LAS VEGAS >> Of all the ways to burn through cash in Las Vegas, zip lining 12 stories above the throngs at the outdoor mall known as LINQ Promenade may be the most thrilling. Next to hunting down zombies in a virtual reality game, seeing Lady Gaga in concert or hanging out at an arty day club with DJ Marshmello working the decks.
Say so long to your dad’s Las Vegas of windowless casinos, showgirl revues and Celine Dion ballads. Resorts along the Strip and beyond aim to attract the next generation of hedonists — millennials, and the likeminded — keen on technology, contemporary art, food and the outdoors. Now that Dion’s residency has bowed and Gaga’s has begun, welcome to hipster Vegas.
“Forty percent of Las Vegas visitors this year will be defined as millennials,” said Cliff Atkinson, the former senior vice president of hotel strategy at MGM Resorts International and current president of its Luxor Hotel & Casino. “You have to evolve and give that audience more of what they are looking for.”
Two renewed resorts embody the new Vegas zeitgeist: the Park MGM Las Vegas, which replaced the Monte Carlo on the Strip; and the remodeled Palms Casino Resort, which spent $690 million on a contemporary art-filled redesign.
“The next wave of Vegas arrivals is coming in every day,” said Jon Gray, the general manager of the Palms, fresh off the Electric Daisy Carnival that filled the resort with fans of electronic dance music in May. “You’re seeing that shift a lot more to millennials. They are more experience-focused.”
To be sure, excess is still the timeless temptation of Sin City and Vegas is a constant chameleon. But the present iteration feels fresh, with more diversions, including the following new attractions.
Checking into the Park MGM is like living in an Eataly. The Italian food emporium made its Vegas debut in December at the resort, occupying 40,000 light-flooded square feet with stalls devoted to pizza, pasta, panini and more under a two-story skylit ceiling that resembles an Old World train station.
Actual check-in requires mastery of self-check-in desks that spit out your keys, which MGM says is the largest automated operation in the industry (rooms from $99). Fortunately for the flummoxed, staffers mill around expediting the process.
Park MGM takes its name from the plaza it backs up to outside of T-Mobile Arena, home ice of hockey’s Vegas Golden Knights. The outdoor theme is welcomingly low key in a town where the Luxor is a pyramid, and most welcome is outdoor seating at the Paris-channeling bistro Primrose and at Eataly.
Eataly is hardly the only culinary draw here. Waiters in tracksuits and rolled up chinos deliver sharable plates of dumplings, kimchi fried rice and elotes at Best Friend, the first Nevada-based restaurant by Los Angeles chef Roy Choi, who gave the world the Korean short rib taco (also on the menu). Chicago is represented by the elegant but unstuffy Bavette’s Steakhouse & Bar in a stylish club setting. The same can be said for NoMad Restaurant, a spinoff of the New York original in a two-story, book-filled library where chef Daniel Humm serves his signature foie gras-stuffed roast chicken.
In its arty makeover, the Palms is also going for the party set, starting with its over-the-top dayclub and nightclub Kaos. A nearly 60-foot-tall statue of a humanoid by Damien Hirst strides on a daybed-filled island in a pool surrounded by sofas where day drinking patrons groove to the likes of Marshmello and Louis the Child.
As the Park MGM is mandatory for food lovers, the Palms is a must for fans of contemporary art (rooms from $79). A shark suspended in formaldehyde by Hirst hangs above the central bar, named Unknown. A nearby bar has a couple of Warhols. An oversized Hirst painting of skulls faces a sunny Takashi Murakami canvas of smiley-faced flowers. The restaurant Greene St. features murals by Banksy, Vhils and Kenny Scharf.
High rollers can bed down in a bilevel suite designed by Hirst or another one sporting a basketball court and full locker room.
Gaming in Las Vegas means, of course, gambling. But increasingly, this casino town is embracing other forms of gaming, including the video variety. Luxor, for example, added HyperX Esports Arena, a 30,000-square-foot, high-tech video gaming stadium with tiers of player stations.
AT THE MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, the 12,000-square-foot Level Up offers classic pool, foosball and pingpong as well as an arm wrestling table and Giant Pac-Man. But its next-gen pull is a 2,000-square-foot black box room that serves as the setting for Virtual Reality Powered by Zero Latency. Players wear VR goggles and backpacks and roam untethered through video worlds that range from armed zombie hunts to way-finding in a tropical paradise ($50 per person).
Also at MGM, fans of the “Hunger Games” series can enter the cinematic version — including a credible iteration of the Tribute Train and nearly 30 original costumes — through “The Hunger Games: The Exhibition.” The show culminates in archery training with resistance commanders and a timed test of your accuracy in hitting video targets on a 60-foot screen ($35 for adults).
For no-skills thrills, the LINQ Hotel & Casino opened FLY LINQ less than a year ago. Ten parallel zip lines race toward the High Roller observation wheel 12 stories above ground (rides from $25).
For history buffs, the downtown Mob Museum, devoted to the rise of organized crime in the U.S. linked to wetting whistles during Prohibition, decided to go full retro by adding a basement speakeasy last year (get the password on Instagram) and an adjoining micro-distillery.
For foodies with FOMO, kill four restaurants, a slew of Vegas lore and a walking tour all in one Lip Smacking Foodie Tour (from $125). Founded by Chicago native Donald Contursi, the highly organized tours have participants consuming courses at four restaurants in just 2-1/2 hours. During my Afternoon Culinary Adventure, Contursi pointed out artwork by Henry Moore and Maya Lin, introduced a shop owner who deals vintage eyeglasses and offered endless insider info on where to eat (he’s fond of the lunch special at Estiatorio Milos).
“There’s so much to do in Las Vegas, all the more reason to do four restaurants at once,” he said with a smile.
Anthony Curtis’ column, Las Vegas Advisor, will return Sept. 29