To be revolutionary in a city like Vegas – a place where every idea has already been tried, and better means bigger, newer and, usually, brasher – you have to go back to basics. The SLS Las Vegas, which opened in August, is unlike the rest of the Strip hotels. Where others have demolished historic casinos to make way for flashy new properties, the SLS has re-tooled the Sahara, an iconic Rat Pack hangout that hosted the Beatles, Sonny and Cher, and even Marlene Dietrich in its heyday.
Where others create labyrinthine casinos, doing away with clocks and natural light to disorient their clientele into gambling the hours away, the SLS features an entrance wall of glass, patio doors beckoning from the slots to the pool area, a wall of clocks displaying world time zones by the art gallery, and a beer garden overlooking the neighbouring Stratosphere Tower.
A huge proportion of the property has been imported from Los Angeles, home of the SLS brand which runs hotels and nightclubs in Beverly Hills, Miami and, soon, Manhattan. As well as cult LA chain Umami Burger, there's Bazaar Meat, chef José Andrés's Los Angeles restaurant; Katsuya, a staple Hollywood sushi joint; and a Ciel Spa, straight from Beverly Hills. All seven stores – including a sex shop – are offshoots of Fred Segal, LA's pioneer of the "store-within-a-store" concept.
Elsewhere, the SLS gives a nod to classic Vegas. Screens behind the check-in desk loop vintage footage of the Sahara; an enormous chandelier by the entrance to nightclub Life is made entirely of old Sahara doorhandles. The lobby carpet is a patchwork of old Vegas postcards and photos of the Sahara's most famous guests, while by the pool it morphs into shots of actors such as Sean Connery, Faye Dunaway and Audrey Hepburn in their swimsuits.
The Philippe Starck-designed bedrooms are unlike anything the Strip has ever seen; Mediterranean restaurant Cleo is decorated with books and the intimate Sayers Club is decked out with Chesterfield sofas and kilim rugs. Even the casino is boutique: a small, diamond-shaped gambling floor with one side entirely decorated with supersized reproductions of Renaissance paintings. No wonder much of the Middle America gambling contingent doesn't approve.
There are a few issues. Rooms are small by Vegas standards; the single pool will never be big enough to accommodate guests from the 1,600 rooms; and serious gamblers may feel limited by the petite casino. Still, this is a radical new interpretation of what Vegas should be. Stand by to see who follows its lead.
The northern end of the Strip, where the Sahara once ruled, is now something of a wasteland, with downmarket shopping centres and abandoned hotel projects. There are hopes it'll be revived, but for now it's quiet and insalubrious. Taxis or the monorail – the hotel has its own stop – are essential. It's two miles to Caesars Palace (the central Strip) and four to the airport.
The hotel's three towers, designed by Philippe Starck, each have their own distinct style. There's an urban feel to the entry-level rooms in the Story tower: canary yellow bathrooms and mattresses sitting in plastic, neon-lit bedframes lighten up steel-grey walls and exposed concrete ceilings with builders' annotations intact.
The World tower is feminine with a bite: dip-dye effect walls bleed from pink to white then black; padded headboards are "deconstructed" to sit either side of the bed; and stark, white, foot-of-bed sofas counter jet-black carpets. But it's in the frou-frou Lux Tower rooms where Starck's whimsy really comes into play, with feature walls draped in sailcloth painted with trompe-l'oeil stucco and Louis XIV-era cameos, plus tree-stump stools, branch-shaped chandeliers and sprawling chaises longues.
All rooms have Simmons beds, Ciel toiletries, and a quirky minibar stocked with goods divided into those for healthy "Saints" and sugar-loving "Sinners".
SLS Las Vegas, 2535 Las Vegas Boulevard South (001 702 761 7757; slslasvegas.com).
Double rooms start at $122 (£81), excluding breakfast.Reuse content