Wynns latest not greatest - Friday 12th of August 2005

Sitting at a waterfront steakhouse at the newest and most expensive Strip resort, indulging in a fabulous meal, we concluded that Steve Wynn did, indeed, build the finest resort in town.

It has an elegant casino, matchless dining, a fine art gallery, a gorgeous theater, opulent guest rooms, an impeccable staff.

But enough about the Bellagio.

Tonight were at Wynn Las Vegas, curious whether the visionary who brought us the breakout Mirage in 1989 and the $1.7 billion Bellagio in 1998 had enough left in his creative soul to sculpt another masterpiece.

The short answer is yes, with an asterisk. Theres a Bellagio feel at nearly every turn inside Wynn Las Vegas. (The exterior is a different matter.) But its hard to call something a knockoff when it cost $1 billion more than the genuine article.

So it is with Wynn Las Vegas. Five years ago, Wynn cashed in his Bellagio chips, then bought and tore down the iconic Desert Inn to build his new resort. It was initially called Le Reve ("The Dream," after a Picasso painting he purchased to display here), but for branding purposes, he gave it his own name. Today, Wynns signature towers over the Las Vegas skyline.

Allowing two months to iron out any opening wrinkles, my wife, Jeanne, and I drove across the Mojave Desert in mid-June to check out Wynns dream.

From the outside, theres nothing Bellagio about the place. Architecturally, it is slim and graceful, wrapped in skin-tight bronze. Its coy compared with his earlier projects.

The Bellagio beckons with its extravagant dancing fountains, based on Wynns onetime premise that if passersby were wowed by the outside, theyd be drawn inside. He used that strategy when he built the Mirages volcano and Treasure Islands pirate ship.

Wynn now rationalizes that its more seductive to hide the goods a bit. A 140-foot-high mountain, forested with 60-foot pine trees, shields whats called the Lake of Dreams from casual passersby, luring them inside.

Guests stepping into the Bellagios lobby see Dale Chihulys spectacular glass creations, and in the adjoining conservatory, dazzling seasonal floral displays. Wynn Las Vegas guests enter a bright but smaller atrium, passing through a grove of trees decorated with oversized floral ornaments. It seems kind of paltry.

The check-in was fast and flawless and peacefully removed from the casino floor. Guests lined up for the clerk of their choice, a method that rids the lobby of the maze of velvet ropes. We were offered a room with a view of the Strip but chose one on the back side of the 33rd floor -- appropriate on this trip marking our 33rd anniversary.

Upstairs, we were rewarded with a spectacular view framed by a floor-to-ceiling window overlooking the pool and golf course, desert and mountains to the east. The curtains parted at the touch of a button. We were arrested by the panorama, so much so that I almost didnt notice the 42-inch plasma TV hanging above the mini-bar.

In short order, we discovered that the room and bathroom, both spacious and beautifully appointed, doubled as a sales floor. Not only were the bathrobes and slippers available for purchase, but according to a price brochure in the room, we could also buy the TV ($1,700), the Andy Warhol prints ($175), the king-size down pillows, the comforter, the sheets and, in fact, the whole darn bed ($2,400).

And I was just planning to buy a Wynn visor.

Not wanting to spend a wad Friday night for dinner, we settled on the coffee shop -- and still spent a wad on a couple of shrimp-and-pasta plates. We started wondering where Wynn spent his $2.7 billion, because the menu was photocopied on colored paper and stuck inside a plastic cover.

We explored the hotel afterward, and I hoped that the rhinestone-studded Wynn pin ($18) in the gift shop would sate Jeanne before she discovered what was down Wynns posh shopping promenade: Cartier, Chanel, Christian Dior, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Louis Vuitton and Oscar de la Renta. Dream on, Jeanne.

Some hotels have a car-rental desk. The Wynn has a Ferrari-Maserati car dealership. Its such a draw for looky-loos, me included, that Wynn gets away with charging $10 just to keep out the riffraff.

Once inside, you cant exactly kick the tires and stroke the steering wheel: The vehicles are either on turntables or behind velvet ropes. Even in a downstairs showroom for pre-owned cars, a saleswoman politely admonished me not to touch the merchandise. Just see if I ever buy a Ferrari Spider from her.

After a late breakfast Saturday at the coffee shop -- brand-new menus had arrived overnight -- we staked out our place alongside the hotels elongated pool. Off one side of it is a string of cabanas with wet bars and high-definition TVs. The lounge area is broken up by planters of flowers and pines.

This isnt a fun pool for kids, simply a functional water hole to cool off in. And we were annoyed by the deep bass rumble of music coming from the vicinity of a second but larger pool, which boasted "European" (translation: topless) sunbathing. I went to explore and found a DJ playing music, hordes of folks drinking and lounging like turtles on toadstool-like platforms in the pool. About half the sunbathers were topless -- the men.

The days highlight would be "Le Reve." Franco Dragones water-based production has received mixed reviews, but we found it masterful, staged in a theater-in-the-round that felt intimate despite more than 2,000 seats.

It cant be compared to a whimsical Cirque du Soleil show. Pitched as a "collection of imperfect dreams," it has decidedly dark elements. Think nightmares. The 90-minute show is chaotic and poetic, playful and unsettling, and always athletic and wet. It plays on themes of confused sexuality, tenderness and rage.

We left exhausted but awed and talked about it through dinner and into the evening.

Wynn is largely responsible for the explosion of fine dining (and fine shopping and fine everything else) in Las Vegas, and tonight would not disappoint. Of the Wynns 10 dining rooms, we chose SW, a steakhouse, and on this delightfully balmy evening were taken to a table on the outdoor terrace, just a few feet from Wynns mountainside, 3-acre Lake of Dreams.

Jeanne started with a Maryland blue crab salad, I selected an asparagus salad, and each was perfect. Jeannes entree was a petit filet mignon-lobster dish accompanied by a crispy potato cake and sauteed spinach; I chose a larger filet with an au gratin side that was delivered in its baking dish. To our taste, each meal was prepared and presented perfectly. (And, we would learn later, the china was available for sale at the company store, $350 per place setting.) The only flaw: A busboy cleared Jeannes dishes and took away the bread and my dipping sauces while I was still eating.

We indulged ourselves with dessert: "Not Just a Hot Ding Dong" (a chocolate lava cake topped with marshmallow), followed by milk and cookies, because I was now desperate for the "ice-cold shot of milk" the menu promised.

The Lake of Dreams show, produced with thousands of lights that turned the water into a swirl of colors and bathed the pine trees in blues and greens, left us bewildered and wondering if we were at an outdoor rock concert. For a hotel that otherwise was filled with tasteful elegance, the light show was a letdown.

We left the Wynn after a Sunday brunch buffet that was fine but not as astonishing as, say, the Bellagios. Oops, there I go again, comparing one Wynn joint to another. But in Las Vegas, he sets the bar.

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