Derek Stevens is a Las Vegas pioneer of today. It’s a role he so relishes and accepts that the announcement of the name of his new Fremont Street resort was peppered with references to the pioneers of the past.
The video leading to the name Circa Hotel & Casino on Thursday was highlighted by a video montage of Vegas legends: “Circa 1941, Jackie Gaughan, El Cortez. Circa 1951, Benny Binion, Binion’s Horseshoe. Circa 1966, Jay Sarno, Caesars Palace. Circa 1969, Kirk Kerkorian, International.” The lineup also recited Sam Boyd, Lefty Rosenthal, Steve Wynn, Bob Stupak, up through the Twin Towers of Goodman, Oscar and Carolyn.
The video’s voice-over intones, “Today, channeling the spirit of those legendary pioneers of the past, we’re taking their vision beyond all they’ve done before, and going all-in …” The song “Believer,” by budding Vegas legends Imagine Dragons, trumpets Circa as the resort’s new name. One day, we’ll refer to the moment as, “Circa January 2019.”
The flamboyant announcement was pure Stevens. Why issue a news release when you can hold a naming party at Downtown Las Vegas Events Center? That’s how Stevens and his considerably less-grandiose brother, Greg Stevens, unveiled the name of the first new, built-from-the-ground-up resort on Fremont Street since 1980.
A resort operator with a branded trench coat for every occasion, Stevens reasons, “We’re located downtown, and there have been so many great entrepreneurs around, Las Vegas, historically, we thought it would remind us of those great, great moments.
“We’re a conduit from the past, right through tomorrow.”
Stevens arrived in Las Vegas in 2006, when he took over Golden Gate, “A great place to start,” as he says, recalling the days more than a decade ago when he moved to Vegas from Detroit. “I loved the business, the tables, the slots, the food and beverage, and I’ve always been an operator who, once the meetings are over, you can see me at the casino bar meeting customers.”
Derek and his wife, Nicole, have their own reserved nameplates at Longbar at the D Las Vegas. This is the D’s cool hang.
Stevens bought up an entire city block and knocked down Las Vegas Club to make space for Circa. He took over the former Glitter Gulch, Bayou and Mermaid’s buildings, and snapped up a little T-shirt shop, too, that needed to be taken apart for the new hotel.
First, Stevens thought of just renovating the Las Vegas Club. But he didn’t like its design and figured it needed to be totally wiped out to create something brand new. Besides, as he said, “The ceilings weren’t tall enough. People are taller than they were 50 years ago.”
Working with an operator with a legendary heritage — Bill Boyd, son of Sam — and Boyd Gaming officials, Stevens cut a check for a parcel between Main Street Station and Plaza. That will be the site of Circa’s new garage.
Sorry, I should say, that will be the site of Garage Mahal.
“When we worked out that deal, it really changed the scope of what we had planned,” Stevens says. “The great, great Garage Mahal. It’s going to be the first resort garage where ride-share technology is part of the design. It’s going to be a real transportation hub.”
Circa’s outside bar will be the longest outside bar in the city (maybe it’ll be called LongerBar, or Longbar II, or Longbar 2.0). The sportsbook will be three stories tall — taller than any in the city — with the greatest LED display of any sportsbook anywhere.
Stevens is especially passionate about the sports-wagering fortress. He nearly becomes weepy when he remembers his first visit to the Superbook at Las Vegas Hilton, which he says is “a memory that is etched in my soul.”
The name of the hotel took a great deal of thought and research, of course. Stevens says he looked at many names that evoked memories of Las Vegas in its formative years.
“There were a lot of runner-up names, and we took a look at every old casino name,” Stevens says. “There was the Overland on this site (the old hotel burned down, circa 1910), the Mint, next door. I’m a big Jay Sarno fan, and when (Las Vegas historian and author) David Schwartz wrote “Grandissimo,” I locked up that. It was always right there.”
I would have wagered on Grandissimo, actually. The Ambassador would have worked, too. But that’s a better fit for the man who runs the joint.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His PodKats podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts.Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.