxe cabanas with comfy beds and perks galore, as Miami-based beach bar and resort chain Nikki Beach opens their first Sin City location.

Abbs says hello to a passing co-worker. He tells me he is the service culture manager, responsible for porting the culture of the staff and reporting directly to Yemenidjian. “Renovating an old hotel is a lot harder than opening a new one,” says Abbs, explaining the need to re-train some staff and replace others.

I’m soon following Abbs into a cavernous former convention hall, gutted down to concrete and steel. Coming is an interactive historical museum/attraction, “The Las Vegas Mob Experience,” that will tell the sordid tale of Vegas’ gangster history in high-tech grand fashion. Next up is a tour of the rooms, old and new, where the “cheesy to classy” phrase once again applies. The Art Deco-inspired VIP suites are quite something, and the standard rooms, starting at $129, compare nicely with those at the Luxor or Treasure Island.

I have to admit – and I’m not a huge aficionado of Vegas – I like what they’re doing at the Tropicana. And now that I’ve gotten a sneak peek, I don’t want to miss the finished product come 2011.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Tropicana Las Vegas: 3801 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas, Nevada; 800.468.9494; www.troplv.com
Las Vegas Mob Experience: www.lvme.com

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