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WESTERN TRAVEL | WEEKEND ESCAPE

Vegas for the hip, without the Strip

Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa is a desert retreat with a Hollywood club vibe.

May 28, 2006|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

Las Vegas — THE Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa is about 10 miles west of the Las Vegas Strip in Summerlin, "the No. 1 master-planned community in the United States." I don't know what the master plan is exactly, but it looks diabolical: upscale exurbia reduced to its barest essence. There are Starbucks, Borders, Linens 'n Things and now, a brand-new, billion-dollar entertainment complex done in high hipster style.

It beats the Strip, anyway. We -- the Reluctant Traveling Companion and I -- are not big Vegas fans. In fact, the RTC has expressly forbidden me to call it "Vegas" because to call it Vegas is "to buy into the bogus corporate mythologizing of the whole thing." I'm with him. But I'm also lazy.

The resort, though, held non-Vegas promise, located not just off-off-the Strip but also close to Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, a majestic and pristine desert preserve.

Designed with a wink and nod to the '50s and '60s, and an elbow to the ribs of the '90s (when everything old became new again except not really), Red Rock has a style that could be described as midcentury Modernism with a thyroid problem. It's enormous but by local standards elegant, low-key and even boutique-y. (Still under construction, it will grow from 414 rooms to 850 and add a shopping mall and several new restaurants by December.)

Unlike the irradiated mutant Roman senate, Venetian palace and Tuscan villa across town, the Red Rock uses curvilinear shapes and organic materials such as stacked red sandstone and paneled rosewood to integrate nature and incorporate recently demolished history.

On the inside, a dramatic lowered ceiling in the lobby evokes Frank Lloyd Wright and countless crystals hang in clever deconstructions of the traditional grand chandelier. Otherwise, it's a reverent pastiche of late 20th century design tropes -- part Zen wellness retreat complete with fake wheatgrass sprouting from bento boxes, and part iPod-populist design temple.

Absorbing the aura

AFTER checking in one day this month, we take an amusing ride in an elevator. Like almost every niche of the resort, the elevator has a TV replaying a video in which an attractive woman scampers along the rocks at nearby Red Rock Canyon, then swan dives off the edge of a cliff.

The screen displays the caption "A place to feel alive," but RTC remarks that the video actually suggests it's "a place to end it all." The woman, not dead, then emerges from a pool in a white bikini, a Steadicam trained on her top as she sashays over to a man with washboard abs. It's all very yin-yang, and it got funnier every time we saw it.

Our room is pure bachelor pad. The walls are covered in a brown woven fiber, the bathroom is done in gray-and-white marble and brown leather. A 42-inch, high-definition plasma TV faces the king-size pillow-top bed. It's hard to get up, even to check out the "intimacy kit" we dare not open lest a hefty $25 charge be incurred.

The hotel and casino are separated by a 3-acre "backyard" area with pools and decks, the nicest part of the resort. It's studded with rattan lounge chairs topped with orange cushions, and speakers blare a hodgepodge of dance music, reggae and pop. Through a small space at one end, you can just glimpse Red Rock Canyon to the west.

One deck serves as the lounge for the T-Bones Chophouse. Others constitute a VIP pool section, which also has a row of cabanas in the go-go early-'60s style. Cabanas seem to have lost a little bit of their mystique in the intervening years, however, and now require plasma TVs.

T-Bones Chophouse and Terra Rossa, an Italian restaurant, are fully booked for Saturday night. So we make a reservation at Terra Rossa for Sunday and grab a seat at the T-Bones bar, where the full menu is served. We order steaks, which eventually arrive with a sprig of rosemary.

The place is packed, the wait is long, and the martinis are very good -- good enough to make RTC extend a chat with a middle-aged woman dining alone well past the point of amusement and conclude that he weeps for humanity.

We are, however, the soberest people on the poolside deck, once we get out there. It's hard to put a finger, exactly, on the clientele. (The next day, we'll take a stroll through the Wynn and notice it attracts a different sort of people -- the sort that don't straddle their friends.) Not that the atmosphere isn't lively; it's just really drunk. So we decide to check out Cherry, a dance club from "nightclub impresario" Rande Gerber, who brought us L.A.'s Skybar, among others.

It is a decision we'll regret. Blithely sauntering up to the door, we are told by an eye-contact-avoidant bouncer to get in line. It does not matter that we are hotel guests. While we stand next to chain-smoking women shoveling quarters into slot machines, VIPs keep sauntering in. After a while, I ask another bouncer what the holdup is. He says something highly doubtful about George Clooney.

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