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The Vegas Guy: Paris

By JOE BOB BRIGGS, "The Vegas Guy?   |   Dec. 5, 2001 at 1:06 PM
LAS VEGAS, Dec. 5 (UPI) -- Women love Paris. They love the city and they love the casino that looks like the city. And you can't deny a beautiful woman a trip to Paris.

As a result, even though Paris is not really a high-roller's hotel, the owners have been forced to keep a few decked-out high-roller suites available at all times for their million-dollar male customers.

Why?

"Because their wives and girlfriends make them come over here," says Andy Maiden, director of public relations. "Men love Caesars, which we also own, and which is traditionally where the high rollers go. But their women love Paris."

Which was the plan all along. Paris, just a little more than 2 years old, was the brainchild of Arthur Goldberg, the late president of Park Place Entertainment, at a time when the Vegas marketers had made a remarkable discovery: women were starting to control hotel reservations. Up until the mid-'90s it was a man's game all the way. Men booked the hotel. Men did most of the gambling. Women always dominated the slot-machine action, but you tended to get their business wherever their husbands wanted to play.

And then the "heavily themed" hotels took over the market, with their lavish lobbies, false-front shopping arcades, and cutesie-pie ornamentation.

Suddenly words like "female-friendly" started creeping into business plans. And Paris is about THE themiest hotel in Vegas, with every detail covered.

The staff greets you in French -- sometimes BAD French, but French nevertheless. The signs are in French -- not always grammatical French, though. ("We call it Franglish," says Maiden. "When we built the hotel, we had to use words and usages that could be easily to figure out, even if you didn't speak French.")

The casino floor is dominated by three giant sloping legs of a half-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower -- oh, excuse me, "La Tour Eiffel" -- which soars through the roof, joining the fourth leg outside and rising 540 feet to an observation deck.

But the quest for authenticity doesn't stop there. All 10 restaurants are French-themed. (I think they cheat a little, though. La Chine is called "Hong Kong French" -- in other words, the Chinese place. And "Le Provencal," with its singing waiters, is billed as an "Old European Village," but if you sampled the menu with a blindfold on, you JUST might think it was Italian.) There are always especially long lines for Le Village Buffet, which is organized into the cuisines of five regions of France, and the food is authentic for each region. "No tacos, no hot dogs, and no burgers," says Maiden.

Still, if you're gonna take on Paris as a theme, you would expect the finest in food, art, fashion, architecture -- you know, all the things Paris does better than any place in the world -- and Paris, the casino, is quite a bit less ambitious than Paris, the city.

One example: shopping. The 20 or so shops of "Le Boulevard" are located on a winding cobblestoned street modeled after the Rue de la Paix, and they all have French names, and the street itself gets high marks from the ladies as one of the cutest environments in Vegas.

There's La Enfant for children. Lynn Renault, the French actress, has a shop there. There's a French bread man in one of those referee shirts on a bicycle. (Don't eat the bread, though; it's fake.) But the only brand name you're likely to recognize is Cartier. And, on closer inspection, it turns out not to be a jeweler, but Cartier Lunettes, an eyewear shop. In other words, the mall is French, but there's no Christian Dior, no Yves St. Laurent, no Chanel, none of the French heavyweights that are known all over the world.

Same thing in restaurants. The two gourmet venues are actually operated by a Chicago company called Lettuce Entertain You.

The Eiffel Tower Restaurant, located on the 11th floor of the tower itself, is run by Jean Joho, the owner of two classy Chicago restaurants, Everest and Brasserie Jo. And Mon Ami Gabi is a recreation of the same restaurant in Chicago, operated by chef Gabino Sotelino. Mon Ami Gabi is excellent -- it's the only outdoor sidewalk-cafe-type dining on the Strip -- but it's not in a league with the finest French restaurants, even the finest French restaurants in Vegas. (The Venetian, for example, has Lutece, a recreation of the famous New York institution, and Bellagio has Picasso, a version of Masa's in San Francisco.)

The casino does have one authentic Parisian food establishment -- Lenotre, the leading chocolatier in Paris, which sells gourmet food in the shopping area, but is actually a chain that has 39 other locations around the world.

And finally, how can you do Paris if you don't do ART? The Venetian has two amazing art galleries --permanent installations of the Guggenheim in New York and the Hermitage in Russia -- and Bellagio has a gallery that brings in exhibitions from the great museums of the world. The sole contribution of Paris: the Re Society Ltd. of Chicago. (What is it with the Chicago connection?)

The Re Society specializes in "vintage poster recreations." Yes, a poster shop! (Can you say Toulouse Lautrec?)

Lest the ladies think I'm being too hard on Paris, I should point out that the casino itself is probably the most beautiful in the city, and that's mostly a result of the close attention to architectural detail.

"We did the lighting so that it's always that magic time at dusk," says Maiden, "which everyone agrees is the most romantic time of day in Paris. When we made the original designs, we wanted to make sure we didn't offend the Parisians. Many Parisians worked with us on the design to make sure it really looked like Paris. We get a lot of European customers and the only complaint the Parisians have is that it's too clean."

Besides the Eiffel Tower, Paris has a two-thirds replica of L'Arc de Triomphe at the front entrance of the hotel, and the 34-story hotel tower itself is a version of L'Hotel de Ville, once the most famous hotel in Paris, now its City Hall. The showroom is an "embellishment" of the Opera Garnier, and the huge ballroom has mirrored arches in the style of Versailles at its entrance.

The designers also included versions of Le Pont Alexandre III, the Louvre, and the Places des Vosges at various locations around the casino.

And in the showroom! ... uh, le Theatre des Arts! ... we have! ... mesdames and messieurs, for your entertainment pleasure! ... The same headliners all the other hotels have. (Tony Bennett, Natalie Cole, The Moody Blues.)

Not even an Edith Piaf impersonator. I realize, of course, that Maurice Chevalier was probably the last French entertainer who could fill a Vegas showroom, but the only thing CLOSE to French entertainment is Julio Iglesias, and he does 95 percent of his act in Spanish.

You have to give them credit for trying, though. When they first opened, they spent a bundle on a Broadway-style French opera called "Notre Dame de Paris," imported direct from France and based on "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." They thought they might have a "Les Miserables" on their hands, but alas, premiering a musical in Vegas is a tough job.

"We had to tweak it very, very hard to fit Vegas," says Maiden. (Translation: cut it as close to 90 minutes as possible and don't allow intermissions.) The result: "It didn't quite catch on."

One thing Paris has managed to do better than any other Strip hotel, though, is weddings. This is a booming business for the big players, which is why you see all those run-down and boarded-up wedding chapels downtown.

At Paris you can be married atop the Eiffel Tower for a mere $3,000. That includes 12 invited guests (which is all that will fit up there). But if you need a bigger ceremony, they have two wedding chapels: the Chapelle du Jardin, decorated with "fine mural paintings," for up to 30 guests, and the Chapelle du Paradis, which seats 100 and is "cherub-and-hummingbird-themed."

Cherubs and hummingbirds. I TOLD you they know how to please the ladies.


PARIS

3645 Las Vegas Blvd. South

Theme: Gay Paree of the Imagination (Emile Zola not welcome)

Opened: 1999

Total investment: $755 million

Known for: Its almost unbearably cute plaza, dominated by the Eiffel Tower, a sidewalk cafe, a fountain straight out of "Three Coins in the Fountain," the Arc de Triomphe, and some kind of hot-air balloon marquee.

Marketing niche: Middle-to-upper-class vacationers, conventioneers

Gambler's Intensity: Medium

Cocktail speed: Medium

Dealers: Professional

Bosses: Friendly

Tables: 100

Slots: 2,000

Rooms: 2,916

Surrounding area: Connected by pedestrian mall to Bally's, at the southeastern corner of the famous "Four Corners" of Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard, directly across the street from the dancing fountains of Bellagio, and just north of the Aladdin.

Web site: parislasvegas.com

Overall rating: 89

Joe Bob's bankroll: Up $75 after a long session of Let It Ride: total to date: $55

--

(E-mail Joe Bob Briggs, "The Vegas Guy," at JoeBob@upi.com or visit Joe Bob's Web site at joebob-briggs.com. Snail-mail: P.O. Box 2002, Dallas, Texas, 75221.)

© 2001 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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