“I don't have a kid, but it's like sending your kid off to school for the first day,” says snowballing mogul-owner Sam Nazarian as fireworks and stars blow the doors open at Hollywood's new embassy Friday night
Sam Nazarian and his SLS Las Vegas threw a grand opening 3,500 person sleepover party with Iggy Azalea, Lenny Kravitz, Dita von Teese, fireworks, an influx of Hollywood stars like Emile Hirsch and Aaron Paul, and a “be our guest” parade through their high end nightlife and restaurant concepts on Friday night.
It's the culmination of 39 months and a reported $415 million renovation of the former Sahara.
On Friday, the entire hotel had a new car smell. Cabbies did not know where to pull in. There was a guestlist for the entire property perimeter.
It was the kind of event people that drives L.A. to Instagram and caused one colleague who missed a flight to brave Greyhound across the desert to make it there.
Moreover, I experienced twin white elephants: First, a casino that has never been smoked in. Second, smushy virgin bedding that on opening night is guaranteed sin-free, a novelty in Sin City.
Owner Sam Nazarian's friends, family, associates, and galaxy of contacts got a five hour pre-party before the doors opened to the general public at midnight.
The “vegas celebrities” included Chuck Lidell, Holly Madison, and Robin Leach, who brings his own videographer and wanders wherever he wants.
The general public (or “GP”) line snaked around the block.
“It's a new idea,” Nazarian said. “I hope you guys like it. It's our heart and soul. I don't have a kid but it's like sending your kid off to school for the first day,” Nazarian told his guests after a pair of celebrities introduced the captain of the L.A. hospitality industry.
Lenny Kravitz (a true “Richard Alpert,” ageless in a black fishnet top masking 50 year-old abs) helped design some of the suites. “Welcome to the new vibe of Las Vegas,” he said. Maria Menounos followed him for remarks on the poolside stage.
“I want you to know a little more about Sam's character,” Menounos told the intimates. “He's not just this big mogul that we all know.” She went on to tell a story about him clearing the table with her mother at a dinner party they had, before heading outside to shoot hoops.
Iggy Azalea proved to be a two-timing, two-stater.
Borrowing the pace of A-list DJ's like Steve Aoki and Avicii , she double booked gigs in Vegas and Southern California on Friday night.
At 8:45 p.m. she followed pal Rita Ora's introduction with a set on a festival sized stage built over the Foxtail pool. Yes, the hot duo played the viral “Black Widow,” a “Kill Bill” homage that racked up millions of views this week. Later in the night, she was scheduled back in L.A. for an official MTV VMA pre-party at Avalon.
“I wish I could (gamble),” Azalea told TheWrap. “I love blackjack, but I'm running too late.” “I just bet everything on red,” Ora added.
Unannounced, DJ Vice played the main club space, Life (above), which retains some of the theatre architecture of the time when the Beatles, Elvis, and Frank Sinatra played in the Sahara decades.
Meanwhile, Kravitz played the very of-the-moment, The Sayers Club.
In the casino, dealers took places at tables at 6:30 p.m., five and a half hours before games could begin. It was an eerie site to see an entire casino at the ready, yet at a standstill.
Video slots glared with the XP blue screen of death and a few thousand snaked a line around the building, vying to be the first winners.
If Friday night was like “sending a kid off to school,” some of the older kids in the playground were there sizing up the scene.
TAO group chiefs Jason Strauss and Noah Tepperberg (Marquee, TAO, Lavo, Avenue) strolled the pool during Iggy's set. A casino marketing executive (read: brings in the big players) from the Hard Rock also took in the opening concert. In his remarks, Nazarian called the “ambassadors” from rival hotels there his “partners.”
Earlier in the day as the champagne flowed in the lobby scene before any of the hotel actually opened, like wrapped presents under the tree, SBE nightlife fixture Dean May welcomed a pack of girls in the lobby at the “Monkey Bar” for toasts.
Nearby, fashion commentator Rachel Zalis's presence signaled the inevitable arrival of her best pal Menounos. The eager staff, who have been working for weeks on dry runs, just looked happy to see live action. (I had 5 maids knock on the door as a group asking if they could turn down the bed…at 6:30 p.m.)
At midnight as the VIP party wound down, the place did not turn in to a pumpkin, it turned in to a pumpkin patch.
Fireworks ignited over the pool, the free food and drink flowing throughout Katsuya, The Bazaar, and Ku Noodles halted, and new arrivals in shorts and flipflops camouflaged ball gowns as the place became perpetually open for business.
“Everything I've done, everything I've learned, some of it the hard way, it was to get here and do this,” Nazarian told Bloomberg Businessweek while first breaking in to Vegas in 2011.
SBE owns and opearates all the venues in the hospitality-driven hotel. Other Vegas properties catering to this demographic have imported outside high profile hospitality brands on to their campuses, like TAO, Marquee, 1Oak, STK, or Scarpetta.
They've been advertising it on a billboard across from the SLS Beverly Hills and throughout West Hollywood for months. Billboards in the Burbank airport tout the opening weekend, with DJ Erick Morillo.
They know their crowd. Previous SLS hotels debuted in late fall, before the holidays.
When the SLS Beverly Hills opened in December 2008, then-mayor Antonio Villaraigosa mixed with the Hilton sisters, Jared Leto, Dylan McDermott, and Jermaine Dupri. Two years later in South Beach, Lenny Kravitz (who helped design the place) headlined amongst Sam's famous friends.
Summer is Vegas’ boom season. The SLS arrives with 11 days to go, capturing the lucrative Labor Day Weekend rush.
What You Need to Know About the SLS Las Vegas, The Location Scout
The SLS Las Vegas is the Disney World of SBE.
It's a homecoming for its brands ranging from high end sushi bar Katsuya, to live music space Sayers Club, to Umami Burger, The Bazaar by Jose Andres, pizza spot 800 degrees, and Cleo amongst others.
Foxtail, the dark Hollywood lounge with bottle service “carts” that shuttered in 2009 after several run ins with the luxury condominiums above it, is reborn as the massive daylife/nightlife indoor and outdoor pool club. It bears no resemblance to its predecessor.
The multi story walls bounding the pool flow with motion graphics, the type most frequently seen when HBO makes the walls of the Beverly Hilton come alive on Golden Globes night.
There's also just a lot of L.A. overall.
There's a “The Griddle”, as in the place where L.A. locals drain half of their Saturday waiting on Sunset for pancakes, and a Fred Segal.
It's far north on the strip, sitting in the shadow of the Stratosphere. “We're resurrecting this area,” Lenny Kravitz said. You won't be walking anywhere from there, but then again, that was the point of Vegas 1.0, right? No need to leave.
The obvious comparison is to the Cosmopolitan, the last luxury boutique hotel to open, geared towards free spending LA and NYC weekend warriors with party appetites. They opened on New Year's Eve 2011 with Jay Z, Beyonce, Coldplay, Kanye, and Florence and the Machine headlining.
SLS sits on a footprint five times the size of the vertical Cosmo (20 acres vs 4) and the rooms here fall in to three towers. It's much more horizontal. There's no escalators.
At 1,600 rooms , it is objectively big for a “boutique hotel,” but feels small. I kept running in to the same people over and over in the vast space, while venues stashed as nooks and crannies sucked in others for the entire night, most notably The Sayers Club.
Sayers is the inner sanctum here and the choicest nightlife real estate. They know it too.
It's the only venue elevated up a staircase, and it's where Nazarian entertained his personal guests behind closed ropes with Lenny Kravitz even during the already-VIP pre-opening party.
The same way that Umami Burger mushroomed, the SLS franchise is about to spread. Next up are three domestic SLS propertiesin 2015 (Miami, Brickell residences, and NYC) before a massive invasion in to China with four hotels planned for next year, two in cities I've never even heard of.
Orientation is now over. School is in session.