11 September 2008

The Biggest Hotel

WHATEVER it is - boobs, bottoms, buffets - Sin City has the biggest out there. And those are just the Bs.

Small wonder, then, that the biggest hotel in the world - and the second-largest building - has just opened on the Las Vegas Strip.

The £1billion, 50-storey Palazzo extends the existing Venetian to create a hotel with more than 7,000 suites. Its 50 restaurants, cafés, bars and banqueting halls can serve 10,000 diners a night.

“It's a city within a city; the beginning of the meta-resort' era of Las Vegas,” says William Weidner, president of the Palazzo's parent company, the Las Vegas Sands Corporation.

He's not kidding. I was tired when I arrived after my ten-hour flight, but no, my eyes weren't playing tricks. Looming up out of the Nevada desert were towering colonnades that seemed to sweat neon into the warm desert night.

Inside, the giant marble cupola was adorned with reproductions of frescoes by Italian grand masters. Models in togas were tethered to the ceiling on top of giant indoor waterfalls. Down below, on the fake canals that flow through the hotel, gondoliers serenaded grannies.

The sheer scale of the place makes it difficult to get around, but it has its advantages. My suite was the size of Long Island (well, almost) and decorated in the kind of “no embellishment is an embarrassment” style that would make Elton John blush.

There were more frescoes over the four-poster bed and a retro-porno-chic sunken lounge. The huge floor-to-ceiling windows looked out over the giant cartoonish monuments to sex and seven-card stud that line the Strip.

The Palazzo has a vast casino, with 120 table games and 1,400 video poker machines creating an electronic goblin's chorus that accompanies the “kerching!” of the serried ranks of slot machines. The huge theatre - where the Tony award-winning Jersey Boys, the story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, is playing - was full every night with emotionally incontinent fans.

But its key appeal lies in the scale and ambition of the shops and restaurants. It's the first hotel in the world to have its own department store - and it's not just any old Grace Bros. Barneys New York has three floors, with the best designer collections in the city.

The hotel has poached two of the best American chefs and become the first outpost of one of New York's finest fusion cuisine restaurants that often featured in Sex and the City. Mario Batali's Carnevino offers the best of New York. I opted for the new-style Italian sashimi - raw fish with pesto and olive oil that made Esca in Manhattan Batali's first big hit.

Wolfgang Puck's CUT at the Beverly Wilshire is the must-be-papped-at restaurant in Los Angeles. Now it has its first Vegas outpost. Steaks don't come any rarer - and bills any more overcooked. Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte loved Sushi Samba. To find out why, I tried the roast shrimp with toasted brazil nut and “sake-saffron crema”. I think Mr Big would have approved.

No Vegas hotel and casino is complete without a celebrity scene, and the Palazzo has its own “resident” star, Jay-Z, who runs his 40/40 club. The key attraction is the 80 plasma TV screens on which the owner performs with his wife, Beyoncé. The night I went clubbers were not interested in “hanging” with Jay. They wanted to channel their inner Paris Hilton next to the real Paris Hilton, who had just arrived from the Hilton.

The Palazzo is more than Vegas with extra sequins. It's a hotel on crack. My advice? Enjoy the high while it lasts. And when the swirling kaleidoscopic buzz of franchised avarice and sleaze wears off, remind yourself that while what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, you don't have to. And leave.