More than a year ago, the Hard Rock Hotel closed with a big party over a weekend in early February 2020, ending 25 years in Las Vegas. In its place after a $200 million renovation, Virgin Hotels, opening at 6 p.m. tonight after several delays due to the pandemic. The revamped hotel goes with a lighter look, taking cues from the surrounding Mojave Desert with cactus and desert tones throughout, an open porte cochere with ride-sharing built in, and light and airy colors echoing the vibe of Las Vegas outside the Strip.
Richard “Boz” Bosworth, president and CEO of JC Hospitality and owner of Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, says he hired 1,600 employees, with 1,300 Hard Rock Hotel staff returning. Another 400 to 500 come on board in the next six weeks when the new dayclub Elia and resort pool opens. The resort buried Rehab, the legendary adult pool party, and the lazy river to create a five-acre pool complex with a promenade featuring restaurants with outdoor cafes that feed into the resort pool environment.
“You can hear the energy. You can hear the buzz. That noise, those are team members. Those are local Las Vegans that are back to work, and it’s been probably one of the most exciting aspects of this journey for me today,” Bosworth says as he’s preparing to open the resort.
Unlike other big casino openings, Virgin Hotels stays low-key with live entertainment including deejays, street performances, and more instead of a VIP night, which will come later. Even at 50 percent capacity mandated by the state, Virgin expects crowds who want to explore the new resort and its 12 food and beverage outlets.
A 60,000-square-foot casino from Mohegan Sun, the first Native American tribe to operate a Las Vegas casino, features 650 slots and more than 150 table games.
At the entrance to the resort, the Hard Rock’s famous Center Bar is gone, replaced by what Bosworth calls an “off-center” bar, the Bar at Commons Club and more private Shag Room to the right of the entrance. “The Bar at the Commons Club and the Shag Room are really the heart and pulse of the vibe when you can walk in from a beverage perspective and an entertainment perspective,” he says.
Those familiar with the layout of the Hard Rock Hotel won’t find a different footprint inside the casino. Straight ahead, Nobu from Japanese chef Nobu Matsuhisa returns after a renovation that opens the space up with a new bar. Hakkasan Group’s Casa Calavera takes over the former Pink Taco space with Mexican fare, a collection of tequila and mezcal, and Day of the Dead decor really meant for selfies. A patio spills onto the pool area.
Walking down toward the Harmon Avenue parking garage, diners find Kris Yenbamroong’s Night + Market, a Thai restaurant with California vibes. “We didn’t bring Kris in because he was coming from a Los Angeles location, because we don’t believe that always translates in Las Vegas. Las Vegas has a tendency to be, to tell you what translates here and just because it’s an LA based doesn’t mean it translates in Las Vegas. Kris’s food and points of service are absolutely amazing, and I say this without hesitation, it will be the best Thai restaurant experience in Clark County,” says Bosworth, who says he frequented Yenbamroong’s Venice Beach location.
What Bosworth calls the “first family of steakhouses” also returns with One Steakhouse from Michael and David Morton, taking over their former MB Steak space. Now the downstairs bar area features room for 100 open to the casino floor. The new whimsical mood lighting at the restaurant is a must-see as it changes color as the night progresses. Upstairs, the atrium remains with cantilevered windows that open for an almost al fresco experience.
Not everything opens right away. Todd English’s Olives, taking over the former 35 Steaks + Martini’s space, arrives in May, while Kassi Beach House with Italian fare and a poolside patio, Afters Ice Cream, and Money, Baby!, a sports bar overlooking the pool, plan to open in April.