Vital Vegas Podcast, Ep. 112: Bizarro Vegas and Derek Stevens Tells All About Circa

Don your flashiest Vegas-themed earbuds, it’s another rambly installment of the Vital Vegas Podcast.

In this episode, we badger casino owner Derek Stevens into sharing some amazing stories about his new downtown resort, Circa.

This is easily the most in-depth interview Stevens has ever given about Circa Las Vegas, which opens Oct. 28, 2020.

Stevens, who also owns The D and Golden Gate, talks about challenges his team faced during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as some first-in-Vegas innovations coming to the new casino resort.

Circa Las Vegas

They were originally going to name this new resort “Badass,” but that’s already a nickname of a certain Las Vegas blog.

Fun fact: One of Circa’s restaurants (8 East) won’t open along with the others, because on Oct. 28, Stevens says there will still be a construction crane going through it.

We’ve also got our perfunctory round-up of Las Vegas news, including the latest about Cirque’s bankruptcy, how Vegas botched being an NHL hub city, what’s going on with the four Station Casinos that haven’t reopened yet and the official debut of Resort World’s 100,000-square-foot video screen.

You’ll also get the latest about the reopenings of Luxor, Mandalay Bay, Delano, Aria and Waldorf Astoria, a Las Vegas hotel with a fancy name but no casino, so meh.

We’ll also tease two new venues downtown, Discopussy and Lucky Day.


Discopussy has destination restrooms.

You know we’ve got a spectacularly slapped-together listicle, too, inspired by news Las Vegas could be the site of the first video game-themed Atari Hotel.

All that and less, so listen up and Vegas a little.

Resorts World Gets It Up, Signwise

Resorts World Las Vegas has hoisted its sign into place.

Here’s a first look, assuming you haven’t seen it somewhere else, which would be a little rude, frankly.

Resorts World sign

Stop judging things by their size. It’s not woke.

The Resorts World sign went for subtle rather than ostentatious, so we sent up our drone for a close-up.

Resorts World sign

It was really just a telephoto lens, but “drone” just sounds sexier.

While the sign looks small from ground level, it’s actually at least two stories tall.

During our recent visit, we had to hit the south side of Resorts World, too, to check out the progress on the casino’s tower-sized video screen.

Resorts World video screen

We dove into the technical specs and learned the Resorts World screen is what experts call “huge-ass.”

Resorts World is expected to open in summer 2021.

Just as soon as they can find a huge-ass remote to work that huge-ass video screen.

Update (7/4/20): Perfect timing! Right after this post went live, Resorts World fired up its 100,000-square-foot screen for some July 4 fireworks. Here’s a look.

Some Las Vegas Casinos Could Temporarily Close (Again) Due to COVID-19 Concerns

The buzz is undeniable. We hear some Las Vegas casinos could close temporarily due to COVID-19 concerns.

A reliable source believes Venetian has plans to close, yet again, following the July 4 weekend. Unlike last time, however, the closure would presumably be for just 7-10 days.

Update (7/4/20): Venetian has publicly stated no shut-down is planned.

Venetian Las Vegas gondola

Please don’t go away again, Venetian.

Many Las Vegas casino companies are increasingly concerned with rising COVID-19 cases, including among their employees.

We’ve also heard front line staffers at Caesars Palace have relayed to guests the resort will temporarily close following the long weekend.

These rumors are unconfirmed, but it’s unlikely any casino would telegraph such moves heading into what’s expected to be a busy July 4 weekend.

Every casino we’ve visited has upped its enforcement of mandatory mask and social distancing rules, mainly due to the threat of another mandated closure by Nevada Steve Sisolak.

That said, the Governor’s office released a statement that just half of businesses are complying with face covering requirements.

Sisolak statement

Casinos are doing their part, but bars and restaurants not so much.

Just 50 percent of bars and restaurants visited were found to be in compliance. The number was 61 percent at auto sales, gyms, hair and nail establishments.

Here’s page two of the Governor’s statement. The ominous part.


Trust us, nobody wants to be on the receiving end of “swift and decisive action” right now.

The strategy of voluntary, time-specific closures for casinos makes sense, despite it being painful to think about some of our favorite places on Earth closing their doors again, even if only for a week or two.

It’s unknown how many casinos may voluntarily close, but at the moment, it doesn’t appear there’s a threat of another full, mandated closure as happened from March 17 to June 4, 2020.

Voluntary closures mean casinos take their fate into their own hands, and at least they’ll have hard dates for reopening again. The uncertainty of rolling reopening dates the last time around was a logistical nightmare.

This saga is far from over, and as always, we’ll let you know what we hear.

Update (7/4/20): Venetian Tweeted the rumored shutdowns are false.


We’ll take all the good news we can get.

Ahern Hotel Quietly Opens Top-Notch Italian Steakhouse

It’s a strange time to open a Las Vegas restaurant, but Ahern Hotel has done just that.

Chef Marc’s Italian Steakhouse has flown under the radar since its debut, but we expect that’s going to change dramatically.

The bread alone makes Chef Marc’s a destination restaurant.

Chef Marc's Italian Steakhouse

Do not weigh yourself after looking at this photo.

Ahern Hotel, of course, is the rebranded Lucky Dragon. The hotel is located a block or two west of Las Vegas Boulevard on Sahara.

If Ahern sounds familiar, it’s because Lucky Dragon was purchased by Don Ahern, owner of a construction rental company, Ahern Rentals. We have no idea how much John Ahern knows about running a hotel, but after meeting Chef Marc Sgrizzi, we’re convinced he knows talent
when he sees it.

Marc Sgrizzi is the former owner of the popular Chef Marc’s Trattoria in Lakeside Village, wherever that might actually be.

Chef Marc's Italian Steakhouse

Ahern Hotel still has a lot of Lucky Dragon inside.

Our first interaction with Chef Sgrizzi was when he called back to confirm our dinner reservation. We naturally assumed he recognized our name and wanted to roll out the red carpet for a self-important social Las Vegas influencer. Yeah, no.

Come to find out, the chef was literally calling every customer to confirm their reservation to ensure his longtime fans knew how to get to his new restaurant.

The only thing that impressed us more was the chef’s life-altering Jidori Chicken Parmesan, easily one of the best we’ve ever had. And we have had some chicken parm in our day.

Chef Marc's Italian Steakhouse

If we ever have to choose between rescuing a baby or this chicken parm from a fire, well, you’re on your own, baby.

We had no idea what a Jidori chicken was, but we are currently a fan.

The menu at Chef Marc’s Italian Steakhouse is abbreviated at the moment, because the venue is in a time of transition and because of some challenges related to disrupted supply chains.

There are big plans in the works both for the restaurant and Ahern Hotel overall, including about $10 million in renovations. We’ve got lots of juicy renderings in the photo gallery.

Here’s a look at the future Chef Marc’s Italian Steakhouse. It sits in the space former occupied by Lucky Dragon’s Pearl Ocean restaurant.

Here’s a look inside, but don’t get too attached.

Ahern Hotel

You tried, Lucky Dragon. You tried.

Here’s a rendering of the future of dining at Ahern Hotel.

Chef Marc's Ahern Hotel

Props for the diversity, Ahern Hotel.

Chef Sgrizzi took us on a whirlwind tour of some spaces at Ahern, so take a listen to his interview on the Vital Vegas Podcast.

There are a lot of peculiar things left over from the Lucky Dragon days, including small rooms once used for table games which will at some point be converted into small, Italian-themed dining rooms.

We also found a high-tech Japanese toilet once used by Asian whales. It was awesome, but didn’t get a lot of use, if you get our drift.

Ahern Hotel Vegas

Lucky Dragon filed for bankruptcy in 2018 and about 180 EB-5 investors took it in the butt.

Chef Marc Sgrizzi will oversee all food and beverage offerings at Ahern Hotel, and there will be a dramatic change of course from Lucky Dragon’s misguided decision to only provide Asian fare.

Sgrizzi has a lot of ambitious plans, but the main one we care about involves gelato.

The chef mentioned something called a Frigomat. We don’t know what that is, but it sounded delicious, and we’d like one stuffed into a waffle cone, thanks.

The chef also mentioned a speakeasy, so there’s that.

Chef Marc's Italian Steakhouse

Like we said, it’s weird at the moment, but the smizing makes up for it.

The food and drinks at Chef Marc’s Italian Steakhouse were truly outstanding, and we recommend checking it out with the caveat it’s not fully-formed yet.

Ahern Hotel is set to focus on meetings and conventions, and won’t have a casino. From what we can tell, renovations will begin shortly and are expected to be completed in late 2020.

Chef Marc’s is currently closed on Mondays. Get reservation information on the official Ahern Hotel Web site.

Enjoy a few more photos, and let us know if you have a chance to try this mouthwatering new restaurant with the unforgettable chicken parm just off the Las Vegas Strip.

Las Vegas Looking Like Site of First Atari Hotel

According to our well-placed sources, it seems Las Vegas is now set to be the first home of an Atari Hotel.

Back in January 2020, plans were announced for eight Atari Hotels across the U.S., with the first slated for Phoenix. You know, the one in Arizona. Please try and keep up.

Now, we hear Las Vegas will leapfrog over Phoenix to get the first Atari Hotel. As it should be. Because Las Vegas.

Atari Hotel Las Vegas

We just leveled up in our pants.

Additional, less relevant, Atari Hotels are scheduled for Denver, Chicago, Austin, Seattle, San Francisco and San Jose.

When the chain of hotels was originally announced, it didn’t get a lot of buzz because there were relatively few details about financing and location. That’s still the case.

What we do know is Atari has partnered with GSD Group, touted as “a leading innovation and strategy agency, led by founder Shelly Murphy and partner Napoleon Smith III.”

Smith was a producer of the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” reboot, so he may have his finger on the demographic drawn to a video game-themed hotel.

Atari Las Vegas

Fun fact: Atari was named after a word used in a game called Go, popular in Japan.

Smith said in a news release, “When creating this brand new hotel concept, we knew Atari would be the perfect way to give guests the ‘nostalgic and retro meets modern’ look and feel we were going for. Let’s face it, how cool will it be to stay inside an Atari?”

He’s not wrong.┬áImagine grabbing a bite in the Space Invaders Cafe, dancing the night away at Pong Nightclub, catching some rays at the Q*bert Dayclub, shopping at Pac-Man Promenade or getting a facial at Frogger Baths & Spa.

Timing and execution, of course, are everything.

In contention for understatement of the year: It’s a very weird time to be developing a Las Vegas hotel right now.

Atari is a well-known and beloved brand, so it could have an edge others wouldn’t.

Still, while gaming (eSports gaming, not gambling gaming) is wildly popular, it’s unclear if that would translate into hotel business.

Example: The 2019 revenue from the snack bar at Luxor’s eSports arena was approximately what a typical gambler places on red in any given roulette spin.

That said, we like new and shiny things in Las Vegas, and an Atari Hotel would certainly qualify.

Also, a retro brand could draw older guests with more disposable income. That mixture of middle-aged Asteroids fans and their “Call of Duty” offspring could end up being a magical and profitable combination for Atari.

We actually took 15 seconds to try and confirm our rumor Las Vegas is now the location for the first Atari Hotel, but we haven’t heard back.

While we won’t bet money on this project coming to fruition, we’re now actively rooting for it given Las Vegas could be the first Atari Hotel outpost.

Cirque du Soleil Files for Bankruptcy Protection

We first broached the possibility of a bankruptcy for Cirque du Soleil back in April 2020, and we’re sad to report the company has done just that. Sometimes, we hate being right.

While news coverage of Cirque’s bankruptcy has focused on “immense disruption” caused by the COVID-19 crisis, Cirque du Soleil was in deep financial trouble prior to the closure of its shows, 44 in all, including six Las Vegas productions.

What kind of trouble? Roughly $1 billion in debt, largely due to leveraged loans.

Cirque du Soleil

Let’s hope the sun isn’t setting for Cirque.

Read our story to learn more about some of the WTF moves leading to Cirque du Soleil’s staggering debt.

Cirque furloughed about 3,500 employees in March 2020. Now, those employees are terminated.

The company has signed an agreement with its existing investors to take over Cirque’s liabilities and invest $300 million to keep the company afloat. A Canadian government body called Investissement Quebec will contribute $200 million in debt financing.

Yeah, it’s confusing. We just want our bendy people and creepy clowns back!

It’s expected that once Cirque’s capital is restructured, most of its Las Vegas shows will return: “O,” “Zumanity,” “Love,” “Ka,” “Mystere,” and “One.”

Insiders believe one or more Las Vegas shows won’t be back. Likely candidates are “Zumanity,” “Love” and “Ka.”

Among Cirque’s challenges, there’s no clear timeline for reopening their shows.

Here’s hoping Cirque du Soleil can get its act together. Cirque shows are as much a part of Las Vegas as roulette wheels, strip clubs and people mistakenly using an apostrophe in “Caesar’s Palace.”