Friday, January 7, 2011

Calling B.S. On Why Alex Is Closing At Wynn

Something about the sudden closure next week of Alex at Wynn doesn't compute. My Las Vegas Weekly editor Sarah Feldberg broke this news yesterday with this peculiar passage:

A Wynn representative pointed to the strains of the economy as the reason for the restaurant’s closing, adding that “high-end French dining is not what people want these days.”

That's really very strange for a few reasons. First, Guy Savoy at Caesars Palace seems to be doing pretty well, as is Joel Robuchon at MGM Grand. High-end French dining is like the little black dress; it just doesn't ever go out of style. Especially in Vegas.

Second, as austerity measures go amid a recession, this seems like a strange choice for Wynn Resorts for tightening the bottom line. Wynn and Encore attract the highest-end customers who come to Las Vegas, and now they're basically announcing that the fancy people can't afford great French food anymore? That's a serious idea? Especially given the many, many very expensive restaurants across the Wynncore plain?

Third, Alex has been a major calling card for the property since the beginning and, as Steve Wynn has often said, sometimes you don't calculate the value of an attraction based on how much money it makes but what it adds intangibly to the property and experience. This is Wynn's most prestigious and award-winning (Michelin two-star!!!) restaurant, beloved by foodies and food journalists not just for Alex Stratta's cuisine but also for that gorgeous sunken dining room architecture. It is a transformative experience just to walk in, let alone sit down for dinner.

This just feels like a personality or financial conflict being blamed on the broader economy. Has any other super-duper-expensive Wynn shop or restaurant closed? If the economy was depressing sales, you'd think that would be a problem that would show up in other elements of the business, no? Should we be worried, given this statement, about Wynncore's ability to cater to very wealthy customers? Will we be seeing a decline in other areas of the business?

Perhaps Alex wanted more money and Wynn refused. Or maybe another resort has wooed him with more control or money? Maybe Alex wants to go to New York? Maybe he doesn't want to make vegan food? Maybe Alex, always a pleasant figure in person, is an egotistical jerk?

It's just a sense I have, but I suspect the personal relationship between Stratta and the Wynns deteriorated in some way. When I ate there with Mike E and his posse about a year ago, the chef de cuisine told us that Elaine Wynn had not eaten at the restaurant since the night the Wynn opened when, incidentally, Alex hosted her birthday party. Remember, the "Hello, Dolly!" staircase motif of the place was Elaine's idea; surely she would've enjoyed dining there for that reason alone. Steve Wynn was an increasingly rare presence as well. Wynn only came in when a business associate was with him, the chef said.

The other peculiarity of all this is the timing. They really have to shove their most successful and famous chef out the door in a week? Without even a statement from Wynn about how great Alex is, how much he has brought to the enterprise, how sorry he is to see him go and good luck? If they had been planning this for a while, wouldn't they want to give the mourning food world ample time to have one last meal there? Wouldn't that, in fact, drive sales and make a little scratch?

This feels a lot like another unceremonious dump we covered recently, doesn't it?

[P.S. to Al Mancini et al.: This closure's another reason you should have done an iPhone app, not a book. Just sayin'.]


Michael said...

I tend to agree with your instincts here, this smells, especially the comment that high end French dining isn't what people want. Bah, if that's true for a property like Wynn, then the strip is in more trouble then it knows.

Andy said...

Good analysis, but Sinatra is an ITALIAN restaurant

Brian Fey said...

With Wynn, there is ALWAYS more to the story. However, Isn't he staying with Wynn Resorts. If that's the case, then many of your theories would be incorrect. Perhaps, people don't want to drop $500 for dinner as much as they did, and they will find better use for the space, or a different place that's better suited? Its the one place, I never ate at Wynn. Just a bit much for me.

detroit1051 said...

You've nailed it, and I hope you find out the rest of the story. Alex Stratta is clearly unhappy, or he wouldn't be offering quotes about being bummed out and announcing that neither Steve nor Elaine have come in by choice.

It's clear that operating Stratta is not going to be enough for Alex's talent. He'll likely leave Wynn Resorts soon with an innocuous statement about pursuing other interests. I sometimes wonder if Steve is intentionally dumbing down Wynn Las Vegas, for reasons I can't fathom.

Stratta has been a star since opening Mary Elaine's and then opening The Mirage's finest restaurant, Renoir. Its drawback was that it was too small, but one can't say that about Alex. It is unbelievably gorgeous and dramatic, and of course the food wis among the very best in Las Vegas (and the country for that matter.)

What has happened to Steve Wynn?

E C Gladstone said...

I can only attest to two things clearly:

1) Alex Stratta is far from an egotistical jerk.
2) Restaurant Alex in fact embraced the Vegan/Vegetarian ideals that Steve Wynn put forth arguably more than any other restauranteur. Here's my quick blog on a mostly Vegetarian meal I had there recently. it was excellent.
And at the Eating Las Vegas event, Alex told me he was interested in embracing vegetarian food to an even greater extent.


The Sinatra flub has been disappeared, thanks!

I don't know that the continued presence of Stratta, which is extremely visible and busy, is relevant to whether Wynn and Alex are on the outs. Maybe the contract on that restaurant isn't up yet so Wynn couldn't legally change it? I suspect that's a function of contracts and nothing more. If Wynn really wanted to keep up a close relationship with Alex, he would have announced that, say, Alex's concept was going to change or something. I mean, SOMETHING will go into the space being vacated by Alex.

I wonder, though, if it'll be another restaurant or, maybe, some sort of performing or nightclub venue? Or maybe they'll put a ceiling in and split it between two levels and so other stuff? May possibilities...

Weston said...

You nailed it Steve! This is, in my opinion, the greatest article you've ever written. It should be read by all the head honchos at Wynn. Send 'em a copy!

John Curtas said...

Forgetting for a moment all of the issues and questions raised, I wonder what W/E will do next? They've been systematically dismantling their vaunted "great chefs on premises" premise for the last two years. Some of this has been a function of contracts (some of those guys were pulling in big bucks that the hotel just didn't want to pay anymore, but any hotel that has four steakhouses and closes its best restaurant is clearly headed in a different direction. What's next: another nightclub....puh-leeze ? Or maybe, just maybe, Michael Morton has an idea...

Max said...

Obviously, there is more here than meets the eye, but in your quest to be controversial, you miss the point. Fine dining is moribund in this country, on the way out. That won't translate to a phone app. Max

Anonymous said...

The book is about how fine dining sucks in Las Vegas? You're right, not a good concept for an app... or a book for that matter.

-- Hunter

Anonymous said...

Actually "Hunter", Vegas is one of the best cities for fine dining in this country, so I have no idea where you're coming from.

Sharon Christal said...

We've followed the talented Alessandro Stratta, from the Phoenician Resort in Scottsdale, to Renoir at the Mirage to Alex and have enjoyed unforgettable meals. Whatever the reason for closing we will dine at his next restaurant. We have made a commitment to dine where the chef cares enough to be in the restaurant not name alone.

Anonymous said...

Looks like Wynn put his elbow through another Picasso!
Thought he was a visionary..must be loosing his grip on class. What next, another chain like Spago!