Gamblers beware: Renaissance Las Vegas suffers from location, gaming limbo

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

LAS VEGAS - It's 9:30 on a Friday night and the modern lobby with the comfortable, colorful chairs is dead. A front desk receptionist in all black stands up against the wall like a lone sentry. It takes a moment for the whole scene to compute.

This is Vegas?

Well, yes. In a fashion. This is the largest non-gaming hotel in Sin City itself. Welcome to the Renaissance Las Vegas. Approaching it first-year anniversary (the Renaissance opened Dec. 3, 2004), this largely glass-facade structure is right next to the Las Vegas Convention Center. That puts it only a few blocks and a whole world away from The Strip's constantly buzzing glitz and gaming.

The Marriott marketing people came up with the slogan "Off The Strip, Out of the Ordinary" for the Renaissance Las Vegas. As advertising tag lines go, it's remarkably accurate. Though not in quite the way the ad folks had in mind.

For the Renaissance is first class in many respects, with modern comfortable rooms and some neat touches. But it's also off The Strip in a largely inconvenient way. It's one thing to be staying out at Lake Las Vegas or even in Summerlin at the upscale JW Marriott. If you stay at those off Strip choices, you're making a conscious decision to have a little quieter Vegas experience.

Plus, Lake Las Vegas' Hyatt Regency and Ritz Carlton, and Summerlin's JW Marriott do still have their own casinos on site. Smaller in scale as they may be.

At the new Renaissance, it's like you're caught between both worlds. It's just far away enough from The Strip to make walking there (especially at night) not much of an option. Yet, it's close enough to The Strip that you're liable to feel like going there all the time. You can see the action from your hotel window. The new buzz-collecting Wynn Las Vegas is particularly visible.

It probably isn't long before you're jonesing to join it.

This means a lot of cab rides or letting-Vegas-loose-style-cramping car rental drives. There is a "convenient" monorail station down the street, but this "convenience" can be as expensive as a cab, about as reliable as a deadbeat dad and hold a schedule similar to a banker's.

It turns out this limbo location, the "Off The Strip, Out of the Ordinary," is the Renaissance Las Vegas' big downfall.

It's neither here nor there, caught in between the action and relaxation.

"Where is everybody," Kentucky tourist Hollie Anderson asked, looking around that empty Friday night lobby with her two friends."

With that said, if you're in town for a convention, the Renaissance is a great base. And not just because you can roll out of bed and be at your event in eight minutes flat.

The hotel carries a cool, but not too cool modern look. Bold lime green comforters give the rooms something of an Oprah Winfrey-endorsed decorator feel. The flat-screen Plasma TV that dominates the desk/bureau area completes a cutting edge appearance.

The desk chairs are actually comfortable. Renaissance Las Vegas is design, but not design over function. They seem to realize that someone might actually use that chair and the desk for work.

Downstairs, you'll find a small outdoor pool and patio center. If you're looking for a Vegas casino hotel pool wonder, look elsewhere. This pool's almost wedged between a gap in the building. It's 20 feet across at its widest. For a relaxed, low-key place to avoid the crowds and soak up some sun, it will do though.

Not far from the pool, inside, there's Envy Steakhouse. The food's very tasty, but it's very, very high-priced - even in the Vegas realm of celebrity restaurants. A good steak can set you back $40 (with no trimmings), as high as any of the more showy, designer steakhouses on The Strip. Ordering an appetizer or sandwich for lunch at the bar is a safe, satisfying bet though.

Renaissance's bartenders tell decent stories, probably because they need to in order to keep customers on a non-convention-busy night. On one slow night, I watched a scout for the New York Knicks - at least he said he was a scout for the Knicks - convince the bartender he deserved a room upgrade. Because he was a scout for the Knicks.

A few long blocks out onto The Strip, this guy would have been laughed at. Here, he gets his free upgrade. That's the Renaissance. It doesn't quite have that Sin City swagger. Which can be a good thing.

One of the things the Renaissance needs to work on is getting a sundry gift shop. Right now, it just has a coffee/juice place. This is a $150-plus hotel where you cannot buy a magazine. Strangely enough, you can rent a car here with a Hertz counter right across from the elevator to the parking garage.

Parking is another thing that's very un-Vegas about the Renaissance. There's no trudging through a huge garage complex and then having to trudge through a huge hotel-casino complex to finally arrive at your room an hour later, parched and delirious. You just park in a small free attached garage and go down an elevator.

From park to room in about five minutes. For Las Vegas that's a very novel concept.

This effectively sums up Renaissance Las Vegas itself. It's novel, maybe just a little too novel. There are reasons the largest non-gaming hotel in Las Vegas is all of 548 rooms and 18 suites. This new Renaissance is definitely a niche stay.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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