The exact point at which rock 'n' roll sold its soul is a mystery, but you can bet the Hard Rock took a healthy cut. The image of Sid Vicious adorns slot machines, Bob Dylan's lyrics line the elevators, and a notice reminds guests that smart dress is required, a rule that would bar more or less every one of the casino's icons. Still, despite its blazingly middle-American appropriation of rock imagery, the Hard Rock has been an unqualified success since its 1995 opening. The golf-shooting, Dockers-wearing baby-boomer brigade is here in force midweek, but on weekends, the hotel draws a crowd of boisterous funseekers, A-list glitterati and local hipsters.
The Palms may have stolen some of its thunder over the past few years, particularly on the nightlife front, but the Hard Rock remains a premier party place. The casino design (circular, with a bar in the middle) is a beauty, and means the place always feels buzzing even when it's half-empty. Out back, the pool scene's even hotter: sandy beaches, waterfalls and swim-up blackjack. Amenities include the RockSpa (hey, don't shoot the messenger), electric purple limos and SUVs for guests, some terrific restaurants and the coolest sundries boutique in town: selling everything from liquor to lube, it embodies the concept of the convenience store.
After taking over the hotel from founder Peter Morton in early 2007, the Morgans Hotel Group (formerly owned by Ian Schrager) announced an expansion of the property, which looks likely to include 600 additional rooms, 400 VIP suites, a new convention centre and a mini-mall. Work is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2009.
The casino itself may be like a zoo, but the upstairs guestrooms are remarkably peaceful and minimalist, with mod space-agey furnishings that are sort of Jetsons meets the I-Ching. And thanks largely to the fact that the Hard Rock was built very recently, they're also very spacious. Most rooms have been decorated with museum-quality photos of rock stars. Try to get digs overlooking the pool.
Eating & drinking
The Hard Rock really excels with its eating options: there are only five of them, but each one is well worth a visit. Nobu offers the city's best sushi, while Pink Taco gave a retro, twentysomething twist to the meat-beat formula long before it was fashionable to do so. Mr Lucky's 24/7 dishes out high-concept, high-calibre American comfort food; the Joint specialises in gentrified Mexican cooking, while also boasting a kinetic early-evening bar scene; and Body English is the city's coolest coffeeshop. For people-watching, try the Center Bar, in the middle of the circular casino. In summer, head out to the pool bar, or to Sunday's raucous Rehab pool party.
When it opened a decade ago, the 3,000-capacity helped bust any lingering music industry stigma about playing Vegas, and it remains one of the strongest music venues in the city. There's more music, albeit of a rather lower grade, in the Viva Las Vegas Lounge. After-hours, the party continues in , a fantastically fashionable nightclub full of fantastically fashionable women and the men who (would like to) love them.
A mid 1990s beast it may be, but this is still a hip and extremely popular gambling den. The casino remains small by Vegas standards: only 800 slots and video poker machines and 76 tables. The main floor is one big circle, with an outer hardwood walkway and an elevated bar in the centre. Dealers are encouraged to be friendly and enthusiastic; some will even give you a high-five if you hit a natural blackjack, a stunt that would give the pit boss a heart attack anywhere else.