Links in the El Cortez Chain – Vegas Seven

The El Cortez turned 75 earlier this month. I was there. I wrote about it for Vegas Seven:

You might have missed the El Cortez’s 75th anniversary celebration. It didn’t have the glitz of Caesars Palace’s 50th, in which a summer of events and promotions culminated in a gala featuring stars of yesterday and today. No, CEO and chairman Kenny Epstein chose to mark the occasion the same way that big days have been celebrated since the days when Jackie Gaughan still lived on the property: sheet cake and champagne.

Read more: Links in the El Cortez Chain – Vegas Seven

I wanted to capture the difference between the El Cortez and larger places in this article. It may be a distinction better experienced first hand.

El Cortez suite competition winner in Vegas Seven

It’s Thursday, so I’ve got a Green Felt Journal column in Vegas Seven. This week, I dig a little deeper into the significance of the El Cortez’s Design-a-Suite Downtown competition:

When the El Cortez announced the winner of its Design-a-Suite Downtown competition recently, the downtown stalwart did more than decide the look for its suites; it reaffirmed its faith in the neighborhood.

“Jackie Gaughan’s always said that what’s good for downtown is good for the El Cortez,” executive manager Alexandra Epstein says. “That’s why we’re cultivating friendships with designers and the World Market Center and bringing in as many people as possible. We want to highlight our neighbors.”

via Suite Designs | Vegas Seven.

It’s a very important story for Downtown, and I think it has significance for the way casinos are going to operate.

A programming note: with the redesign of the magazine, the Green Felt Journal is now going to be bi-weekly, instead of weekly. On the down side, that means you’ll be getting 50% less GFJ each month. On the positive side, this might give me the chance to do more features.

Liz Butler’s story in Vegas Seven

It’s another Thursday, which means another Green Felt Journal in Vegas Seven. This one is about a remarkable woman who works at the El Cortez, Liz Butler:

If you want a lesson in Las Vegas history, you don’t have to go much farther than Liz Butler, who’s still serving drinks at the El Cortez. With an accent and attitude that betrays her East Coast roots, she’s been a fixture at the El Cortez for nearly four decades, and she doesn’t show any sign of leaving.

via Four decades at the El Cortez | Vegas Seven.

This was my favorite story to write in the past few months. I really liked talking with Liz, and I hope that I could communicate some of her personality through the story. She’s really interesting, and has that total New Yorker attitude, in a good way.

Creative El Cortez in Vegas Seven

It’s Thursday, so you’ve got more Vegas Seven goodness to read. This week, my contribution is a look into the El Cortez’s Design-a-Suite-Downtown competition:

Most casino executives view renovating hotel rooms as a necessary but disagreeable process. Room remodels are doubly expensive—they pull rooms out of the rental pool and incur labor and materials costs. It’s easy to see why few property owners look forward to them.The El Cortez, however, has found a way to use the renovation process to put the spotlight on itself and four Nevada design teams via its Design-a-Suite Downtown competition, showing again how it’s carving its own niche on Sixth and Fremont streets.

via El Cortez gets creative with design competition | Vegas Seven.

I think that what the El Cortez is going deserves notice. Between Emergency Arts, the Cabana Suites, and this, they’ve really done a lot of interesting things. It’s ironic that one of the most “old school” casinos–with coin-pay slots, no less–is also one of the most innovative. Or perhaps it’s not…

Casino suite design competition

Think you know what makes a good casino suite? Well, the good folks at the El Cortez think you might, too, so they’re inviting you to design a suite for them–if you’re an interior designer, architect, or part of a team with at least 1 member licensed in Nevada. Here’s the press release:

he El Cortez Hotel & Casino, in conjunction with the Las Vegas Design Center, is launching a one-of-a-kind design competition in which local Las Vegas interior designers will remodel several of the hotel casino’s luxury suites. The “Design A Suite Downtown” competition began on Monday, June 7 with a call for entries to all interior designers, architects and teams with at least one member licensed in the State of Nevada.

The purpose of the competition is to engage the local interior design community and showcase their creativity, while setting a new design standard for the tower suites of the legendary El Cortez Hotel & Casino. The top four finalists will have the opportunity to make their design come to life by redesigning one suite each. One winner will be selected from the final four and that individual will have the opportunity to remodel the remaining suites, which will be unveiled during the iconic hotel casino’s 70th anniversary celebration in 2011.

“In May 2009, we opened our El Cortez Cabana Suites to add a touch of South Beach flair to downtown Las Vegas, and this year we think the design competition will be another opportunity to continue the revitalization of downtown by giving local interior designers a key role in the redesign of our hotel suites,” said El Cortez General Manager Mike Nolan.

“Las Vegas has a rich and unique architectural history and we are thrilled to be a part of the revitalization of downtown and one of its most iconic hotels,” said Randy Wells, vice president of Las Vegas Design Center. “This competition fosters an appreciation of great design, not only by showcasing the talents of our design community, but will also manifest itself as a more luxurious experience for guests of the tower suites.”

A distinguished panel of judges will jury the design submissions and name the top four. The panel includes: Cary Vogel, the former Vice President of Interior Architecture at Pinnacle Entertainment, who has been designing high-end residences in Las Vegas for more than 25 years; Kurstin Schmitz, Principal at Urban Design Associates, Inc., whose designs can be found among the most notable hotels, resorts and casinos in Las Vegas, including Caesars Palace, The Palms, The Flamingo, Harrah’s and Mandalay Bay; Ann Fleming, who owns Cleo Design and continues to set the bar higher in both residential and commercial design; Todd-Avery Lenahan, Principal of ABA Design Studio; Alexandra Epstein, Executive Manager with the El Cortez; Kenny Epstein, CEO of the El Cortez and Pamela Puppel with the El Cortez.

Also, Brian Thornton with Brian G. Thornton Designs played an instrumental role throughout the process of organizing the “Design A Suite Downtown” competition. His interior design expertise and knowledge, along with his vast connections within the interior design community, were pivotal in creating contest guidelines and forming the judging panel. Thornton was the former Director of Design for MGM Mirage’s Design Group in Las Vegas where his duties included overseeing day-to-day operations of the studios and oversight of design leadership at several of their Strip properties.

Entries should be clear, unique designs that demonstrate an innovative use of new or conventional materials and traditional or emerging techniques. There is a $150 tax-deductible entry fee that will be donated to Keep Memory Alive with each submission. Participants will be given a $20,000 budget and some materials used in the design will be sourced from Las Vegas Design Center and World Market Center Las Vegas showrooms. Particular attention will be paid to innovative ideas for materials and comfort. Judging will be focused around uniqueness of design, technique and execution and the use of items from World Market Center. The deadline for submissions is Thursday, July 22.

All participants must be willing, able and available to participate in phase two of the competition to help guide the El Cortez in the implementation of their design, should they be selected as a finalist. All designs must be original to this competition having never been built or proposed for another project.

Entries must be anonymous and be accompanied by at least five but no more than eight images of the design, a total of four elevations, a reflected ceiling plan and a narrative brief that is no longer than 300 words. The image and brief should include no references to the names of individual designers, design firms, schools, or companies. All contact information should be submitted using the standard entry form. Entry forms and complete contest details can be found at

Like most of the stuff they’re doing down at the EC, this is a great idea. They’re building excitement for the new suites months before they open.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this plays out, and can just about guarantee that there will be a Green Felt Journal column about this.

Old-school at the eC

This week’s Green Felt Journal is about the El Cortez:

In many ways, the El Cortez is the anti-CityCenter. Built in 1941, it’s the oldest continuously operating hotel-casino in Las Vegas. Its most prominent feature—the “new” neon sign—was installed in 1946. It has only 364 guest rooms, and, for better or worse, it’s in the middle of a real urban neighborhood.

Yet there are some similarities to CityCenter. The El Cortez has a swanky nongaming hotel a few steps from the casino. The old Ogden House, massively renovated in 2009 and reopened as the Cabana Suites, might not have the Mandarin Oriental’s cache, but its art-deco-meets-mid-century modern stylings and contemporary fittings (plasma screens and iPod docks) are a fraction of the price. And, thanks to the renovation, natural light spills through the hallways.

via Old-school El Cortez wins by staying relevant | Vegas Seven.

I had a lot of fun researching this story, much of which was talking with Mike Nolan. As I referenced in the article, he’s been around for a while and really knows a lot about the business.

There were really two separate things I wanted to get across–that it’s still “old school” gambling at the eC, but that there’s a lot of new stuff, and that the casino’s connecting with the arts in a different way. The first is pretty obvious if you walk around the place. Hearing the plinking of coin-in slot machines really brought me back–you don’t miss it until you hear it again. The El Cortez is just a cool, unpretentious place.

The second point, about the arts, needs a little more explaining. This isn’t a contrived attempt at being hip or artsy, it’s just a response to what’s happening downtown. Opening the former Fremont Medical Center as Emergency Arts is a brilliant move, and really the logical way to bring the arts into the neighborhood. It’s the kind of thing that CityCenter could have done, but didn’t. Sure, there’s galleries there, but if they’d have converted some of their condos into artists’ lofts and recruited artists from all around the country to move in, they might have had something unique. They wouldn’t have made much money renting the spaces–I’d practically give them away–but you’d at least create an attraction, and maybe start drawing serious art patrons, a group that would probably be comfortable with the luxury, non-trad-Vegas approach at CityCenter. That’s what got me thinking about the “anti-CityCenter” idea.

The El Cortez has done this on a downtown budget, and I’m eager to see how it turns out.

One stat I didn’t get to include: the El Cortez’s casino has about 70% local patrons, 30% visitor. With that many repeat locals, you know that they’re doing something right as far as the gambling goes. I don’t think many locals would drive down there for 6/5 blackjack.

So if you haven’t seen the El Cortez for a while, give it a chance.