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The comfort zone

Soon Vegas will have its first resort catering to gays.

January 02, 2003|Susan Carpenter | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS — For John Hessling, it's a matter of comfort. When a gay man checks into a hotel with his partner, he doesn't want to be given a strange look when he requests a room with a king-sized bed. He doesn't want people to stare when he holds hands with his lover in the lobby. He wants to feel at ease, which is why Hessling is opening the Blue Moon Resort, the first hotel in Las Vegas to cater exclusively to the gay community.

There are a handful of gay-oriented bed and breakfasts in the city, and properties like the Mandalay Bay and Four Seasons hotels have long been popular with homosexual men, but "none of the big hotels cater to a gay clientele," said Hessling, a slender 37-year-old with a goatee. "They call themselves gay-friendly, but they don't publicize it."

Hessling hopes to change that beginning Jan. 12, when he and his business and domestic partner, Mike Torres, open the doors to their three-story, 47-room resort along a sleepy, quasi-industrial corridor just three blocks off the Strip. What was once a tacky Travelodge with blue walls and polka-dot carpeting has been gutted and made over to include a pool, Jacuzzi, waterfall, fitness area, steam room, private cabanas and a coffeehouse -- all of it styled in an eclectic Latin-Asian theme.

In a city where nearly every billboard is advertising a strip club, where walking into a casino means eyeballing a fleet of cocktail waitresses in panty-skimming dresses, Las Vegas seems aggressively heterosexual.

Yet more than 3 million gay people visit Las Vegas every year, attracted to the city for the same reasons as anyone else: the glitz, the glamour and the gambling.

"There was a feeling among a lot of properties that their clientele was diverse in terms of nationality, sexual preference, etc., so they probably didn't see a need to cater to a certain segment," said Rob Powers, vice president of public relations for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. But with the opening of the Blue Moon Resort, he said, "A lot of people will be following the progress of this property very closely."

Hessling is not a real estate magnate. In fact, he has no experience opening hotels, only working for them. He has been in the business for 12 years, working his way up from the front desk at Mandalay Bay to become its director of international and domestic sales. But after he and Torres stayed at a gay resort in Palm Springs four years ago, they were convinced they could open one in Vegas.

Already, bookings have been so strong that Hessling expects to be in the black in one year -- an unusually short period of time for a new business. And Hessling has plans to expand into the building next door -- also a Travelodge -- increasing the resort's capacity to 150 rooms.

J.R. Koh of Burbank booked a room for late January after seeing an ad for the resort in Instinct magazine. "Like most gay men, you want to be in a place where you're welcome and can be yourself," he said.

Within three years, Hessling hopes to turn the Westwood Drive area, where the resort is located, into a gay corridor, with shops, coffeehouses, art galleries and nightclubs. At present, there are two small, gay-oriented areas in Las Vegas, both of them 10 minutes away from the Blue Moon.

Whether the high-end resort will become a pickup spot is of little concern to Hessling.

"With any gay resort, you're going to have people coming in to find a mate, but ... that's no different than a straight resort," said Hessling. "If you meet the love of your life here, more power to you."

*

Blue Moon Resort

What: Blue Moon Resort.

Where: 2651 Westwood Drive, Las Vegas.

Cost: $79 to $129 for a standard room; $129 to $179 for a suite.

Info: www.bluemoonlv.com or

(866) 798-9194.

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