Travel February 2001

Las Vegas, 'Tis of Thee

The sweet land of liberties deserves our respect—or at least our ambivalence

Everything is a little bit better at Bellagio. Natural light, in violation of Las Vegas tradition, finds its way into the hotel's common areas through skylighted arcades, a conservatory, and even restaurant windows with a view. Italian craftsmen were brought in to lay the beautiful mosaic tile in the lobby. Cut flowers abound, thanks to a garden and a greenhouse staff numbering 150. The casino's machines have been dimmed and muted, and its low ceiling hung with striped silk fabric. The women who serve drinks, instead of looking like Playboy bunnies, dress in little black suits that would be appropriate at Goldman Sachs, if only their hemlines were a foot or two closer to the ground.

Here is the problem of Bellagio: the hotel is not just amusing—it's kind of ... nice. The rates, of course, reflect the quality: in late fall "deluxe," meaning standard, rooms were around $300 a night.

Elsewhere on the Web
Links to related material on other Web sites.

"What Happens to Steve Wynn?" (, March 12, 2000)
A profile of Steve Wynn, focusing on the future of his career after selling the Mirage hotel to MGM. Posted in the Las Vegas for Visitors section of the internet guide.

Built at a cost of $1.9 billion, Bellagio is the creation of Steve Wynn, the city's best-known entrepreneur, whose Mirage was before this the ranking luxury resort hotel in town. Wynn no longer runs either place; he was bought out a few months ago by MGM. I spoke with a Bellagio executive named Alan Feldman, who has been with the hotel from the start, and he gave me a bit of the history: "Unlike The Venetian, Bellagio is only lightly themed. The theme that we had in mind was really just 'romance.' We had thought of classical French styling, but we had also thought of something very modern. In fact, we had a design and announced a hotel built in the shape of a great wave. But then Steve Wynn went to Italy, and he was sailing on Lake Como, and he looked back at the shore and said, 'This is the most romantic place I've ever been. Let's build this.'"

Feldman and I were having a drink—in my case a $16 glass of Chardonnay—on the terrace of Picasso, looking across Lake Como to Paris, on the other side of the Strip. It was early evening. Each night Bellagio puts on a water show on the lake, geysers erupting from the surface with loud reports, the water exploding into the air like liquid fireworks. The whole show is choreographed to music heard by means of speakers discreetly placed on the perimeter of the lake. The scene we were watching was accompanied by a section of Appalachian Spring.

The jets rose and fell in perfect consonance with the swelling music, and in a little interlude just before the Shaker theme is repeated, the sprays dissolved into a cloud of mist. Then, as the stately finale began, the water erupted again, with more force. My companion had of course seen this many times before, but he was smiling with what seemed to be unaffected pleasure, and so was I. "Simple gifts indeed," he said. Boom! and a new fountain arose before us. Hearing this music, I can never keep the words out of my head, and there they were again. 'Tis a gift to be simple—the water shot up on every beat—'Tis a gift to be free ... By the close a wall of water stood before us, obscuring all else. Then, as the last chord resolved itself, the water dropped back into the lake. The mist cleared, and the Eiffel Tower was visible once again, its lights glowing in the dusk. At that moment I could not recall having felt before such an emphatic sense of being where I belonged: in America.

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