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Best of Liz Benston

Gaming Guru

Liz Benston

Mirage Hopes to Tap the Trendy Crowd with New Clubs, Eateries

3 August 2005

The Mirage isn't a place where Sean Christie likes to hang out.

Christie, managing partner of an almost-open nightclub at Mirage called Jet, is a nightclub veteran and the marketing muscle behind Light, a Bellagio club that has become a magnet for the hip, beautiful and well-heeled crowd.

"There is really no nightlife at the Mirage," Christie said.

But he thinks there soon will be.

In a few months his company, Light Group, will open Jet in conjunction with a restaurant called Stack and a lounge named Mink.

Light Group was founded by Andrew Sasson, who managed clubs in Manhattan and the Hamptons before setting his sights on Las Vegas a few years ago.

Christie also isn't that interested in the restaurants at Mirage.

"There isn't necessarily a place I'd want to go right now," he said.

Christie said that will change by next summer when the Mirage spends millions of dollars to complete its first major upgrade in the property's 16 year history.

The process began last year when Mirage opened Cravings, a high-end buffet. Last month the property opened a new high-limit casino pit with a baccarat area and lounge marked by a center bar and large glass-blown sculptures by artist Dale Chihuly.

Competition from newer resorts has drawn customers away from the Mirage and the resort aims to win them back in addition to attracting new patrons -- all without alienating resort regulars.

"We've been successful since Day One but there are new customers coming to Las Vegas who've never been to the Mirage," Mirage President and Chief Operating Officer Scott Sibella said. "You have to continue to spend money on upgrades ... people want to see new things."

In the coming months, four of the Mirage's six fine dining restaurants will be revamped or replaced entirely.

A Chinese restaurant called Fin will open in November at the site of the former Renoir restaurant with traditional dishes favored by high-rollers and Asian tourists such as shark fin and abalone. Stack, featuring updated American food and "comfort" desserts, also will open in December at the site of the existing Moongate restaurant. Japonais, a modern Asian restaurant, by May will open in the space now occupied by Japanese restaurant Mikado. The Mirage's steakhouse, Kokomo's, will be reworked by Adam Tihany and reopen by December.

Tihany designed Aureole at Mandalay Bay, known for its glass-walled wine tower, as well as other high-end restaurants in Las Vegas and New York.

The new restaurant offerings aren't intended to be "upscale" in the formal sense but instead offer a stylish and inviting place for people to relax, said Bart Mahoney, vice president of food and beverage at the Mirage.

"We have 16 years of data on what people like," he said. "Renoir was a five-star restaurant but it wasn't what people wanted. They're looking for something with more energy."

Jet, built onto the north end of the property facing Flamingo Road, is expected to open in December.

Mink is scheduled to open in January, replacing a central bar near the Mirage's tropical atrium.

The Mirage's signature volcano attraction also will get a makeover, with louder sound effects, higher fire explosions and more realistic looking lava expected by summer.

The upgrades were all timed to open by the summer debut of a new Cirque du Soleil show based on the music of the Beatles. The Mirage is spending more than $100 million to remodel the former Siegfried and Roy showroom for the show.

"We thought it would be a good way to showcase the property," Sibella said. "Everyone knows the Mirage -- it has great brand equity. We see this as a way to reintroduce the Mirage to customers."

The upgrades were planned about two and a half years ago but Sibella, who came on board six months ago after running Treasure Island, fast-tracked some of them. He declined to reveal the cost of the projects.

Sheets of drywall and construction noise now greet customers near the lobby and about the casino.

Making so many changes all at once "presents a challenge" but will make for a more dramatic effect once it is all complete, Sibella said.

Sibella said the changes aren't intended to compete with Bellagio, MGM Mirage's most expensive property and a more formal environment. Competition within the next tier of resorts has become fierce in Las Vegas, even within the MGM Mirage portfolio, he said.

The most expensive resort when Steve Wynn opened it in 1989, the Mirage became the quintessential megaresort and ushered in a building boom on the Strip that has continued to this day.

The Mirage's transformation tracks that of Las Vegas, Christie said.

The Mirage's lounges are "old school Vegas" and aren't what many visitors these days are looking for, he said.

"There are people who are 25 to 45 with disposable income who are not afraid to pay $8 to $9 for a Grey Goose and tonic," he said. "People have become more sophisticated about where they go."

Typical activities have changed dramatically from just five years ago, when Las Vegas entertainment still revolved around gambling, he said.

Nowadays friends come to town to "sit at the pool, go to a great restaurant that doesn't take three hours, go to a great lounge and then go to a great nightclub," Christie said.