Sunday, March 12, 2006
RESEARCH QUESTION: The potent combo of gambling, booze and boobs is no stranger to Las Vegas, though the latter frequently refers to what casino patrons become when they mix the first two. Now comes the Hooters Casino Hotel (yes, that Hooters), which opened Feb. 2 in the shell of the old San Remo resort, about a block off the Strip. We wondered: Hooters may make a mean chicken wing, but does it know how to run a hotel?
METHODOLOGY: We spent a recent Friday night in one of Hooters' 696 rooms (679 standard with 17 suites). After initially quoting a rate of $166, the hotel knocked down the tariff to $156, the price we'd found at Expedia.com. No one at the front desk blinked when we arrived at 10 a.m. and asked if our room was ready. It was.
RESULTS: The whole Hooters concept -- buxom young women dressed in skintight orange shorts balancing trans fat-laden trays -- turns off a lot of people. It's not hard to understand why. And while Hooters also runs an airline, it's those 400-plus restaurants worldwide that are its claim to zaftig fame.
So imagine our surprise when we checked in and discovered that Hooters Casino Hotel isn't a pit. We remember the San Remo and its dreary I-can't-believe-it's-not-Newark decor. Still, we didn't expect the scope, or success, of the 18-story hotel's $130 million extreme makeover. The giant palms depicted on the exterior herald the beach motif within, a stylish meld of polished cedar paneling, tin roofs and surfboards. An airy U-shaped bar greets patrons at the door, with the gaming tables and slot machines zigzagging behind it.
As casinos go, Hooters is small and cramped, but we liked the low-denomination slots (many penny and nickel) and cheap minimum table bets ($10 on a busy weekend night, compared with $25 across the street at the MGM Grand). Ubiquitous "Hooters girls" -- the hotel employs more than 200 of 'em -- make continuous rounds dispensing gratis cocktails to gamblers.
Eateries include a Hooters (duh) in addition to Pete & Shorty's Book & Bar, a sports bar wedged between a tiny poker room and the casino floor; the Dam Restaurant, a 24-hour cafe with a skimpy breakfast menu and good service; and Dan Marino's Fine Food and Spirits, a seafood-and-steak joint that seems too nice for its location. Porch Dogs, an open-air bar near the pool, features dueling guitars and pianos at night -- and a sea of testosterone during the day.
Indeed, walk a few minutes toward the Strip and you'll be overrun by a stream of guys heading toward Hooters like flies to a bugzapper. During our stay, the hotel was crawling with supercharged males clinging to longnecks, from the dimly lit 13 Martini Bar (a pleasantly plush addition to the Sin City party scene) to, alas, the hallways and room balconies. We broke up an afternoon touch-football game when we went to fetch some ice and, at 2 a.m, were ready to dial 911 when we caught sight of some shirtless yahoos standing on their in-room barstools near an open eighth-floor window.
About those barstools: Some may be appalled, but we actually like the way the guest rooms are designed to be your own personal Hooters. Instead of a reading chair and lamp, there's a raised cocktail table with orange-cushioned stools next to a fake potted plant, along with cedar headboards, dim lighting and drawer knobs featuring the Hooters owl. Bathrooms are unexceptional (gotta love those Hooters shower caps, though). Linens, from sheets to towels, were first rate, but then again, they're only a month old.
The pool area is still under construction, with the promise of waterfalls, pool bars and, of course, more Hooters girls to come.
CONCLUSION: You have to love a place with a sense of humor, don't you? Don't you?! From the do-not-disturb signs (which state "No Knockers: Please Return Later") to the hotel stationery ("Send Money" is printed on the front of envelopes), Hooters Casino Hotel doesn't take itself seriously for a second.
That said, Hooters is not for everyone, and if things get any rowdier, perhaps not for anyone. If you wouldn't set foot in a Hooters restaurant, haul your rollaboard and nickels somewhere else. In any case, it's a good deal for its location; bright, well-appointed rooms; and laid-back, friendly atmosphere (we're growing increasingly weary of the high-priced mayhem that much of mid-Strip Vegas has become).
-- John Deiner
Rooms at Hooters Casino Hotel (115 E. Tropicana Ave.) start at about $69 a night for a Sunday-Thursday stay. Info: 866-584-6687, http://www.hooterscasinohotel.com.