Tag Archives: El Cortez Hotel

Silk Purse In A Sow’s Ear: El Cortez Cabana Suites – Downtown Las Vegas

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Photo by Sarah Gerke, LA Times

Although I used the “Silk Purse” phrase (in it’s original form) in the previous post, I had to reuse it here (rearranged) just because it was necessary: a boutique hotel next to The El Cortez, unheard of! (The El Cortez has always been on the edge of the fringe, located in a downtown area that is a bit rough, close to a very rough area.) LA Times’ Richard Abowitz (The Movable Buffet: Dispatches from Las Vegas by Richard Abowitz) has heard of it and he’s written about it. Here’s a “reprint” of Mr. A’s post.

“South Beach style replaces downtown dirt”

“I approached the El Cortez Cabana Suites with great trepidation. Of all the downtown resorts few are more storied than the El Cortez, and few have I seen more rundown. And, these tough times for the Strip, are brutal for downtown. The Lady Luck seems to have just vanished. The expensive redevelopment project meant to attract tourists, the mostly empty Neonopolis, recently lost one of its few remaining major tenants, a movie theater. And classic property Binion’s is feuding with some landlords for its very survival. So who would expect that El Cortez has never looked better?”

“Dating back to the ’40s, El Cortez may be the most storied downtown casino if by storied you mean old Vegas mob glamor. Bugsy Siegel, Meyer Lansky, Gus Greenbaum and Moe Sedway all at one time owned part of the property. There are photos of those characters around the executive offices. And the last time I was there a few years ago, it seemed you could still smell their cigarette and cigar smoke in the air at the casino.”

“But this time as I headed to the executive suites the smell was some sort of perfume. In addition to an updated air filtration system, General Manager Mike Nolan tells me the casino is experimenting with scents in the air. It isn’t exactly a pleasant smell, but it does mask any lingering scent of smoke and wear and tear that used to define the property. Plus, while there are older sections of the casino, much of the property has been extensively redesigned and redeveloped. Among the redone areas: The coffee shop is nice, and a bathroom is not disgusting (actually quite decent).”

“But the most visible change is next door, at overflow property Ogden House at 651 E. Ogden Ave., between 6th and 7th streets. Built around 1975 and changed little, if the El Cortez was rundown, consider Ogden House’s condition. In fact, virtually everything but the walls has been redone. After spending more than $7 million, the casino barracks has been transformed into a South Beach-style boutique-hotel called El Cortez Cabana Suites.”

“This is probably one of those ideas, like so many of the new resorts seeking financing for completion on the Strip right now, that made a lot of sense when it was planned in 2007 and seems downright odd in 2009.”

“Who would want a boutique hotel in downtown Vegas? Perhaps some high-end tourists truly value the proximity to easily available street dealers and hookers and grifters? Don’t get me wrong. El Cortez Cabana Suites are the nicest rooms in downtown Vegas, even nicer than the ones I’ve seen at the Golden Nugget. But who goes to downtown for the boutique hotel experience? Downtown has always been the place for extreme bargains. And here is a gorgeous and stylish hotel thought out down to the I-pod docking station and a concierge who assists with guests, offers security, and finally works as the hotel’s new media specialist keeping the property a constant and responsive presence on social networking sites. All this in a neighborhood that still has as many empty fronts as going concerns.”

“Still, the over $7 million that the El Cortez Cabana Suites cost would not fund even a study to build a resort on the Strip. And that is one of the advantages of building downtown. The cognitive dissonance is caused by this boutique hotel being built to be part of an urban hipster population that was to come with a downtown renaissance of clubs and condominium towers that did not fully materialize.”

“Nolan points to some nearby empty buildings that he hopes will be clubs and stores pending financing. A blue tarp is placed in the parking lot ground for a VIP event later that night. The hope is this parking lot will eventually be the pool for the Cabana Suites, one day, when economy bounces back.”

“Anyway, I am working on the Buffet print column for May 17 about the El Cortez and its new offspring, Cabana Suites. But for sure if you want to explore old Las Vegas on your visit but not sacrifice a nice room like the ones on the Strip, El Cortez Cabana Suites is a new alternative that allows you to see the the dirty urban origins of Vegas without having to take a cut in the contemporary Vegas luxury experience.”
Story by Richard Abowitz

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