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Cosmopolitan, Straight Up

Slick and Homespun; Self-important and Unpretentious; Expensive and Inclusive

By Richard Perez-Feria, Las Vegas SunMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

June 13, 2011--I take no pleasure in admitting this, but, yes, I was something of that New Yorker. You know the one: Always in a hurry, annoyed by mediocrity, ironic, judgmental, brand conscious, dismissive of the "flyover," bemused by expressions of locals' enthusiasm--in short, a cliche of the tallest order. Working and living in the 212 for more than two decades gave me what I believe were tremendous insight and an unequivocally clear-eyed perspective in determining what's right, what's important and, mostly, what's worthy of my time. How do you think Las Vegas fared by those criteria? Exactly.

When I was first deciding whether to move to Las Vegas--something so preposterous that fully half of my friends to this day believe I'm pranking them a la Ashton Kutcher's 'Punk'd'--several prominent locals kept pointing to the imminent opening of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas as if that would actually have any bearing on my decision. Once I stopped chuckling at its imperious sounding name, I asked these folks the same question: "Isn't it just another hotel-cum-casino on the Strip?" "This one's different," was the universal consensus. Whatever.

As I got more information about this "monumental event"--a new hotel is set to open on the Strip, Woo-Hoo!--I became even less interested and more cynical. Driving by the visually unremarkable structure, I was struck by how much it looked like a high-end condominium tower in Toronto (not a compliment), only to find out that this hotel would add nearly 3,000 rooms to the Code Red vacancy rate in Vegas. Really?

One of the principal reasons for my decades-long resistance to all things Vegas has been the near impossibility to escape the constant ding-ding-ding-ding of the casino floor. As a nongambler, the idea of eating dinner--or doing anything for that matter--with that omnipresent, ear-splitting carnival noise as the evening's soundtrack was simply unfathomable. For the love of all things joyous, couldn't anyone open a resort that solved this issue? I couldn't be alone in this, could I?

But, alas, when in Las Vegas, do as the Las Vegans do, so shortly after starting my current gig, I was invited to what I thought would be a semi-private, quasi-chic "soft opening" for the spanking new addition to our skyline. Skeptically, I went to the barber for a shave, put on a clean shirt and blazer and was there front and center in December as the doors opened to help usher in a new era of irrelevancy to this city. Or so I thought.

I was, honestly, blown away. The Cosmopolitan is the resort I was waiting for: Slick and homespun; self-important and unpretentious; expensive and inclusive. This clever, well-designed, sexy architectural contradiction was exactly what I thought a Las Vegas hotel-casino should be--nothing like a Las Vegas hotel-casino. The restaurants--particularly the singularly amazing Jaleo, Chef Jose Andres' ridiculously delicious Spanish restaurant--are all tucked away far from the casino floor (finally), the quirky uptown/downtown approach to its public spaces is charming and feels very 21st century and, perhaps smartest of all, housing the city's single-best pizza joint (meatball slice, to die) in a dark, hidden hallway sans signage is just twisted enough to make me smile. Everything about this place struck the perfect chord. In the unlikeliest of corners on the planet, and with apologies to Bono, I may have just found what I was looking for.

Now the bad news. Any resort in this town that appeals to me on so many levels is in a heap of trouble. I've never been attracted to what's massively popular, and any successful resort in Las Vegas has to appeal to the very crowd I make my life's mission to avoid. And sure enough, the recently released first-quarter financials for the Cosmopolitan revealed an eye-popping $56.8 million loss. That's nearly $60 million in one quarter. Uh-oh.

So my philanthropic efforts to salvage my favorite spot on our fabled Strip kicked into high gear. I've put the word out to my fellow Woody Allen-lovin'-East Hampton summerin'-first-class flyin' New Yorkers to come and experience firsthand this most remarkable of Las Vegas hotels. How do I know this resort will appeal to my Grey Goose-over-ice crowd? Because, if we're being honest, the hotel's advertising campaign could go something like this: The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas: We're Not Vegas, Baby. The question remains: Are there enough "New York Times Magazine" readers on the globe to keep this joint jumpin'?

The longer I live in Las Vegas the less I feel (thankfully) like my old self. I've come to embrace a lot of the provincial, unimaginable quirks about this city as just that, quirks of this city. So what if I traded Broadway openings for boozy, crowded pool parties? I'm having a ton of fun by embracing a bit of what makes this city like no other. Vegas is exactly where the highbrow and lowbrow co-exist in a potent, delicious cocktail and I'm taking big gulps. But, no doubt, every time I step inside the Cosmopolitan, the NYC vibe hits me hard and fast. Its sophisticated, understated, come-and-stay-awhile seduction is impossible to resist. And who wants to resist? For this longtime New Yorker, a sublime slice of meatball pizza at this epicenter of cool hits home something good. No, something great. Go and tell your friends. All of them.


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Copyright (c) 2011, Las Vegas Sun

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