Things come and go quickly in Las Vegas -- and despite the best of intentions, sometimes never show up at all. Yet faster than you can say "Kind Heaven," we're already saying goodbye to one year and welcoming another with open arms and open wallets. A few big changes have already snuck up on us -- like the new LED lights on the edges of the Luxor and the debut of Mayfair Supper Club, an ambitious new dinner-and-show experience where Hyde Bellagio used to be.
But 2020 is a brand new year to kick off a brand new decade with the pieces in place to dramatically reshape the Strip in ways large and small. And for what it's worth, the aforementioned Kind Heaven is "not dead" according to an official representative, so there's always hope on that one. For now, let's stick to some sure bets for 2020. Well, as sure as bets can be in Vegas. Here's how the Strip and its surrounding areas will change in the new year.
Make no mistake. The trade show business runs this town -- more than Cirque, Gaga, or even slot machines. While millenials don't flock to casinos the way boomers do, the convention business is bigger than ever. The best example is the expansion of the Las Vegas Convention Center from its home near Paradise and Desert Inn toward the Strip with a new futuristic West Hall set to open by December 2020 (just in time for the best CES ever a few weeks later). The new venue will have tons of cool stuff, including 1.4 million additional square feet, enhanced tech features, a rooftop terrace, and an underground high-speed transportation system designed by Elon Musk's The Boring Company. The current version of the Convention Center will get its own renovation between 2021 and 2024 and, when it's all said and done, a convention "district" will be in place to make Orlando cry tears of envy.
Karaoke used to be something you did in Chinatown on a lark for fun. But much like everything else in Vegas, it's turning into a luxury concept on the Strip. Kamu Ultra Karaoke is set to open in early February at the Grand Canal Shoppes at the Venetian with 40 private rooms that include six VIP suites. And, because nobody wants to sing in front of their friends and family sober, a full bar will provide cocktails and bottle service. Guests can also wolf down food by Chef Chris Oh (whose Um.ma is one of the best new San Francisco restaurants of 2019). The place opens at noon daily, but is restricted to adults from 8pm-8am. Belt along to thousands of songs from the global charts or connect your own music via Bluetooth. If singing isn't your thing, rooms can be customized for e-gaming instead.
Work is already underway on the MSG Sphere and while it won't open until 2021, expect it to emerge this year as a dominant piece of the Las Vegas skyline. Made in partnership by Sands and the people behind New York's Madison Square Garden, the MSG Sphere is a 366-foot-tall circular venue wrapped with ultra high-def screens on both the exterior and interior -- with about 100-times the resolution of your TV at home. So from the outside, it can be programmed to resemble the Earth, a Budweiser logo, or whatever it needs to be for whatever purpose -- a concert, stage production, trade show presentation, or an immersive movie experience. The venue will hold anywhere between 17,000 and 20,000 people, depending on the configuration. You'll experience loads of ridiculous high-tech features, including an epic sound system that produces consistent audio no matter where you're sitting. A thousand-foot pedestrian bridge will connect the MSG Sphere to the Venetian resort and the all-important Sands Expo Center.
You may have noticed -- vintage Prohibition-style concepts and speakeasy bars are kind of a trend right now. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. As we kick off the new Roaring '20s, the Flamingo is replacing its generic Center Cut Steakhouse with something much more promising. Bugsy & Meyer's is a larger restaurant with its own dry-aging program and a mobster mentality. Named in honor of crime boss Bugsy Siegel and business partner Meyer Lansky, who together opened the Flamingo in 1946, the restaurant welcomes guests Goodfellas-style, through a discreet facade of a bakery. In addition to the main dining room, diners can take a seat at a raw bar, an outdoor patio surrounded by greenery, a hidden lounge dubbed the Count Room, and one of three themed private dining areas. The drink program includes a roaming Old Fashioned cart and a heavy emphasis on Carribean-inspired rum cocktails.
The Vegas Golden Knights proved that a major league sports team could work in this town, and now things are being taken up a notch with the arrival of the Raiders at the brand-new Allegiant Stadium. The new 65,000-seat venue is already taking shape near the south end of the Strip with the pressure on to open in time for the fall NFL season. The stadium is enclosed and climate-controlled with an exterior video wall and a giant window to give spectators a view of the Strip from their seats. You can also anticipate the latest tech features and a culinary lineup that will likely go beyond the same old hot dogs and hamburgers (and if the T-Mobile Arena and Las Vegas Ballpark are any indication, have a heavy local influence).
The only thing missing is parking. While there will be some spaces on site, nearby casinos like Mandalay Bay will be stuck with the overflow, although a monorail expansion is expected in the near future. In addition to Raiders home games, Allegiant Stadium will also host the Pac-12 Championship, Las Vegas Bowl, and UNLV college football. The only question left -- who will get to play the first concert? Taylor Swift? U2? Beyonce? The smart bet is on the Def Leppard, Motley Crue, and Poison package tour, which is playing stadiums this summer.
It's a little hard to define Area 15 -- a nod to the mystery and aura of Area 51, but with the numeral changed to reflect its location right off Interstate 15. From the highway, the venue looks like a dark, massive warehouse. But on the inside, it promises an experiential mix of art and commerce that's unlike anything else in Vegas. The anchor tenant is Meow Wolf, an art collective that built its reputation with an interactive installation in New Mexico with secret passages and surreal imagery. Guests can also chow down in a food hall designed by Todd English and check out the virtual reality of Nomadic, a mix of booze and games from Emporium, and the competitive rush of Dueling Axes. Most of the tenants won't be open for business until May, but guests can get an early look at the compound with the debut of the Big Art open-air gallery in February.
Courtesy of Din Tai Fung
The Vegas Strip continues its complicated relationship with Asian dining
After opening up Momofuku (and Christina Tosi's affiliated Milk Bar) at the Cosmopolitan back in 2017, David Chang is expanding his Vegas empire. Majordomo Meat & Fish, which opened in time for New Year's Eve, has tough shoes to fill in the space that once belonged to the sorely missed Carnevino steakhouse. Yet early signs are positive and Chang is following up with Moon Palace, a casual sister slider concept that's set to open in January.
Elsewhere on the Strip, China Tang closes at the MGM Grand on February 3, barely lasting two years in pursuit of Cantonese fine dining customers. The Palms recently opened Tim Ho Wan, which seems to have found an audience for authentic Hong Kong flavors in a casual setting. Later in the year, Din Tai Fung will open its first Las Vegas location in the space now home to Aria Cafe. The Tawainese chain known for soup dumplings and noodles already has nearly 200 locations around the world. Makes you wonder why it took so long to hit Vegas.
Sting | Courtesy of Martin Kierszenbaum
So... many... new... residencies
When it comes to Strip headliners, it almost feels like Las Vegas is getting a reboot. After saying goodbye to long-term residencies by Celine Dion and Donny & Marie (not to mention Jennifer Lopez, Pitbull, and the Backstreet Boys) in recent months, Vegas is welcoming some fresh new faces in 2020. The recently renovated Colosseum at Caesars Palace hosts Keith Urban beginning January 10, Sting beginning May 22, and a limited run of six dates by The Who May 5-16. Meanwhile, Gwen Stefani wraps up at Zappos Theater inside Planet Hollywood in May while Kelly Clarkson debuts April 1. The Venetian Theater is sticking with proven touring warhorses with limited runs by Foreigner January 24-February 1 (and back again April 17-25), the Doobie Brothers February 7-22, Chicago February 28-March 14, and ZZ Top March 20-28.
Resorts World has been "coming soon" for a while now -- including when we tried predicting changes to the Strip in 2016. But now, it's really happening. At least we think so. After all this time, Resorts World has announced a grand opening for summer 2021, which means you'll see this thing -- which is already changing the Vegas skyline -- get close to wrapping up construction in 2020. Long gone are plans for a panda exhibit, water park, Great Wall of China replica, and seven hotel towers.
Instead, Resorts World will now have two towers (for 3,500 rooms and suites), a 5,000-seat theater, some kind of nightclub and dayclub, a sprawling pool deck, a large LED video globe, and massive video screens on the side of reach tower. Of course, there's a casino, too. An Asian theme is still in place even without the pandas. On an interesting note, it appears at least some of the rooms will have open-air balconies, which aren't often seen on the Strip. The project is under the direction of Malaysia's Genting Group after buying the site from Boyd Gaming, who blew up the Stardust to build the Echelon resort -- something that never happened due to the 2008 recession.
If you haven't gotten the message by now -- you can never have too much expo and event space in Las Vegas. Caesars Forum (not to be confused with the Forum Shops at Caesars) opens in March right behind the LINQ and in easy walking distance to Caesars Entertainment properties like the Cromwell, Flamingo, and Harrah's.
The Wynn doesn't mess with its dining too much. The resort tends to keep its culinary program in-house and in-place with restaurants like SW Steakhouse, Mizumi, Lakeside, and Wing Lei proving to be exceptional, consistent performers over the years. However, at least three new concepts are being added to the mix. First up is Elio, a contemporary Mexican restaurant by the team behind Cosme and Atla, which made Daniela Soto-Innes Thrillist's New York Chef of the Year in 2017.
The Wynn is also transforming the Chairman's Salon into Deliah, based on the Los Angeles supper club. (Yes, supper clubs are going to be a thing in 2020.) The most hype and attention will be reserved for a new restaurant by Thomas Keller, set to replace the Country Club late in the year. With last year's addition of the Wynn Plaza retail and dining extension and the new convention center, the resort is starting to feel a lot different all of a sudden.
The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is in great shape these days. Room and lobby upgrades in recent years have given it a fresh, contemporary feel, complemented by expanded conference space and a welcome mix of old and new restaurants. But never mind all that. One good renovation deserves another, and the property will officially close on February 3 to be rebranded as a Virgin Hotel under the ownership of Richard Branson. The resort's sharp, modern image is being replaced with a "desert cool design" with rooms frequently referred to as "chambers."
The Hard Rock Cafe out front has already been demolished and its iconic 82-foot-tall neon guitar donated to the Neon Museum. The property is keeping The Joint concert venue (a smart move), but will revamp its restaurants, nightlife, and in-house entertainment. Magic Mike Live is moving to the Sahara and the Big Blues Bender, an annual property-wide music festival, is being relocated to the Westgate for 2020. When he first purchased the Hard Rock, Branson expressed interest in keeping the lobby's expansive music memorabilia collection and the hotel is slated to open in the fall, most likely in November.
The LINQ promenade | Courtesy of Brian Jones/Las Vegas News Bureau
There's a tour for everything in Las Vegas, but when it comes to food, there's only one game in town: Lip Smacking Foodie Tours. The company operates a series of food crawls covering the best dishes on the Strip and Downtown with a luxury VIP experience that's one of the coolest things you can do in Vegas. The tours have done so well, there are now versions in Santa Monica, San Jose, Seattle, and St. Louis with an eye on Vancouver. Now the team is introducing Finger Licking Foodie Tours -- a more casual experience at a lower price that's hitting food and drink destinations at The LINQ promenade. (A second tour is in the works for the Downtown Container Park.) Bars and restaurants are still being finalized for a February launch.
Titanic: The Artifact Exhibition has been at the Luxor for a while now -- and with good reason. It does a great job preserving the legacy and history of the doomed ocean liner, which sank in the North Atlantic in 1912. After closing January 6-9, the exhibit will emerge with a new look that includes 108 new artifacts -- to mark 108 years since the disaster -- including 20 items that have yet to be publicly displayed anywhere in the world since their recovery from the ocean floor.
The arrival of a first-class smoking room chandelier is most compelling, although nothing can quite match the "big piece" -- a 15-ton segment of the hull with circular windows. The refresh also includes new tech features and a photo station where you can pose with prop life jackets from a certain major motion picture. As of January 13, guests will be allowed to take their own photos and, later in the year, organizers are hoping to open the venue for receptions and other private events.
To some people, Circus Circus is a complete dump. To others, it's an old hotel full of charm, history, and low prices. (Either way, everyone loves The Steak House.) But now, the resort is getting its first upgrade in years, if not decades, after being sold to Treasure Island owner Phil Ruffin. The big-top theme isn't going anywhere, but Circus Circus will soon see a new swimming complex with a wave pool, lazy river, and sandy beaches. Ruffin also wants a renovated casino and a 2,000-seat theater to host a new Cirque du Soleil production. (Does Cirque know about this?) As far as we can tell, regulars will still be able to enjoy the Adenturedome theme park and Slots-A-Fun outdoor casino.
A little west of the Strip (Decatur and the 95 to be exact), the people behind the Heart Attack Grill are debuting a new concept with food, entertainment, and kitsch in mind. Burger 51 is an outdoor drive-in movie theater with burgers, popcorn, and candy served from a drive-thru window. The whole thing has a 1950s-inspired, science-fiction theme with structures similar to what you'd find at the Downtown Container Park. In a shocking twist, both Coke and Pepsi products will be served side-by-side in glass bottles (with cane sugar). Guests are encouraged to wear tin foil hats and place their orders in Klingon -- but those options are really up to you. Short films will run on a 20-minute loop and Burger 51 is soliciting up-and-coming filmmakers for content. An opening is targeted for the beginning of February.
If Tyler Henry's winter event at the Pearl isn't enough for you, Cleopatra's Barge at Caesars Palace is showcasing Thomas John for a first-of-its-kind psychic residency in Las Vegas. The "celebrity psychic medium" has won over fans like Jennifer Lopez and Jenna Dewan with his ability to communicate with those on the other side -- or at least give the illusion of it, depending on your level of cynicism. Shows run 6pm Thursday-Monday with an extra 3pm performance on Sunday afternoons. A VIP upgrade includes a meet-and-greet. The residency gets underway January 16.
Canyon Ranch Spa at the Venetian is good for more than a massage and rock climbing. Under the direction of Executive Chef Pete Ghione, its Truth & Tonic breakfast and lunch cafe has become one of the best destinations in Vegas for super-clean, super-healthy food. By February, the entire menu will be 100-percent plant-based, making it the first and only all-vegan restaurant on the Strip.
The organic cashew butter toasts are worth a visit alone, but also expect fresh, vibrant salads, wraps made with a wheat-based chicken substitute, and either Impossible or Beyond Meat burgers as a gateway to more fruit-and-veggie items. Drinks include fresh juices, smoothies, coffee, and the restaurant's own Strawberry-Blood Orange kombucha by Wild Tonic. If you're feeling boozy, there's also wine, mimosas, craft beer, and four different mojitos. Anyone with a local ID gets a 20-percent discount and the Venetian has free parking.
In an effort to compete with ride-sharing services and cut down on the perception of long-hauling and overcharging, the Las Vegas taxi industry is introducing a new fixed pricing system for rides between McCarran International Airport and the Strip. The rates are based on where your hotel destination falls within one of three designated areas. Zone 1 is between Sunset and Tropicana (from Mandalay Bay to Excalibur) at a rate of $19. Zone 2 is between Tropicana and Flamingo (from New York-New York and the MGM Grand to the Bellagio and Bally's) at a rate of $23. Zone 3 is between Flamingo (Caesars Palace and the Cromwell) and the Strat just north of Sahara at a rate of $27. The new price system is effective as of January 1.
Courtesy of Circa
Downtown will look different in 2020, too
While we tend to annually focus on the Strip, Downtown doesn't dramatically change much from year to year. Yet there's so much going on in the second-largest tourist corridor in Vegas for 2020, it's worth taking a look at what Fremont Street and the rest of Downtown have to offer.
The most excitement centers around Circa, a lavish, contemporary Strip-like resort at the west end of the Fremont Street Experience. At 458 feet, it will be the tallest building in Vegas north of the Strat. Highlights include a three-floor casino with the world's largest sportsbook and a rooftop deck with six swimming pools and a giant high-def video wall. (Expect some killer Super Bowl parties here.) The place is so big, it will have a pedestrian sky-bridge connecting to a nine-story parking garage dubbed Garage Mahal.
Courtesy of Fremont Street Experience/Black Raven Films
Circa is just the beginning of the Downtown changes in 2020. The overhead Viva Vision video canopy at the Fremont Street Experience received a $32 million upgrade that officially debuted on New Year's Eve. It now has 3D effects and more than 16 million pixels, making it seven-times brighter than the previous version. The Fremont East district is in the middle of a $15 million renovation of its own with new roadwork, expanded sidewalks, string lights, and landscaping with more than 100 new trees. Work should be finished in August.
Meanwhile, the Downtown Grand is expanding dramatically with the construction of a second hotel tower. The Neon Museum is also expanding with an overhead grid to further showcase historic marquees and a new indoor space across the street called Ne10. On the other hand, The D is closing its showroom to redesign its second level, leaving five stage productions without a place to perform (although we hear the fun and funny Marriage Can Be Murder is close to locking down a new venue).
Feeling hungry in the new year? The Golden Nugget welcomes Saltgrass Steak House, a more casual alternative to the certified Kobe and fine dining of Vic & Anthony's. After introducing the first public marijuana consumption lounge in Las Vegas, NuWu Cannabis Marketplace hosted the first publicly ticketed cannabis-infused multicourse dinner in the country with Lowell Farms in December. Don't be surprised to see similar events in 2020 that will only get bigger and better.
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Rob Kachelriess has been writing about Las Vegas in Thrillist for more than six years. His work has also appeared in Travel + Leisure, Modern Luxury, Leafly, and Luxury Estates International's seasonal publication. He thinks The Drew is a good example of how the Strip will look the same in 2020. Follow him on Twitter @rkachelriess.