The first stop for guests impressive

A new casino in Las Vegas must stand out from the rest. It must do something that has never been done; something to get the people talking and make others come check it out for themselves.

Innovation is the key to the Circa Resort & Casino, which opened its doors Wednesday. Nothing says innovative like a nine-story parking garage.

Perched on Main Street across the way from the casino-resort is the largest parking establishment ever seen for a Las Vegas casino, rightfully named the Garage Mahal. This transportation behemoth is a landmark in itself that stands apart from Sin City’s newest attraction.

“This was something I’ve been thinking about for a long time,” said Circa CEO Derek Stevens. “I always thought a garage experience could be better than what it is.”

Garage Mahal lives up to its name. The winding roads to get up to the top floor — where I parked to make this tour — made it the equivalent of an unorthodox amusement park ride that had you wondering what was to come next. Imagine such tomfoolery when hundreds of cars pack the lot.

But the uniqueness of the Garage Mahal doesn’t end with its gargantuan stature. The devil really is in the details.

The floors on the valet level are made of terrazzo, an Italian composite material that makes your walk feel nothing like commuting on concrete. The long walls are encompassed with a red background with “Garage Mahal” in gold script across, featuring iconic symbols that represent Las Vegas slots; cherries, horseshoes, diamonds, dice and bells. Large gold columns are separated evenly throughout.

“It’s like my little baby is grown up and I’m releasing it into the world,” said Alice O’Keefe, the director of design and architecture of Circa.

Each of the symbols represents a floor. Diamonds, for example, are the third floor. Each floor is accompanied by a large number near the elevator, indicating the level, with numerous Matchbox cars sealed with epoxy inside the number.

The No. 3, for example, occupies 926 toy cars.

“Everyone has a fond memory of playing with cars, going back to the nostalgic element,” O’Keefe said. “I think it turned out really well. It’s fun.”

Garage Mahal is the first garage of its kind to cater toward the ride-sharing systems. The first floor is specifically designed for Uber, Lyft and limousine drivers; self-park is available in the floors above, but Stevens thought it was essential to gain input from the ride-sharing franchises for a seamless experience.

Stevens, who was a valet for restaurants in Detroit for five years when he was a kid, said it’s important for customers coming in to have a worthwhile experience from the get-go. He said he wanted to create something that was well-lit, vibrant, clean and could make customers feel safe.

“I was always of the thought process that valets were exceptionally important,” Stevens said. “I want them to have a great experience. I want their first interaction with our property where if they have a question, we can answer it.”

Not only is the valet experience important, but Garage Mahal is the tone-setter for what customers will experience inside Circa. Setting that stage begins with a two-story chandelier that hangs from the ceiling of the first floor; a spiraled structure that says, “The time of your life,” one of Circa’s mission statements.

Patrons view the chandelier while going up an escalator to the second floor, where an air-conditioned bridge takes them to the casino.

Garage Mahal was a three-and-a-half-year project for O’Keefe, taking two years to complete. She’s done architecture in London and various areas of the United States, but Las Vegas is where she’s made her mark. O’Keefe met Stevens in 2009 while doing renovations of the Golden Gate Hotel and The D Las Vegas.

O’Keefe has lived mostly in Downtown Las Vegas since moving here in 2002 and has seen firsthand the evolution of the area, as well as Fremont Street nearby. 

With Garage Mahal, it’s certainly innovative. But the key for putting it together, O’Keefe said, was keeping that vintage Vegas feel.

“From a design standpoint, I think people think it has to be new and no one has ever seen this before, but it’s also about the experience,” she said. “Sometimes, feeling good is taking elements that you have seen before and you have felt before, even if it was 40 years ago.

“It’s that familiarity that brings people back. It’s about innovation, but it’s also about familiarity and how you can take those together and create something that feels really good, and I think that’s what we’ve done.”