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Gaming Guru

Laura Carroll

Hard Rock will have new restaurant and music venue but same rocking attitude

12 July 2012

It was almost as if the Godfather of Soul was giving his blessing.

James Brown's sparkling gold blazer and regal red-and-cream cape seemed to shine extra bright as the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino's chief operating officer, Paul Pusateri, spoke Wednesday about recent changes to the property.

And there have been quite a few.

When all is done, the Hard Rock's management, Warner Gaming LLC, and the property's owners, Brookfield Asset Management, will have spent between $20 million and $30 million on remodeling existing facilities and replacing older outlets with new blood.

Most notable perhaps is the addition of Culinary Dropout, a gastro pub opening Aug. 21 next to Nobu, and Vinyl, a 650-person music venue, also slated for an August opening.

"It's an exciting time for the property," Pusateri said.

If you're familiar with the layout of the original Hard Rock Hotel, you know the one eons ago where Baby's was the coolest place in town.

Wipe that image from your head.

Gone is the 3,300-square-foot retail store. In its place is a mix of slot machines and the new Peacock High Limit room. Look for Baccarat, EZ Baccarat and Pai Gow in the near future in a high-limit Asian pit, as the property wants to attract more Asians.

Asians now make up 10 percent of the Hard Rock's clientele, and gaming management wants to increase that to 30 percent within one year.

Moving on past Nobu is Culinary Dropout, which will have indoor and outdoor seating. Gamblers playing on the main casino floor will be able to see inside the new restaurant all the way to the pool area.

"We're going to open up the visuals of the property," Pusateri said.

The new Hard Rock store, a brightly lit 1,100-square-foot remnant of its former self, sits between the future site of Culinary Dropout and the cafe Mr. Lucky's.

The product line at the new store is different, too, with more of what a typical casino souvenir shop has, and less of the rock 'n' roll style purses, jeans and high-end clothing the old store had.

"The other store was too big for what we needed," said Kerri Matherly, director of retail operations for the hotel.

The Hard Rock's other shops ­- John Varvatos, Affliction and Love Jones - are still in their original locations.

While Mr. Lucky's also is still in its spot, the cafe looks much different than it did earlier this year. The left-facing wall has been partially removed, and additional seating has been added, opening the cafe up to the full view of the casino.

Some of the old-school Vegas signs, such as the old Sahara one, are gone, but Kurtess Mortensen, the hotel's executive chef, said not to fret.

"We're not 100 percent finished with the decor, and we're trying to decide where to put some of the signs," he explained.

In addition to new paint, Mortensen added new items to the cafe's menu.

And that secret menu item? Just ask; they'll probably still give it to you, if you're nice about it.

On weekends, Mr. Lucky's has about 2,400 customers each day and about 1,500 each weekday.

Next on the Hard Rock tour is the front desk, which now has a 24-screen display behind the registration counter, spanning the entire length. The display is used to advertise all things Hard Rock, from concerts to slot club promotions.

"It's not just enough to remind everyone what the Hard Rock used to be. ... We need to take the property through an evolution to be successful in today's market," Pusateri said.

With a focus on targeted programming, Pusateri said the Hard Rock has been able to regain market share with a demographic it previously cornered - 25- to 40-year-olds who love rock, parties and tattoos.

This year's mini-residency featuring Motley Crue, the relocation of the Adult Video News convention and awards show, and the Dew Tour have resulted in increased occupancy and revenues for the property at 4455 Paradise Road.

"It's working," Pusateri said of the targeted programming plan. "We just nailed it."

And with the August opening of Vinyl, Pusateri and company want to extend that programming into all areas of the hotel. If a large headliner is playing in the 4,000-capacity Joint, a smaller band can take over Vinyl afterward, to keep guests on property.

Or guests can move into the newly announced Ainsworth, a lounge that rounds out the offerings off the main casino floor. Ainsworth will have DJs on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, and will host football parties once the NFL season resumes.

With Cake's "The Distance" playing loudly in the background, it became apparent that while much of the original hotel has changed, one thing clearly hasn't.

The iconic photographs still line the entry hallway, welcoming all who enter.