Now that 2020 is over, things can only get better. Right?
AYU Dayclub | Photo courtesy of Resorts World Las Vegas
AYU Dayclub | Photo courtesy of Resorts World Las Vegas
What does the Magic 8-Ball see ahead for Las Vegas in 2021? “Reply hazy, try again.” Hmmm. “Outlook good”—that’s more like it. The new year can’t be any worse than 2020, especially in Sin City, where a $600 stimulus will only get you so far at the blackjack table. Things are tough, but the future holds promise with vaccines, trade shows, and 100% dining room capacity on the horizon. Here’s what to look forward to most in Las Vegas as we slowly inch our way into 2021.
Photo by Kate Russell for Meow Wolf
Off the Strip
The opening of AREA15 is one of the few bright spots of 2020 and the art, entertainment, dining, and retail space is only getting better in the new year. Most exciting of all: the arrival of Meow Wolf, the team responsible for a trippy, interactive walk-through art installation that’s one of the best reasons to visit Santa Fe. Here in Vegas, Meow Wolf is bringing us Omega Mart, a 52,000-square foot exhibit that plays fast and loose with a superstore concept. (Think of your local grocery store on acid—or maybe Walmart on a regular day.) If that wasn’t enough, AREA15 has even more on the way in 2021, including Lost Spirits (an interactive distillery tour that’s almost like an amusement park), Emporium (which mixes arcade games with booze), and Five Iron Golf (a golf simulator with a full bar). See a trend here?Photo courtesy of Estiatorio MilosThe Venetian
When Estiatorio Milos closed at the Cosmopolitan in October, it wasn’t really a “goodbye,” but more like a “see you later.” The restaurant is moving down the Strip to the Venetian, where it takes over the space once home to Aquaknox. The bad news—guests will no longer have that killer patio view of the Strip. But you know the Venetian will deck out the new dining room from top to bottom to more than make up for it. The one thing that won’t change is the Mediterranean cuisine and some of the freshest seafood you’ll find in the middle of the Nevada desert. Don’t scoff. You’ll enjoy fish that swam off the coast of Greece less than 24 hours before arriving on your plate.Photo courtesy of Resorts World Las VegasResorts World
Patience is a virtue. We’ve been looking forward to the opening of Resorts World on the former site of the Stardust casino for about seven years now. After a few revised plans and a sluggish start-and-stop construction pace, the first new Strip resort built from the ground up in more than a decade is nearly complete. (You may have already noticed the towering digital screen on the exterior.) Now set for a summer grand opening, Resorts World is eager to live up to the hype. More than 3,500 rooms and suites are divided between three brands—Hilton, Conrad, and Crockfords—with the latter an ultra-luxury option for those who make too much money to qualify for stimulus checks. Other highlights include Zouk Nightclub, a mammoth Stripside shopping plaza, and an expansive pool deck that promises the arrival of AYU Dayclub, and an impressive infinity pool with Strip views. There’s also a 5,000-seat theater that isn’t hiding its determination to attract A-list residencies.Photo by Andrew Bezek for Bang BarThe Cosmopolitan
Block 16 Urban Food Hall is one of the coolest culinary concepts on the Strip—a series of service counters that brings together acclaimed dining concepts from around the United States and gives ’em the freedom to do it right. The recent departure of Pok Pok Wing is clearing room for the arrival of David Chang’s Bang Bar. The name has little to do with booze, but rather the Korean-style bang bread that wraps around split-roasted meats, including pork and chicken. If you prefer your ingredients thrown together in a bowl with rice, that works too. Until Bang Bar opens this spring, get a feel for what David Chang is all about with his other dining spots already open on the Strip: Momofuku (also at the Cosmopolitan), Majordomo, and Moon Palace (both at the Venetian). Photo by Jerry Metellus for Magic Mike LiveSahara
The well-entrenched legacy of performers stripping off clothes in the name of entertainment in Las Vegas isn’t going away anytime soon. So get set for the arrival of Magic Mike Live at a new two-level theater at the Sahara, where ziplines may or may not make an appearance. The all-male revue (which counts the movie-version of Magic Mike, Channing Tatum, among the producers) previously ran at the now-closed Hard Rock Hotel & Casino and is now on the Strip for the first time. Considering all the bachelorette parties itching to scream and dance in Sin City once the coronavirus is vaccinated out of existence, this show is virtually a license to print money. Photo courtesy of Las Vegas News BureauThe Strip
The new West Hall at the Las Vegas Convention Center is just about finished. All it needs is a few conventions and trade shows to make use of it. The addition brings nearly 1.5 million square feet to the facility, covering the land where the Riviera and Landmark hotels once stood. The sleek design maximizes natural light with towering floor-to-ceiling windows. There’s also an outdoor plaza, a massive terrace with Strip views, and an atrium with one of the largest digital screens in the world. International CES is off the calendar this year due to coronavirus concerns, but other big events like the National Hardware Show (May 11-13), World of Concrete (June 8-10), and International Pizza Expo (June 22-24) tentatively remain on the schedule. The Strip
One of the highlights at the new Convention Center is a new underground transportation system by Elon Musk’s The Boring Company, which will whisk attendees around the property in all-electric Tesla vehicles, cutting a 15-minute walk down to a trip that takes a little over a minute. Plans are already in the works for an expansion tunnel to Resorts World on the other side of Las Vegas Boulevard. After that, Musk is eager to build a Vegas Loop to travel throughout the tourist corridor—as far north as Downtown and as far south as Allegiant Stadium. Photo courtesy of Al Solito PostoWest Valley
James Trees, the chef who made Esther’s Kitchen in the Arts District one of the best restaurants in Vegas right now, is bringing his influence to Tivoli Village. Al Solito Posto takes over the old Brio space, with a sophisticated charm to match the outdoor shopping plaza’s Old World architecture. The menu is expected to take full advantage of Trees’ reputation for house-made bread and pastas while putting elevated touches on familiar Italian-American staples like chicken parmesan, bruschetta, and even minestrone soup. The pork shank is said to be a showstopper. Around the corner, the chef’s previous Tivoli Village restaurant, Ada’s is being reconfigured as a wine bar with a mix of traditional and inventive tapas. We’re especially excited about the Iberico chorizo croquettes and duck confit paninis. In a rare move, every employee on the floor is a certified Level 2 sommelier, able to discuss the wine selection as much (or as little) as you like. Expect both dining concepts to open by February.Photo courtesy of Pinball Hall of FameThe Strip
As far as weird Las Vegas museums go, this place is quite a bit of fun. The Pinball Hall of Fame, currently east of the Strip on Tropicana, is moving to a larger space on Las Vegas Boulevard by Russell Road—not far from the “Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas” sign. The world’s largest pinball arcade will nearly triple in size and feature a rotating lineup of food trucks in the parking lot with event spaces tailored to large gatherings. The idea is to make a night of it. As always, admission is free. Pinball machines can be played with just a quarter or two. A grand opening should happen by late spring.
A Residency Revival
Most live entertainment remains on hold, but there are a few new shows on tap for 2021. Sting was never able to open his “My Songs” residency in 2020 at the Colosseum inside Caesars Palace, but the former Police singer gets another chance with dates May 7-22 and October 29-November 13. The same theater hosts an all-new extended run by Usher beginning in July and the postponed “Viva Moz Vegas” residency by Morrisey August 28-September 5. A hard rock double-bill of the Scorpions and Queensryche plays the Zappos Theater at Planet Hollywood May 8-30, giving their “Sin City Nights” residency another go. Meanwhile, a familiar face, Donny Osmond is splitting up with his sister (again) for his first-ever solo Vegas residency at Harrah’s beginning August 31.Off the Strip
The hotel and casino formerly known as the Hard Rock is now reopening in 2021 as one of Richard Branson’s Virgin Hotels. The only question is when? The new resort underwent a full-scale renovation and announced an opening date of January 15. That’s been pushed back to at least April according to its website. However long it takes will be worth the wait. Virgin Hotels is promising a fresh clean look with renovated rooms and suites in all three towers and the first Mohegan Sun casino in Vegas. The restaurants look especially promising, including the return of Nobu, One Steakhouse (by the Morton family behind MB Steak at the Hard Rock), and Night + Market with Asian street food by Kris Yenbamroong, and a new version of Todd English’s Olives, which closed a few years back at the Bellagio. The five-acre pool deck will have an event lawn and The Joint will stick around as one of the best mid-size venues for seeing a concert in Vegas—although the name seems to have been quietly dropped, so don’t be surprised to see yet another rebranding here as well.Photo by Olivia Jane Design & InteriorsCaesars Palace
Bobby Flay is switching things up at Caesars Palace. The celebrity chef closed the long-running Mesa Grill in November and is replacing it with Amalfi this spring. As the name suggests, the new dining spot will focus on coastal Italian cuisine with fresh seafood front and center (and kept on full display in view of the dining room). The menu will also feature pastas, an extensive wine list, and European-inspired desserts, including a pistachio olive oil cake. No word on the fate of Flay’s other big Vegas restaurant, Shark, at the still temporarily closed Palms resort off the Strip.Photo courtesy of Planet 13 Las VegasOff the Strip
Nevada knows a thing or two about selling legal weed. At this point, it feels like there’s a dispensary on every corner, but will 2021 be the year we see widespread consumption lounges or regular THC-infused dinners made available to the general public? Who knows? But one thing is certain—the largest dispensary in Vegas is only getting bigger. Planet 13 is expanding by doubling its sales floor and adding a digital video wall with 3D effects. The mega-store already showed how to make the business of cannabis fun with drone-like orb shows, an interactive digital floor, and a laser “graffiti” wall. While shopping, fend off the munchies with a bite to eat at Trece, an on-site restaurant that opened in 2020.
The “uncommon” emergence of the Southwest Valley
It’s hard to ignore the busy construction crews near Durango and the 215, where UnCommons is being built as a hybrid office, retail, and dining space with urban-style apartments and walking trails for hanging out with your dog. In other words, there’s no reason to leave this 200,000-square-foot complex—day or night. UnCommons was set for a late 2021 grand opening, but may get pushed back to 2022. Either way, you’ll see the project taking shape in dramatic fashion by the end of the year. The area is already a hub for homes, apartments, and shopping centers with other big projects in the works, like The Bend outdoor dining and retail plaza on Sunset and an all-new Lifetime Fitness. Sahara Las VegasSahara
Ever since Alex Meruelo bought the SLS in 2018 and changed the name back to the Sahara, the renovations have continued, pretty much without interruption. The latest example is a newly revamped “Restaurant Row” on track for a summer debut. Chickie’s and Pete’s sports bar and crab house is gearing up for a menu that includes lobster pie pizza and crab fries while Noodle Den will serve hand-pulled noodles and dumplings, courtesy of Chef Guoming “Sam” Xin. The two eateries will join an Italian restaurant and another concept to be announced along the west side of the casino floor, mixing indoor dining rooms with outdoor spaces overlooking Las Vegas Boulevard. Until then, you can still get a meal at Uno Mas Street Tacos, Northside Cafe, and Bazaar Meat by Jose Andres, which is one of the most essential bucket list dining experiences in town.Photo courtesy of The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas
A return to normalcy with buffets
Buffets just weren’t meant to thrive in the coronavirus era. They were the first places to close when the crisis hit and most of them still haven’t tried reopening. The Buffet at Wynn and Wicked Spoon at the Cosmopolitan gave it a shot, reinventing the format with individually portioned food handed directly to customers or brought to the table, but both threw in the towel by the end of the year. Bacchanal Buffet took advantage of the downtime with a large-scale renovation, but pushed back its reopening date to at least next year. Treasure Island decided to replace its buffet with a sports book and be done with it altogether. While the appeal of stuffing your face with all-you-can-eat food for one price is a dubious concept at best, it’ll be good to finally see buffets back in action, because if nothing else, it’s a sign the pandemic will truly be behind us.Photo courtesy of Allegiant Stadium
Scoring a seat at Allegiant Stadium
Off the Strip
Despite opening on time to welcome the Raiders to Las Vegas for the 2020 NFL season, very few fans have actually been inside Allegiant Stadium. Hopefully, that will change when and if tickets become available to the general public in 2021. (Until then, feel free to take a virtual 3D tour of the 65,000-seat stadium on Homie.) We’ll also know things are back to normal when fans can pack the T-Mobile Arena to see the Vegas Golden Knights in action, not to mention the brand-new Lifeguard Arena, home to the minor-league Henderson Silver Knights. Don’t forget about the Las Vegas Ballpark in Downtown Summerlin, a great place to watch the Aviators play minor league baseball. With all these sports venues in Las Vegas, it’s a shame we can’t all get together, drink beer, and scream. Maybe soon. Maybe in 2021.
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Rob Kachelriess has been writing about Las Vegas in Thrillist for more than seven years. His work has also appeared in Travel + Leisure, Trivago Magazine, Sophisticated Living, Modern Luxury, Leafly, Las Vegas Magazine, and other publications. He’s never been more happy about the idea of eating at a buffet again. Follow him on Twitter @rkachelriess.