It's a big deal in Las Vegas whenever a new casino opens its doors, especially if it's anywhere close to the Strip. In recent years, we've seen the SLS take over the old Sahara and the Cromwell emerge from what was once Bill's Gamblin' Hall. However, the Lucky Dragon is the first new casino and resort to be built from the ground-up since the Cosmopolitan opened more than six years ago. It's near the intersection of Las Vegas Blvd and Sahara -- and could be a major part of a long-promised resurgence at the north end of the Strip.
The lay of the land
The Lucky Dragon isn't an "Asian-themed" resort looking to draw the masses with a gimmick. It carries an authenticity that's geared heavily towards the Asian market which includes international tourists, visitors from California, and Las Vegas locals.
The design is all business. Unlike other casinos, it avoids sprawling hallways or gaming areas. The layout is simple and efficient with little wasted space. The casino -- connected to the hotel tower by a pedestrian bridge -- is circular in design and easy to navigate, with a bar at the center and a massive 1.25 ton glass dragon sculpture hanging overhead.
Like baccarat? The Lucky Dragon is your kind of place. The casino is littered with 25 baccarat tables (including EZ Baccarat -- a version with slightly modified rules). To give you an idea of how popular the game is within the Asian community, all seven of the tables in the VIP area are baccarat.
Other games include Pai Gow (a Chinese game played with dominoes), blackjack, and roulette. Most telling: There are only two tables dedicated to American poker. The 287 slot machines boast titles like Duo Fu Duo Cai and China Shores. You won't see most of the familiar ones with an Ellen, Seinfeld, or TMZ theme. However, Wheel of Fortune did make the cut -- which is kind of a requirement in any Vegas casino.
The restaurants will likely draw the most interest from locals spoiled by the dining scene in Las Vegas. Much like the rest of the resort, everything is based around authenticity.
Phoenix shows the most promise, although it wasn't open during the resort's soft opening phase. The intimate dining room has just 60 seats and a private balcony view of the Strip from the second floor. The menu is geared towards the adventurous diner, with kurobuta pork, deer tendon, and abalone among the rare and carefully prepared dishes.
Pearl Ocean can be found next door and is a little more casual but still intriguing. Tanks of live seafood sit near the main dining room, offering an exotic catch of lobster and whole Dungeness crab flown in daily. This is also where you'll find the best dim sum in the building.
The restaurants on the ground level are for those on the move. Dragon's Alley is modeled after street markets in China and Taiwan and even features a hunk of brick wall brought in from a government housing alley in Beijing where those markets are common. The food is served from stations food court style. That means you can choose your noodles and broth for your soup, enjoy pork, duck, or beef barbecue style, and slurp down boba tea along with some pastries for dessert. The seating area is lined by lanterns and the nearby Jewel Kitchen is surrounded by windows showing every dish, from fried rice to dim sum, being made fresh on the spot. Bao Now is a grab-and-go window for quick snacks and if that wasn't enough, you're welcome to bring food with you while playing casino games. Just try not to dribble noodles on the Baccarat table.
Yes, the tea. If there is one trend that's ready to take off -- it's tea tastings. And the Lucky Dragon could soon be known as the place where it all began. There's no one else in the US (or really anywhere) that can match what's being done in the Cha Garden lounge area. Tea is presented in its purest form with no processing or pesticides used -- unlike the ones from the grocery store that are probably sitting in your kitchen pantry right now. In fact, ladybugs are used in place of pesticides, giving true meaning to organic farming. The menu lists details about each tea that include the location of where the leaves were grown, the elevation, and even the name of the farmer. Each one is grown in China or Taiwan, and could arrive at the Lucky Dragon within five days of harvesting.
The Lucky Dragon gives tea the same consideration that might be found with wine or whiskey, including vintages and verticals. The program is supervised by the only tea sommelier in Las Vegas and features a ceremonial presentation known as Gongfu. The teas can also be sold to take home. Free tastings are offered daily from 3-6pm.
The Lucky Dragon features two main bars. The atrium bar serves drinks for those on the second floor as well as the restaurant guests inside Phoenix and Pearl Ocean. The pagoda-style bar on the ground level has a few more seats and is the centerpiece of the casino floor. Both carry an impressive array of spirits, including rare cognac, Asian whiskeys, and Baijiu -- a Chinese grain beverage that's similar to Grappa Italian brandy but more complex and not for the squeamish. Lovers of fine spirits can also spend a few hundred dollars on a shot of Macallan M or drop more than five grand on a bottle of Louis XIII.
The wine list is kept to about 50 bottles, but includes strong selections from small family-owned estates in California, Oregon, and Washington, as well as Italy, France, and premium options from China that are hard to find in the United States.
Things really get fun with the cocktails. Even Buddha Gets Inflamed is a Far East spin on a Bloody Mary made with shisito pepper infused Belvedere, a special blend of Sriracha, soy, and sesame salt -- and garnished with a chicken's foot. Guan Yu's is a combo of Hennessy Black and French banana liqueur that's smoked with cloves.
Lucky Dragon is also eager to expand its beer selection in the near future. In addition to the usual domestic suspects, the current list includes Tsingtao and Yanjing from China, Coedo and Sapporo from Japan, and Tiger from Singapore.
The red shell that covers the exterior of the Lucky Dragon actually gives off a pink hue on the inside of every window in the hotel tower. Whether being surrounded by pink is an exotic comfort or annoyance may depend on the individual. But the hotel says most eyes generally adjust to it in short time anyway. As for the rooms themselves, there are a little more than 200 total. The standard rooms are cozy and comfortable but not complicated. Twenty-two suites come with a Strip view and a little more space. A penthouse on the top floor spans the entire length of the building with panoramic views and a dining room designed for catered events. All of the rooms come with Asian-inspired murals on the wall, a selection of imported tea for brewing, and more Asian language television programming than any hotel on the Strip. If you look at the elevator buttons, you'll notice that there's no fourth floor -- since the number is considered unlucky in Chinese culture. In fact, you won't find a "4" in any of the room numbers either.
Tourists may be more interested in Baccarat than sunbathing, so the pool on the ground floor is on the small side -- more of a wading pond than a place to practice your Olympic laps. No dayclubs here. Just a few oak trees, lounge chairs, and cabanas that double as tea huts at night with food and drink from Cha Garden next door.
The spa is a nice escape but skips the extravagance of the ones commonly found at bigger resorts in Vegas. Shuttles are on standby to take hotel guests to destinations on the Strip or Chinatown.
The Lucky Dragon won't be a staycation spot for Vegas locals already familiar with more indulgent resorts on the Strip, but it's not meant to be. The hotel provides an affordable alternative for the foreign market -- a major growing factor in the Vegas economy -- while offering something truly different when it comes to drinks and dining. The Lucky Dragon is covering its bases and investing its money wisely -- by appealing to different groups on different levels at the same time. There are a few reasons to visit. You just have to figure out which one is for you.
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