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The Linq Las Vegas!

In 2005, when then-Harrah’s Entertainment purchased the venerable Imperial Palace hotel-casino, it was thought to be only a matter of time before the building was imploded to make way for a reinvention of its side of the Strip. However, time passed and nothing was done. Then, a 2008 leveraged buyout of Harrah’s (now Caesars Entertainment) made a completion teardown-and-rebuild of the site financially unfeasible.

But this did not mean reinvention was out of the question. Caesars expanded the Margaritaville portion of the adjacent Flamingo and tore down bedraggled O’Shea’s Casino. In its place, a shopping-and-dining mall would arise, leading to the world’s tallest Ferris wheel, the High Roller, which takes riders on a stately, half-hour aerial tour of the Strip. The façade and public areas of Imperial Palace were redone, and the hotel was renamed The Quad. That new moniker laid an egg, however, so the hotel – which is undergoing a rolling renovation – was renamed the Linq, co-branding it with the eponymous shopping mall. And O’Shea’s hasn’t completely gone away: It’s now a lively, cozier casino-within-a-casino that’s part of the Linq hotel.

There’s still a lot of work to be done – thousands of hotel rooms, a pool deck, the removal of the last vestiges of the Imperial Palace’s tikki-tacky architecture. But the Linq is open for business and doing quite well. We sat down with Assistant Director of Hotel Operations Bernardo Neto to see how the fledgling Linq is faring.

Casino Life: What percentage of the Linq hotel is completed so far?

Bernardo Neto: In terms of the rooms, fifty percent. We have half the rooms. We’re waiting on the spa to be completed and also the retail options, and we have a coffee shop and a 24-hour restaurant that will open.

CL: What was the behind the decision to open with only fifty percent of the hotel finished?

BN: We have a lot of guests that prefer this location, loyal guests of the previous brands that want to stay with us. Plus, by doing that we were able to keep most of the employees working and have them keep their jobs in the process.

CL: When do you expect to be completely finished?

BN: It’s going to be spring, sometime in April, May. In any construction project we have timelines but we are satisfied by the progress and we expect it next spring.

The Smashing Pumkins 

CL: What’s going to go into the retail mall?

Monika Bertaki, public relations specialist: We haven’t announced the retail yet.

CL: What else is in Phase Two?

BN: The spa and also the pool. We have probably one of the few hotels in Las Vegas to have cabana rooms, which are in the pool level. The guests will get, by renting the cabana room, a guest room plus they walk out to their own private cabana. So that’s something that’s different that we didn’t see in many hotels. Plus the pool experience, you’re going to be able to walk out and overlook the Linq Promenade, so those two things are very different.

CL: What part of the Promenade will you be able to see?

BN: Brooklyn Bowl and that area where they have concerts by the fountain. If there’s anything happening at the Linq Promenade and you’re at the pool, you’ll be able to walk out and see it.

CL: Is the casino driving business to the Promenade or vice versa?

BN: We have a little bit of both. We have the hotel rooms and guests that stay with us. They get to gamble and walk out to the Promenade and use those restaurants and shops. Plus, we have a lot of guests from nearby hotels that come to the Promenade because it’s a completely different experience than Las Vegas Boulevard. So they get to come here, experience the restaurants and also get to walk into our casino and just gamble while they’re here.

CL: How would you differentiate the experience of the Promenade from that of the Strip?

BN: The accessibility that it has. It looks like a residential street that is just filled with the different vendors. The selection process of vendors for the Promenade was very rigorous and it gives you a completely different feel. A lot of these vendors that we have here, like Sprinkles, you won’t find anywhere else on the Strip. It has a cupcake ATM. Both the cupcakes and ice creams there are delicious but I think the cupcake ATM has caught a lot of people off-guard.

CL: Locals have a reputation for avoiding the Strip. Are you getting any local business on the Promenade?

BN: Absolutely, yeah. We do. We have access in the back of the Strip so a local guest can travel down here and walk up to the Linq without going up to the Strip. Then again, the offerings that we do – Brooklyn Bowl [a hybrid restaurant/bowling alley/concert hall] is a great option for locals, with concerts and an experience they don’t have in the city. The capacity, it depends on the setup, can go up to 4,500.

CL: The most dynamic spot in the casino is surely O’Shea’s. What makes that such an energetic space?

BN: It’s a combination of the recognition that it had for many years. There’s a lot of guests that remember the old O’Shea’s. They saw that as an oasis from the big hotels. It has a local-bar feel. It’s very accessible, affordable and non-pretentious. It has beer pong. Even the types of gaming that you have there, the guests know that they can just walk up to it and have a blast at O’Shea’s.

CL: Why was it important that 3535 be an infusion bar?

BN: For me, it goes with the demographic. The millennium generation is looking for something that is a little bit more elaborate. It’s hand-crafted; it’s not something you just pour from a bottle and a mixer. It’s something that’s made with care and it gives you a cocktail, quite frankly, that has a different flavor profile. It’s something that [when] you talk to your friends, your friends haven’t had. Those cocktails there, you can post it online on social media and you’re probably going to get a lot of responses because a lot of folks never had bacon-infused bourbon. That’s part of the ‘why’ the infusions are so important for the bar.

CL: On the Promenade, what have been the biggest hits?

BN: Besides the High Roller, which is a great drive. We don’t have any exact [ridership] numbers. I know that every cabin holds up to 40 people. We’ve had wedding proposals, we’ve had weddings, we’ve corporate parties – we’ve had a lot of different uses for the High Roller. Some of them we were expecting and others were folks getting creative.

Brooklyn Bowl for sure. It’s something that a lot of locals and folks that visit Vegas weren’t expecting to have. We know how good the experience is for Yard House but Sprinkles has been getting a lot of reviews; Squeeze, as well – fresh-squeezed juices that are  made into cocktails has been getting a lot of attention. And also Purple Zebra, which is a fun daiquiri bar, something that folks weren’t expecting.

MB: We’re actually having a huge wedding stunt [in the High Roller] for 12/13/14. It’s the last sequential date of the century, so we’re marrying as many people as possible on the High Roller during a two-hour-and-two-minute window.

CL: How is the Guy Fieri restaurant performing?

BN: Very good. We’re now expanding the experience in the patio, just because we had a lot of situations where we had folks trying to get in and we didn’t have the availability. It’s very true to Guy Fieri’s style of cooking and show. His logo is “Go bold or go home.” The food is very rich, delicious and we’ve gotten excellent reviews, so we’re very happy.

CL: The hotel rooms, the design is very sparse. You could almost call it “austere.” What was the thinking behind that?

BN: We wanted to provide an approachable, comfortable but also simple guest room. The guests can just walk in and understand why everything works. We’re always taking in any guest comments, as we would any new brand. If any specific room, we feel that it’s too spare, there’s a lot of things we can add to it. We just finished Phase One of the project. We’re not completely done with the experience of the guest rooms, so we could always add little touch points to the guest room if we feel like it. But the overall perception of the guests has been very good.

A lot of Code Green initiatives have been integrated, which is very important to our guests nowadays. They want to feel like we’re doing decisions that are going with sustainability. We’re trying to be as smart as we can with our waste and that’s been very well received.

CL: When you’re finished, will all the pagoda roofs and the other vestiges of Imperial Palace be removed?

BN: Absolutely. Right now we’re in the process of it. You can look today and see that one of the pagodas has already been removed. We’re in the process of removing others. That will take us up to next spring. It will make a big difference not having those and all the other Imperial Palace decoration points will be removed.

CL: Who is the target customer for the hotel?

BN: The hotel’s built in a way that it’s approachable to everyone. But if we were to talk about a target market, it would be a millennium generation, which is somebody in their early thirties which hasn’t reached their peak in their career professionally but they have their own means of traveling. [It’s] somebody that likes to splurge into maybe an expensive dinner or some great retail shopping experience but also is savvy about booking in a hotel that’s approachable, that they can get a competitive price for it and it’s very unpretentious also.