When 250 specially equipped drones lit up the evening sky and spelled out the name SAHARA over the SLS Las Vegas south parking garage last week, one of Strip’s worst-kept secrets was finally confirmed.
Rumors are the second largest industry in Las Vegas behind gaming. But dropping SLS in favor of the iconic name that had been attached to location for 59 years was a foregone conclusion after the company controlled by Los Angeles businessman Alex Meruelo acquired the resort 14 months ago.
It’s not going to be tough to say “so long” to the name SLS.
“I would tell someone outside Las Vegas that I work at the SLS and they would kind of give me a blank look,” said SLS (now Sahara) General Manager Paul Hobson. “When I would say, ‘the old Sahara,” then they would remember.”
Hobson said the change to Sahara could be official this fall, just as soon as the operators can “get the name in lights on the building.” Before the smoke cleared from the pyrotechnics display that accompanied the drone performance, the property’s Strip video marquee was already calling the building Sahara Las Vegas, even though the SLS lettering is still affixed to the sign.
Be advised, however, that while the name Sahara is coming back, it will be a property for 2020, not the Rat Pack-era resort where Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and other entertainers hung out in the lounge area late at night and into the early morning hours.
The “Arabian Nights” theme is a bygone era, much like the Moroccan-style domed porte-cochere that was torn out to make way for the much despised “Sam by Starck,” the 32-foot tall sculpture from Philippe Starck that sits at the entrance to the resort.
Call it Sahara 2.0.
Meruelo’s team brought back the Casbar Lounge as part of the $150 million renovation that began last year. But it’s not the smoky bar of the 1960s. A return of the House of Lords, the legendary fine dining steakhouse, is not in the immediate plans.
“The elements of the old Sahara you will find in our spirit,” Hobson said following the event that welcomed some 700 invited guests who surrounded the Foxtail Pool are to hear Meruelo proclaim that his team was “responsible for shaping a new narrative” and “writing the next chapter in the city’s evolution, for the love of Vegas.” Also, he unveiled the new tagline for the Sahara – “The Strip Starts Here.”
Hobson said the plan is to “bridge the gap” between the old and new Sahara.
“The logo is important,” he said the stylish moniker. “This isn’t what the Sahara was, but it’s the Sahara of the future. We want to focus on what it will be in the modern Las Vegas.”
Hobson said he keeps old Sahara property maps in office and often refers to them from time-to-time when considering names for new venues.
“There is some influence because all those features had a noteworthy presence,” Hobson said.
He also shot down rumors. The renovations will not include a rollercoaster – in its final years the Sahara was home to “Speed-The Ride.” Also, NASCAR Café, which was home to the six-pound, two-foot-long burrito of “Man versus Food” fame, is not returning.
“That was a Sahara of a different era,” Hobson said.
Subtle changes began last year and hinted toward a return to the Sahara.
Building permits were uncovered that referred to the property as the Grand Sahara Resort. The SLS rewards program was named Club 52, which denotes the year the Sahara opened. In documents filed with the Clark County, owners of the property requested permission to change a number of signs to the Sahara name.
The SLS name is controlled by SBE Entertainment. The licensing with SBE allowed the resort to operate under the hotel brand and operate SBE-brand restaurants within the resort, including a restaurant by celebrity chef José Andrés.
Many of those restaurants have already disappeared, but Andrés’ award-winning Bazaar Meat continues to be the Sahara’s signature restaurant.
At the event, Meruelo posed for photos with his wife, Liset, who carried a custom-made, bedazzled clutch purse emblazoned with the name, “Mrs. Sahara.”
The rebranding has already begun.
Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.