During our lengthy COVID-19 shutdown, the guiding minds behind Vegas hotels and casinos had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rethink their strategies. We've lobbied endless complaints against price gouging, bogus service charges, resort fees, paid parking, poor customer service, and badly-maintained facilities. The list could go on for a few paragraphs and would still not cover all the bases. Those objections were a waste of time, as documented in my piece "Sin City Shutdown - They'll Never Learn", which you can read here.
The point is that execs could have used the downtime to re-invent Sin City and correct everything that was wrong. Instead, they doubled down on the worst elements of our problems while barfing out RESORTS WORLD, the $4.2 billion disaster that took things to the next level of "awful". Click HERE for my two-part analysis of that industry-shaking fiasco.
Last summer, while all eyes were eager to explore the 14-years-in-the-making Resorts World project, a new, red-hued hotel down the street was already up and running. AHERN HOTEL is the name for what was once LUCKY DRAGON, an ill-fated hotel-casino that opened to enormous hoopla. Designed to appeal strictly to Asian tourists (like RESORTS WORLD before its jettisoned original plans), LUCKY DRAGON's narrow marketing focus led to it going belly-up within two years. Click here to read the details on my oddly-creepy stay during the hotel's last days.
In April of 2019, local construction entrepreneur Don Ahern purchased the property and quietly began to repurpose its casino tower as an event and restaurant hall. Ahern invested $10 million to renovate rooms and redesign the entire interior as a non-gaming facility. Out with cherry blossoms and feng shui, in with clean lines, calming earth tones, and practical enhancements that would appeal to business guests.
I first visited AHERN HOTEL last month, prompted by an invitation from my old friend Chef Bruno Morabito. The famed "Master of Brunch" had settled in nicely at the hotel's main restaurant TRATTORIA BY CHEF MARC, and I detailed his latest menu in this piece. After the mouth-watering meal, I was invited to tour much of the repurposed casino space by his colleague, Executive Sous Chef Joel Ott. It took no time at all to realize that this sleepy little resort was already the best-kept secret in Las Vegas.
Despite my fast-approaching food coma, I was dazzled and excited by what Chef Ott and his associates had accomplished in this once-shuttered property. I was taken through the newly-renovated and soon-to-open Chef Marc's Italian Steakhouse, a bright and dazzling dining room with superlative views. Wine enthusiasts will be please to know that Chef Marc Sgrizzi's distinctive Trattoria collection of reasonably-priced fine wines carries over to the second-level steakhouse, as evidenced by the photos below.
The Trattoria wine selection....
...extends to the Italian Steakhouse
Next to the Steakhouse, another future endeavor already has some holiday-inspired concoctions proudly displayed behind glass. SWEETS BY FABRICE will be home to epic creations of the chocolate and sugar variety. Desserts by Executive Pastry Chef Fabrice Bendano are now available at Trattoria by Chef Marc. This writer and his guest might have indulged in a sampling during a recent dinner visit.
Your sweet tooth can be quickly satisfied with a stop at AROMA BISTRO BAR. Italian-inspired hot beverages are the perfect companion to Chef Fabrice's fresh-baked breads, pastries, and sandwiches. Traditional espressos, specialty coffees, Italian Soda, herbal teas, and matchas are served from 6 am. AROMA BISTRO BAR is located on the second level of the events building, just a few short steps from the parking structure entrance. Easy-in/easy access-out is a bonus perk for locals on the go.
The next stop on Chef Joel's tour was AHERN LIVE, an intimate performance venue. Currently reserved for special events, the showroom is just waiting for the right act to launch an ongoing residency. Equipped with a full-service bar, more magnificent views, and luxurious seating, AHERN LIVE's showpiece is a high-tech video entrance. This tunnel-like corridor can be programmed to simulate any scenario from red-carpet paparazzi and patriotic fireworks to an under-the-ocean aquatic fantasy.
Our walkthrough took us deep into the catacombs of AHERN, where massive kitchens are capable of serving hundreds of conventioneers and event attendees. Rare and expensive culinary equipment includes a pair of dry-aging meat ovens and Chef Marc's personal, vintage pasta maker. Most of the kitchen areas previously created for preparing Asian cuisine have been redesigned at great expense for the new business model.
Spaces that once hosted table games have been reimagined as stages, tournament floors, and venues for weddings and trade shows. Corporate buyouts are available, and the entire property can be rebranded with full hotel wraps, interior wall banners, outdoor pillars, and related accessories. In-house expo services provide sound and lighting equipment, decor, and food/beverages.
Additional dining establishments like Sgrizzi's Romana-Style Pizza are on the horizon, too. The CENTER BAR's weekday 3-7 Happy Hour boasts $3 beer, $6 wine and small bites, and $7 well cocktails.
Transformation from LUCKY DRAGON (above) to AHERN HOTEL (below) is quite remarkable.
The most common complaint visitors have regarding RESORTS WORLD is its sprawling footprint. No matter how you arrive or where you're headed within, you'll literally be exhausted by the time you get there. Those who prefer a more intimate experience can opt for THE CROMWELL, which comes with its own unique set of problems. Exorbitant rates, multiple surcharges, extremely pricey dining, cramped rooms, and vibrating walls (thanks to Drai's rooftop club) are more likely to have you on edge than relaxed.
AHERN HOTEL's layout and amenities specifically address those concerns. The hotel and event center are connected by an interior sky bridge, and the parking structure is similarly positioned. A fitness center services the 200+ guest rooms and suites, and an intimate pool deck hosts free parties over holiday weekends.
Parking is also free, there are no resort fees or hidden charges, and dining establishments are priced way below their nearby Strip counterparts. Chef Ott told me that room rates are deliberately in line with those of neighboring SAHARA LAS VEGAS. Although AHERN doesn't offer gaming, spa amenities, or nightclubs, all are available right next door at the Sahara.
Photo - Henderson Chamber of Commerce
AHERN HOTEL partially opened as the pandemic situation was taking hold, yet managed to garner a significant amount of unflattering press. Owner Don Ahern's controversial political and social activities were at the forefront. His new venture landed in the crosshairs for hosting eyebrow-raising events that also resulted in Ahern being labeled as "The New Sheldon Adelson".
Nevertheless, the outspoken businessman seems to have rebounded in the public eye. His construction equipment firm goes out of its way to serve the community:
"From providing construction equipment to non-profit organizations such as the Nevada Blind Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Henry’s Place camp in Cedar City, Utah, to holiday and back-to-school drives to supporting events such as Construction vs. Cancer with donations, in-kind sponsorships, and volunteers, Ahern’s outreach and support impacts communities worldwide."
The local businessman's commitment to the community continues at his eponymous hotel: "Our upcoming Las Vegas Restaurant Week will be in support of Three Square Food Bank. A portion of the cost of each meal will go directly to Three Square Food Bank to help support the 1 in 6 Southern Nevadans who are food insecure. In 2021, Restaurant Week raised enough to provide 180,000 meals to valley residents struggling with hunger."
"All of the eggs served at Trattoria by Chef Marc come from chickens at our private orchard here in Las Vegas! The Ahern orchard was started as a way to give back to the community by providing fresh produce to several local charities in need."
An upcoming Independence Day celebration is designed around guest comfort, safety, and affordability:
"All the oohs and ahhs, none of the Strip crowds! Join us for our 4th of July party at the Center Bar inside Ahern Hotel for delicious bites, drinks, music, and games! We'll offer drink specials on American beers and red, white and blue mixed drinks. Play games like Cornhole, Beer Pong, Giant Jenga, and Connect Four."
"Patrons can head up to the top of the parking garage to watch the Strip hotels put on a festive fireworks display at 11:00, including our neighbor, The Strat. All the fun, and none of the crowds — Independence indeed!"
The AHERN HOTEL is still only a blip on the Sin City tourist radar, but shouldn't be for long. Transforming a high-profile failed business into one that supports the community AND is worthy of your patronage...that's no small accomplishment. AHERN HOTEL could become a treasured favorite for business and casual travelers in the months and years ahead.
In Part 2, II arrive for an overnight stay, walk you through a standard king room, then head to TRATTORIA for an amazing yet affordable breakfast. Read about it here.
AHERN HOTEL is located at 300 W. Sahara Avenue. Call 725-214-4800 for more information, or head to the AHERN HOTEL website.