Surprising vignettes, spectacular fountains, a kinetic sculpture—at the restaurants of Wynn Palace, the delights aren’t limited to the plate.
In Café Fontana, diners visit a food hall inspired by famous global markets. Just opposite, they enjoy a spectacular view of the fountains of the Performance Lake.
The first time it happens, it's startling. The gleaming wall panels slide silently open, revealing a darkened stage. Next, the music starts—a full-throated French chanson, perhaps, or Richard Burton and Julie Andrews performing their duet “What Do the Simple folk Do?” from Camelot. Then the lights go down and the show begins. But at Wynn Palace’s SW Steakhouse, don’t expect conventional dinner theater. Instead, the fully equipped stage (complete with fly loft and wings) presents a variety of amusing vignettes, each lasting several minutes—just long enough to give diners a diverting pause—in a cutting-edge fusion of computer animation, puppetry, and animatronics. Some are playful, others lyrical. See King Kong besotted by a mystery object that’s no screaming Fay Wray, or a huge vase that shimmers with pen-and-ink animations based on Chinese folk tales and projected as if they’re happening in real time, or a pair of 10-foot-high playing cards (a king and a queen, of course) dancing and singing in a lush garden. A vignette is revealed every 30 minutes in the secret theater hidden in the walls of SW Steakhouse, so that a diner lingering over a meal might experience three or four different playlets.
“I call it immersive dinner theater,” saysProduction Designer Michael Curry, the creative mastermind of this mold-breaking attraction. When Wynn Palace was in the planning stages and Steve Wynn tasked him with designing a dinner show, Curry admits that he shook his head. “I hate conventional dinner theater,” he says, “because you feel compelled to give performers your attention and so feel rude enjoying your dinner.” So he suggested a more creative approach. He said, “‘Let’s do it without human performers but still create musical theater.’ Mr. Wynn loved that idea.” The result is this groundbreaking entertainment combining commedia dell’arte, marionettes, and custom computer programs (the program that coordinates the movement and music for those playing cards is also used in Le Rêve—The Dream at Wynn Las Vegas).
Such showmanship is integral to any Wynn project—after all, this is the hotelier who named two resorts Ancore and a restaurant Il Teatro. But the SW Steakhouse show may be the ultimate expression of Wynn’s commitment to grounding his hotels in performance. “When you walk into one of Mr. Wynn’s resorts, you’re already onstage,” Curry explains. “He doesn’t think about creating little pockets of conventional performance. It’s about seeing the entire experience, as well as your interaction with it, as an extension of the performance. It’s the ultimate interactive environment.”
The same sense of theatricality is subtly incorporated into Wynn Palace’s new Wing Lei Bar, a mirrored hideout serving 50 handpicked teas and a selection of fine Cognacs, among other beverages. Topped by a vintage crystal chandelier, the space evokes in every guest the feeling that he or she is the jewel in a precious box, or a songbird in a birdcage (as you might imagine, there’s no better place to tweet a photo). Even at mizumi, the ultraluxe sushi restaurant whose interiors were fashioned by minimalist designer Vicente Wolf, the focal point of the dining room is showmanship—in the form of a gilded 500-piece blossoming cherry tree. As the room darkens, it pulses through four seasons in a few minutes in a brilliant display of light and color, like a sculptural mime.
Wall panels slide open in the SW dining room and a magical dragon slithers around a threedimensional screen in the form of a vase.
Theatrical show kitchens enhance the guest experience at Andrea’s as well as 99 Noodles, where amidst an illuminated display of rainbow colored resin bowls on white open-shelved bookcases and modern lantern sculptures dangling from above, diners can watch master chefs hand-pulling different varieties of noodles to order—including the favorite of Chef Shi Wei Dong, a noodle dramatically whittled from a massive ball of dough with a saber-sharp knife.
Perhaps the keenest examples of performance effortlessly integrating into every aspect of Wynn Palace are the restaurants Wing Lei Palace and Café Fontana. Both occupy the hotel’s most important real estate: directly facing the 8-acre lake where fountains, choreographed to music, dance up to 200 feet in the air every 20 minutes. The restaurant’s rooms are stepped so that no table’s view of the show will be blocked by other diners. In fact, Wing Lei Palace’s private dining rooms were inspired by opera boxes, with a proscenium providing a frame and curtains that can be drawn when the show concludes (all that’s missing are opera glasses). At Café Fontana, the French marketplace-inspired space feels like a set from Gigi or An American in Paris, yet it offers subtle but important design concessions to the show. “Look at all the reflective surfaces,” says Wynn Design & Development Creative Director Alex Woogmaster, one of the project’s lead designers. “There’s not just gold, but mirrors, high polishes, and marbles. It’s so that even if you’re not facing the lake, we can bring that vision to you just the same: As the fountains are exploding, they’re pulled into the room with little glimpses here and there.”
Wynn Resorts has emphasized immersive experiences from the outset, but today they’re a genuine cultural trend. “We’re always talking about interactivity and breaking the fourth wall now in theater these days,” says Curry, “but Mr. Wynn has gotten that for 30 years. Walking into a resort like Wynn Palace, it’s no less fantastic than a Hollywood movie.”
Such immersive experiences are manifestations of an increasing global trend toward involving the audience in the production—a trend longtime producer Vance Garret attributes partly to a fundamental change in consumers.“In the Internet age,” he says, “where people feel like they can participate in, or comment on, almost anything, this is what modern audiences want.” Needless to say, that’s something that Steve Wynn understands intuitively.