Less than an hour before re-opening Westgate Las Vegas, hotel GM Cami Christensen sat at a socially distanced table at the hotel’s International Bar, which us regulars call the iBar. Members of Christensen’s staff arrived to greet and congratulate the longtime exec, who dates to 2001 and the days of Las Vegas Hilton.
Christensen was anxious, especially about the speech she was about to give at the hotel entrance. Christensen is a fine public speaker. She just gets nervous about speaking in public.
“Maybe someone will honk their horn when I’m talking,” she said from behind her blue-paper face mask. “Then it’ll drown me out, and I’ll get out of it. Bye, everyone!”
Christensen soon took the mic. She reminded the assembled guests and Westgate staffers that the hotel opened as the International on July 1, 1969, celebrating its 50th anniversary last year. The doors had never been locked until the COVID-19 shutdown March 18.
“In that time, we had an opportunity to reflect on what is it that makes this this property, the Westgate,” Christensen said. “It is, without a doubt, our team members. You are the heartbeat of this property.”
She also praised the executive team members who had shut the hotel down, then restarted operations in time for Thursday’s reopening. “They have been working so hard, they have not had a moment’s break.”
Then, as if on cue … HONKKKKK! HONKKKKK!
Yep, a horn blaring from a stray car moving through the hotel’s porte cochere.
But Christensen wasn’t drowned out. Instead, she laughed and said, “That’s for this executive team!” Only Westgate comedian George Wallace owns such sharp comedic timing.
The hotel’s reopening was further marked by the return of “Sexxy” creator Jen Romas, in full, cobalt-blue showgirl regalia; and the hotel’s magician headliner, Jen Kramer.
And the hotel’s masked canine mascot, Sir Winston of Westgate. The resort is really pushing for this pooch to be a star.
The giant red heart, on which Christensen and a few staffers wrote the names of 2,200 Westgate employees, was moved to the lobby. Not all of those team members were back for Thursday’s return, as the hotel is gradually returning to full force. But the place was percolating with the music of the all-female band Dollface, PR exec Gordon Prouty in his black-and-white-striped suit, and a stream of customers.
The famed, bronze Elvis statue was masked, too, reminding those visitors what’s at stake. A good day, all in all. It certainly beats the alternative.
We have Paris
I covered the opening of Paris Las Vegas, in another lifetime in September of 1999. At the time, the resort unveiled its since-scrapped program of atmospheric entertainers. I met the hotel’s bicycling bread man, introduced to me as Jean-Luc from Saint-Tropez.
Jean-Luc and I chatted about bread and bikes for a bit. He later allowed that his name was actually Russ, who had previously played the role of Tommy in the production of “Brigadoon” at the Civic Light Opera in San Jose, California.
But hey, the bread was real.
The hotel reopened Thursday morning. A real Caesars Entertainment executive, Gary Selesner, chatted with guests and took a few masked questions from yours truly. He said his staff is especially appreciative of guests who wear masks, and he had just talked to a customer from Texas who told him he was encouraged by craps dealers who wore the facial covers.
“I feel, safety comes first. I know the financial side is important, but safety has to take precedence right now,” a masked Selesner said. “We have to do what’s necessary right now to keep the property safe. If we do, long-term, business is going to keep coming back. When this literally dies down, and we have a vaccine, we’ll be back to normalcy — real normalcy, and I can’t wait.”
Selesner says some protocols are likely to stay even beyond the pandemic. Folks wearing protective masks, for instance.
“My wife, Peggy, and I travel all over the world, and we travel to Asia,” said Selesner, an avid fan of international cuisine. “We see people wearing masks, and we never quite understood why. Now, you think about when coronavirus is gone, at some point. The flu season is coming. Why wouldn’t you put a mask on if you’re going into an area with a lot of people who have the flu? We are going to be thinking about that, because of the coronavirus.”
Cher, Urban out
Announcements of cancellations by Cher and Keith Urban have doused hopes that superstar residencies would resume on the Strip this summer. Cher has pulled her July and August shows from Park Theater at Park MGM. And, Urban has spiked his performances in August-September at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace.
At the moment, Cher has no Las Vegas shows on the books. Same for Lady Gaga. Both are expected to be back on stage when events merit, though it might not be until 2021. Urban is still scheduled to perform his run at the Colosseum Nov. 20-21.
Got it covered
Last week, Westgate owner David Siegel, COO Mark Waltrip and Christensen discussed at length the concept of requiring guests to wear masks at table games. They eventually arrived at splitting the table games between on-masked and mask-required for players. Then, Wednesday, the Nevada Gaming Control Board stepped in with the directive that all players at table games to wear face covers. It was the right call last week, this week, all the way.
One more masking
A famous statue in town is going to be outfitted with an official Las Vegas Raiders mask. More to be revealed, and concealed. But until then … Viva!
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.