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Fontainebleau Las Vegas

Hotel Therapy

by Jeff Heilman
Fontainebleau Las Vegas Porte Cochere (CREDIT Peter Arnell)

Opened in mid-December 2023 with Cher, Lenny Kravitz, and Justin Timberlake among the famous faces at the star-studded ribbon-cutting, Fontainebleau Las Vegas has introduced a convincing new era of sophistication to the Las Vegas market.

Fontainbleau Las Vegas Porte Cochere (Photo byeter Arnell)

Fontainebleau Las Vegas offers 3,644 rooms, including 76 ultra-exclusive “hotel within a hotel” Fleur de Lis suites on the top five floors.

Calling himself the “architect of the American Dream,” Morris Lapidus was a magnet for scorn and ridicule from his professional peers.

Lapidus, who passed away at age 98 in 2001, had the last laugh though. Designing around 1,200 buildings over his 50-year career, he enshrined his legacy by transforming the Miami Beach resort scene in the 1950s and 1960s with his signature “Miami Modern” style. Mocked as vulgar, his glitzy “palaces of kitsch” would become the darlings of the jet set.

Of his 250-plus hotel projects, Lapidus’s pinnacle achievement was Fontainebleau Miami Beach. Debuting in 1954, his curvy boundary-pushing 1,200-room property horrified critics, but as Lapidus intended, delighted guests.

“If you create the stage setting and it is grand,” he once said, “everyone who enters will play their part.” That includes Sean Connery, who helped to immortalize the property at the start of the 1964 James Bond classic Goldfinger.

Panorama Suite Living Room (Photo by Drex Adency)

Panorama Suite Living Room (Photo by Drex Adency)

In May 2005, a new Fontainebleau saga began. Following his group’s purchase of the iconic hotel, Jeffrey Soffer, chairman and CEO of the newly formed Fontainebleau Development, announced plans for a $1.5-billion, 4,000-room Fontainebleau-branded mega-resort in Las Vegas.

Sited at the northern end of the Strip where the Thunderbird (1948), Silverbird (1977), and El Rancho (1982) once stood, the project broke ground in early 2007, aiming for a 2009 opening. In November 2008, with the 67-story tower’s blue glass curtain wall mostly complete, the recession halted construction. Over the ensuing 13 years, the much-publicized “eyesore” and “monument to failure” cycled through bankruptcy, ownership changes, and derailed relaunches before coming full circle in 2021 when Soffer reacquired the property with Koch Real Estate Investments.

Panorama Suite Bathroom (Photo by Drex Adency)

Panorama Suite Bathroom (Photo by Drex Adency)

Backed by a $2.2 billion construction loan, the partners finished the building. They succeeded in turning the rust into gold. Opened in mid-December 2023 with Cher, Lenny Kravitz, and Justin Timberlake among the famous faces at the star-studded ribbon-cutting, Fontainebleau Las Vegas (2777 South Las Vegas Blvd. Las Vegas, Nevada. Tel: 833.702.7070. fontainebleaulasvegas.com) has introduced a convincing new era of sophistication to the Las Vegas market.

With a price tag of $3.7 billion, the commitment to luxury is evident upon arrival in the magnificently arcing porte cochère. The building is a visual feast, including abundant design homages to the spirit and look of the Miami Beach original (keep an eye peeled for the omniscient references to Lapidus’s signature accessory, the bow-tie, throughout the resort).

Stylishly attired in ocean-blue uniforms, attendants usher you into the spectacular domed main lobby, where decorative flourishes include arrangements by legendary floral designer Jeff Leatham.

For my three-night stay earlier this year, I checked in deskside at the adjacent VIP registration area, which directly accesses the guest elevators. Fontainebleau Las Vegas offers 3,644 rooms, including 76 ultra-exclusive “hotel within a hotel” Fleur de Lis suites on the top five floors.

Greeted by “All of Your Dreams Come True at the Fontainebleau” playing on the entertainment system, my 51st-floor “Bleau King Mountain View” room, facing northwards toward Downtown Las Vegas was its own spacious sky sanctuary dressed in blue, silver, and coral colors with metallic accents.

King Room (Photo by Connie Zhou)

King Room (Photo by Connie Zhou)

The hotel tower rises from a six-level vertically integrated podium that is interconnected by dramatic flying escalators and elevators. Carrying on the Miami tradition of site-specific fine art, installations include “Oceans,” a mesmerizing kinetic sculpture of mirrored bricks waving in response to real-time data of ocean tides from around the globe. As the Fontainebleau legacy came from Miami to Las Vegas, the sculpture “brings water to the desert.”

Lapis Spa (Photo by Drex Agency Mark Mediana)

Lapis Spa (Photo by Drex Agency Mark Mediana)

Monumental spaces include the 96,500-square-foot luxury boutique retail district, 55,000-square-foot Lapis spa, and 14,000-square-foot fitness center. Currently for hotel guests only, the 6.5-acre outdoor deck features six pools. Joining the LIV Las Vegas nightclub, LIV BEACH debuts in spring 2024 as the resort’s day club. Paul Anka christened the 3,800-seat Bleau Live Theater by singing “My Way” on opening night.

Amid the immense scale and spectacle, Fontainebleau Las Vegas triumphs in creating areas for intimacy. For me, the resort’s 36 restaurants and bars are the stars of the show.

Bleau Bar (Photo by Connie Zhou)

Bleau Bar (Photo by Connie Zhou)

While the most obvious example is Ito, a 12-seat omakase hideaway on the 63rd floor, each podium-level concept is an oasis. Reimagining the Miami Beach original, Bleau Bar is a dazzling beacon in the center of the gaming floor. Framed by 42-foot-high columns that soar heavenwards and disappear in swirling blue decorative halos, the bar’s crowning chandelier features thousands of cascading crystal bowties.

Breakfast and brunch spot La Fontaine is a French fine-dining confection featuring glass chandeliers, soft pastel décor, and pink-uniformed staff. At Asian-inspired KYU, I had delicious salmon and wasabi crispy rice and wood-fired Pork Belly Pastrami Bao. Named for Soffer’s father, classic steakhouse Don’s Prime fires up delicious Japanese and American Wagyu beef, innovative cocktails like my vodka and gin martini, and prestigious wines. L.A. celeb magnet Mother Wolf, Chef Evan Funke’s hot ticket tribute to “la cucina Romana” is also here.

La Fontaine (Photos by Connie Zhou)

La Fontaine (Photos by Connie Zhou)

Agave-driven Azul is a seductive retreat for premium tequilas and mezcals amid Mexican-inspired décor. Referencing Lapidus’s famed floating staircase or “Stairs to Nowhere” in Miami where couples or ladies once descended in style, the laid-back Nowhere Lounge features live music and a pool table.

Miami import Papi Steak goes over the top with its $1,000, -inspired “Beef Case,” a Wagyu Tomahawk steak housed in a gold-lined briefcase presented tableside with raucous hoopla. The other outlets go the more understated route though. Guests are responding accordingly, dressing up for the occasion and bringing an air of welcome refinement to the Vegas scene.

The child of immigrants from Odessa, Russia, Lapidus grew up poor in New York City, where his fascination with then fantasyland Coney Island influenced his exuberant “architecture of joy.” As the Fontainebleau brand turns 70 in 2024, he would surely applaud this new “Lapidus of luxury” in Las Vegas, a classy feast for the senses.


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