The newest new thing in Las Vegas is the glow dome, the Sphere. Some 18,000 fans a night have made the pilgrimage to see U2 at the Sphere since September. Yet when the band shot their new music video, “Atomic City,” U2 went to downtown Las Vegas, founded 1905, to film in front of the Plaza Hotel and its Carousel Bar.
Downtown Las Vegas is gritty, while the Strip is glitzy. But tourists as well as locals are going downtown, because of its growing restaurant and street scene. The Plaza is near the Fremont Street Experience and the bars and clubs of Fremont Street, many operated by entrepreneur Ryan Doherty. Then there’s the lure of getting a better deal on a hotel room than on the Strip, where prices are ballooning.
Downtown Las Vegas has always had something of a rough patina. During Prohibition, even the Mayor was arrested for operating an illegal still, according to the Mob Museum, which like the new Punk Museum is downtown.
The Mob Museum was a pet project of Oscar Goodman, former criminal attorney and himself mayor of Las Vegas. The gregarious Goodman, known for showing up with a martini and a pair of showgirls, appeared in the movie CASINO and is the namesake of Oscar’s Steakhouse at the Plaza.
At Oscar’s, you can sit inside at the bar or at the Plaza’s new rooftop patio overlooking downtown’s lights. In addition to steak, it serves fish, lamb chops, Fat Herbie’s macaroni and cheese and No Nose’s Mob Meatballs. Wash it down with the 11-ounce Hizzoner (“what the Mayor drinks”) composed of Bombay Sapphire, more Bombay Sapphire, and a slice of jalapeño.
The Plaza, opened in 1970, was originally known as the Union Plaza, in a nod to the demolished railroad station it replaced. As the Plaza approached 40, there were discussions about imploding as it aged, and the Downtown area declined. However, like the Sahara, which recently celebrated its 75th birthday, the Plaza’s owners decided the hotel had “good bones.”
Now, as downtown’s revival continues, CEO Jonathan Jossel, who moved from Britain to run the Plaza in 2007, says that a growing number of people who live in the area’s new high-rises are customers.
Many of the rooms have been upgraded, while infrastructure hasn’t been ignored. Jossel says the Plaza team has remodeled 16 of the hotel’s 19 elevators.
Most important, he says, “are the people who work here. They create energy and atmosphere among the team members.”
The hotel had a transit waiting room for many years, including the Greyhound Bus Terminal which Jossel helped get moved off property in 2021. Similarly, as the hotel attempts to appeal to a more upscale crowd, the in-house McDonald’s will be departing by the end of December. “As we elevate the brand, McDonald’s doesn’t fit in,” Jossel said.
The Plaza has an 80,000-square-foot casino and 25,000 square feet of event space. With 995,rooms, The Plaza is larger than the new Circa (777) and trails only the venerable Golden Nugget (3000 rooms) in capacity downtown.
The Plaza also features a showroom, a rooftop swimming pool, fitness center, bingo room, (the only one downtown) and a race and sports book. Jossel told me they hold bingo night three times a month, and typically 800 people show up.
Last year the Plaza announced four new projects. They included:
· Refreshing the light-up outdoor Carousel Bar
· Downtown’s first smokefree, social media friendly gaming area
· A rooftop patio overlooking the lights of downtown at Oscar’s Steakhouse
· The addition of Pinkbox Doughnuts in a street-facing store
That to-do list has been basically accomplished, said Jossel.
The Plaza held a “name that showgirl” contest for the gateway statue at the re-imagined Carousel Bar at the old porte cochere. The winning entry? Ginger. The bar, which has the first outdoor slot machines in the city, has been open since June. And addition to the U2 video, George Clooney recently filmed an ad for his tequila brand Casamigos at the Plaza as well.
The new rooftop patio, adjacent to Oscar’s seats 120 and is a popular buyout for groups.
In the new social-media friendly gaming space, influencers and streamers film their play, says Jossel. There are 2500 square feet of games curated by social media influencer Brian Christopher. “Not only do we permit filming, but the music we use is copyright free,” Jossel says, long an issue for streamers. Not only can you take phone calls and tweet, but you can also film your jackpot.
As for donuts, Pinkbox was a great partner, Jossel said. We sat at the Carousel Bar in the morning, watching a long line form outside PinkBox. Jossel said, “I underestimate how popular donuts were with Americans!”
While there is an undeniable Rat Pack feel about the Plaza, there’s a lot that appeals to different demographics of visitors. The Plaza presciently added 16 pickleball courts in 2017, perhaps anticipating the boom.
Pickleball might seem a fad, but more than 9 million people played in 2022, making it America’s fastest growing participant sport. The Sports and Fitness Industry Association says pickleball participation has increased by more than 158% in the past three years, with the average age of people participating is 35 . The Plaza has pickleball leagues, with a pro available for lessons.
Jossel says that while bookings are probably about 70% leisure, “we have a lot of groups—corporate events,” with about 10% of bookings meetings. Jossel says the Plaza sells out almost every weekend.
The Plaza even has a 200-stall equestrian center a few blocks away. Jossel says “The National Farmer’s Rodeo is the best 10 days of the year. The Superbowl is a weekend, there’s 10 days of rodeo. We tell these customers, ‘Put your horse to bed, come inside and have a martini.’”
Jossel himself is a 39-year-old South African who grew up in London. He began working for Finnish billionaire Poju Zabludowicz’ Tamares Group after the company bought the Plaza and other downtown real estate. “When I was 23, he asked me to move [from London] to Las Vegas,” says Jossel, who was the only unmarried executive. Jossel initially resisted but eventually took on the challenge. He became Nevada’s youngest casino licensee in 2014.
He remains engaged in the day-to-day business of the Plaza, fist-bumping with cleaners, bartenders and other workers.
Jossel lives with his American wife (who he met in Las Vegas) and their young family in a neighborhood near the Plaza. As he puts it, “I love downtown.”