A Strip cultural legacy
Assessing the legacy of casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who died on January 11, reveals a man of contradictions. Here was a man who pulled no punches as a businessman, was proudly transparent about the largesse he bestowed upon numerous conservative figures (especially Donald Trump), and fought against popular institutions such as legal marijuana and labor unions. But — credit where it’s due — Adelson ensured his workers were paid and insured during the pandemic, and his early emphasis on Las Vegas conventions and corporate events would eventually be adopted throughout the tourist corridor — with an economic impact in the billions.
And then there are his easily overlooked contributions to Las Vegas’ cultural landscape. Adelson likely handed off most of the curation of his properties’ non-gaming offerings to various executives. But the Venetian and Palazzo would not have been so aggressive in attracting patrons without his sign-offs and seemingly boundless wealth. Here’s a list of notable arts and entertainment attractions that Las Vegas enjoyed thanks to the late magnate’s influence and investment.
Art: It’s hard to imagine Las Vegas topping the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation’s list of expansion cities. But in October 2001, the Venetian debuted a 63,700-square-foot big-box Guggenheim museum, followed by the complementary 7,660-square-foot Guggenheim Hermitage Museum — a twin-arrow shot across the Strip toward the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art. “Evolution is what a place like Las Vegas is all about,” said Adelson at the time, probably not presaging that one exhibit of homoerotic photographs by controversial artist Robert Mapplethorpe. Sadly, the bigger Guggenheim only lasted 15 months, and the Hermitage locked its own doors five years later. Alas, museum-caliber exhibitions didn’t disappear completely; the satisfactory Rolling Stones-themed show Exhibitionism held court in 2017-2018.
Dining: The Venetian and Palazzo have long boasted a murderer’s row of restaurants, thanks in part to its luring of dining luminaries such as Emeril Lagasse, Daniel Boulud, Charlie Trotter, and numerous others that have thrived despite — or gotten lost among — the complex’s 40-plus eateries. Longtime standouts include Thomas Keller’s Bouchon, arguably the reigning brunch spot of the Strip (sorry not sorry, Michael Mina), and Wolfgang Puck’s Cut steakhouse, an expense account favorite. Recently, the Palazzo brought in celebrity chef David Chang to launch his latest local foray, Majordomo Meat & Fish.
Nightlife: As the Guggenheim proved, Adelson was something of a size queen. Accordingly, the Venetian birthed the term “megaclub” with C2K, a 50,000-square-foot dance emporium that, in 1999, allowed the then-new resort to boast the largest nightlife space (by far) in Las Vegas. Scandal quickly followed — including theJuly 2000 fatal drug overdose of 21-year-old Danielle Heird, who allegedly ingested Ecstacy at the club or while waiting in line. After a lawsuit from the Heird family — and the casino petrified of the Gaming Control Board’s gavel — the club shuttered in 2000, reopening with different operators later that year. A slew of gigantic DJs propped up C2K 2.0 until the venue’s permanent closure in 2002. The Venetian tried its hand again at mirrorball revelry in 2005 with New York’s Tao, which has remarkably defied the single-digit shelf life of a Vegas club and remains open.
Stage: Broadway has had mixed results on the Strip, but most of its successes have happened at Adelson’s dual-resort compound. It was home to Jersey Boys for the first four years of its Vegas run; its mercifully edited version of Phantom of the Opera ( Phantom: The Las Vegas Spectacular) lasted six years; Rock of Ages dropped its curtain here; and the property booked musicals of the well-trodden ( Chicago) and cult-fave ( Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) varieties for shorter stints.
Other: The Venetian isn’t the only resort in town to host limited-engagement concert runs, though it pioneered the country residency with Tim McGraw & Faith Hill’s Soul2Soul show — and it may reinvent the concept once its arena-meets-snow-globe venue Sphere opens in (enter post-pandemic guesstimate here). Also noteworthy: Hands down the city’s most jaw-dropping virtual-reality attraction, The VOID delighted the kid in all of us until the pandemic forced its closure last year. According to its Facebook page, it’s “not likely to ever reopen.”