In 2001, the Maloof family—business magnates who made millions through projects ranging from Coors beer distribution to ownership of the Sacramento Kings—opened Palms Casino Resort off the Las Vegas Strip to unbelievable fanfare, with boldface names like Paris Hilton and Samuel Jackson attending the ribbon-cutting.
The following year, Palms’ Hollywood bona fides skyrocketed when one of its largest suites played host to MTV’s The Real World: Las Vegas, which at the time was among the leading reality shows in America. The suite—which after filming was going for $10,000 a night—became a point of reference for the entire city.
“Palms was an incredibly iconic casino that secured a place in Las Vegas history with many pop culture moments,” says Bob Finch, chief operating officer at Station Casinos, which purchased Palms in 2016.
But what worked well enough to make the casino iconic in the early noughties didn’t keep apace with all the changes Vegas would eventually go through. While other properties stepped up their game by creating enticing culinary projects or developing world-class entertainment, Palms languished behind; after all, there’s only so much you can do with Real World nostalgia.
But with Station Casinos at the helm in 2016, Palms entered into what would become the priciest resort renovation in the history of the destination—with a final price tag of $690 million.
Admittedly, plans for the transformation weren’t originally that ambitious. At first, the budget was set for $146 million, but Station Casinos decided—as they do in Vegas—to go big. “Palms always had good bones, but going on its 18th year of operation, it did require a massive overhaul—which started as, what you call in the hospitality industry, a ‘refresh,’ ” Finch says. “But as we looked at the larger picture for Palms, we knew this was going to be a reimagination of the entire property.”
Revamping 700 rooms spread across two towers (starting at $139 a night), adding a three-level spa, and amping up the nightlife and performance venues, including Kaos (hosting Cardi B’s residency)—proves there’s obviously a lot that $690 million can do. But two of the most significant features of this reimagination have been in food and in art—neither of which were major selling points of the property before work began.
For the latter, Tal Cooperman—who “basically lived here when George Maloof owned the property,” he says—was brought in in 2017 and eventually took on the creative director role, helping position Palms as a hotel-cum-art-gallery. “When we made the decision to include Damien Hirst’s Unknown (Explored, Explained, Exploded) at the center bar, that was when I knew this could be an art destination,” Cooperman recalls.
The installation had people talking about Palms again, and from there, the art collection began to take on a life of its own. “The next thing we knew there were art installations everywhere,” Cooperman says. “And we were meeting about art every day.” Walls throughout the property are decorated with pieces by Banksy, Takashi Murakami, KAWS, Warhol, and much more.
Even its new wedding chapel is decidedly a sign of the times. Tucked away in the Pearl, Palms’ concert venue, this jewel box of a “church” is a visual feast, thanks to artist Joshua Vides’s trademark black-and-white stencil work. “We wanted to put art in places that you wouldn’t expect,” Cooperman says. “The chapel is the simplest installation that we have on the property, and people are crazy about it.”
Palms’ culinary portfolio has been given a thoroughly modern upgrade too, in order to compete with its neighbors, who, while luring blue-chip toques to the desert, turned Vegas into a foodie paradise. Chef and TV personality Michael Symon was the first to sign on with Mabel’s BBQ, an offshoot of his Cleveland mainstay.
Tucked inside Mabel’s is Sara’s, a secret supper club serving classic Dover sole, tableside-carved prime rib, and lots of martinis. Marc Vetri, whose Vetri Cucina has been a massive hit in Philadelphia for decades, offers elevated Italian dishes inside a stunning rooftop dining room with sparkling-light skyline views. (Both chefs are Sin City newcomers.) Bobby Flay arrived at Palms in April 2019 with the unveiling of Shark, a stylish, Latin-inspired seafood and sushi restaurant. Newer still is an outpost of Tim Ho Wan, the Michelin-starred dim sum eatery, which opened at Palms in September.
And then, there are the accommodations. Remember that Real World suite? It’s still there—complete with the original confessional room—at a $1,500 nightly rate. It’s now joined by even grander, see-it-to-believe-it suites, including the 4,240-square-foot Kingpin Suite ($15,000 a night), which has its own bowling alley; the Cinema Suite ($5,000 a night), an Art Deco confection with a theater; and the basketball-themed 10,000-square-foot Hardwood Suite ($20,000 a night), which comes with 11 television sets, a dedicated whiskey room, and, of course, a basketball court.
But as extravagant as these suites sound, they’re nothing compared with the head-turning opulence of the two-floor Empathy Suite, which was brought to life by artist Damien Hirst. It’s priced at $200,000 for two nights, or it can be exclusively reserved for million-dollar casino guests who want to sleep surrounded by some of Hirst’s most eye-popping creations, like the formaldehyde sharks as well as a custom butterfly-motif mosaic-tiled pool cantilevered over the Strip.
“Las Vegas as a destination is positioning itself for the future,” Finch says. “The changes happening at Palms—our new celebrity chefs, these unique suites, and our art collection—are reflecting the changes in the city as well, because we’re future-proofing the property for the next generation of Las Vegas visitors.”
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