LAS VEGAS — Central Park teems with bandits, as you may have heard, but they each work with just one arm. New York Harbor is polluted only by pennies. And some sort of high tide has washed those words about "your tired, your poor and huddled masses" right off the base of the Statue of Liberty.
As they say in the song, it's a wonderful town. The house is up and you're doubling down.
This is the new Manhattan, a city in caricature and miniature at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Tropicana Avenue, the secrets of its interior closely guarded for months. A joint venture of MGM Grand Inc. and Primadonna Resorts, the New York-New York Hotel & Casino covers 20 acres, offers 2,035 rooms and cost about $460 million to build.
It is a place of familiar and charming architecture, of hotel rooms that are bright and spacious, if not so evocative as the public spaces. It is the unhelpful answer to a classic American tourist's query: Where can you find a decent New York hotel room for under $100 a night? And right now, it is the most talked about address on the Las Vegas Strip. Everyone, it seems, has either driven past the work in progress (it took two years) or seen a video clip of the fireworks that lighted up its mock skyline when the hotel debuted Jan. 2. But what does this brave new Manhattan look like on the inside?
Of course there is a big apple involved. Perhaps six feet around and coated with mirrors, it twinkles above the Empire Bar while a swing band holds forth below.
Is there graffiti? Yes, inscribed persuasively but incomprehensibly on scattered mailboxes and newspaper racks.
Muggers? No. Although, of course, the gaming tables are designed to accomplish the same result.
Though it's the fourth major Las Vegas casino opening in the last year--following Stratosphere (at the other end of the strip), Monte Carlo (next door) and Orleans (to the west of the Strip)--New York-New York has been generating extraordinary curiosity ever since construction crews began assembling its tall profile, which includes a 529-foot-high homage to the Empire State Building, a 500-foot Chrysler Building, and a 150-foot Statue of Liberty, who raises her bright torch between them.
As the exterior came to dominate its corner of the Strip, speculation intensified among locals and visitors: Would the interior follow through with the same wealth of witty detail that the exterior offered?
Short answer: The inside is as clever as the outside.
But even now, with all doors unlocked, the crowds can make details inside difficult to distinguish: Gamblers and sightseers wash through the place in large volumes at all hours. In the resort's first three days of business, the marketing director estimated that 600,000 guests passed through (200,000 per day). In those three days, dodging baby carriages and honeymooners and harried employees throughout the place, I never did find the manhole cover that's supposed to shoot up steam. (Before the first week of operation was done, industry experts were guessing that New York-New York would bring in $85 million to $100 million yearly.)
This doesn't mean that every visitor leaves satisfied. On a Friday morning in the snacking-and-strolling area designed after Greenwich Village, Pete Prevas of Baltimore stood at the crowded counter of the Greenwich Village Coffee Co., critically examining a six-ounce cup of brown liquid for which he had waited about 15 minutes. Annoyed by the wait, he threw a couple of bills at the counterman and told him to keep the change. But the counterman needed more. They huddled, and then Prevas raised his voice to make an announcement to the rest of us in line.
"Two dollars and 14 cents. Small coffee. No floor show," he said, then strode off as a brief rumble of scorn passed through those of us still waiting.
It was a little piece of street theater common enough in that other New York, though perhaps not what the developers had in mind. (Actually, in other corners of the casino, coffee can be found for $1.50, and the rest of the casino, hotel and restaurant prices seemed generally in line with those of competitors. But the man had a point.)
The casino areas, much of which sprawl beneath a Central Park canopy of fall leaves, cover about 84,000 square feet with 71 gaming tables and more than 2,400 slot machines (277 of which take nickels). On the second level, a meandering 28,000-square-foot Coney Island arcade area includes bumper cars, laser tag, barkers guessing ages and weights, interactive skiing simulators, and an enticing game of reflexes, violence and unidentified politician caricatures called Wac-a-Mayor. A 1,000-seat theater is to open in May with "Manhattan," a musical production inspired by the city's street performers. Also still under construction is an upstairs wedding chapel.