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The new Vegas is sleek and chic — City Center Part 1 of 2 — Aria

January 7th, 2011 5 Comments

While in Las Vegas for CES, I’m touring the new City Center to write an article for The Chronicle.

With the Aria as the heart and soul of the 18 million square foot compound run by MGM, the aesthetic is nothing like you’ve seen in Vegas before.  Natural light streams in from all angles, the decor is modern and sophisticated, and only 2% of the property is casino.  You’ll appreciate that the ventilation system works beautifully and pumps in a sweet vanilla smell to mask any signs of smoke.

Admittedly, the prices at the restaurants are steep, but room rates start at $150-$180 at the Aria and Vdara – their boutique hotel that feels like a private VIP tower.

In the City Center but run separately is The Mandarin Oriental that brings the luxury and VIP experience of The Hotel (by the Four Seasons in Mandalay Bay) to the center of the Strip.  More to come on that next week.

Bottom line: The Aria is truly unique for Vegas and actually pleasant to experience. It does feel a little cold and unapproachable in comparison to the warmth of the Wynn.  I never thought I’d say I don’t like natural light, but there’s something about it always being the same time of day when you’re in Vegas that is oddly settling.  Overall, I really like the space for being beautiful, clean, and affordable.

Here are snapshots from my tour so you can see for yourself.  I really love the space.


The rooms are contemporary, cozy, and hooked up to a touchscreen motherboard remote to control every feature with the touch of your little finger.

There are 3 pools and one adult pool that has a party to compete with the infamous TAO scene.


Not pictured here is the spa and gym which is sizable, but in my opinion not particularly noteworthy.  I’m a huge fan of the Canyon Ranch spa that is housed in the Venetian/Palazzo.  It’s a more comfortable atmosphere.  The one thing that is cool about the full-sized gym at Aria is that admission is free for guests, while at some resorts, you have to pay a day fee.


On to my favorite part: The food!  The collection of restaurants here is by far the best on the strip.  They’re all helmed by famous chefs that have successful spots at The Bellagio (the Aria’s sister property also run by MGM).

Above is Sage, my favorite for decor and food in the Aria.  It’s quiet, so don’t expect a scene.

For a more lively atmosphere head to American Fish from Michael Mina.

They have 4 different preparations for fish, each unique and not overpowering.  Last night I devoured the smoked Dijon mustard cod and sea salt blue prawns.  They don’t look like anything special, but both were definitely some of the best seafood I’ve had in Vegas.

The other popular spot is Lemon Grass – authentic Thai helmed by the exec chef from The Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok.

Next door to Lemongrass is Blossom, which also boasts authentic Chinese food.

Other notable restaurants are Jean-Georges Steakhouse, Siriano (Italian), Todd English Pub, and Julian Serrano that serves up tapas in a colorful and quirky atmosphere (pictured below).

They served me up a little bit of everything, and it was all truly delicious.

What I love about all of these spots is that have a nice bar scene – great decor, good looking people, and not too rowdy.


The name of the “shopping experience” (management asks that you please do not refer to it as a mall) is called Crystals.  Designed by David Rockwell who is on the commission for the new World Trade Center, it’s modern and angular structure is quite stark.  Although you’ll see all of the same brands you will in the Bellagio, Wynn, and other hotels, the Tom Ford, Cartier, the largest Louis Vitton in North America, Donna Karen, and other designer stores all carry collections exclusive to Crystals.


Elvis is alive in well in the Aria making appearances nightly as the resident performance.  I’m not much for shows, but apparently it’s popular.  Next door, the Gold lounge is decorated with tons of memorabilia.


A boutique hotel without a casino in the lobby, the Vdara is truly the gem of the City Center and the Vegas strip.  It’s hidden in the back, but you can get to the Aria and Bellagio by tram or foot within minutes.

It’s like the Aria and Mandarin shacked up one night and had pretty baby – chic, modern, warm, quiet, and affordable.

Each room has a stove top and mini fridge so you could actually stay in and cook or warm up leftovers if you wanted (not a bad idea considering the price of eating out in Vegas).


The whole thing cost $11 BILLION to build, which makes it the largest privately financed development in the US.

There are residences called The Veer Tower, which they claim is 60% occupied.

Both the Aria and Vdara hotels are LEED certified and use environmentally friendly features like faucets and showers to conserve water.

If you keep your eyes open, you’ll see tons of amazing art on the walls.

The Harmon hotel was built completely, but incorrectly so now they’re going to have to tear the whole thing down PIECE BY PIECE.  Can you imagine?!!  What a waste!

There are two clubs here, both of which have a great scene and pump the best of pop and hip hop until the wee hours of the morning.

(Full disclosure: Media rates and comped meals provided for me. Many thanks to MGM for your hospitality and Shaunt for the very informative tour.)

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  • Bob Baer

    wow what an amazing place. Have fun

  • sandeep sharma

    My first time in Vegas, at CES. IM gonna put this guide to use first hand… Ill let you know how it works out for me. Going to American Fish for dinner, then Tao. It helps, I know the door guy & Manager from a club I worked at back in the the day, in NYC.

  • Hi Mary! While you’re checking out Crystals, make sure to stop by Harry Winston’s newly opened salon, designed by Studio Sofield. It’s gorgeous!

  • heidi

    I have some insight into the development as I value luxury commercial real estate for a living. It looked like the developer ran out of money for the common areas in the Crystals. There should have been more design to the common areas as well as the build-outs in some of the retailers. I was expecting more. Rumor is that they ran out of $$. I will now forever stay at the Mandarin when in Vegas, though.