Frequent visitors may have their favorite place to stay and gamble, but Vegas isn’t for loyalists. It’s for seekers of the hottest, the newest, the now—which is why casino owners like Steve Wynn spent $99 million upgrading Wynn when it was only five years old (and is spending $9 million at the beginning of 2015 on bed linens alone); the Strip’s one-time darling THEhotel at Mandalay Bay has been transformed into a Delano; Nobu Matsuhisa opened his first-ever hotel here (in the revamped Centurion Tower of Caesars); and Sahara is now SLS. It’s also one of the best places on earth for people-watching: on a completely egalitarian four-mile strip of casinos, shops, restaurants and clubs, you’ll see everyone from gawking tourists from all over the world, to bachelorettes who’ve squeezed themselves into sequined sausage casings teetering on seven-inch heels, to, well, George Clooney. All are welcome, and some places are better than others to watch them all collide.
The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
When Cosmopolitan opened in 2010 it made an urbane, design-forward statement that is still relevant, even (gasp) nearly five years later. It lures people inside its two sleek towers with a blend of nightlife; boutique shopping; and dining (modern French brasserie Comme Ça, rustic Italian at Scarpetta, a “secret” table inside Jose Andres’ Jaleo, boozy shakes and great burgers at Holsteins, upscale Greek at Milos Estiatorio, theatrically fun Rose.Rabbit.Lie). The Cosmopolitan can’t be topped for surprises, from a pop-up wedding chapel to monthly live-in artists that work in a public storefront. Even the lobby, with its video-wrapped columns, is a cool place to be seen. Live music, free parties, and summer concerts at the Boulevard Pool combine to make it one of the best places to people-watch in the city.
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino
Known for a hard-rocking atmosphere, musical residencies that can’t be topped, and its long-running debauched summer Sunday pool party, Rehab, HRH has been fine-tuning its people-watching opportunities ever since it opened. After a $750 million overhaul in 2010, it became an even better place to see everyone—including Gene Simmons, who just did a month-long residency in November to celebrate the 40th anniversary of KISS. In the summer, it’s the pool that’s the draw: a new beach with Tahitian-style cabanas classes up the place, but the real draw—swim-up poker—is an HRH mainstay.
Wynn Las Vegas
Massive sunlit atriums, a team of horticulturalists to keep the thousands of flowers blooming, an incomparable public art collection, and restaurants so over-the-top they constitute dining theater, bring people to Wynn. The shopping is unparalleled; in fact, early this year, Givenchy bypassed New York City to make Wynn its US flagship. All the big luxury retail players are here, and shoppers drop their spending inhibitions when they walk along the Esplanades at Wynn and Vegas. You’ll also find a very popular poker room and a bright, sunlit, high-limit slot room where people drop $5,000 on a single slot machine. The best people watching, though, is discrete – in venues like Andrea’s, where the well-heeled go for dinner before a night at XS, or Country Club for lunch, where you’ll see politicians, rock stars, and power brokers, sometimes together.
Between the nearly 4,000 rooms and suites and the thousands of people that flock to shop and eat at the adjoining Forum Shops at Caesars and see shows at the Colosseum, there’s very little people-watching you can’t do at Caesars, since most people end up here eventually. It has only gotten more interesting, though, with the opening of Nobu Hotel in late 2012, and the massive recent expansion in Forum Shops of Jimmy Choo, plus the opening of Polo Ralph Lauren, Mulberry and NARS. Back in the casino, the massive 600-seat Bacchanal lives up to its name, with people flocking to the nearly endless buffet line all day and night (The Hangover 3 cast ate here in a private room during filming). In the spring, Hakkasan Group is opening the 75,000 square foot Omnia, its newest nightclub, in the space formerly occupied by Pure. Expect opulent surroundings and people.
Bellagio Hotel & Casino
Most know Bellagio for its public spaces—those fountains performing nightly, the Conservatory with its revolving, over-the-top floral displays (don’t miss the Chinese New Year exhibit), and its Bellagio Gallery of Fine Arts (on now, a terrific Faberge egg exhibit, including “Fauxberge” pieces that fooled the experts for years). The big draw here, though, is the poker, particularly in “Bobby’s Room,” which, at a $20,000 minimum buy-in, is the highest limit poker room in the world. It’s named for Bobby Baldwin, the 1978 World Series of Poker Champion – who’s also the President and CEO of CityCenter. On any given day, if you’re lucky enough to get into the high-stakes room, you’ll see some of the world’s most notable players. Hyde Bellagio has the best table for viewing both people and the fountains simultaneously, though to do it right, you’ll need to spend a cool $250K for the bottle service that includes a 30 liter bottle of Armand de Brignac Ace of Spades Champagne (for your entourage) and the ability to choose the fountains’ playlist after they’ve normally stopped for the evening.