Last week’s grand opening of the new Hooters Casino Hotel featured all the trappings of a Las Vegas christening: fireworks, free-flowing liquor, high-end hors d’oeuvres, a celebrity red carpet, and elbow-to-elbow crowds that often made it difficult to evaluate exactly what the casino had to offer.
"It’s one thing to stage a massive party," said a TV journalist who asked not to be named. "But for those of us trying to conduct interviews or generate a report, this is just too chaotic."
Chaos notwithstanding, the debut of Hooters first-ever casino/hotel in what was once the Hotel San Remo on Tropicana Avenue went "delightfully" well for the entrepreneurs that opened their first Hooters restaurant in 1983 and later branched into calendars, merchandise and even an airline.
"The Hooters customer is already a Vegas kind of customer," said Ed Droste, one of the six men who founded Hooters. "They’re a little punky, they’re a little high energy, they’re looking for a gateway — and all of those things just match up."
The new Hooters hotel bears no resemblance to the San Remo, which had a somewhat distinguished Southern Riviera image. Built something like a mini-Palms, Hooters features a bright-and-airy California-hip ambiance with lightwood furnishings, hardwood floors and colorful art on the walls.
To help attract a younger, trendy customer, hotel amenities — besides 200 busty Hooters girls in bowties and skimpy outfits — include nine restaurants and nightclubs.
Among the facilities is a signature Hooters Restaurant, which specializes in its famous chicken wings; Dan Marino’s Fine Food and Spirits, an upscale steakhouse that serves first-rate American cuisine; the Bait Shoppe, a sushi bar and gourmet food café; Porch Dogs, a Caribbean-themed casual indoor/outdoor club that offers music and cocktails; the 13 Martini Bar, a retro martini lounge featuring live music and nightly entertainment; and Pete & Shorty’s Book and Bar, a casual Midwestern-style restaurant and bar.
The casino features a 32-table pit area, surrounded by 670 state-of-the-art slots and video gaming machines, and a Leroy’s sports book the size of a Fotomat, although the adjoining lounge has comfy seating and a fieldstone fireplace.
Rounding out the hotel amenities is a Hooters retail store that will sell Hooters brand merchandise so customers can don well-endowed T-shirts of their own.
The transition to the world’s first Hooters hotel has been ongoing for about a year.
Hotel San Remo was built in 1973 and operated for the past 17 years by the Izumi family of Japan, who retain a one-third interest in the re-branded property.
The San Remo’s revenues and profits stagnated for at least the last five years, when nearby mega-resorts such as the MGM Grand, New York-New York, Monte Carlo and Tropicana casinos captured most of the Strip/Trop customers.
"San Remo was a nice little business," said Richard Langlois, senior vice president of marketing for Hooters Casino Hotel. "But the property can be better utilized with a brand like Hooters."
Langlois added the hotel’s operators hope to tap into the 61 million customers who visit some 400 Hooters restaurants in North America, Europe, South America, Asia and the Caribbean.
Observers said the new casino could carve out a niche with a less-costly offering in an area of the Strip that has become more expensive.
"You know their market ”¦ it’s relatively blue collar and young," said UNLV history professor Hal Rothman, who wrote "Neon Metropolis: How Las Vegas Started the 21st Century." "There’s really nothing else on the Strip that caters to that market."