Michael Jordan used to go there to drag Dennis Rodman out of bed so they could go win playoff games and NBA championships. Ben Affleck was banned from the Hard Rock’s blackjack tables for counting cards. Bruno Mars was busted there for having drugs. Howard Stern, a notorious homebody, did his radio show from there once a year.
So many celebrities flocked to the Hard Rock that it was hard to spend a weekend night there and NOT run into one. Simply put, anyone who was anyone who was bored with The Strip party scene hung out either at the Palms one mile north of Las Vegas Boulevard or the Hard Rock one mile south.
Later this month or early in April the new owners of the property – a Houston-based private equity company – will open the doors again under the name Virgin Hotel. The mammoth guitar at the property’s entrance is long gone. Instead, Virgin will hope to retain some old customers and develop new ones with across-the-grain consumer-friendly policies such as no resort fees, free parking and free Wi-Fi – all of which have been in short supply in the city in recent years.
If the old Hard Rock – which opened in 1990 and had undergone several renovations over its near 30-year run – was Justin Bieber, Kim Kardashian and pool parties – Virgin is promising a more refined, laid-back vibe. The dance clubs are still there, but it’s clear from those who have seen it that the new owners probably won’t have to worry about undercover police checking for drug deals. Maybe not 50 Cent and maybe not Michael Buble, but something in between.
The casino business has been farmed out to Mohegan Sun, the gigantic tribe-owned hotel-casino property that made its mark in southeastern Connecticut. The Virgin gambling area will be just a fraction of the size of Mohegan’s Northeast step-father.
The renovation of the hotel end of the property includes plenty of 21st-century technology – lots of outlets for charging electronic devices, keyless room entry and everything you might want to do (order food, check out etc.) from your mobile phone.
Opening any business into the headwinds created by the current Covid pandemic and amid various state travel restrictions is tricky and risky business, and Virgin no doubt is no doubt rolling the dice. Some analysts predict that the travel-entertainment industry will roar back big-time as pent-up demand takes effect once the virus’s effects have abated. Others estimate that it could take years before we’re back to pre-pandemic levels. No one really knows for sure. But Virgin bossman Richard Branson got silly rich taking risks growing his empire, and this is just another for him.
As for the Hard Rock name itself, we may not have seen the last of it in Vegas. Even as Virgin is putting the finishing touches for its planned March 25 opening, Hard Rock International announced that it has purchased the intellectual property rights to build a new casino in Vegas. So Virgin and Hard Rock might actually be competitors at some point.