Updated June 10, 2021 - 11:03 pm
A 70-year-old English man who’d spent the better part of the pandemic living on a private Caribbean island arrived in Las Vegas to breathe deeply for 15 minutes and spray champagne at the governor of Nevada.
He got away with it because he was Richard Branson, the star of the evening.
“It’s a pity to waste a good bottle of champagne,” said the billionaire wearing white basketball shorts, a black T-shirt and red Nikes, before popping the cork and unleashing the shaken booze on a crowd of media, VIPs and businesspeople gathered to watch him speak at Virgin Hotels Las Vegas.
The arrival of Branson, the founder of the Virgin brand, kicked off a grand opening party set to last through the weekend. Dubbed the “Unstoppable Weekend,” it began Thursday with an event headlined by Christina Aguilera at The Theater at Virgin Hotels and will continue through Sunday with other events, amenity openings and performances.
The property officially opened its doors on March 25 with a teaser party on March 25, with resort executives planning to host a second, larger party when they felt it was safe to do so.
“Between the (vaccination) program, and all the other initiatives that the governor and the state of Nevada has taken to help this great community, we are now ready to be unstoppable,” Richard “Boz” Bosworth, president and CEO of the resort’s ownership group, JC Hospitality, said Thursday.
At a Thursday media event previewing the weekend, Branson, resort executives and the VIPs in attendance gathered at Élia Beach Club, which opens in earnest on Friday, and spent 15 minutes meditating through deep breathing. Branson later thanked Gov. Steve Sisolak for deeming construction an essential business during the pandemic-spurred shutdown last spring.
“We would not be open for another 18 months unless you had the initiative of allowing us to keep on going, so thank you for that,” he said. The champagne shower shortly followed.
Sisolak called Virgin Hotels Las Vegas a gateway to the Las Vegas Convention Center.
“This hotel will be the first place people will see and hopefully stop and enjoy,” Sisolak told the crowd Thursday. “When it was the Hard Rock, it had good history. It’s gonna be more great history now under the Virgin brand.”
Branson’s visit was his first to the property since its transformation from the former Hard Rock Hotel into the Virgin hotel. Branson said he spent the pandemic getting in shape and spending time with his family and grandchildren on Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands.
“If you’re going to be stuck anywhere in COVID, the British Virgin Islands are the most beautiful place in the world,” he said, then smiling to add, “alongside Las Vegas.”
The business magnate is known for making an entrance or performing some form of daring stunt at his public appearances. Branson decided against one for his Thursday event, based partly due to a previous visit to Las Vegas.
“I nearly killed myself in Vegas, jumping off the top of the Palms building on a windy day,” he joked, referring to a 2007 stunt where he did just that. “So my ass certainly remembers Vegas because I hit the side of the building at 100 mph coming down the side of it.”
Branson implored people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 so they could protect themselves and come have some fun in Las Vegas.
Relaxing, invigorating vibe
The property is all but complete, Bosworth said last week.
One of the newest amenities, Italian restaurant and nightlife spot Kassi Beach House opened to the public over Memorial Day Weekend.
The Mediterranean-themed Élia Beach Club in the resort’s pool complex is one of the amenities opening for the first time during the weekend bash. The beach club brings rentable cabanas, live music and a relaxed, but invigorating vibe, according to Jason “JRoc” Craig, managing partner of the club.
At the beginning of each shift, employees take part in breathing-focused, vinyasa yoga to put them “in a space of calm” and help foster a relaxing environment, Craig said.
“Everybody has things going on in their life. Everybody needs probably a little health and wellness infusion,” he said. We all could.”
He said the thatched roofs, sandy beach pool and warm coastal decor invoke vibes of Mykonos. Employees at the club Thursday donned beige bikinis, white polos and colorful cabana shorts as they put the finishing touches on the property.
Guests are looking for an experience, Craig said, particularly as travel remains down from pre-pandemic days.
His goal, he said, is “to be able to bring some of that culture here to Las Vegas, and have people be able to come in and kind of have that feel.”
All but one of the property’s still-to-come food amenities will be running by the end of the weekend party, Bosworth said.
Sports, restaurant, betting and entertainment venue Money, Baby! will open Friday night and host a UFC viewing event on Saturday evening, he said.
Afters Ice Cream opened Thursday. Todd English’s Olives restaurant is expected to open toward the end of June.
The property’s sportsbook, operated by U.K.-based Betfred, isn’t expected to open until the fall “at the earliest,” a spokeswoman said.
Flo Rida and DJ Mix Master Mike will help Aguilera kick off the weekend party on Thursday. Sisolak is also expected to attend a media event prior to the party.
Executives had been waiting for COVID-19 social distancing and capacity restrictions to lift before holding a second, grander opening, Bosworth said.
“We wanted vibrancy. We wanted a party, and we wanted it to be safe,” he said last week. “And we felt it would have been irresponsible to have that level of a party when you had to have anywhere from 3- to 6-foot social distancing, or 75 percent capacity, or no dancing, or some of the very natural restrictions that were needed (to keep) our community healthy and safe.”
At the March event, the resort doors opened for the first time in what had been 415 days. The former Hard Rock Hotel debuted with a new owner, casino operator and look.
The public got its first glimpse of the property after a 40-minute opening ceremony in the hotel’s east porte-cochere that included appearances by a quartet of bagpipe players, a contingent from the Vegas Golden Knights Drumbot drumline and a red double-decker bus that had been cruising the resort corridor and was a part of Virgin’s pre-opening advertising campaign.
Costumed and painted performers strode the casino floor on massive stilts, posed as living statues at a heart sculpture in the lobby and danced near the restaurants.
Most of Virgin’s 1,600 employees are former Hard Rock workers, and in the casino, half the 600 slot machines on the casino floor are holdovers from the Hard Rock days and the other half are new additions to the property.
The off-Strip resort is part of Curio Collection by Hilton and intermixes a passion for food and beverage with music and culture with three hotel towers, the 60,000-square-foot casino, a five-acre desert pool oasis including a multi-functional event lawn, a live music and entertainment theater with 4,500 capacity and 24 Oxford, a showroom accommodating 650 guests.
The restaurant mix includes 12 food and beverage venues including Olives, Money, Baby!, Kris Yenbamroong’s Night + Market, Nobu, Michael and David Morton’s One Steakhouse, Kassi Beach House from restaurateur Nick Mathers and Casa Calavera by global hospitality company Hakkasan Group.
Other food outlets include Afters Ice Cream, Pizza Forte by the Ferraro Family and signature Virgin Hotels restaurants and bars including The Kitchen at Commons Club, The Bar at Commons Club, The Shag Room and Funny Library Coffee Shop.