What’s old is new again; Sahara Las Vegas officially returns to the Strip

August 30, 2019 9:52 AM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports
August 30, 2019 9:52 AM
  • Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports

The operators of the rebranded Sahara Las Vegas wiped away the last vestiges of the name SLS on Thursday and officially returned the Rat Pack era name to the 1,620-room hotel-casino on the north end of the Strip.

Owner Alex Meruelo, who acquired the resort in May 2018 through his privately held Meruelo Group, announced the planned Sahara name change in June during an event that featured a drone light show, 3D projection mapping and a pyrotechnics display.

The Sahara name had been anticipated to become official by later this year, but over the past few weeks, it appeared the brand that adorned the building from 1952 to 2011 would return much more quickly.

‘Sam by Starck’ is removed from the entrance of the Sahara (Photo courtesy Sahara Las Vegas)

SLS signage was scraped away from the building’s exterior, and the much maligned 32-foot-tall “Sam by Starck” statue that stood at the Strip resort’s front entrance since 2014 was demolished Tuesday night.

“The return of Sahara Las Vegas to the Strip is significant for the city,” Meruelo said in a statement. “We know guests come to Las Vegas to create memories, and we plan to help them do just that in a beautifully curated, intimate resort experience with personalized services that make everyone feel special.”

The Meruelo Group is spending $150 million to remodel the property and has completed several changes, including a renovation to the 60,000-sqaure-foot casino. A bright and more modern atmosphere was created with a finished ceiling and new lighting. The slot machine areas and table game pits were given a new layout, and a high-end gaming area has opened.

The Meruelo Group named the property’s new casino lounge the Casbar Lounge, after the Sahara’s iconic live-music venue where Rat Pack members Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and other entertainers would hang out late at night and into the early morning hours in the 1960s.

“We have been busy making changes to enhance the guest experience and create a resort that our guests and team members can all enjoy,” Sahara General Manager Paul Hobson said in a statement. “It feels good to debut our efforts under a name that is beloved by so many.”

The Meruelo Group also announced that Philadelphia-based sports bar and restaurant Chickie’s and Pete’s would open a branch inside the Sahara. Chickie’s & Pete’s has 12 locations across Philadelphia and New Jersey, is a partner of the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, and was voted ESPN’s No. 1 sports bar on the East Coast.

Bazaar Meat, an award-winning restaurant from celebrity chef José Andrés, will continue to be the Sahara’s signature restaurant.

According to the Meruelo Group, other changes include a new color scheme to the resort’s exterior and a remodeling of the Strip entrance porte cochere, which began this week. A full renovation of the Sahara’s main pool will begin in the fall. The hotel lobby, rooms, suites and tower corridors are also being remodeled.

The name Sahara will soon be in lights, with marquee signage and lettering signaling the name change.

“We could not be more excited to begin operating as Sahara Las Vegas,” Hobson said.

The name change was rumored soon after Meruelo bought the hotel-casino. The name Sahara initially went away when the building was closed for three years for a remodeling by SBE Entertainment and San Francisco-based Stockbridge Capital Partners, which acquired the hotel-casino in 2007. SBE owns the name SLS and many of the since-closed restaurants in the property.

Before SBE and Stockbridge, the Sahara had four different owners. It was built in 1952 by Milton Prell, who sold the casino to real estate developer Del Webb nine years later. Paul Lowden bought the property in 1982 and sold the resort in 1995 to casino pioneer William Bennett, who died in 2002.

Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at hstutz@cdcgamingreports.com. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.