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LAS VEGAS – Every time I return to Las Vegas, something seems different.
Something new has been built – bigger, brighter, flashier – often on top of a property that was once the place to be.
There isn’t much room for nostalgia here. Most of the places where the Rat Pack once roamed are gone. You can find classic Vegas spots sprinkled here and there, but they’re on the endangered species list.
The latest talk has the second-oldest remaining hotel – the Tropicana – on the demolition list so the (soon-to-be former) Oakland Athletics can build a new baseball stadium on the Strip. Even the hotel where I’m staying this week, The Mirage, will soon become the Hard Rock – which will require the tear-down of its iconic volcano attraction in favor of a giant guitar-shaped tower.
Outside my window, as I write this, I can see the Venetian’s 35-story mega resort towering over the spot where the historic Sands used to be. The Sands had perhaps its most famous moment in the original “Ocean’s 11” movie, which ends with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr. and the rest of the gang wordlessly walking away from the hotel.
The remade version of that film – the Brad Pitt/George Clooney/Matt Damon movie released in 2001 (ouch, by the way!) – ends with the gang gathering at the Bellagio Fountains. One by one, they turn and leave as the fountains boom.
For me, Vegas has always been about those fountains. In dozens of trips here, I’ve never left without laying eyes on the fountain show at some point. It is my favorite thing about this city.
So in September, when the Bellagio chopped down those beautiful trees on the lakefront sidewalk to build its Bellagio Fountain Club for the Las Vegas Grand Prix, I’ll admit it stung.
But it also made me curious: What could be so important that the Bellagio would remove the trees? Could a temporary hospitality club assembled for a three-day Formula 1 race – bigger, brighter, flashier – actually justify it?
Perhaps that answer remains to be seen. But after a press tour of the Bellagio Fountain Club on Friday, I can unequivocally say the Bellagio achieved what it envisioned.
The view from the top
“Spectacular” doesn’t even begin to describe it. The 30 minutes or so I spent atop the club’s roof were some of the most magical I’ve experienced in Vegas in a long time.
Picture this: The fountains are constantly going off (though not coordinated to music like usual) while you’re standing atop a three-story temporary building. Nearly three football fields of artificial turf squish beneath your feet. There are food stations staffed not just with the cuisine of the Bellagio’s roster of celebrity chefs but the chefs themselves (“It’s probably the most exclusive pop-up restaurant in the world,” said Andrew Lanzino, MGM’s vice president of citywide event strategy).
There’s a stage with performances from Cirque du Soleil and Blue Man Group, a DJ area and a stage where the podium finishers will be interviewed after the race.
And it’s all elevated so you feel on top of the Strip, with unobstructed views of the Bellagio, Paris, and the Cosmopolitan looking down on you.
“You’re looking at renderings and drawings for 20 months, and everything is 2D,” Lanzino said. “The first time you walk in, I don’t think I could have imagined it. The city, the ambiance, the fountains, the lights – it is everything that you would want to expect out of Vegas. It is a special place.”
He chuckled. “And it’s only going to be here for three days.”
What’s that? Oh, right. The race! Yes, the club also happens to overlook the racetrack so that it feels like you could reach out and touch the cars as they reach 210 mph.
It’s breathtaking and overwhelming for the senses, and you can see why people would spend $14,000 to be there. And yet, it will all be disassembled soon after the checkered flag waves, with the area completely cleared by New Year’s Eve.
In the meantime, Lanzino and his team have already received the biggest compliment possible. Though club patrons have the option to also do a night at F1’s ritzy new Paddock Club, which overlooks the paddock area, start/finish line and the first several turns of the track, the feedback so far has been “overwhelmingly, they want to be here,” Lanzino said.
Again, you can see why. For an event that has seen casino resorts and corporate partners go all-in on making the most extravagant, over-the-top experiences possible for high rollers, the Bellagio Fountain Club is tough to beat.
My perception may be biased because of those beloved fountains. But even Danny Ocean and friends would agree the rest is pretty cool, too.
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(Lead photo of the Bellagio Fountain Club: Myung J. Chun / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)