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East, drink and be merry

While many large gaming companies are rushing to turn Macau into Las Vegas East, one small gaming company is set to bring a little of the Chinese enclave’s flavor to Sin City.

Silver Nugget Gaming is opening the Little Macau tavern this weekend in a nondescript strip mall on Spring Mountain and Wynn roads east of Chinatown.

The tavern will target casino workers 1 1/2 miles away on the Strip.

Company President Joe Valdes said the Chinese enclave is a hot topic among casino workers who have noticed the area’s growing role in gaming.

"We need to give them a great space to unwind and a rendezvous space," Valdes said of Strip workers. "Macau came to mind. Macau is what everybody in the industry is talking about."

By some estimates, Macau’s gaming revenues topped the Strip’s for the first time last year, increasing 22 percent to $6.95 billion. Strip resorts reported revenues of $6.7 billion in 2006.

Las Vegas-based gaming giants Las Vegas Sands Corp. and Wynn Resorts Ltd. already operate in Macau, and MGM Mirage is opening a megaresort later this year.

The Las Vegas gaming companies have sent hundreds of employees to Macau during the past few years to work on various aspects of their new properties.

"They’re all back here and all they can talk about is Macau," Valdes said of casino workers who have made the trip. "We wanted to give them a place where we can showcase and bring a little bit of Macau to Vegas."

Sitting among a line of small restaurants, artisan shops, specialty stores, and, yes, a massage parlor or two, Little Macau is the brainchild of Valdez and Silver Nugget Gaming principal Jeffrey Fine, who was unavailable for an interview because he was in Macau negotiating three development opportunities.

Valdes is familiar with Macau, too. He spent five years under Las Vegas Sands Executive Vice President Brad Stone helping to develop the $240 million Sands Macau, which opened in May 2004.

Silver Nugget Gaming has even hired a film crew to send back looped film every two months of Macau that will show activity from the city and follow the progress of construction projects.

Fine found the location, the former Don’t Ask lounge site, almost by accident in 2006 while combing the city for tavern-suitable sites. "We quickly realized it was the only tavern in Chinatown," Valdes said. "We decided it needed to have an Asian motif and it made sense to us."

Paul Steelman Design Group, which has worked on several projects in Macau, was hired to design the tavern.

"Paul was adamant that he wanted to do Little Macau," Valdes said. "It only made sense because he’s familiar with Macau and could bring it here."

The tavern is homage to Macau past and present. Some of the walls will feature murals with images of modern Macau juxtaposed with old traditional Asian artwork. The murals were designed by Macau-based Conde advertising agency, which is also designing the menus, coasters and other items.

Macau’s Portuguese architecture will be reflected in columns that line the wall and in framed sections of old cobblestone sidewalks.

"We really wanted to do Macau justice," Valdes said. "We didn’t want to just paint it red and throw up some Chinese characters. Paul’s design team wanted to bring all the things Macau is known for."

The tavern, which will have 15 slots, will serve imported Macau beer and popular southern China pastry egg tarts. It will also accept Macau’s currency, the pataca.

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