No wonder a local journalist referred to the SLS Las Vegas—the Philippe Starck-infused resort that now inhabits what was once the iconic Sahara—as a “best-of-L.A. sample box.” Inside its gleaming white, palm-fronted face are plenty of Los Angeles imports, courtesy of owner Sam Nazarian: Jose Andres’ Bazaar Meat; the Griddle Cafe, just the second location of the Sunset Boulevard staple; Umami Burger; the Sayers Club music venue; and, perhaps most brand-forward, some 10,000 square feet of Fred Segal retail space parceled among seven distinct shops.
Nazarian’s SBE hospitality group operates an SLS in Beverly Hills, and another in Miami, but the Vegas edition is the company’s biggest, the result of a reported $415 million makeover. It opened a month ago with fireworks, Lenny Kravitz, Iggy Azalea and a guest list varied enough to include the prime minister of the Bahamas and Girls Gone Wild impresario Joe Francis.
For the most part, the place wears its L.A.-ness lightly—our hope that it would be like walking into an Ed Ruscha painting were quickly dashed. The entrance is an effusion of windows, mirrors, illuminated floors and bouncing light, and, thanks to Starck’s influence, there are decorative touches that smack of high-style production design (check the taxidermy chandelier in Bar Centro). And, the luxe elements notwithstanding, it has a relaxed vibe, from the exposed-ductwork ceiling to the easily navigated casino floor—a small blessing to anyone who’s wandered the sprawl of, say, Caesars.
Where the L.A. connection comes through most is in the food. “SLS is the latest murderer’s row of restaurants to explode upon the Vegas food scene,” says restaurant critic John Curtas, “and it makes no apologies for its L.A. pedigree—nor does it need to.” In addition to the restaurants already mentioned, the food stops include Katsuya by Starck, Cleo, Ku Noodle and 800 Degrees.
“Bazaar Meat is a game-changer,” Curtas insists, “encompassing everything from tapas to a charcuterie bar, stocked with the best beef and pork a carnivore can buy. It’s destined to be one of the most famous steakhouses in America.”
That’s the kind of talk SLS will want to hear more of. Nazarian, who’s owned the property since 2007, shut it down in May 2011 amid the melancholy sighs of those who valued the Sahara’s throwback appeal, however threadbare it might’ve become (among its main claims to fame was a 6-pound burrito at a NASCAR-themed cafe). After so many of the classic joints—the Sands, the Dunes, the Desert Inn, the Stardust—were imploded to make way for the new generation of Strip palaces, the Sahara’s shuttering seemed like the last gasp of old-school Vegas.
Now revamped, it sits in semi-isolation at the north end of the Strip, were too little of the real Vegas action is, with mostly vacant lots as neighbors rather than bustling resorts it could swap patrons with and benefit from. That’s due to change in time — MGM Resorts International is reportedly planning a live events venue across Las Vegas Boulevard, and the $4 billion, 87-acre Resorts World hotel-casino is supposed to begin construction nearby … sometime soonish. Until then, SLS kind of has the area to itself.
But it’s smartly conceived, easy to access—for those who detest parking on the Strip, this place is a breeze—and has some destination appeal.