The shuttered Sirio Ristorante is one of many spaces designed by Adam Tihany.

What Happened to the ‘Celebrity Designers’ of Las Vegas?

Ah, the good old go-go decade of 1998-2008, how we miss you so. You, with your overflow of strip clubs, nightclubs and ultralounges. Your ridiculously appreciating real estate, celebrity chefs and zero-down financing for everything from Maseratis to McMansions. And it was all fueled by your rapid implosion and explosion of our gambling and resort landscape.

Beginning with Bellagio, numerous ground-up resorts opened in that 10-year period, including Mandalay Bay, Four Seasons, The Venetian, Paris Las Vegas, the Palms, Green Valley Ranch, Wynn Las Vegas, South Coast (now South Point), Red Rock, The Palazzo, Eastside Cannery, Aliante Station (now Aliante) and Encore Las Vegas.

It was a heady time, and heady times require heady designs. Flush with funds and eager to impress a new class of international traveler, resorts began buying and importing talent, including renowned hospitality designers to either showcase celebrity chefs or be the celeb themselves.

One of the first was New York’s Tony Chi, called on to design Bellagio’s upscale Asian diner Noodles. Understated, modern and deceptively simple, the still-open Noodles was like nothing seen on the Strip before. It was only the beginning. Soon, elaborately and/or thoughtfully designed restaurants became de rigueur for a city seeking to shed its cowtown image and be seen as a sophisticated destination.

Perhaps the most prolific celeb designer is Adam Tihany. He once had his hand on almost every Las Vegas interior design worth noting, from ultralounges (the impressive but short-lived Rouge lounge at MGM Grand, which, according to a gushing press release featured a “Tihany-designed backlit projection wall of glass bottles that flicker with a variety of sensuous images”) to high-roller gambling lounges such as Bellagio’s Club Privé, where “rare spirits and world-class cigars” coaxed bankrolls from big players.

Tihany’s most visible projects, however, were restaurants. His fabulous Neyla (MGM Grand) boasted an Arabian palace-inspired interior to complement its inspiring Mediterranean cuisine. Neyla was ultimately replaced by Michael Mina’s Seablue. New restaurant, new chef, same designer. The Venetian’s beloved Bouchon was a Tihany project, as well as the Bellagio’s Osteria del Circo and Le Cirque, described by one visitor guide (perhaps too glibly) as a “million-dollar circus tent.”

Tihany’s most enduring Vegas restaurant is Mandalay Bay’s Aureole, the Vegas outpost of Charlie Palmer’s New York eatery. It’s bucked the Vegas trend and remained relevant for 17 years, perhaps due in no small part to Tihany’s incredible wine tower centerpiece.

And his Vegas work continues. He’s poised to pen new suites at The Cosmopolitan, and is responsible for the understated elegance of Mandarin Oriental, part of the larger starchitect-designed CityCenter complex. Still, those who were here back then know it was the smaller projects (of Tihany and others) that helped transform Las Vegas, a metamorphosis without which the Mandarin might not have cared to set up shop here at all.

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