Once legendary in Las Vegas - home base to The Beatles, Liberace, Elvis, and other mid-century luminaries - the SAHARA slowly faded into irrelevance during the ‘80s and ‘90s, finally closing in 2011.
A promising new life as the SLS Las Vegas was born when the trendy SBE Entertainment Group renovated, rebranded, and reopened the casino-hotel in 2014, aiming at hip Southern Californians - who were already familiar with the brand - as a prime demographic target. Ultimately, the SLS’ location at the then-forlorn, northern end of the Strip was likely the principal factor leading to its demise and ultimate sale to the Meruelo Group (owners of the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino Reno) in 2017. Now, after a $200 million, multi-year renovation that is nearly complete, the all-new SAHARA Las Vegas has reclaimed its mojo while leaning into its classic-but-updated Moroccan motif and rich, 70-year history, which is tastefully documented in a black-and-white photo gallery.
Wide Range of Accommodations
Considered a boutique property by Las Vegas standards, the SAHARA’s 1,613 guest rooms are spread between three towers, each named to pay tribute to the property’s original desert theme. The Blanca Tower (think: Casablanca) holds the hotel’s entry-level room product, with most accommodations measuring a compact 325 sq.ft. (with the sink incorporated into the bedroom) - sized just right for solo travelers.
Marra Tower King Room. Photo: SAHARA Las Vegas
Only about 250 of the 1,131 rooms in the Marra Tower (think: Marrakesh) still features the SLS’ minimalist design of a modern, white-on-white aesthetic, while all others have been recently updated with Italian-made furnishings, rich textiles, upgraded technology, and complementary lighting. The new Marra Style King Room is comfortable, handsome, and modern, and occasionally priced as low as about $100/night on midweek dates (including resort fee), representing an attractive value proposition.
But it’s the AAA Four Diamond Alexandria Tower that holds the most promise, catering to guests with elevated expectations and largely untouched since its SLS redo. The French Romantic, trompe-l’oeil wallpaper in the large rooms and suites evokes a 17th-century regal boudoir (with an over-the-bed mirror dropping not-so-subtle hints of romance), courtesy of designer Philippe Starck. But these accommodations will also be renovated and remodeled to the SAHARA’s new standard, with a plan for the tower to eventually operate as a standalone, hotel-within-a-hotel, though still under the SAHARA umbrella.
New and Classic F&B Outlets Coexist in Harmony
Food and beverage outlets have also been refreshed at the resort, with James Beard award-winning chef Shawn McClain’s Balla Italian Soul leading the way. Balla’s menu is McClain’s love letter to Italian cuisine, and his Rigatoni with Red Pepper, Scampi, and Toasted Garlic represents a don’t-miss dish with a superior flavor profile. The Chef’s Tasting Menu ($75 per person), served family style, is an excellent value that also exposes diners to a wide array of dishes, including the aforementioned homemade pasta.
Renowned chef and humanitarian Jose Andres’ Bazaar Meat remains a sought-after, fine-dining destination at the SAHARA - especially for carnivores, while Chickie’s & Pete’s Crabhouse and Sports Bar does a credible job on seafood dishes, also drawing sports fans with over 50 giant screens and an integrated William Hill Sports Book window. The Noodle Den, now open evenings only, treats guests to Northern Chinese cuisine and a show, as chefs pull impossibly long strands of noodles behind large picture windows overlooking the casino. Of the bars and lounges, the Casbar Lounge is a particularly good-looking room with live entertainment Wed. - Sun. nights.
The hotel's front desk. Photo: SAHARA Las Vegas
Casino and Public Spaces Refreshed While MAGIC MIKE LIVE Tantalizes
Facing the Strip, The SAHARA’s impressive porte-cochere, with its Moroccan-style dome and elegant lighting, provides the inspiration for the mosaic flowers that adorn the walkways throughout the property. And while the SLS’s remake of the property’s 60,000 sq.-ft. casino rendered it dark and edgy in its prior incarnation, the current, completely refreshed design has created a lighter, airy space using a rich, jewel-tone palette that warms the now-inviting gaming floor.
Summer in Vegas means the day club scene is in full swing, and the SAHARA’s entrant in that rapidly-growing, lucrative segment, AZILO Ultra Pool, is now operating in its second year. Featuring alluring, in-pool daybeds and a slightly more mellow vibe than the Strip’s largest day clubs, AZILO also benefits from the attached AZILO Ultra Lounge, which creates an indoor/outdoor party space relatively unique in its competitive set. And while the property hosts rotating musical and comedy events in the Sahara Theater, the signature entertainment focus is provided by MAGIC MIKE LIVE, conceived and directed by Channing Tatum - a girls-night-out fantasy production that plays in a purpose-built, 360-degree theater.
Thanks to the nearby, massive Resorts World campus and the long-delayed but soon-to-open Fontainebleau Resort & Casino, the SAHARA’s north Strip neighborhood has become considerably more vibrant, which bodes well for the SAHARA and its adjacent monorail station. But the property’s recent refresh - actually, a rebirth - is the principal draw at this solid, midscale casino-hotel which now seemingly has the right mix of accommodation, F&B, and entertainment options to enable its return to relevance on the hyper-competitive Las Vegas Strip.