Afternoon at Encore is a tactile experience accentuated by natural light

The difference between locals and tourists: When the bill for lunch in the Encore coffee shop comes and it’s $50 for two for a frittata and a pizza, and iced tea is $4.50, the tourist doesn’t blanch.

The local does. At least this local did.

But then Steve Wynn’s not after my business. He’s after Mary and Frank Dvorsky’s business. And they had paid $81 for lunch at The Venetian the day before. “We’re used to Vegas prices,” she said.

I’m not saying it wasn’t a good lunch at Society Café Encore. It was. The courteous servers hustled nonstop. The complimentary mini-pretzels with mustard were an unexpected treat and darn tasty. The setting was elegant, but too loud for an interview (my basic requirement for any lunch spot.) The $4 coffee that seemed so high when Wynn Las Vegas opened in 2005 is standard now on the Strip.

The Dvorskys and my friend and I all agreed Encore was beautiful, and we enjoyed the intimacy and style of the easy-to-navigate casino, linked to Wynn Las Vegas thorough a corridor of high-end shops found in the hallway by the two Wynn theaters.

The Dvorskys, who own a staffing company in Pittsburgh and visit Las Vegas two or three times a year, already are planning to stay at Encore the next time they come out. “We thought it was beautiful and clean,” Mary said.

She and her husband sat at the table next to us Tuesday, just eight days after Encore opened. They were staying at the Palazzo, where they had been losing at the machines, and wanted to see the new joint in hopes the machines were looser. And they were.

They didn’t want to wait in line for 15 minutes to get into Encore’s smaller than customary coffee shop that seats fewer than 300 people. (I see a remodel in the works already.) So they went gambling, won some money and came back when the line was shorter.

The difference between the Dvorskys and me: There is nothing to bring a non-gambling, non-clubbing, longtime local back to the Encore once I’ve checked it out, except perhaps to try one of the high-end restaurants, and there’s no shortage of those around town. Even the new Danny Gans show won’t be a draw to those of us who have already seen him.

The equally expensive Bellagio coffee shop lures me back a few times a year with its conservatory. Encore won’t.

Steve Wynn, since crafting the Bellagio, stopped seeking locals’ business, and that marketing strategy has succeeded for him. The customer base at Encore seemed more Asian and European than American, although a Pamela Anderson look-alike accompanied by three men at the coffee shop seemed like the all-American male fantasy, if not exactly all-American.

Some locals have received invitations from President Andrew Pascal to check out the Encore, with a special holiday offering. “Enjoy exclusive rates from $100 per night available Jan. 11-15, 2009 and receive a $100 dining credit during your stay.” That’s appealing, but with post-Christmas discretionary spending tightening and 401(k) end-of-year reports arriving, timing for me is bad.

Even without seeing the rooms, our afternoon at the Encore, where the color scheme is red, red and more red, marked by an abundance of butterflies, was a tactile experience. My friend and I wanted to touch nearly everything — wall coverings, mosaics, flooring, chandeliers and the art. Discretion prevailed and we refrained, but I even wanted to feel the red chandeliers in the casino. I guess true luxury drives you to want to touch something to see whether it feels as rich as is looks.

But what I liked the most (besides the six hot mini-donuts with three dipping sauces at the coffee shop for $7) wasn’t something I could touch or eat.

It was the natural light.

Wonder of wonders, even the casino had natural light, both from above and from the side facing the pool.

Dark and dank have been banned from Encore. Let there be light was the order of the day, in total contradiction to the history of Las Vegas gambling halls, where the idea is to encourage forgetting about time entirely by eliminating all natural light from the casino.

And that’s what makes Encore more than just a newer, more intimate version of Wynn Las Vegas.

Jane Ann Morrison’s column appears Monday, Thursday and Saturday. E-mail her at or call (702) 383-0275. She also blogs at

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